The Wasting

Posted in Audio by - April 11, 2018
The Wasting

Released June 2005

Big Finish’s novel UNIT range that has employed Nicholas Courtney to bridge the gap between old and new before his character’s daughter, Kate Lethbridge-Stewart, would do the same on the modern television series and concurrently in the audio medium following ‘The Power of Three’ comes to a close with ‘The Wasting’ as a deadly flu-like infection is sweeping the planet. Under attack from all sides while the emergency services struggle to cope with the plague, UNIT in Britain must decide whether to concede defeat and close its doors or to fight back against all odds, and the injured Colonel Emily Chaudhry knows that UNIT has never backed down from a fight as she seeks the experience of the Brigadier and the location of her missing commanding officer, Colonel Brimmicombe-Wood.

For the first and only time in this range, writers of a previous story have returned to pen a second, and Iain McLaughlin and Claire Bartlett use their familiarity with Chaudhry, Lethbridge-Stewart, and the real-world real-time setting to hit the ground running. Indeed, the Brigadier acts as the stabilising force for both Chaudhry who is coping with the unexpected losses of both Hoffman and Dalton amidst this global crisis and for the serial in general as Brimmicombe-Wood is revealed to be much less honourable than his reputation and position suggest. Courtney has such a naturally authoritative but also amiable voice that he easily commands attention and dictates events without ever forgetting about the importance of individuals, and he has a natural chemistry with Siri O’Neal that buoys their often-emotional scenes together.

The ICIS threat hasn’t necessarily been building in a truly meaningful or memorable way throughout the preceding stories, but it has been a group that has made its presence known as one with distinctly Britain-first ambitions that has contrasted rather bluntly with UNIT’s approach as its members have nearly had the Brigadier killed and attacked Chaudry’s team while simultaneously disrupting the very foundation of government and order. As the virus’s effects progress from flu-like symptoms to a sort of active decomposition that incites a pain-driven state of rage, ICIS members dressed as UNIT operatives gun down a patient in front of the press, but fortunately the other aspect of the series that hasn’t quite been fully developed comes into his own as Michael Hobbs’s Planet 3 reporter Francis Currie takes his evidence to directly to UNIT given the recent contacts he has made. This is certainly the most cohesive and well-balanced story in this range, and it’s nice to see the many disparate threads that have been amorphously floating around fully develop and intersect.

The reality that the virus is alien and is intended to rewrite human DNA to turn people into a more palatable form to be harvested is suitably gruesome and befitting of the grittier tone this series has endeavoured to achieve, and though David Tennant as Brimmicombe-Wood doesn’t necessarily exude the gravitas or commanding tone one might expect from a well-respected UNIT Colonel, he is chillingly effective as the evil commanding officer of ICIS once his true loyalties are revealed. UNIT hasn’t always done well with subtlety or surprise, but its handling of Brimmicombe-Wood through his earlier absence and resounding presence here with the personal effect the truth has on Chaudhry is easily the best narrative thread introduced and explored and makes up for the effective but far less robust presence of Andrea Winnington who simply was not afforded the same amount of buildup despite her inherent importance to events. It took three full stories and the presence of returning writers along with Nicholas Courtney and David Tennant in starring roles, but ‘The Wasting’ represents the true potential of the contemporary thriller tone with characters that are worth standing with or against because of actual characterisation, and the inclusion of the Silurians with their vast knowledge to help find a solution as the clock becomes as much of an enemy as ICIS and the plague victims very much ensures that UNIT’s Doctor Who roots are very much always at the forefront.

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