UNIT: Brave New World: Seabird One

Posted in Audio by - July 18, 2022
UNIT: Brave New World: Seabird One

Released July 2022

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

As Doctor Who unknowingly reached the end of its classic run, a new iteration of UNIT without the direct guidance of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart began to reveal itself, the commanding Brigadier Bambera played by Angela Bruce assuming control in ‘Battlefield’ and making an instant impact. Unfortunately, further stories with Bambera at the helmnever had the opportunity to develop, leaving an immense amount of unexplored potential that Big Finish has finally decided to delve into with UNIT: Brave New World and its first box set Seabird One.

Robert Valentine is tasked with introducing this version of UNIT set to bridge the gap between the classic and modern series with ‘Rogue State,’ and it very much exploits the action-adventure feel of so many 1990s classics to create a tone all of its own. Naturally, the storyline is fairly simplistic in order to allow for the leads and recurring characters to develop, but opening with Brigadier Winifred Bambera in the middle of a mission tracking Russian mafia member Roman Krojac that quickly goes sideways is an adept decision that wastes little time with setup before introducing International Security pilot Sergeant Jean-Paul Savarin and Dame Lydia Kinglsey when Bambera is recalled to Geneva, the latter attempting to get Bambera to lead the United Kingdom branch of UNIT which she hesitantly accepts due to the doorways the position may later open. For his part, Krojac is an effective villain that Wilf Scolding capably brings to life, and while the unique beings within the Siberian wilderness that he plans to sell to the highest bidder are a clever addition, it’s truly the immersion of a life fueled by paranoia over Russia as the world approaches the turn of the millennium that provides such an effective backdrop, something symbolized locally by the construction of the Millennium Dome as a focal setting. Of course, Angela Bruce was instantly a success in ‘Battlefield’ and superbly portrayed a more action-oriented and wholly commanding UNIT leader, and she easily steps back into the hardened role with aplomb following her two previous Big Finish appearances as Bambera in ‘Animal’ and ‘The War Factory.’ Burdened by the loss of so many lives in her past, there is never any doubt that Bambera is fully capable of doing anything to succeed and that she truly deserves every honour and accolade bestowed upon her given her determination, courage, and resilience; genuinely, Bruce is just as effective leading the charge on a Russian sea vessel as she is with more introspective moments that give a much more profound layering to the character that will be vital for this series’s assured longevity. Indeed, Bambera’s own experiences and the toughened shell that has developed as a result are nicely balanced by Savarin’s fresh outlook and optimism, and Bruce and Alex Jordan already share a remarkable chemistry that has already created a strong foundation for these ongoing adventures. The story is by no means complex, but ‘Rogue State’ accomplishes everything it needs to and more to bring this ‘lost’ iteration of UNIT to life after so long.

With Bambera and Savarin established, Alison Winter looks to introduce UNIT’s scientific advisor, Dr Louise Rix, on Bambera’s first day as the head of UNIT in ‘Time Flies.’ Interestingly, Winter chooses to frame her story by revealing the threat and villain in isolation at the very beginning, allowing a sense of tension to develop as the UNIT members unwittingly enter into the most dangerous locale imaginable. Rapid aging and de-aging are both processes that Doctor Who has featured previously, but ‘Time Flies’ makes that element all the more frightening given the indiscriminate and tremendously far-reaching potential on display here. Yet apart from the obvious effectiveness of the science here even if one does have to wonder how a chrysalis and egg would come to form as a butterfly reverts to non-existence, the plot is all the more effective on a human level due to the wonderful performance of Silas Carson as Dr Winston Grange who comes to reveal the tragic history and noble intentions that started this research. Though he became misguided in his quest to undo, the genuine humanity at the heart of this story brilliantly counters the imminent danger that the insects and nectar present both in these confined locales and further abroad. Fortunately, the strength and intelligence of Dr Rix proves that she is more than capable of understanding and adapting to any threat presented, and although there is a very combative relationship between the analytical Rix and the more militaristic Bambera, Yemisi Oyinloye quickly proves what a capable addition to this iteration of UNIT she will be. There’s little doubt that these two will form more of an underlying trust as their time together progresses, but this element is effective in distinguishing Bambera from her predecessor while allowing Angela Bruce ample opportunity to flesh out her character who at this point would much rather simply shoot at a perceived threat. ‘Time Flies’ does perhaps suffer by letting its listeners know far more than its characters from the beginning, and all of UNIT simply ignoring the idea of checking for surveillance video before blindly walking into a potential scene of interest is hardly an indicator of a strong investigative force, but the chemistry and emotion on display throughout are superb and maintain a strong pacing and sense of emotion no matter how tense or introspective any particular moment may be. To this point, Brave New World has persisted with maintaining a very human element to its very visual threats, and this approach has proven wholly effective in keeping the series grounded and allowing its core team to quickly come together and develop before having to confront the more alien side of UNIT’s remit.

Continuing with the theme of building trust within UNIT’s ranks, Bambera realizes that she must trust her scientific advisor when an altogether more extraterrestrial threat appears in ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ by Alfie Shaw. With the new space station Brittania due to launch at the end of the week, the police receive a call from a man claiming to be a dead woman insisting that the launch be halted because of a danger on the far side of the moon. To make matters all the more personal for UNIT, Helen McNamara whom this person is identifying as is a friend of Dr Rix’s which helps to create an intriguing dynamic that puts the emotions of Rix against the more grounded Bambera and Savarin. Of course, Helen is also the perfect conduit through which Bambera can reflect once more upon the lives that she knows have been lost, and just as she comes to question if taking this job was the right decision and whether she even genuinely believes in the extraterrestrial, she comes to realize that she will need each member of her team and the individual strengths and thought processes that each brings to successfully adapt to the myriad of challenges they will together encounter. Rix and Bambera are by no means friends by the end of this set, but they have a mutual understanding that puts UNIT on much firmer footing going forward, and the reconciliation by story’s end between Rix and Savarin is undoubtedly one of the many emotional strengths that ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ has to offer. To be sure, the actual alien plot is a bit too convoluted to fully resonate, but Shaw wisely keeps the actual alien menace as more of a background element until the coda to set up the next set of stories, allowing all the more time for this particular iteration of UNIT to fully come together against a more personal yet altogether horrifying threat that leaves nobody above suspicion at any given moment. This creates a genuinely effective tension, and the suggestion that somebody in a position of authority is trying to sway UNIT from afar as Bambera continues to look to Dame Lydia for guidance is another effective means of providing character and plot development while adding yet another layer of intrigue to this affair. This might be a bit weaker instalment overall than either of its predecessors because its menace is purposefully more vague, but it brings emotions and brilliant performances to the forefront and sets the stage for something altogether more incredible and challenging as this UNIT and alien life are set to directly collide.

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