The New Counter-Measures Series Two

Posted in Audio by - February 26, 2018
The New Counter-Measures Series Two

Released December 2017

The New Counter Measures Series One proved without question that the eponymous covert operations group that so encapsulated the black and white stylings of 1960s conspiracy thrillers could successfully make the transition to the more vibrant but unsteady Britain of the 1970s, tweaking the format and scale of threat enough to refresh but wisely retaining the core focus on the four leads of Simon Williams’s Group Captain Gilmore, Pamela Salem’s Rachel Jensen, Karen Gledhill’s Allison Williams, and Hugh Ross’s Sir Toby Kinsella. Now fully immersed in this new decade, the second series sees four more distinctly dangerous and mysterious threats- some old and some new- that require investigation from Britain’s finest.

‘The Splintered Man’ by Roland Moore opens the second series with Counter-Measures called in to salvage anything possible from the exploded remains of a Spanish secret test facility that had housed research into ending world hunger in which Doctor Javier Santos killed himself. Drawing the attention and consternation of Spanish authorities along the way, Counter-Measures soon finds itself attacked from two sides as Rachel reconnects with her old flame, Doctor Henry Cording, and threats against all of their lives begin to manifest. As well-developed as these leads are at this point, it’s always enjoyable to discover fragments of their pasts that have remained shrouded, especially when the self-reflection that results is so paramount to the character, and Pamela Salem and Dan Starkey give effectively understated performances that hint at how strong their bond once was while also explaining just why the two parted ways.

The twist regarding Santos in the laboratory is perhaps too well-telegraphed as the investigation comes into possession of recordings and notes, but the dangerous threat that continues to grow in scale up through the final credits is an effective one simply because of the danger that results from good intentions with inadvertent repercussions. Indeed, the story as a whole may be one of the more straightforward ones that this range in its multiple incarnations has yet told, but the quick pace and powerful atmosphere as the action continues to move between locales without allowing the team to escape the threat of death keeps that straightforwardness from ever becoming dull. With the included tension of the Spanish police who suspect the team is implicated in this sordid affair, ‘The Splintered Man’ also addresses the fact that Counter-Measures does not operate under complete anonymity and invisibility as the absence of such forces in some previous stories suggested by omission, allowing Sir Toby to throw his weight around and allowing each of the leads to shine as together they come to uncover the staggering truth.

‘The Ship of Sleepwalkers’ by Christopher Hatherall opens intriguingly as the Counter-Measures team members wake up separated on the luxury cruise liner Oceanic with no knowledge of how or when they came aboard. As Rachel and Allison make their way to the ship’s medic, Doctor Smythe, on deck three under the guise of seasickness, they learn that they are part of a joint operation with MI6 to discover just what occurs on this ship in international waters and thus out of the reach of traditional law. Through all of the strange goings-on, second officer Ted Hunter becomes the team’s focal point, scaring Smythe and citing Gilmore straightaway for being a disturbance, and Cory English gives a mesmerizing performance that paints Hunter in the vilest light seen in this range in quite some time.

The PA speeches that play like mantras ensuring everyone that the passengers’ happiness is the crew’s ultimate goal help to create a distinctly calming but unsettling atmosphere as the team looks into Smythe’s reports of some passengers being seen convulsing and foaming at the mouth. With calming words and broadcasts that border on indoctrination alongside meditation sessions and a mysterious pill that seems to enhance joy before resulting in docility and compliance, they uncover a foreign plot to perfect mind control techniques that seem reminiscent of earlier rumoured covert experiments. Base human instinct and greed know no bounds, and the lengths to which this malevolent group will go to experiment undetected and unpunished are staggering, the basic notion of the trials and both the intentional and unintentional results repulsive in terms of morality and the fundamental right to free will. Mind control is a topic that Counter-Measures has come across many times already and it always brings with it an inherent sense of danger, but the unique setting, the engaging villain, and the inclusion of MI6 and the Royal Navy as support gives this a distinctly developed and palpable sense of scope and tense danger that springs to life wonderfully and makes the most of each of its leads.

