ASSESSING STRESS, AUDIO EDITION #4: UNIT – Assembled

Welcome to DoWntime’s not-too-regular column, Assessing Stress. That’s where we assess … stress. Or more accurately, talk and debate about the newest episodes to hit the television screen, the new releases from Big Finish, and all these good things.

And today, Tibère and Scribbles tackle the latest UNIT release from Big Finish – Assembled. A tale of ecological activism, overracting lizards, and naked cavemen.

Spoilers follow.

0) Context and stuff

TIBERE: I’ve generally been enjoying these UNIT audios, albeit with some mighty caveats. It’s a very interesting range, that I think showcases Matt Fitton’s talents as a writer better than most of his other stuff – he’s really good at creating compelling characters, and the lesser scope of those audios allows him to have much tighter, much more dynamic plotting as usual. And there are some really interesting thematic undercurrents to the range as a whole – that sadly tend to not show all the time. The boxsets are uneven, to say the least.

SCRIBBLES: For me, Big Finish UNIT is a complicated thing to approach. It’s always fit into a very complicated position within the world of Doctor Who. It’s stuck trying to juggle the feminist science view of UNIT alongside a very masculine military one, and between modern progressive values of Doctor Who and the often more conservative approach of the Pertwee era. I wrote a piece previously about how I think some of these tensions are embodied, and that’s produced the very best of the range, really, in Extinction and Silenced, but I’m always fearful it could lose track of them or embrace the sides I really don’t love so much. It’s a hard range to follow as a result for me. Because the brilliance is there, so clearly, but that isn’t always the story it wants to tell.

TIBERE: To be honest, I wasn’t exactly enthused by “Assembled”, as a project. It seemed to rely a lot on cheap canon-pandering, which is a well-known weapon in the BF arsenal but not exactly one of their best – also worth noting, the fact that Shindi and especially Jacqui, also known as the best characters in the range, make no appearances here. I don’t think the new, bold version of UNIT needs to revisit typically Pertwee-esque modes of storytelling – really, it was tried before, with Harness’ efforts in series 9, and I can’t say I liked it much here. What those UNIT audios can bring, at their best, is an interesting commentary both on current real-world tensions and narrative problems inherent to the world of Who – and to go back to the past seems almost to purposefully ignore what makes those pieces good in the first place.

SCRIBBLES: I have to share that apprehension. I think it’s worth noting that the past monster returns in the UNIT range have been very much new series approaches, with the Silence and the new Who conception of the Autons. Whereas here, we get the Sea Devils, Yates, and Benton. It’s a really big shifting of gears for the range to, like you say, a very specific market. And I think it accomplishes what it seeks to provide, but what it provides is also what I’m least interested in seeing from the range, on the whole. I’m interested in storylines like with Jacqui McGee and the complex examinations of the moral place of UNIT that have been beautifully examined in the best of these sets, and this set just sort of feels like a mutual agreement between writer and listener that those will come another day. I sort of feel like it’s going to be an every other set basis. Every other set with Jacqui and Shindi and the most exciting concepts, offset with a more uninteresting, to us at least, approach, like in Shutdown or Assembled. And it’s a fine business model, sort of pleases everyone, I imagine. But it can be a bit frustrating.

TIBERE: At the same time, I don’t think the project was doomed from the start. The tensions that the UNIT audios should examine are very modern, yes, but they also have roots in the past of the show and in bygone eras – so a purposeful examination of the past could make some sense. With time, care and skill, that boxset definitely could have worked.

SCRIBBLES: There is a bit of a sense of those themes in here, I think. Jo perfectly embodies the paradigm of new UNIT values in a glorious way, and the highlights of the set for me, Tidal Wave and United, really did channel that. But it also feels like they new this set would be received by a very specific market of classic fans who want the great big triumphant military montage of the UNIT soldiers approaching on the Tower to save Jo and save the day. It’s a bit of a compromise given the nature of what it is for what the predominant audience likely wants. At the end of the day, I think much of our issues just come from us not being that audience. We’re new series fans first and foremost, much as I love the classics and we both love the expanded universe. I have a number of issues with the Pertwee era, and you haven’t even seen most of it! So we’re sort of the other side of that audience, more representative of the fans who’d go, “ooh, Osgood’s in this, let’s try it” than the typical Big Finish market.

