Snake Head

Posted in Audio by - April 09, 2018
Snake Head

Released January 2005

UNIT’s new commander, Colonel Robert Dalton, and political officer, Colonel Emily Chaudhry, take up investigating strange goings-on in Southend as a mobile call to emergency services, a savaged body found on government land, and an ancient burial site unearthed beneath an archaeological dig suggest that this might just be out of the local constabulary’s remit.

‘Time Heals’ took the unfortunate misstep of presenting far too many problems to allow the new cast of characters to develop in any meaningful way, but ‘Snake Head’ rectifies that slip by very much bringing Dalton and Chaudhry to the forefont without sacrificing the overall narrative that still very much taps into the racial undertones and immigration policies that persist in society today. Chaudhry proves herself to be very open-minded and accepting of others’ beliefs, perhaps to a fault, and Siri O’Neal gives a far more relaxed and natural performance here as her character quickly develops a working relationship with Dalton and eagerly throws herself into the investigation at hand out in the field. Similarly, Dalton becomes the charismatic and well-intentioned lead the pilot story assured everyone he was through words but failed to show until he proved willing to sacrifice himself. Nicholas Deal likewise gives a strong performance as Dalton who has such a strong moral compass and refreshingly does not fall into the usual trap of jumping to blame aliens for what may be a very Earthbound threat. The two leads haven’t quite developed the stellar chemistry needed to carry this series yet, but their moments together nonetheless remain some of the strongest of this story.

Though by no means essential to the understanding of UNIT, it’s still enjoyable to see that someone in the organisation is tasked with fielding the many calls to help separate genuine issues from utter wastes of time, a role that Hoffman begrudgingly plays as he tries to get a handle on when to forward calls to superiors and when to simply send a form letter. For the actual investigation that begins with a look into the illegal immigrant gangs called Snake Heads that do the tedious and humble work nobody else wants to, UNIT is introduced to the Albanian superstitions regarding invisible vampires who take advantage of young girls and suck the marrow from their victims’ bones, the only people safe being those with an orthodox priest in the family. ‘Snake Head’ makes the poignant fact that, for some people, believing in the supernatural is far easier and more comforting that the harsh reality of the cold world around them. Many franchises, including Doctor Who with Big Finish’s own audio adventures, have successfully introduced vampires or similar beings through a strong central villainous character that exemplifies the true nature of the threat involved, but UNIT here doesn’t quite manage to achieve the same effect by instead trying to maintain an air of uncertainty as its leads interview locals while studying the relevant mythology. Unfortunately, by the time the vampire actually manifests, ‘Snake Head’ hasn’t really managed to build any palpable sense of danger or consequence, and the fact that UNIT simply leaves the locals to hopefully realise that they have been manipulated instead of staying to ensure a proper resolution that fits within a single narrative seems like an oversight the organisation wouldn’t be likely to miss.

Ultimately, the first two full stories in this burgeoning UNIT range have proven that there isn’t one particular tone Big Finish is trying to achieve. While that approach works to great effect in Doctor Who itself given its very foundations predicated upon change, doing so with two leads still trying to find their voices and comfort zone is a strange approach that makes it difficult to define a particular personality type and set mentality. ‘Snake Head’ is much more confident and developed than its predecessor, but it still hasn’t quite found the balance needed to bring supernatural elements into the gritty realism of the modern world that the range is trying to achieve.

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