Big Finish called time on the New Counter-Measures audio box sets back in 2017. Yet there’s been a strong desire since then to provide fans with a more complete and fitting endpoint for the current run. Something stronger than simply the lack of new commissions.
Following on from the group’s entanglement with a self-help messiah in last year’s impressive The Hollow King, Big Finish has released two new single story dramas. Together they deliver on the ambition to ensure a more satisfying sign-off .
First up is The Movellan Manoeuvre, which sees the return of two rather different adversaries. The intergalactic would-be planet conquerors the Movellans are back, executing a plan that might secure them lasting dominion over Earth. While the Daleks have been premiere league Who villains for decades, the Movellans have a more modest claim to infamy. First appearing in the TV serial Destiny of the Daleks in 1979, the Movellans’ sparkling disco dress-sense belies a ruthlessly logical android mindset. Unwittingly tangled up in their conspiracy is the Counter Measures team’s recurring nemesis: the scheming, beguiling Lady Suzanne Clare.
Scriptwriter John Dorney explains in the accompanying interviews how keen he was to bring Clare (Carolyn Seymour) back into the fray for this showdown. It’s great to have Seymour back in the Big Finish ensemble following the ending of the run of Survivors stories after nine series, and she’s on top form here. John’s script gives Seymour new sides of Clare’s character to explore. This wily schemer expects to come out on top. Now a more duplicitous group of manipulators wants to outwit her.
There’s a lot going on in John’s energetic script, including some clever misdirects and a neat way to extend the Movellans’ interactive capabilities. Events begin with the team’s suspicions about a new product marketed by Clare’s corporation. The Robo-Helper 2000 is an automated gizmo designed to relieve domestic pressures on a 1970s housewife. “Obviously the sexism is appalling,” Rachel notes, “but I’m not sure stopping that is entirely within our remit.”
Suspicious that Lady Clare’s agenda extends beyond automating the vacuuming, the team get to work. One of the challenges of a single story with a sizeable cast, is providing sufficient material for each of the characters. John tackles this well. Hugh Ross’ Sir Toby organises their enquiries, Pamela Salem’s Rachel heads up the investigation, and Karen Gledhill’s Allison deploys her technical talents.
Each member of the team gets a little of the limelight as their investigations unfold. Simon Williams’ Group Captain Gilmore is particularly well served. He’s the usual impatient, impulsive man-of-action, throwing himself into danger to the exasperation of his colleagues. Gilmore enjoys some fantastic interactions with Seymour’s Clare, especially as the pair bicker their way through a dangerous assignment.
Guest star Cyril Nri meanwhile provides some very precise vocal tones and textures in his portrayal of the mysterious Maurice Vallan. All becomes clear as the true nature of the Robo-Helper and full extent of the Movellans’ scheme emerge.
Things come to a dramatic head in the closing moments as the Movellans’ own bitter enemies discover their scheme, and plan their own counter-manoeuvre. Will the Counter Measures team be able to protect the Earth from a showdown between the Daleks and the Movellans? And will they all survive the attempt? There was no need to wait a 1970s week for answers to those cliffhanger questions. The New Counter Measures’ story finale The Dalek Gambit was released on the same day.
The New Counter-Measures: The Movellan Manoeuvre is available from the Big Finish site.