Counter-Measures Series 4

Posted in Audio by - February 21, 2018
Counter-Measures Series 4

Released July 2015

The third series of Counter-Measures ended with a monumental tease hinting at the breadth of the international conspiracy threatening to undermine the heroic team as gunfire and brainwashing resulted in a complete upending of the usual norms. With half of the team manipulated to accept new faces as familiar friends and the other half trapped in an escape-proof prison, the fourth series opens with the personal dangers more prevalent than ever and the truth tantalizingly just out of reach.

Opening the series is ‘New Horizons’ by Mark Wright and Cavan Scott as Group Captain Gilmore, Allison Williams, Rachel Jensen, and Sir Toby Kinsella investigate the enigmatic titular company behind a monorail that has seen work disrupted because of an explosion. It’s instantly clear that the vocal stylings of Gilmore and Kinsella are not quite the familiar ones that Simon Williams and Hugh Ross have respectively provided through the previous adventures, but the story wisely does well to still highlight the better qualities of these false spins on familiar characters in order to add verisimilitude for the women and to believably progress the intriguing plot. This is particularly rewarding since the paranoia that usually pervades this series intensifies within Rachel as she begins to question the shift in usual interactions between the team and whether she is going insane as the reality she knows seems to come into flux.

The pacing and atmosphere are as strong as ever in ‘New Horizons,’ but the plot treads into something more akin to an action adventure series than typical Counter-Measures as the mythical substance vril that was the subject of Nazi efforts during the war is unleashed, bringing with it advances in technology, strength, and mental acuity. This, of course, makes the uneven ground this team- at least partially- is on even more tenuous as the latter two aspects almost by necessity result in different shades of characterisation coming to the forefront, but it’s quite captivating to see the pros and cons of such a powerful proposition play out on such a small and intimate stage while the prospect of this substance being released to the general population looms large. ‘New Horizons’ works quite well as a standalone story even given the arc it is continuing, and it’s a satisfying entry into what promises to be an altogether different affair for Counter-Measures which still finds itself in wholly unfamiliar territory as the nefarious plot surrounding its members slowly continues to unfold with more questions asked than answers provided to this point.

After one episode without the true Sir Toby and Gilmore truly present, ‘The Keep’ by Ken Bentley brings the two squarely into focus as they try to escape the most secure and secretive prison in England. As Rachel and Allison continue to regain their memories and senses of individual self, the team begins to reform in a satisfying and tense manner, neatly handling the cliffhanger of the third series without lessening its effect and deftly exposing the conspiracy and cover-up that have kept the team apart and so muddled. In an effort to lend a sense of cohesiveness to the series, the team also comes upon a certain figure from the past who was once involved in mental exploits, and the circumspect experiments now occurring both pertaining to that ability and others continues to flesh out the extent of the nefarious deeds at hand as Counter-Measures finally seems to find an ally in Richard Hope’s Heaton who certainly knows more than he is willing to state and undoubtedly hides many more secrets behind his helpful hand.

‘The Keep’ is very much the first of a two-part sequence even when positioned as the second entry in this four-story set, and so a good portion of this story continues to develop the threat without necessarily offering the explanations that might be expected at this point. Nonetheless, it makes very clear that Counter-Measures has fallen out of favour with the government, leaving its members precious few options besides using their own ingenuity and intelligence along with a couple of plot conveniences, portraying the group in an entirely novel situation where the establishment is not supportive. This dynamic brings out further intriguing developments with the established leads as they try to piece together the truth around them and begin to mount a meaningful- if optimistic given their small numbers- resistance.

‘Rise and Shine’ by John Dorney begins to offer up answers at a furious pace as old enemies emerge with the future of the entire world at stake. In a somewhat surprising move, the payoff to recent events ties quite directly into Big Finish’s Seventh Doctor Main Range release ‘1963: The Assassination Games’ in which Sir Toby was able to get Counter-Measures re-established after meeting Rachel for the first time and tricking her into investigating the Starfire project, a genocidal alien plot by the Light using people in strategic governmental positions. This alien illuminati was perhaps not completely destroyed, however, and though the exact numbers of those remaining is unclear, the scorched Earth policy to be enacted through sleeper agents and mind manipulation is just as severe as before.

