Old Soldiers

Posted in Audio by - February 06, 2019
Old Soldiers

Released December 2007

Though Jamie McCrimmon who featured in the preceding ‘Helicon Prime’ became one of the most enduring companions of early Doctor Who, it’s hard to think of a supporting character who has had such a lasting impact on the franchise and the Doctor himself quite so much as Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart both during and after his time with UNIT. Aside from quickly becoming the perfect practical foil for the bold and righteous Third Doctor who often could not understand the Brigadier’s very human responses to perceived alien threats, the Brigadier has continued to have an impact on future incarnations of the Doctor while even having his influence felt in the modern television series as well. In ‘Old Soldiers’ by James Swallow, Nicholas Courtney gloriously steps into the spotlight as he recalls his famed character’s visit to Kreigskind and a frightful encounter with an enemy that could breach every defence.

There have already been several different attempts at framing devices utilised early in this range, but here Swallow simply presents an older Brigadier recounting a tale to an unnamed audience, interspersing his narrative with thoughtful and emotional asides about lost comrades and just what it takes to become an old soldier. This is a story that finally delves into the psyche of the man confronted with almost impossible situations and choices on a regular basis, and the material presented offers an incredible amount of development for a character who has been in the public consciousness for several decades. His father warned him that there were very few old, bold soldiers despite there being plenty of each type individually, and he has come to realise the truth of that situation all too frequently as his own career has progressed. He doesn’t pretend to be the most educated man, but he can sense right and wrong as well as anyone, and the gentle melancholy that Courtney instills into his narration as his friend pleads for death with unspeakable dangers mounting around them provides a superb nuance to the mysterious affair in whole that works incredibly well.

At a time before Big Finish’s UNIT series began to flesh out the inner workings of this furtive organisation, at least in the modern context, ‘Old Soldiers’ offered insight into just how expansive its efforts across the world have always been, here as different strongholds watch the skies for any abnormalities and experiment with leftovers from previous invasions. Thus, between fleeting moments of lucidity from Kolonel Heinrich Schrader who has initiated the Arc Light Protocol to completely destroy the facility, the revelation that an alien plant has amplified psychic abilities and brought out echoes of fallen soldiers from this facility’s past fits in perfectly with the themes of the era while providing the Brigadier with a fitting comparison to his own actions taken against the Silurians.

Even though the Doctor doesn’t feature much until the second half, Swallow’s writing and Courtney’s nuance perfectly recapture the theatricality and determinedness of the Third Doctor and hints at the complex but respectful relationship that exists between the Brigadier and him. He’s a legend to those in UNIT’s lower ranks, and his bold parachuting entrance is a spectacular visual that complements the dark and frightening atmosphere within the facility that is only further heightened as fallen UNIT figures join the spectres’ ranks. Understandably, a brief story so focused on atmosphere, immense visuals, and the Brigadier’s own relationships with others and himself does not leave too much room for supporting characters to fully develop, and the blusterous Konrad as the second-in-command does fall somewhat flat without proving himself to be worthy of others’ respect. As a whole, though, ‘Old Soldiers’ is a powerful and gripping affair that offers a fascinating look into the inner workings of the man who has created such a lasting legacy.

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