For the first time outside of my slightly disturbed hopes during The Kingmaker, the world of post-2005 Doctor Who comes to Big Finish, and with a Redgrave no less! Jemma is back as Kate Stewart and is joined by Ingrid Oliver’s Osgood as UNIT face a new spearhead from a returning alien menace. How will the 21st-century UNIT fare with no Doctor to help, and is this start of a new Big Finish range any good?
Things kick off with big intent in UNIT: Extinction as the listener is dropped straight into the action with a reptilian skirmish, and after a bombastic theme tune the pace is kept up for a breathlessly rapid four CDs. In a slight parallel to the reincarnations of Doctor Who both into colour and then into the new millennium, the Autons are the primary threat, but their methods this time are not quite as straightforward as in the past. Their approach is brilliantly insidious and takes full advantage of the advances in plastics and technology even in the past few years, and the scope is excellently global. It’s even nice to see that the Nestene recognise the need for IT Support from time to time!
Unlike some other collections, the discs here (titled Vanguard, Earthfall, Bridgehead and Armageddon) are very much four chapters of a single continual story, and the storytelling is very consistent between writers Matt Fitton and Andrew Smith. It’s like a bumper four-part TV story in length as well as pacing with the parts tending to be just over 45mins each – a slightly shorter Earthfall avoids any potential for the pace to slack and a few extra minutes beefs up Armageddon as finale. In fact, listening to UNIT: Extinction has a sense that it could step easily from audio into TV by itself, and I for one would watch it!
As well as the writing, that’s no small part due to the quality of performances, and as well as the fantastic Jemma Redgrave and Ingrid Oliver there are strong turns from James Joyce as Captain Carter, Warren Brown as Sam Bishop and Tracy Wiles as Jacqui McKee. Big Finish continue their superb production values, with atmospheric soundscapes and rousing music throughout.
As a jumping-on point for new listeners, it helps if you’re familiar with the concept of UNIT and of Kate and Osgood as the breathless action doesn’t leave much room for introductions. Maybe something a little like the (admittedly show-sourced) intro that precedes Big Finish’s Torchwood releases for example would fit quite nicely in my opinion. That is the only aspect you need though – and in fairness most would be approaching this based on those characters first rather than the other way round – as while there is reference to the Doctor and other UNIT events prior knowledge is not needed, more giving the opportunity for those listening to have further directions to take afterwards. There is a nice hint towards further plot in releases to come as well, and it looks like Big Finish could be introducing a whole new battalion of listeners to their universe with what has instantly jumped to being my favourite release this year. That’s how good it is!
UNIT: Extinction is available now from BigFinish.com.