UNIT: Assembled
Audio / May 26, 2017

Released May 2017 SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW Through three boxsets, the UNIT audio range has already established itself as one of Big Finish’s most enthralling and engaging, perfectly blending the mannerisms and sensibilities of both classic and modern Doctor Who while proving more than capable of standing tall without the help of the wayward Time Lord. For the much-anticipated fourth set of stories, UNIT: Assembled seamlessly brings together members of both eras of UNIT, highlighting the similarities that span generations as Earth’s original ruling denizens once more awaken to wreak havoc. Matt Fitton’s ‘Call to Arms’ opens the set on a more reflective and personal note to allow the audience to become at least somewhat familiar with the post-UNIT lives of John Levene’s John Benton and Richard Franklin’s Mike Yates, the two who quite explicitly serve as a doorway to the much beloved Third Doctor era of Doctor Who here. As characters and Doctors move on, it’s rare to revisit past companions and acquaintances, especially in their more mature years, but even taking the small step to reveal that Benton moved on from selling cars to owning a pub is a welcome piece of information that further defines such a well-liked…

Battlefield
Episode / May 9, 2017

Aired 6 – 27 September 1989 ‘Battlefield’ opens up what would become Doctor Who’s final season, following in the footsteps of the previous season opener and incorporating a look to the past while further defining the more complex characterization and storylines of the Seventh Doctor. Indeed, the Doctor here is at his most manipulative, a version of him from the future managing to use the current version as a pawn in one of his many grandiose schemes. The Seventh Doctor traveling around the universe to settle old scores and tie up loose ends had been gradually introduced over the previous year, but this is the first time that the Doctor’s personal past, present, and future have crossed paths, lending an extreme depth to the character and adding a degree of certainty to his future when the continuation of the programme was anything but certain. ‘Battlefield’ is actually quite successful with its blending of elements and imagery from different eras of both real-life and the programme’s history even if the production never quite meets its full potential. The notion of Arthurian knights invading modern-day Britain is an enticing concept and certainly helps to anchor the story on a visual level. However,…

The Android Invasion
Audio / December 5, 2016

Aired 22 November – 13 December 1975 Tom Baker’s second season as the titular Time Lord has gotten off to a very strong start, ‘Terror of the Zygons’ and ‘Pyramids of Mars’ legitimate classics and ‘Planet of Evil’ an underrated but solid adventure in its own right. While ‘The Android Invasion’ does ultimately serve as a perfectly decent piece of entertainment, though, its positioning in this particular season makes it feel more prosaic than it might have otherwise, writer Terry Nation and director Barry Letts providing something of a flashback to previous eras in the process. Whereas ‘Terror of the Zygons’ seemingly bid farewell to the UNIT era of the programme, ‘The Android Invasion’ tries to bring back the sentiment of that era without explicitly doing so. While many of the stories of Tom Baker’s early tenure have featured a gothic horror backdrop, this story again brings back the parallels to modern-day Britain and its space programme, the UNIT officer Colonel Farraday who is conspicuously similar to the Brigadier, and even Ian Marter’s Harry Sullivan as the show’s first returning true companion. Unfortunately, while this is all certainly passable, Harry never gets to do much in the story and no…

UNIT: Silenced
Audio / December 1, 2016

Released November 2016 The Silents and their fascinating history as genetically-engineered confessional priests with rogue elements within their ranks are unquestionably some of the strongest highlights of the modern televised era of Doctor Who. With a frighteningly iconic appearance and the chilling abilities to subliminally implant ideas while they themselves are instantly forgotten the moment they are out of sight, the Silence made an instant impact and presented the Doctor with one of his most unique and difficult challenges yet when introduced in ‘The Impossible Astronaut’ and ‘The Day of the Moon.’ UNIT: Silenced wisely does not shy away from the fallout of those episodes, instead picking up the tale of the remaining Silents who have been forced into hiding after accidentally commanding their own deaths whenever seen. UNIT: Silenced is structured a bit differently than most of box sets in Big Finish’s many ranges, neither telling four disparate tales nor four tightly-intertwined tales leading directly into each other. Instead, there is a definite sense of time passing throughout this release, lending credibility to just how incredibly difficult fighting a foe that can’t be remembered is while also highlighting the burgeoning strength of the Silents as their increasingly complex and…

Terror of the Zygons
Episode / November 30, 2016

Aired 30 August – 20 September 1975 If Tom Baker’s debut story, ‘Robot,’ set out to provide an air of familiarity as the Fourth Doctor tackled a strictly Third Doctor story, ‘Terror of the Zygons’ provides a definite point of departure for the two eras as it plays upon past conventions while injecting the wholly different feel of the Fourth Doctor era that has already become so clear and strong after some experimentation during Baker’s first year. Even with the Third Doctor continually returning to Earth after his exile ended, the Fourth Doctor made it abundantly clear from the outset that he had no interest in doing so, and the tightly-connected stories of Baker’s first year support this new incarnation’s desire to once more travel through space and time. Thus, his frustration at the Brigadier summoning him back to Earth to help with another alien invasion is understandable, and it’s quite interesting to note how the underlying air of friendliness that simmered beneath the Third Doctor’s condescending remarks towards the Brigadier has almost completely vanished. As a new foe, the Zygons make an instant impression, buoyed by superb costuming that captures the organic alien menace perfectly. The last survivors of…

