The New Counter-Measures Series One

Posted in Audio by - February 25, 2018
The New Counter-Measures Series One

Released December 2016
SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

Big Finish has had undoubted success creating spinoffs from both televised and audio Doctor Who serials when a character, group of characters, or concept captures the audience’s imagination, and Counter-Measures from 1988’s ‘Remembrance of the Daleks’ has certainly not been an exception, initially developing as a sort of proto-UNIT that meshed science with science fiction and brilliantly captured the black and white ambience of the paranoia of the Cold War in the 1960s in which it operated. Yet as the main four characters took sole precedence as the supporting soldiers’ roles were increasingly diminished and the threats they faced grew in size to include an alien conspiracy, it became more difficult to suspend disbelief and believe that four individuals could enact so much change by their own. Big Finish seems to have accepted this as well, moving the series ten years forward during the wonderful The New Counter-Measures: Who Killed Toby Kinsella? with the Light seemingly firmly in the past, allowing the more vibrant and connected world of the 1970s to shine in the four individual stories of this first rejuvenated series.

Guy Adams opens the first series of The New Counter-Measures with ‘Nothing to See Here’ in which a series of Swiss bank robberies is perplexing local police. With the seeming ability to appear and disappear at will, it’s no wonder that these troublesome individuals have had such success, but the unexpected inclusion of Gilmore provides a needed personal hook for the audience and Counter-Measures alike. Of course, Gilmore has not willingly chosen a life of evil and is instead revealed to be proving his commitment and determination to justice by falsely sacrificing his good name and reputation in order to infiltrate the nefarious circles that seem to point toward a missing physicist. With the unintended consequences of using the developmental technology, however, Adams is able to deliver a dark psychological twist on the traditional misuse of advanced technology storyline that really tests Gilmore’s mettle and sense of self, and Simon Williams gives perhaps his most impactful performance to date as he confidently delves into the more furtive recesses of this genuinely good man.

It’s the same inadvertent repercussions and instability that give the remaining Counter-Measures members needed clues about how to proceed and the continuing hurdles that accompany them through a captured troubled accomplice. While it’s a little disappointing that money proves to be the ultimate motivational force for the villains’ actions even with a brief mention of a desire for revenge against bureaucracy, the interpersonal drama within the group fronted by George Asprey’s Balthasar Schrek is strong enough to keep the menace from being too one-dimensional. Fortunately, invisibility and the complex internal conflicts stemming from the prospect of being unseen even by oneself are successfully handled through emotionally engaging sequences and allow each of the unaffected leads an intriguing dynamic to play off of as the team slowly comes to understand the nature of the threat and how best to circumvent its effect. The smaller scope of this piece is refreshing given the hefty conspiracies the team has been faced with in recent story arcs, and though this threat never fully develops to its true potential out into the world at large, the intimate focus on Gilmore in these entirely distinctive circumstances provides the emotional core this opener requires to truly resonate.

‘Troubled Waters’ by Ian Potter sees Counter-Measures sent into the ocean’s depths when a lost submarine is found, the missing crew opening up a wicked plot centred around the team and Allison in particular. A nuclear submarine is one intrinsically filled with danger, and the innately claustrophobic atmosphere is used to immense effect to intensify the mystery of the missing hundred-plus people as the previous story’s notion of accepting the reality one’s mind presents is subverted and research into changing people’s perceptions and foundations of reality is revealed. This type of psychic military research is certainly grounded in a semblance of reality, and it’s quite fascinating to experience just how successful it has been with several team members succumbing to the effects thanks to the distinct open-mindedness they possess.

While it’s a bit surprising just how much effort is put into reproducing the basic hurdles of life on a submarine as the plot progresses, this realism does help to ground the more surreal moments of the adventure as manipulated memories of events and voices from the past begin to pervade the team members’ individual consciousnesses. The story slowly transforms from a haunting ghost story to a very intimate affair as the threat continues to further manifest and internalise with Allison slated to be the mother of the reborn world as Toby is deceived into giving up missile codes and Gilmore is primed to launch them, the process also wisely calling into question just how far Toby would go to achieve his ultimate goal. Each of the leads shines in this tense setting and Vincent Carmichael adds an effective turn as the mysterious Machado, but Pamela Salem truly seizes the opportunity to step to the forefront as Rachel proactively leads the charge against the altering realities created and the dark future intended, helping to craft a personal and emotionally dramatic story with tremendous consequences on the line.

