First appearing in 2013’s The Power Of Three, the modern incarnation of UNIT enjoyed a smattering of appearances onscreen with both the Eleventh and Twelfth Doctors, dealing with Zygons, Missy and her Cyber-minions. On audio they have been rather more prolific, notching up eight boxsets of adventures which have featured a mix of old enemies and original foes.
In addition to Jemma Redgrave (Kate Stewart) and Ingrid Oliver, who reprises her fannish fan favourite Osgood, the regular team includes the gung-ho Captain Josh Carter (James Joyce), Ramon Tikkaram’s reliable Colonel Shindi and occasionally, international trouble-shooter Lieutenant Sam Bishop (Strike Back’s Warren Brown).
This Sleep Of Death
In a sequel to the superbly creepy Sixth Doctor audio story Static, we return to the remote Abby Marston – now one of UNIT’s most terrible secrets. Despite picking up on the threads of that previous adventure, no foreknowledge is required as writer Jonathan Morris introduces us to the remarkable powers at play through the fresh eyes of Osgood and Carter, who ask all the right questions for us.
Guest star Andrew French is excellent as the embittered Sgt Warren Calder, whose actions precipitate the adventure and with a substantive thread left dangling, we wonder if we might we be due a third visit to Abby Marston and a final encounter with the threat of the Static? We rather hope so!
Lisa McMullin’s story sees the team investigating deadly weather, with Kate visiting an oil rig while Osgood and Sam Bishop fly to the Outer Hebrides to investigate a talking chimney and its thoroughly eccentric owner. As outlandish as it may sound, the story works through a clever scientific puzzle and finds Kate butting heads with corporate forces, as well as some anti-alien sentiment, as she endeavours to apply her “science leads” approach to rescue the day.
In the wider cast, Alexandra Mathie rather steals the show with a spirited performance as the indomitable Mother McCracken and Chris Jarman is excellent as the resentful and obstinate Joel Sanders, in charge of the rig.
The Power Of River Song Part 1 & 2
Taking its cues from some of those great Pertwee UNIT stories, the team find themselves looking after the security of a new energy project, directed by one Professor River Song. UNIT and River did not cross paths onscreen, and the story leans into that fact as Kate Stewart views the time-traveller with a healthy degree of suspicion from the start.
Across a wider canvas of two episodes, the narrative splits the regulars into three story threads; while Osgood and River struggle to find common ground in their problem-solving approaches, Kate confronts her mortality in the most unusual of circumstances.
Meanwhile, Sam Bishop and sometime UNIT ally Jacqui McGee face off against both a dinosaur and a bunch of Vikings – while fun, their thread felt ultimately rather inconsequential and the obligatory monster peril aspect of the tale.
There is plenty going on here though, with guest star Alex Kingston granted some sparkling one-liners, but for us, the story’s highlight is Kate Stewart’s dilemma: though a naturally more restrained character than the showy River, her dilemma in this tale (which we will not spoil here) prompts some of Jemma Redgrave’s most compelling work on the series to date.
With some enjoyable snark about the political imperatives of clean energy, and the establishment’s desperation leading to their faith in River’s project, it is a wonder that room was not made for an unscrupulous man (or woman) from the ministry to butt heads with. Perhaps the UNIT world could do with such a character to bedevil our heroes?
UNIT: Incursions provides another entertaining, diverse bunch of tales and while the series might be taking a breather to facilitate the introduction of a new script editor, there is no indication of the format becoming tired – although we did rather miss the presence of the Ramon Tikkaram’s Colonel Shindi in this set. Also, having handled plenty of the big-name Doctor Who monsters, it would be good for the series to develop some more original threats.
Once again, these stories are backed with impressive music and sound design by Howard Carter, and director Ken Bentley ensures the drama is played out with plenty of pace.
UNIT on screen may have been disappeared due to the budget cuts we heard about in Resolution – and there is a box set idea in due course – but it looks like the organisation’s future is in good hands on audio!