Exactly why the Light would choose to take such a slow and subtle approach to destroying the world is never fully addressed, and the previous implantation of the Othello plans does come off as a bit too convenient as a point of plot progression, but fortunately the characters are wise enough to realise that the situation as a whole is far too simple as they seemingly uncover the secret base at the heart of the operations, leading them to continue their desperate search for the truth. ‘Rise and Shine’ once more employs familiar faces from the past, perhaps none included quite so successfully as Templeton who is revealed to be a willing- if unknowing- pawn who also finally earns a chance at a semblance of redemption after a rather tumultuous arc alongside Counter-Measures and its circles of influence, an arc that Philip Pope has consistently played with great conviction. The inclusion of Philip Bretherton’s Sir Keith Kordel also brings the past and present firmly together as pathogens inimical to human life find the force and means of delivery they need to wreak havoc collide. On another note, it’s quite satisfying to think that the efforts of Counter-Measures have resulted in counter-Counter-Measures forces because of the lives lost due to the team’s efforts, but it’s hard to argue that the common good is always at the heart of any actions taken. Indeed, the boundary at which pursuing the common good infringes upon one’s soul is a great discussion point that comes up to understand the difference between Sir Toby and Templeton, two of the more furtive characters of the franchise, providing a nice emotional core to the bombastic events on display.

Truly, ‘Rise and Shine’ could have served as a fitting conclusion to a three-part set with an old enemy left alive, expertly setting the scene for a rogue team hiding away under false identities that is still trying to get to the heart of the Light conspiracy now that the sleepers have seemingly been handled. However, ‘Clean Sweep’ by Matt Fitton closes out the set with those tense ramifications and by its end completely changes the trajectory of the franchise. With the team in hiding and assailed by an unknown enemy, Counter-Measures returns to the slightly smaller and more intimate scope with which it has excelled over the preceding sets, and this is the story that best makes it seem as though the team is truly at the centre of events rather than accessories who happened upon something bigger and used good fortune to make a difference. With excellent sound design, the claustrophobic paranoia and sense of having all actions watched is palpable and recaptures the essence of the earlier series expertly even within this new setup.

With their base demolished and their lives as they knew them ended, Gilmore, Rachel, and Allison more than prove that they have what it takes to go up against the nefarious foes who want them silenced once and for all, and the even more furtive nature of their actions works to great effect while intensifying the personal threat. ‘Clean Sweep’ may not deliver many complete shocks during the course of its narrative, but it’s extremely confident and manages to keep a very suspenseful tone from the very beginning that continues up until the truly shocking finale in which the enemy seems to emerge victorious against the three intrepid heroes. The sound effects are a little overbearing in this one instance, but the unsettling last scene in which Sir Toby claims not to know any of his past colleagues is immensely effective and seemingly effectively ends any possible future exploits for this team at this time as Counter-Measures ends and The New Counter-Measures looms on the horizon.

The interlinked nature or these four stories is unquestionably a strong highlight of this fourth series, and the interpersonal drama on display is as strong as ever thanks to the incredible performances from Simon Williams, Pamela Salem, Karen Gledhill, and Hugh Ross. However, the grandiose alien plot and its ever-expanding threat do take away from some of the intense focus on the known nuances of the individual characters that the previous sets enjoyed as the characters try to come to terms with their new surroundings and situations. While it’s undeniably satisfying to see the past of the franchise come back to haunt the characters in the present in a sort of celebratory fashion for the end of a strong series in this current iteration, the threat is seemingly so massive that it’s almost impossible to believe that these individuals practically by themselves could manage to make a meaningful difference, and the narrative conveniences that are sometimes employed seem to realise this aspect as well in order to help further suspend disbelief when the characters’ innate intelligence and resourcefulness are not enough. As a result, series four is a satisfying set that closes this version of the franchise in style, but it doesn’t quite carry the intended impact because of the contrast of the intimacy of the Counter-Measures group and style and the all-encompassing threat and expanded character roster they find themselves up against.

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