‘The Phoenix Strain’ by Christopher Hatherall takes the adventurers back to London, opening with a tour group at Trafalgar Square besieged by attacking birds. As Rachel attends the funeral of a colleague who died under mysterious circumstances and comes into contact with an informant identifying herself only as Starling who discusses research with good intentions put to wicked use, the ornithologist Professor Abrams concludes that the violent birds in question are diseased as evidenced by sticky secretions and damaged feathering. When Sir Toby once more finds himself in the presence of civil servant Lord Henry Balfour and sees discussions sway into notions of enemy states researching chemical warfare despite international treaties and the need for Britain to do the same, it’s clear that there’s a much greater conspiracy at hand than the initial bird attack might suggest, and the story does well to tap into the real-world paranoia surrounding coups and communist revolts that pervaded this time period in the process.

The blurb for ‘The Phoenix Strain’ makes it no secret that Alfred Hitchcock and The Birds serve as points of inspiration for the narrative, but Hatherall does well to immerse this version in the more secretive world of The New Counter-Measures by supporting the avian violence with scientific discussion and deliberate action. Accordingly, as dangerous as birds by themselves can be, especially the larger birds of prey that inevitably join in, the threat of bird flu crossing into the human population poses a much more tangible threat to intensify efforts to stop the spread and to find a cure. This is without question the most intense and pulse-pounding story of this set, and Gilmore’s evacuation of a train station and the implementation of a poison gas attack are unquestionably some of the most publically ostentatious actions this group has ever taken. While it would have been satisfying to see local law enforcement and other government agencies more directly involved given the very public nature of the threat, the sound design brings the unique threat to life as well as possible in this medium with dramatic wingbeats and shrieks, and the plot buoys those weighty visuals with the very best and the very worst of humanity as the ages-old battle spills out from the shadows.

A nefarious scheme is being hatched in the glamorous casinos of Monte Carlo in John Dorney’s ‘A Gamble with Time,’ and Counter-Measures is on hand to prevent a disaster. Surprisingly, arms dealers have been something of a rare commodity within the many stories of the Doctor Who universe, but Carolyn Seymour’s hotel and casino owner Lady Suzanne Clare makes an instant impact as a powerful and charismatic figure who specialises in alien wares and who has come to make a deal to attain a time machine from a boisterous American vigorously played by Tam Williams. No matter how advanced the technology and actions of Counter-Measures seems, and even with the prospect of time itself being a complicating factor within the casino’s walls, Clare always seems to be fully in command of events and in many instances several steps ahead of everyone else, becoming an engaging foe who unquestionably has the wherewithal to become a recurring thorn in these heroes’ sides.

Amusingly, Dorney audaciously takes the less traveled path with his script and makes the threat and resolution much less complicated than it had been made out to be, a fact that is certainly not missed by Gilmore in particular. The twists and turns the narrative takes are immensely enjoyable throughout, and the ever-present threat that Clare emphatically presents maintains the needed tension to support the mystery at hand, allowing both the leads and supporting cast to shine in equal measure as the thrills and glitz of this treacherous casino are brought to life outstandingly even given the intimate group of focus. Each story of this set has had a very distinctive tone and pacing, and this stylish undercover intrigue is yet another type of tale that the team members and capable hands of Big Finish prove they can deftly anchor without missing a beat, allowing a little bit of fun to be had with both prevalent and rarely-seen aspects of these illustrious characters along the way.

Moving Counter-Measures into the vibrant and colourful interconnected world of the 1970s was a risky proposition simply because of the intrinsic shift in tones and available actions that would necessarily ensue. Although some of the threats in this set are more fully developed and realised than others, the combination of personal and public threats in various locales across the globe without relying on an overarching or linking menace proves that this decision is one that can still yield plenty of fruitful results going forward, and the direction and stalwart performances of Simon Williams, Pamela Salem, Karen Gledhill, and Hugh Ross prove that the excitement surrounding this group is as strong as ever.

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