TIBERE: Oh yeah, I have seen like, negative amounts of Pertwee. But still, a good writer can make Classic stuff you’re not really familiar with ultra-compelling – I don’t know, Goss and “Lights of Skaro”, for instance. And really, when your audience is that vast, you kind of need to. But here … Really, it sort of feels like the writers trying their hardest to get thematic relevance out of a pretty boring set-up they’re doing in the first place just to cater to a certain audience. Sometimes they succeed! And … sometimes they don’t. Let’s talk about the details.

 

1) “Call to Arms”, by Matt Fitton

TIBERE: Just for starters: who the fuck is Terry?

SCRIBBLES: There was a tremendous awkwardness to establishing the redshirts in this installment for sure, that took me right out of it on my first listen. I get the intention of treating them like they’ve been there all along, and that’s certainly not a new thing to the UNIT era, they were always making up new soldiers we’d never seen before and never would again, usually who’d be evil or dead. But it feels like an awful lot of the early portions of this set is dedicated to establishing characters with minimal impact on it. I’d much rather they spend that time establishing characters who were vital to the plot, if at all, like Burmeister, rather than Terry. I think the teaser in particular was a rather misjudged choice. Most of the previous UNIT sets have jumped in with more action and, you know, with Kate and Osgood actually present. Here, it’s a very low-stakes opening, focusing on the basic pleasure of this set that isn’t really designed for us: Yates and Benton being back. And I get the logic there. Benton’s literally only had one audio in Big Finish history, just one Companion Chronicle, he’s a big grab for them! It knows it and it’s pandering to it, and I’m sure the fans who this set is designed for got everything they could want out of that. But it left me cold and wondering where Osgood was.

TIBERE: “Hi, people, I am Terry from the good old days! I totally existed back then!” I mean, honestly, that’s not a terrible idea, giving us a bit of an insight into the life of the ordinary UNIT grunt (no disrespect intended to the military), maybe to make some ideological points later on, but he just kicks the bucket halfway through, which makes the whole piece really, really awkward. Awkward, yeah, that’s just the word for that opener – it’s a mess, and one I really didn’t like. It tries a lot of potentially interesting directions and commits to none of them. I do remember the bonus saying they wanted to do a “pub under siege” story, yes? See, that could have been cool, but there’s too much stuff happening to really build tension. And none of the camp (you could have expected from Pertwee pastiche) the “pub” part would suggest. Well … There is some camp, but I’m not sure it was intended. I don’t want to take the piss of the production values too much, but there’s some truly bad bits here. I think the voice of the Silurian second-in-command, which I dubbed affectionately “Justice Scales-ia” is the worst: it’s a stunning performance. Not in a good way. Really, the Silurian actors are overracting their arses off, generally speaking, which doesn’t seem to always line up well with the intentions of the story? Like, they do play with the idea of depicting those Silurians as a fundamentalist, nationalist group at some point – and like TZI, it’s hard to mix that kind of topic with camp aesthetics. Although, the ideological elements in that specific story are too confused to really be unpleasant, so that’s a plus I suppose.

SCRIBBLES: I liked A Call to Arms more on my relisten than I did on my first time round, where I agreed with the awkwardness. On relisten, really, I liked the set a lot more, knowing what it was and wanted to be. It’s a bit sad that it’s not trying to be the side of the UNIT range I love most, but equally, I get what the basic pleasure is here, and there are moments where I can’t help but grin. The Bessie cameo in particular is gratuitous in the best way, even as a non-fan of that era that silly yellow car always got a smile from me, and hearing Osgood talk about using its hilarious hyperdrive thing was adorable and silly. Really, Osgood was really well deployed in this set. She’s basically the biggest draw as a character to the new series fans, and having her enthuse all over Yates, Benton, and Jo brings a bit of that pleasure, I think, to the new fans approaching this set having seen less Classic Who, or even none. In the extras, I believe it was Katy Manning expressing the hope that Assembled will bring a love of the classic era to new fans. If anything about it does, it’ll be Osgood’s fangirling.

