Counter-Measures Series 3

Posted in Audio by - February 18, 2018
Counter-Measures Series 3

Released July 2014

Counter-Measures confidently burst onto the scene with a superb mixture of character-based drama steeped in science fiction and Cold War paranoia, taking the intriguing proto-UNIT group from ‘Remembrance of the Daleks’ and creating an incredibly engaging series with a tone all its own. Indeed, while all of the main characters continue to develop naturally and believably as they confront strange goings-on with incredible stakes, no single person has garnered quite as much attention as Hugh Ross’s Sir Toby Kinsella who has gone from likeable civil servant simply doing his job to a subtly darker manipulator whose every motivation and decision is the subject of consternation and question, and series three begins with the fallout of that murky progression.

‘Changing of the Guard’ by Matt Fitton begins this third series with dual storylines as Sir Toby finds his career hanging in the balance as he is the subject of an enquiry regarding his part in the events of series two while his team investigates a strange red crystalline goo that defies the laws of physics that is intrinsically tied to a furtive gang war in which a new figure is trying to assert himself. In essence this approach combines the more situation-based drama of the first series with the more character-based of the second, and although the gangster storyline may not be the most inspired, it certainly evokes the 1960s era of the London criminal underground and provides plenty of opportunities for the leads to assert themselves as they try to understand what exactly it is they are dealing with and how it pertains to the mysterious Kenny and his many appearances around the city. In a short time, Ben Bishop and the unique circumstances that the script affords him make Kenny into a suitably intriguing figure whom ambition and greed have overtaken, and he becomes another very human- if misguided- face for the mysterious circumstances that the team can both relate to and react against.

Instead, the core of the drama in ‘Changing of the Guard’ very much centres on Sir Toby’s hearing. It’s quite surprising how quickly events have led him to this moment, and Hugh Ross gives a very emotionally nuanced performance that stays true to everything he has done in the past while he tries to explain those choices and actions that are now under the microscope as accusatory tones and looks bombard him at every moment. There is a missed opportunity to really delve into just how much distrust Group Captain Gilmore, Allison Williams, and Rachel Jensen harbour for their leader at this time, something that is subtly explored in more detail later in the series, but the testimony that these members offer is intriguing because of what remains unsaid just as much as what is. While Sir Toby is otherwise occupied, Philip Pope’s Templeton assumes command, and though this provides a suitable alternative scenario for the team to adjust to, the character seems to be written and played purposefully here to paint Sir Toby’s own style in a more positive light, an interesting choice that bodes well for Sir Toby’s eventual rejoining but that also eliminates an altogether more fascinating future route that could have been taken had Templeton been the superior figurehead.

has already delivered plenty of thrilling and chilling ideas, but ‘The Concrete Cage’ by Justin Richards is the most prominent example of the series truly using unnerving imagery and sound design as a driving force for the narrative, combining the contemporary building of hulking tower blocks with an eerie ghost story related directly to the past. The title is a great reference to the sentiment that inhabitants of these new buildings felt, less fortunate individuals who truly did find their standard of living elevated but who also found that the camaraderie and friendliness of people on the streets disappeared in the process. When denizens begin seeing visions of the war and then jumping out of windows to their deaths, though, the newly-reunited Counter-Measures team finds its way to the latest high-profile social project to explore the ramifications of the government’s cost-cutting measures that have allowed the past to be reborn once more.

Big Finish has always been masterful at creating disturbing and unsettling soundscapes, and ‘The Concrete Cage’ benefits from this expertise immensely to alleviate the fact that the visions the team experience end up by design being quite repetitive with slightly diminishing returns. Even when paired with the fact that the technobabble-laden resolution is rather glaring and somewhat suspect for a series usually grounded on a slightly closer edge of reality, Richards is still able to craft a very engrossing tale overall because of his wonderful pacing and atmosphere that never falter at any point. Michael Troughton does very well as the less than likable Roderick Purton whose interest in local history is quite hauntingly personal, and he provides an intriguing gateway to the truth behind Janet Henfrey’s disconcerting and repetitive old woman whose words hold more meaning than initially thought, these supporting characters supporting the engaging leads well to see the mystery through to its frightening conclusion.

Director Ken Bentley contributes the third script of the series, ‘The Forgotten Village,’ taking the emotionally-beleaguered Allison Williams back to her hometown to bring the character and her past squarely into focus in a much more intimate affair than the range has so far offered. Returning to remote Herefordshire for the first time in a decade to care for her father who appears to be suffering from early-onset dementia, Allison reunites with her first significant boyfriend, Rupert Evans’s Jack Maddocks, and confronts once more so many of the factors that initially drove her to leave to the more open-minded and non-judgmental atmosphere of Cambridge. Given all that Allison has seen and experienced, the struggle she experiences as she tries to reconnect to her childhood within the mindset and parameters of her current life is incredibly rewarding from a narrative standpoint, and the strange goings-on that threaten to tear apart those familiar surroundings certainly present a very unique and trying test for her and eventually the entire Counter-Measures team.

The destructive mystery at hand here is so successful because clues are in the background details right from the very start, Bentley easily achieving the balance of providing necessary information without it ever seeming too brazen and intrusive or too esoteric and frivolous. Quite rightly, much focus is put on the worsening state of Mr Williams whose failing capacities are played up expertly by Tim Bentinck, and there is a remarkably poignant chemistry between Karen Gledhill and him that realistically hints at the years the characters spent together even as Allison came to so strongly disagree with his actions. Indeed, Gledhill brings out a harsher side to her character when initially in contact with Jack as well, and this slight shift in characterisation effectively becomes the major impetus of the narrative as she struggles to put those feelings to the side in order to save the innocents caught up in the malign influence that is much more sinister and rewarding than a typical base under siege threat. Despite occasional brief moments where the plot seems to be wandering a bit, the end result is a very satisfying one that shows how variable the setup of this range can be while still delivering in spades as the scene is set for a momentous finale.

With the team still reeling from the fallout of the previous story and Allison unable to remember anything about herself or her past, ‘Unto the Breach’ by John Dorney closes out the series with a trip behind the Iron Curtain, slyly mentioning how most of the alien incursion seems to happen on British soil in the process. With most of the action taking place in East Berlin, tensions rise as the trio of Sir Toby, the Group Captain, and Rachel aim to infiltrate enemy lines and find out if an alien truly is present and working for the Soviet side. With Cold War paranoia at its most intense and an ever-deepening conspiracy that challenges the individual interpretations of the capture or eliminate orders facing Ian and Rachel, Counter-Measures as a whole has never been challenged quite as much as it is here, and the truth behind the figure in question is dramatically satisfying and further hints at the types of threats they may need to face in the future given the speed of scientific advancement on both sides of the Berlin Wall. Even as Allison appears to recover her memories and to instantly distrust Templeton once again, with Gilmore appalled by Rachel’s actions and declaring that he is done with the team before a series of tremendously tense cliffhangers beset the colleagues that hint at a far greater conspiracy lurking in the shadows, business as usual- even within the context of this team’s remit- will surely be anything but going forward.

Sir Toby isn’t quite the intense focus of derision in this series that he has been previously despite the lingering distrust that occasionally manifests throughout, but the continuing focus on each of the team members during quicker-paced stories with greater linked narrative payoff is a dynamic shift for the series to take that pays instant dividends. Although there are unquestionably a few areas throughout that could have been tightened up to even better amplify the personal and larger drama at hand, the end result is an immensely engaging experience that only gets better as it progresses to its end, the stories once more bolstered by strong direction and sound design to complement the superb performances of Simon Williams, Pamela Salem, Hugh Ross, and Karen Gledhill.

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