Released June 2016
In a year without a new series of the televised Doctor Who, Big Finish is keeping the modern world alive with the continuing adventures of UNIT headed by Kate Stewart with the help of scientific adviser Osgood. Following the astronomical positive success of UNIT: Extinction and the return of the Autons, expectations were incredibly high for UNIT: Shutdown and the introduction of the new foe the Tengobushi. Bolstered by incredibly strong performances and action-packed sequences, Shutdown continues the darker tones of the original box set while increasing the sort of shadowy tension that a covert international group would necessarily entail.
Shutdown begins with Matt Fitton’s ‘Power Cell,’ a tense piece of character development that sets up the threat and intrigue. Kate becomes entwined with Lyme Industries and its leader Felicity Lyme who has come into possession of a rather powerful piece of alien technology. It’s clear from the start that Lyme Industries is more than it seems as a leader in energy research, and its connections with high-ranking government officials is certainly unsettling, but the subtle exploration into the goings-on behind the scenes is very effective and forms a suitably strong backbone for the introductory story among the many deaths and disappearances. ‘Power Cell’ has a slower pace than the introduction to the Auton threat did, but this allows for some very strong character development, especially for Ingrid Oliver’s Osgood who finally gets to show off her more human side outside of UNIT. Jemma Redgrave also gets some very powerful scenes in which her mettle and stoic command come to the forefront. The introduction of new characters and the re-establishment of the UNIT team alongside occasional links to the new series of Doctor Who and hints to the true Tengobushi threat all flow fluidly and cohesively to create a strong opening installment.
Andrew Smith’s ‘Death in Geneva’ is the second part of this set, picking up directly from previous events as the UNIT team goes outside the normal chain of command, traveling straight to Geneva headquarters with the alien artifact from Lyme Industries in tow. Looking for help from General Avary played by Harry Ditson, events quickly take an unexpected turn as the alien Tengobushi killers begin haunting their every move. This story does an admirable job of explaining just who the Tengobushi are and why they are on Earth, and their motivations are intriguing and surprising enough to keep them from falling into the realm of generic menace. At the same time, though ‘Death in Geneva’ steps out of the shadows and becomes somewhat of an international espionage thriller, and the pace of the plot never relents, leading up to another strong cliffhanger leading into part three. UNIT stories are quite frequently limited to London and the United Kingdom, and it’s nice to see the broader scope and range that the audios afford their UNIT adventures when the organization itself is the true focus.
‘The Battle of the Tower,’ also written by Andrew Smith, sees the focus return to the Tower of London to protect the famed Black Archive and UNIT’s alien artifacts from the Tengobushi attackers. One of the nice things apparent about this set is that the stories are not all beholden to one set tone, and this story falls into the action-heavy siege category as UNIT does everything in its power to protect its own. There’s a very personal feel to proceedings here thanks to the atmosphere created despite all of the action, though, and the script still somehow leaves room for continued character development and growth. The Tengobushi thankfully live up to their billing as intelligent strategists, employing tactics and misdirections that throw even UNIT’s best for a spin, and this is easily a race with its many sects that could become a recurring threat across the Doctor Who universe. While it’s a shame that the Tower siege cannot be realized on screen, unfortunately taking away from some of the more visual scenes, this is still a great action-packed story that allows heroic moments for all of the leads, satisfactorily leading into the concluding story.
That conclusion is Matt Fitton’s ‘Ice Station Alpha,’ a wonderfully intense piece of drama that brings together all of the lingering plot threads and delivers a satisfying conclusion to both the Tengobushi and human threats. The evil plans are not quite as straightforward as listeners had been led to believe, and an incredible layer of extra depth is added to the Tengobushi in particular as their culture and motivation is further detailed. Full of superb plot twists and callbacks to very early events, ‘Ice Station Alpha’ perhaps most importantly manages to showcase UNIT as a team simply trying to do the right thing to the best of its abilities, not always perfectly but as perfectly as possible given the circumstances. Without going into too many actual plot details, this is a great concluding act.
In the end, UNIT: Shutdown is a wholly different creature that its predecessor UNIT: Extinction, and each will cater to a different subset of fans more than the other. Shutdown is much darker and grittier, focused more on the individual characters and their relationships and interactions while dealing with a worldwide threat on a much less overt level, a definite step aside from the more traditional Doctor Who feel. The new Tengobushi menace is fantastic and layered, though they certainly possess a threat that would work wonderfully on the screen as well, and the difference in tone showcases how different the threats UNIT faces can be. With the third box set featuring the return of the Silence already announced, Shutdown is a great addition to Big Finish’s library that shows how successful a new creation can be.