TIBERE: Best part is one of the UNIT veterans saying she reminds him of the Doctor. I don’t want to be too harsh on this either, it’s not wretched or anything, and there is a nice, warm energy that blooms in some places, but it would really have needed more cohesive storytelling to  work. In the state it’s in, it’s a not-unpleasant runaround with a huge lack of focus. It’s a bit hard not to be disappointed when you know how good Matt Fitton can be.

SCRIBBLES: I liked the storytelling premise. That UNIT routinely brokers peace with the Silurians is a beautiful conceit and evolves the Silurian storytelling nicely. And making these attackers a radicalized group is a nice way of sidestepping the basic issue of making all aliens of a species evil, if ripped off wholesale from The Zygon Invasion. And the pub under siege was a fun angle, I liked what it did and wish we got even more of the scenes of petty pub life, like dealing with broken glasses as a result of fighting the attacking lizards. I think the main problem for me is, Benton and Yates were the main focus, and they just don’t bring the spark that interests me in UNIT. They’re the old soldiers angle, fighting men. And that’s a big part of what UNIT is, but the part that interests me most as what modern UNIT rejects on the whole. Science leads. That’s how it is now. We’re following the Liz Shaw model, not the Benton and Yates model. And I realize that there will always be people who prefer the militaristic men, and I’m glad this set threw them a bone, it’s just never going to be the side of things I care about.

TIBERE: I guess that’s kind of a flaw of BF, in the end? The TV show can be allowed to pick a strong, bold direction for UNIT, or for whatever they want, really, but BF does have a duty to satisfy as much of the audience as they can, which can definitely get in the way of a cohesive ideological message. They’re kind of weak characters, in this, really. They could have done a lot more with them – even playing up the rank stuff more, the potential tensions there is with one being subordinated to the other, even back in civilian life. But as it stands, they’re just kind of “those two guys”. And it’s a bit of a shame. Which about sums up that story.

2) “Tidal Wave”, by Guy Adams

SCRIBBLES: Well, that was good, wasn’t it? I said it earlier, but it bears repeating: everything with Jo Grant in this set is utterly perfect. She’s the ideal bridge between the classic era and modern values, and in many ways, Katy Manning feels more at home here than in the Pertwee era! She sparkles, and Guy Adams’ script, like Fitton’s finale script to the set, knows how to fit her into those modern values and have her comment upon this changing world. Even little beats, like “UNIT always did need more hugs,” are glorious things that bring so much more warmth and humanity into the set. And Jo confessing she loved the Doctor is quietly breathtaking.

TIBERE: It’s easily the best story of the set, yes. It’s not hard to see why: Jo meets Osgood. That about sums it up. And I definitely agree with you about Jo – it’s not hard to see why she was brought back in “The Sarah Jane Adventures”. And the story derives a lot from her appearance there, with her characterization as a badass political activist remaining. She’s a really, really deep character – and while the script doesn’t really explore her, it doesn’t have to, because the simple interaction between her and storytelling tropes and modes is going to create good, lovely sparkles. Her little rant about how mind-control plots are a tired, annoying trope, for instance. And of course, the whole final sequence where she basically, in grand New Who tradition, is basically trying to rewrite the plot of a Pertwee serial to give it a happy ending – it also borrows a huge lot from “The Hungry Earth / Cold Blood”, but kind of marks a progression from that? The Doctor doesn’t need to have humans sitting around the table, they have grown enough to bear the burden of politics and communication themselves. It’s a lovely comment on how much the Doctor changes his companions, has changed Jo, and, in a meta way, how humanity itself can better itself. I love it – it’s very Star Trek, really, and I think those UNIT audios are a good place to do some Star Trek stuff, be it celebrating humanity or questionning the values of a given fictional political system.

