The Unzal Incursion

Posted in Audio by - May 20, 2021
The Unzal Incursion

Released May 2021

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

Created at a time when the future of the franchise was anything but assured and thus mandated to incorporate a significant format change, season seven of classic Doctor Who is something wholly unique that is understandably remembered with a great fondness. Yet because of the passing of first Jon Pertwee and later Nicholas Courtney and Caroline John, it is also an era that Big Finish has never been able to revisit in a full-cast capacity. However, with Jon Culshaw once more stepping into the role of the iconic Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and Daisy Ashford reprising her mother’s famed role of Liz Shaw, season seven finally comes to vivid life once more as Tim Treloar continues his brilliant take on the titular role in The Third Doctor Adventures Volume Seven.

In Marc Wright’s ‘The Unzal Incursion,’ UNIT is preparing to activate Hotspur, the organization’s new and most advanced early warning system. Something goes horribly wrong, however, and everyone around the Doctor, the Brigadier, and Liz appears to suffer from strange episodes that leave the trio on the wrong side of a coup from within UNIT’s most secure locales. Forced to escape from friendly faces as bases across the globe fall, the three soon discover a deep-rooted conspiracy that appears to stem from a common military training facility and that extends much farther than any human threat could manage alone.

Given how heavily UNIT focused in the early 1970s and how often it has been revisited through the years, having the organization as a whole at odds with the leads is surprisingly a type of story that has been relatively untouched. And while it’s clear from the start that Fulcrum is integral to the plot even if the exact specifications remain shrouded for longer, the diabolical scheme that melds human and alien threats while putting England and then the world at stake is a genuinely tense one that continues to present visceral challenges with true impact from beginning to end. It’s difficult to say how much impact this story would have had had it originally aired where its chronological placement intends given how new the concept of UNIT was at the time and how unknown all of the characters were at that point, but with decades of reflection on this era as a whole, keeping all three characters together while fighting against seemingly insurmountable odds is a masterstroke that serves the purpose of exploring these profoundly powerful leads and highlight their individual and cumulative bests when everything around them seems lost and at its worst.

The supporting characters do end up being fairly generic, but this is a story that rightfully puts its focus squarely on its three leads who deliver truly spectacular performances. This is a Third Doctor early in his exile, and while his good intentions and honour are never truly in question, the Brigadier and Liz realize that they don’t truly know this man who has become scientific adviser but who seems more than eager to leave this planet no matter the resulting damage left in his wake. Treloar’s intonations perfectly encapsulate the knowledge, pride, and self-assuredness that Pertwee always exuded, but he also captures the more gentle and charming side to this incarnation that would become more prominent as his time on Earth continued. Likewise, the script perfectly manages to bring forth the burgeoning respect between the Brigadier and the Doctor that fights through strained moments of equal pride, and Culshaw is wonderful as the Brigadier is presented with his worst nightmare when his trusted allies turn against him. Fittingly, given that this is Liz Shaw’s first true leading appearance within the confines of season seven for a full-cast Big Finish production, the character is treated immensely well. Ashford expertly captures the intelligence, determination, and charm of her mother, and while the script does begin to lay the foundation for Liz’s departure from UNIT, it gives her plenty of opportunity to delve into her own pride and fortitude that is counterbalanced by a growing sense of frustration about the positions in which she often finds herself.

The script does falter a bit with genuinely portraying the Unzal as a threat since the Doctor all but knows that there must be another force at play behind the scenes, and although a post-credits tease does reveal that to be the case with a line that again is far more impactful with hindsight rather than taken as a moment in a lost episode airing in chronological order, the human element of the threat is amongst the series’s strongest. It’s unfair to expect exact replications of the late actors from these three leading performers, but the writing, voices, and love that have so obviously fueled every element of this production combine to create an absolutely perfect stand-in that features plenty of moments that would slot in seamlessly to a 1970 soundtrack. ‘The Unzal Incursion’ is an unabashed success and hopefully the beginning of a more thorough exploration of this most unique era of Doctor Who.

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