Counter-Measures Series 2

Posted in Audio by - February 16, 2018
Counter-Measures Series 2

Released June 2013

The first series of Counter-Measures deftly brought the covert 1960s world of government, politics, military, and science to life, evoking the time period with excellent use of sound design, dialogue, and classically trained actors. With a shift from technology and social control to the people themselves, the second series arrives to further expand upon the burgeoning Counter-Measures operation as the threats its members encounter only increase in scope and danger.

Opening the series is ‘Manhunt’ by Matt Fitton in which Group Captain Ian Gilmore is on the run after being accused of murder as Allison and Rachel investigate a strange series of murders across the country while trying to accept Gilmore’s apparent replacement, Captain Astor. The mystery at the centre of ‘Manhunt’ unfolds primarily through evidence of nefarious experiments as Sir Toby weaves his own web of intrigue behind the scenes, provoking even his team members begin to quietly question his ultimate aims. When Gilmore makes contact with Lady Waverley, the wife of the man he is accused of murdering, he soon finds emotions running high as her daughter, Emma, quite overtly makes her presence and feelings known. The ultimate revelation at the core of the story is a grimly satisfying one that is revealed at a satisfying pace after the mystery is joined with events already in progress, and Gemma Whealan in particular does superb work as Emma’s emotions fly, contrasting well with the rather more tempered approach to Captain Astor that Blake Ritson takes.

This is truly a story in which the characters take precedence, and it’s intriguing to note just how manipulative Sir Toby can be and just how far he will go to protect the truth and his own history from inquiring minds, a darker characterization compared to the public face he puts on that Hugh Ross portrays admirably. At the same time, Simon Williams is able to expand upon the usual military persona of the Group Captain as his character fights to escape and to ensure his very survival, and though it’s wholly expected that he has been wrongly accused and will rejoin the team, this element of instinctiveness and quick-wittedness proves just how valuable he can be when the pressure of the situation dictates. Naturally, Allison has not quite recovered from the harrowing events that affected her so personally at the end of series one, and Karen Gledhill subtly plays up this angle as Allison tries to make up for past decisions and consequences by bolding making the most of her ever-changing present. It is a bit unfortunate that this story is first only because of the limited time Captain Astor has to develop before plot developments preclude him from further adventures, but this is nonetheless a great opening story that poses a unique mystery and reintroduces the titular team perfectly.

‘The Fifth Citadel’ by James Goss deliberately takes a slower approach to introduce the new mystery at hand as the as-yet unused pairings of Sir Toby with Rachel and Group Captain Gilmore with Allison independently come to the same inevitable conclusion. The characterization of each of the leads is superb here as the hidden motivations of Sir Toby are again furtively discussed, and the sight of Underground workers in the centre of London balding and showing signs of radiation sickness is a suitably eerie visual on which to hook both the heroes and audience. Even more intriguing is the discovery of lead-lined coffins beneath a medieval church, the corpses inside dressed in modern garb despite the ancient dating around them. This is a story that spends more of its time building up the mystery than actually dealing with the fallout, but the atmosphere and suspense more than carry the expansive introductory development of Sir Toby’s apparent hunt for radiation.

While most stories would shy away from actually delving directly into Sir Toby’s mindset at this point, ‘The Fifth Citadel’ quite explicitly states that he is always acting in his own interest as he tries to acquire every bit of information he can, in this case pertaining to a missing colleague whom he has just now found only the briefest mention of to guide his search. The link between the two investigations ends up being somewhat tenuous, a fact that is mentioned within the story itself, but the historically accuarate presence of doomsday bunkers throughout London and the secret danger that an otherwise-unknown one presents suggest an utterly believable, homegrown threat that speaks as to just how far the government itself would go to protect its secrets. Celia Imrie is spectacular here as Dr Elizabeth Bradley and brings out a strong mixture of charisma, confidence, and menace to create a uniquely relatable but nonetheless terrifying presence who is squarely the victim of heightened circumstances. The ending is somewhat abrupt, but the lasting paranoia that results as trust is anything but a given is suitably chilling and continues to keep the characters on unsteady ground going forward.

‘Peshka’ by Mark Wright and Cavan Scott taps into the Cold War fears of the time and offers a sublime combination of characterisation, action, and morality that has been at the forefront of this second series along with the paranormal aspects of the first as a relaxing visit to an international chess tournament turns deadly serious. A genius Russian chess player wishing to defect by itself doesn’t initially inspire confidence in the Counter-Measures team members that their particular talents are being put to best use, but it’s just the first piece in an intricate plot that continues to expand and develop with plenty of emotion and red herrings to keep the heroes wary until the very end. While it is true that the audience may figure out the truth well before the team, the journey is nonetheless a relentlessly entertaining one that presents a very unique challenge that calls each member’s judgment into question.

Intriguingly, Wright and Scott purposefully set out to mislead the audience, writing the leads as bickering, emotion-fueled figures rather than as their more collected and sensible selves. This initially seems like completely misguided characterisation, but it dovetails perfectly into the burgeoning story about Russian hothousing and the potential power to read minds and to predict the future that past experiments may have created. While this seems to explain Barkov’s success at chess, the hidden truth is far darker with much more far-reaching consequences, and the brother-sister duo of Bo Poraj’s Shurik Barkov and Emily Tucker’s Anya Barkov present an engaging dual presence for Counter-Measures to try to understand and uncover as their suspicions continue to shift and rational and irrational thoughts and actions continue to battle against each other. Buoyed by the magnificent accents of Poraj and Tucker, ‘Peshka’ initially seems like it will be a more subdued affair than normal, but the end result is a truly engaging thriller where danger is always present and nothing can be assumed or assured, a rewarding experience regardless of when the listener uncovers the reality at the heart of the deception and secrecy.

‘Sins of the Fathers’ by John Dorney closes out the series by revisiting the lingering loose ends from ‘Manhunt’ to bookend this set with a powerfully emotional thriller that pushes Sir Toby more than ever before. Again tying into the paranoia of the times, the covert eugenics programme speaks of the more offensive actions the British may have taken had World War II gone badly compared to the more defensive ones shown in ‘The Fifth Citadel.’ As the story focuses in on one individual whose life has been destroyed by the secrets of the past, the revelations come incredibly quickly throughout and resultantly thrust Kinsella’s right-hand man, Templeton, squarely into the emotional spotlight, a position that Philip Pope excels in with a wonderful range of emotions as his character follows his beliefs regardless of the consequences. At the same time, the delicate trust that exists between Sir Toby and his team members is expertly and overtly called into question as the lengths to which he will go to protect his own past truly come to light, in the process clarifying some of the character’s murky past while only further underscoring the gaping fissure that remains within the ranks of Counter-Measures. There is perhaps an overreliance on sound effects to progress the plot in some instances, but ‘Sins of the Father’ is certainly an emotional climax that resonates for all of the leads and provides undoubtedly suitable closure for the contained set as a whole.

The first series’s recurring motifs about social control were always going to be difficult to top from a storytelling standpoint, but the second series’s reliance on the characters themselves to truly explore the multi-faceted relationships between each of the leads as the stakes continue to grow is a wise choice that completely distinguishes the two while maintaining an intriguing sense of both development and consistency. Simon Williams, Pamela Salem, Karen Gledhill, and Hugh Ross again impress throughout, and Counter-Measures has once more proven just how distinctive this range’s voice and tone is as the 1960s vividly come to life and the ramifications of paranoia, social and gender politics, and actions from the past are bravely confronted.

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