SCRIBBLES: Absolutely, it does pick up the Sarah Jane Adventures threads. It’s a strong approach from Davies, and the writers of this set really do know how to run with it. The basic format of Tidal Wave, in particular, is tailor made to Jo, Osgood, and everything modern UNIT values represent. It’s a scientific exploration first and foremost, organized by a woman and starring two women scientific observers on-board, Osgood and Jo. When things turn militaristic, the story hinges not on shooting down the Sea Devils but talking to them, and in a nice evolution of Pertwee, via the Chibnall story you mention, actually succeeds. Jo agreeing to lie that the Sea Devils all died is brilliant as a beat to resolve it, and the running thread of the moral debate of whether either species is truly good, which could be trite, instead deftly keeps a bit of realism and nuance to these alien lizards. Sure, their weapons are just the attractions from Jurassic World, but the way it’s played makes it shine. This is Jo Grant’s hour, and it is, naturally, the best damn thing in this set. It’s wonderful, and I could listen to her and Jo together forever.

TIBERE: Among the many tongue-in-cheek moments in that script, I especially enjoy the fact that the soldier that gets mind controlled by the Silurians is, well, first, a white dude while the three other major UNIT characters here are women; and then, very much in line with the hardcore militaristic line of UNIT, by opposition with said women. It’s a nice bit of commentary on those dynamics you mentioned previously. I guess the ending might force Kate in a bit of an overly militaristic role, but that’s a minor niggle.

SCRIBBLES: That’s an interesting thing with Kate, really, and the core tension with her in both the show and the audios. She is pushed into that militaristic role a lot, but she still strives to uphold the scientific ideals. She needs the moral support of characters like Osgood, who really do embody the purest side of things, but she is still a good person, or tries to be. It’s a complicated arc she and UNIT are both in, and one I hope is mined for every bit of drama it has to offer, because there’s an awful lot to it.

TIBERE: I think the link to her father is a big part of the paradox, too. She insists that she’s her own person and has different ideas from him, but, at the same time, the writers can’t stop putting references to the Brigadier everywhere – it works when it’s “Death in Heaven” and when the legacy of the Brig is central to the plot and themes, but otherwise it wears old, very, very fast.

SCRIBBLES: Take a shot every time we get a “five rounds rapid” moment, eh? Even the televised series can’t resist indulging the classic pleasures of the militaristic old UNIT with the new stuff. In that way, nothing about Assembled is really a surprise that it’s happened. It’s kinda inevitable, really. I just hope that having done this, the series can push forward more in future.

TIBERE: I genuinely counted the Brig mentions in that set, and I think it ended easily over a dozen. But to bounce back to what you just said about that set being a sort of exorcism for the UNIT range – I think that’s a totally valid reading, and I agree with it, but my problem with it is that as far as exorcisms go, it’s not exactly the best you can get? Like, we recently covered “Corpse Day”, which is entirely about the exploitative side of Torchwood, and we both really liked it – mostly because it didn’t pull any punches and went as far as it could go. It did as much work as it could on the tensions the writer wanted to emphasize. But here, it never seems like the themes that should come to light when the past and present of the show clash really emerge, it never seems like they’re made an essential part of these audio’s plot and narrative. Which is all the more annoying when the next episode gestures in that exact same direction …

3) “Retrieval”, by Guy Adams

TIBERE: Let’s start by asking ourselves one primordial question – is this the episode where the writers stopped shipping Osgood with Josh and sent her in Sam’s arms instead?

SCRIBBLES: It does seem to be. Even Fitton sort of lays off it in this set, and he’s written a lot of the past stuff with them. Even in his concluding story, she rejects Josh’s advances a bit and still seems to be thirsting after Naked Caveman Sam.

TIBERE: “Naked caveman Sam”. Best line of the set, right here. And I’m not just saying that ‘cause I’m actually named Sam.

SCRIBBLES: Of course, you were talking the other day about how vital you thought this piece was in connection with the recurring themes of the UNIT series, that of memory.

