Doctor Who: The Helliax Rift review

Despite being an essential part of the Pertwee years, the Doctor’s connection with UNIT – his alien-fighting army allies – faded within two years of Tom Baker’s arrival in Doctor Who and they were not seen again en masse until the last series of the classic era.

With Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and co hailing from the 1970s/80s (UNIT dating is a whole topic unto itself) and Battlefield set a few years in Ace’s future, there’s a gap to be filled. Such gaps are like catnip to Big Finish and this one allows them to create a fresh team of 80s UNIT faces, who are getting a trilogy of stories with the latter classic Doctors.

First up is The Helliax Rift which finds the Fifth Doctor travelling alone, on the trail of an alien signal. However, he is not the only responder and he receives a decidedly unfriendly reception from Lt Col Lewis Price (Russ Bain), UNIT’s no-nonsense commanding officer. Seemingly rather fragile and a proponent of the shoot first, ask questions later method, it is all a long way from Kate Stewart and her “science leads” approach. Let’s hope he will mellow over his three encounters with the Doctor. A good start would be for him to stop being such a raging xenophobe, referring to all aliens as “things”.

Taking the pseudo-companion role here is Lt. Daniel Hopkins, played by Blake Harrison (The Inbetweeners, Trust Me), UNIT’s medical officer. Bright and capable, if a little wet behind the ears, he seems cast in the mould of good old Harry Sullivan and clearly shows promise. Indeed, of the three new UNIT faces – the other being Corporal Linda Maxwell (Genevieve Gaunt) on loan from the Signals Regiment – Daniel is the only one who does not seem actively annoyed by the Doctor’s arrival!

With dual threats in the story, both human and alien, Scott Handcock leads us a merry dance and delivers a surprising tale, one which delivers an emotional impact that would not feel out of place in a modern television episode. The title is a clever one too, with its relevance only becoming clear late in the day.

Along with the new UNIT regulars, director Jamie Anderson has assembled an impressive guest cast; Anna Louise Plowman (Dalek, Stargate SG1) plays Dr Jennifer Harrison, while Deborah Thomas is her paymaster Annabel Morden. Also, Jacob Dudman. who narrates The Tenth Doctor Chronicles, plays multiple roles.

The Helliax Rift is an interesting start for this new UNIT team and we look forward to meeting them again in July’s Hour Of The Cybermen, which also promises the return of David Banks playing the booming 80’s Cyberleader.

*clenches fist * Excellent!