Glamorous international arms dealer, Lady Suzanne Clare, offers herself into the hands of Counter-Measures in ‘My Enemy’s Enemy’ by Robert Khan and Tom Salinsky as she asks for sanctuary from the devil himself who wants her dead in exchange for a communications decoder that can intercept and unscramble codes with ease. The devil in this case is one Sir August Frazer played by Laurence Kennedy, an elitist businessman whom Sir Toby is able to get close to while wearing a disguise at the Empire Club that they both attend. Quickly proving his shrewd intelligence and resolve, Frazer quickly sees through the disguise and deduces just who Sir Toby truly is, in the process learning where Lady Clare and his stolen piece of technology are and suggesting just how much sway he has both in private and public circles. Sir Toby does not go off on official business by his own with his team knowing about it too frequently, but Hugh Ross really delivers in these sequences as his character nearly gives in to Frazer’s discussions about a better Britain being ruled by a small conclave of the elite and eventually discovers a list of those over whom Frazer seems to have some sort of manipulative hold.

Fittingly, both Sir Toby and Allison are on that list, and Allison’s strange decision to furtively help Lady Clare escape from the Post Office Tower is directly called into question as a result. Carolyn Seymour made an immediate impact as Lady Clare in the previous series, and the charismatic deviousness and menace that she conjured there is as gloriously prevalent here, presenting a uniquely complementary but distinct figure to that of Frazer and producing an immense power struggle between these two powerful beings that captures Counter-Measures squarely in the middle. With deft inclusions both of alien technology that hints back to ‘The War Machines’ at the heart of Lady Clare’s lies and of a punk rock club that is the reported site of alien dealings and that just may be the site of massive cultural change thanks to the revolutionary lyrics and stylings within, ‘My Enemy’s Enemy’ is a superb thriller that hits all of the right notes stylistically and practically, expertly providing a dynamic dual threat that by itself could form the basis for yet another ongoing set of adventures if so desired.

‘Time of the Intelligence’ by Andy Frankham-Allen closes out the set with the Great Intelligence and the Yeti making their Big Finish debut with licencing issues set aside. Serving as a direct sequel to ‘The Web of Fear,’ this story expertly weaves in continuity from both that serial and its predecessor, ‘The Abominable Snowmen,’ to great effect to bring both the Counter-Measures members and audience members unfamiliar with those events up to speed. Indeed, some clever ret-conning of Sir Toby into those events allows a personal connection while avoiding excessive exposition, and although Frankham-Allen has previously written for the Candy Jar Lethbridge-Stewart series, he wisely avoids treading too heavily into the mythology of that series in order to keep this as accessible as possible. Beginning with a strange voice interrupting television broadcasts across London and sightings of bear-like creatures that are raiding factories and stealing equipment, the scene is set for the momentous return of a powerful but oft-forgotten foe that the terrific sound design here recreates expertly.

As the remaining members of Counter-Measures come to learn through their investigations of the importance of control spheres and that the Yeti are, in fact, robotic figures beneath the fur, Sir Toby enlists the help of one Edward Travers who is the preeminent expert on this subject. Tim Bentinck understandably does not sound exactly like Jack Watling’s original portrayal of this character, but he unquestionably nails the proud, determined, and irascible essence of the man who has suffered so much since his last encounter with these nefarious beings. This is one of the rare times that personal consequences of a character long after the Doctor has left have been touched upon, and the harrowing tale and state of Travers as he is called into duty once more form an incredibly emotional core to the tale of the resurgent Great Intelligence that still remains such an enigma despite intriguing theories about astral projections and the cyclical nature of life and death. ‘Time of the Intelligence’ leaves open the possibility for future attempts at rebuilding and retribution from the Great Intelligence and further whets the appetite for a team-up between Counter-Measures and UNIT in the process, but the wonderful performances from the leads and guest cast alike in this quickly-paced adventure that brings thrills and emotions out in spades is a strong celebration of fifty years since the Great Intelligence’s first appearance.

Counter-Measures and The New Counter-Measures have never had a shortage of strong characterisation, and this latest series certainly continues that trend while spotlighting each lead as an individual along the way with extended moments that Williams, Salem, Gledhill, and Ross deliver admirably. With a greater sense of placement within the governmental and military sides of British and international society and well-rounded threats that truly test the team in unfamiliar circumstances, these are four strong stories that hopefully signal many more to come and a continuing refinement of a winning formula.

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