TIBERE: Yup. As far as I’m concerned, this is not the best episode of the set, but it’s the most interesting in that it dances around concepts and ideas that are genuinely fascinating. Really, the “fear trigger” is an absolutely perfect conceit – it’s basically turning the tactics of UNIT (memory manipulation and the like) against them, trapping them in a illusions and fabrications. And, best of all – it’s done specifically by trapping them in the past, by sending them back to their days as cavemen hunted down by the Silurians. Which, in a boxset that’s defined by a look back at the past, is just one splendid, splendid beat – and it could have been built up to give one tremendous climax. UNIT has to face its own past, de-mythify it and accept its problematic sides, to face another mythify past where they have become the victims.

SCRIBBLES: It feels very Jungian to me, really. The notion of race memory and deep-seated archetypal fears. By any scientific measure, total rubbish, but it’s a rich vein for storytelling, which has always embraced the ideas of archetypes and the like. I think that was the most fun part of it for me, the way you have Osgood the scientist on one level observing her own mental breakdown and commenting on how ridiculous it is, and Osgood the terrified regressing human that’s screaming about getting eaten by lizards.

TIBERE: Yeah, those scenes were by far the best bits. They also show something about that story at large – the fact that it’s unabashedly, ridiculously camp. Much like the opener wanted to be, except this time they actually pulled it off.

SCRIBBLES: Speaking of unbashedly, ridiculously camp: Neve McIntosh.

TIBERE: Oh god, she is glorious. She’s having so much fun. Best part is when her character in that episode dies, and we get a twin sister voiced in exactly the same way for the next part (which, by the way, is a carbon copy of a “The Hungry Earth / Cold Blood” beat).

SCRIBBLES: There seems to be a collective decision by all the Silurian actors in this to just go for broke with the camp insanity. And while a lot of the odd performances that result are gleefully hilarious, Neve McIntosh shows them how it’s done. The seductive touch they give her, evil Vastra style, is hilarious. Evil BDSM lizards from the dawn of time, there comes a point when critical faculties just don’t really seem worth clinging too. This set is ridiculous on pretty much every level, but it knows it. The choice of bringing back Pertwee era heroes is accompanied by a choice to really revel in how light and weird and camp that era can get, the sort of aesthetics you usually expect Paul Magrs to unleash Iris Wildthyme on. So you get Kate talking about how she just can’t shoot a dinosaur, dammit, she’s a scientist, that’d be wrong! This set is probably the least compelling of the UNIT sets so far, but I appreciate it for making the choice to just revel in its own weird joys unpretentiously. Because sometime, you just want to hear Neve McIntosh threatening Ingrid Oliver and Jemma Redgrave with death by tongue sex.

TIBERE: But really, the whole episode is just bathing in that kind of aesthetics. I mean, it kind of starts like an Indiana Jones pastiche? With them going to explore mysterious caves and falling on hostile animals (seriously, I’m disappointed they didn’t go all the way and put a “snakes, why did it have to be snakes!” in it). And then it turns into Jules Verne, or, maybe more accurately, into “Invasion of the Dinosaurs”, aka possibly the campest Pertwee story, or at least it looks like it?

SCRIBBLES: “Invasion of the Dinosaurs” is a favorite of mine. I’ve always been a fan of the weird sides of the Pertwee era. One of the fans who unironically loves “The Time Monster“, that kind of thing. And I’m glad that, in going for the Pertwee era nostalgia, they embraced just how on crack that era could be at its best. Perhaps, even, we could map that onto the previous thematic issue we were discussing, the masculine militarism versus the women scientists that dominates UNIT. The masculine militarism gets the guns and traditionalism, the women scientists get to stress over whether shooting dinosaurs is justifiable and get menaced by a femslash-suggesting lizard.

TIBERE: Camp aesthetics as a sort of reconciliation of the “masculine” and “feminine” side, that could be a possible reading, I suppose? Basically, the traditional soldier-esque behaviour is only possible and desirable in a situation that’s just completely ridiculous, and symbolical, and outrageous. That’s kind of reading too much into it, admittedly, but eh, if you got to have guns, might as well add some glitter.

SCRIBBLES: Speaking of the traditional soldier, we then have Sam Bishop. I think he’s really been one of the sleeper hits of these UNIT audios, by the time Silenced came along, he really did cement himself in my heart as part of the team. He’s a soldier, but he always seems to put his faith in the right way in the modern aesthetics of UNIT with Osgood, and frankly, I can’t think of a bad scene between the two of them, all the way back to Extinction. I hope we hear more of him in sets to come, because I think he really does integrate well into this new world, better than any other character Big Finish have yet posited for this era (aside, perhaps, from Jacqui, who is forever perfect).