Invasion of the Dinosaurs
Episode / November 15, 2016

Aired 12 January – 16 February 1974 In its early years, Doctor Who often told overly ambitious stories that the budget and effects couldn’t quite match. In fact, it’s part of the distinct charm of the classic series in general, and while there will always being certain episodes and moments that suffer from this more than others, very rarely does the credulity of the effects really affect the story being told. The transition of the Pertwee years to a more Earth-centric format alleviated this to some extent, the thought being that the budgeted effects would be more prominent and distractive in colour, but ‘Invasion of the Dinosaurs’- by its title alone- draws intense focus to the effects bringing the dinosaurs to life in modern-day London, letting down fans expecting to see something more realistic and even failing to meet the expectations of the production team. Looking past the puppets, costumes, and Colour Separation Overlay employed for the dinosaurs that are so clearly the root of this tale, ‘Invasion of the Dinosaurs’ is one of the few Pertwee tales to really embrace the concept of time and time travel. Here, a group of people is determined to rewind time back to…

The Green Death
Episode / November 12, 2016

Aired 19 May – 23 June 1973 One of the trademarks of the Jon Pertwee era is its willingness to tackle important and sometimes difficult political and social issues. At least a small part of the reasoning for originally bounding the Third Doctor to Earth was to give him a chance to confront the issues that plague humanity on a daily basis, and that concept fortunately is not forgotten now that the Doctor has regained his ability to travel throughout time and space. Finally giving reason to the occasional references of Metebelis III over the past several stories along the way, the Doctor finds himself at least initially entwined in the battle between corporations and the environment in a story that very much feels like another early attempt at a more grandiose season finale. The core conflict is effectively set up early on in the small Welsh mining town of Llanfairfach, Global Chemicals responsible for the sudden appearance of a toxic green slime and giant maggots as the result of burying the toxic by-product from their highly profitable oil processing system. Led by the business-driven Stevens, the executives involved do at least show flashes of conscientiousness, making them a much…

The Sea Devils
Episode / November 2, 2016

Aired 26 February – 1 April 1972 ‘The Sea Devils’ is, in essence, a complementary sequel to ‘Doctor Who and the Silurians,’ arguably the most ambitious and morally complex story of the early Pertwee era. Though the sequel may not attempt to explore the inner emotional and moral turmoil as well as its predecessor, its ambition is every bit as great while at the same time offering a more balanced pace, a greater emphasis on action, and an improved costume design to create another very engaging story. Filmed in collaboration with the Royal Navy, ‘The Sea Devils’ is a classic British adventure story, and the production values are phenomenal, lending a true sense of scope and peril to proceedings. With thrilling boat chases, explosions, and even a nearly-laughable escape by the beguiling Master at the end, ‘The Sea Devils’ is certainly not going to appease those looking for a slower character piece. As the notion of humans cohabitating their planet with another sentient species had already been discussed and proven impossible with the Silurians, writer Malcolm Hulke thankfully does not overindulge in retreading familiar territory with the Sea Devils, instead allowing the threat to unfold naturally while only hinting at…

The Daemons
Episode / October 31, 2016

Aired 22 May – 19 June 1971 Jon Pertwee’s second year in the titular role is undoubtedly less experimental than his first, the stories for the most part very clearly following the template laid out in ‘Terror of the Autons’ and using that template to good effect. ‘The Daemons’ also marks the first attempt at a dramatic season finale that offers a dramatic settlement of what has come before it. Its execution is somewhat reserved as it only underscores the multiple appearances of the Master in this season and features a much bigger foe than any previous story, but it’s an important step nonetheless that adds extra weight to this serial and with refined effects that are still felt and implemented in the modern television series. ‘The Daemons’ expertly blends together a certain New Age philosophy with the much darker culture of the occult, and the satanic foe and imagery around hallowed grounds is employed superbly at a time when The Church of Satan was gaining prominence as an organized religion. Indeed, the Master seems quite acclimated with Earth’s studies and theories of the occult, even offering a spin on one of the the famous occultist Aleister Crowley’s declarations, presenting…

The Claws of Axos
Episode / October 29, 2016

Aired 13 March – 3 April 1971 ‘The Claws of Axos’ has strangely come under criticism in the decades since its broadcast for simply being the epitome of the Pertwee era. While it may not dare to do anything groundbreaking, the story told of aliens landing in Great Britain and offering to resolve all of mankind’s trouble with a mysterious technology that ends up being much too good to be true is still a very intriguing and well-paced one. The strict Earth-based setting for the early Pertwee years does inherently limit the types of stories that can be told without forgetting the science fiction element, but the friendly alien invasion plot achieves everything it sets out to do while pushing the boundaries of practical and special effects of the programme with decidedly mixed results. The colour separation overlay technique has been increasingly employed through the early Pertwee stories, and that trend certainly continues here, giving an almost living comic book feel to the scenes aboard the Axon vessel but unfortunately not creating an overwhelming sense of verisimilitude. The actual Axons themselves come in two forms, the golden humanoid iterations used for negotiations much more visually effective than the trundling rubber-and-cloth…