TIBERE: His scenes in “Silenced” where he answers to Josh’s sudden affinity for far-right politics with utter, silent disgust are one of my favourite bits in the whole range. But yeah, he’s a very good character (Warren Brown is a killer actor, too – had a pretty big part on “Luther” before, so he’s not a small name) – there’s, I think, this sort of silent implication in the scripts that he and Osgood are sort of the “third wave” of UNIT, the ideal soldiers in the ideological framework of the Whoniverse. Whereas Josh – and Kate, I think, in a certain, lesser way -, are more “problematic” characters, with a certain amount of tension between their desire for progressivism and their attachment to traditional roles and stereotypes.

SCRIBBLES: And it’s interesting how little of a basis Big Finish has to work with on this. This is really the first sort of Big Finish series since the early Eight and Charley audios where there is no real ground paved for them to work with. These thematic concerns of old and new, masculine and feminine, camp and trad, military and scientific, they’re all playing out in real time within the televised series’ portrayal of UNIT, as well. Stories like “The Zygon Invasion, airing right when UNIT: Extinction came out, are really struggling to grapple with that, with Kate in particular becoming a very complicated, even muddled figure, trying to navigate herself as a just and good scientist versus as an unsympathetic warmonger badass defending her planet. Sure, this is all technically set before “The Day of the Doctor, but in any meaningful sense, this is Big Finish on the cutting edge of Doctor Who.

TIBERE: That’s why BF’s UNIT is such a fascinating range, really. Yes, it’s uneven, very uneven sometimes, but there are fascinating dynamics at work here, just under the surface. Hell, if you want to be meta, you can even say it kind of embodies the inner conflicts of BF, torn between the new and old and all that jazz. But, to add on what you were saying about where these audios fit in continuity – I find it kind of interesting that they’re placed before series 8 in general, and “Death in Heaven” especially, because that episode kind of feels like an answer to the concerns they raise in those audios? You know, the definition of the role of the soldier as an act of love? At the same time, it’s a Moffat episode, and it’s a very abstract, symbolical answer – whereas the BF audios take a more concrete road, are a little bit more concerned with the inner workings of UNIT, so both of them complement each other nicely.

SCRIBBLES: And, again, I think that really explains why this set exists. Because this is the kind of exorcism and reflection the televised series can’t afford to do, but does kind of beg to be done, in its weird way. There’s a lot of baggage to dig up and sift through for UNIT, and looking to the past to find an identity for the future is a reasonable path.

4) “United”, by Matt Fitton

SCRIBBLES: I absolutely love this one, and I think some of its scenes have been the very best in the history of modern UNIT at capturing this thematic issue, all through Jo. The scene where she declares to Yates and Benton that she is putting her faith in science, that to me really captures everything that these audios and the televised series are grappling with. We mentioned before how Jo is sort of the best figure at bridging this and fits so inherently well into this modern ethos, and here it really shines. I like that she even got to imitate Martha in “The Stolen Earth” with the Sontaran teleport as a big climactic decision. It really implicitly cements just how fitting Jo is as a modern companion despite coming from the 70s, and really hits home for me everything this story wants to be.

TIBERE: Yeah, we’re not going to agree at all on this one. I really disliked it. Well, maybe that’s too strong a word. I mean, it has some really good individual scenes – yes, having Jo stand up for herself and telling the boy to go and fetch her a cup of tea is awesome. Yes, having Benton and Yates be relentlessly the butt of every joke and being denounced as figures of toxic, aggressive masculinity is awesome. But at the end of the day, I don’t think it amounts to anything. It feels weak, toothless. Its criticisms don’t have any bite, it doesn’t believe in them enough – Jo makes a case for peace and negotiates, but that’s not what saves the day. Benton and Yates are criticized, but where does those criticisms lead – and lead them? It goes around in circles.

SCRIBBLES: I think the question is, can it amount to anything? Modern UNIT is grappling with this thematic wound, both televised and audio, but what’s the way out? Where can we really go forward? Is all there is digging at this old wound and trying to move forward? And I think it’s clear, this is an attempt to reconcile approaches, with the heroic UNIT storming Parliament matched by Jo, Kate, and Osgood’s ideals. The title, United, isn’t subtle about that. This is trying to reconstruct and move forward the whole entire series. There are limits to how far it can go, absolutely, Hell, this is, at the end of the day, a niche audio series. It’s on the cutting edge, but it must defer up to the BBC show for any big motions, and I’m sure that hinders how far it can go. But it’s grappling with moving forward and trying to find its feet, and I admire these attempts. I think the way forward lies less in past UNIT, Jo aside, and more in shining new threads like Jacqui McGee. But I think this was a worthwhile step back, in the end. To get old fans onboard with the fanservice, to show that changes are happening, to clear the table to really get at things.

TIBERE: Well, I agree that it’s trying to do it both ways – but, for me at least, it succeeds in neither. I’m all for celebration and reconstruction, but they have to feel earned – and this boxset doesn’t earn its triumphant big ending. If you want to rebuild, you have to deconstruct at least a little – and fair enough, some of those past stories, Jo’s one especially, did just that, but they never really made a strong, clearly articulated critique that could then be dealt with and invalidated by the finale. I’m not exactly demanding the most complex, nuanced of them all, but it just lacks a focal point that would motivate the big celebratory gathering. Without it, it’s mostly just plot happening with interesting ideological tidbits here and there, but the two are never tied together in a strong, compelling way. It’s very frustrating, because it’s very much a “lesser-than-the-sum-of-its-parts” case. There’s a lot of good here, but the story just doesn’t commit to, well, telling a story. It’s mostly a bunch of lego pieces thrown haphazardly on the ground.

SCRIBBLES: It’s absolutely trying to maneuver so much and hit so many points, and of course, it can’t hit them all. Pander to the classic fans, deconstruct, reconstruct, there’s ways in which it can only ever be a mess. But it’s a mess in tune with the best aspects of this series, in a way even Retrival didn’t really do for me, much as it worked for you. Because it suggests these ideas are still on the table and still crucial to everything this series is. I’m always afraid, perhaps irrationally, of these new UNIT audios losing themselves. Becoming something safe and standard and embracing masculine militarism like in characters like Josh (who I loved being paired with Benton and Yates, incidentally), rather than the politically charged and scientific woman-lead stuff I want it to be, and that Jacqui has always felt like the core figure of to me, driving the critiques and exploration of Kate and Osgood. This set, to me, suggests if nothing else an awareness of that and a willingness to keep engaging, to keep working over what makes this UNIT range special. It’s not the most efficient exploration, but the messiness is grounded in the raw ideas and characters I love. I can’t stay too mad at it.

TIBERE: Yeah, I can agree with that. It’s not a betrayal of the series’ ideals, and as much as I didn’t appreciate it, it could have been much, much worse. But you see, I think I have the exact opposite stance to you – you’re liking it because despite all its flaws it has some genuinely compelling, hell, even fascinating ideological elements, but for me, that only makes the flaws more glaring. It’s very, very frustrating, because it suggests that the writers know exactly what’s so good about their stories, but don’t go there. I don’t like compromises – but eh, if we have to have some, I guess this ain’t so bad.

SCRIBBLES: I get what you’re saying on that. I had the same reassessment back when Shutdown came out, easily my most frustrated as a fan of this series. And even Silenced, I felt like never went quite as far or as biting as I’d like it to. But I feel safe now knowing that, if nothing more, this range isn’t going to stop grappling with it. It’s still in the forefront of its thoughts and still core to everything it is, and one day, I hope, it’ll finally get to the story it keeps trying to tell. But first, let’s have more Jacqui McGee, please.

TIBERE: And more Shindi, too. Seriously, Ramon Tikaram’s voice is like melted butter poured directly in your ears, it’s glorious. Hum. Yes. You’re right. Jacqui. She’s great.

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