Last November, Big Finish introduced Kate Stewart and Osgood to their audio universe in UNIT: Extinction, which was one of my favourite releases of the entire year. Now, Kate and Osgood (and Josh and Sam) return – their task, should they elect to acquiesce, is to investigate missing people and secretive use of extraterrestrial technology. But no simple operation this – across several continents they will face threats both alien and closer to home, and risk capture, being disavowed by their government, and death. Even Tom Cruise would balk at an assignment this unachievable…
Like the previous set, UNIT: Shutdown feels very much like four episodes of a single story, and it doesn’t feel that there are two separate writers (Matt Fitton bookends the set with Andrew Smith penning the middle two) as the flow is extremely well judged. Like all good rollercoasters, it starts small and quiet on the track of a missing professor, and there’s a welcome peek into Osgood’s life outside UNIT before the alien ninja assassins hit the scene.
Oh yes, you read that right – this story has alien ninja assassins! (How can you not love it already?) Much more than a cipher, the Tengobushi are an excellent creation set up in such a way that they can be used both in numbers as well as individually, and there is a strong sense of structure to the society set up without getting bogged down in expositional speeches.
They’re not the only threat that UNIT face, as ruthless CEO Felicity Lyme (the always-wonderful Alice Krige, clearly relishing the role) is none too keen on Kate wanting her to give back alien technology that she sees as a prime moneymaking opportunity – and as money and power go hand in hand to follow her, UNIT can’t tell who to trust politically either…
From conspiracy thriller to full on action and more property destruction than a 90s Jackie Chan movie, UNIT: Shutdown is a real summer blockbuster of a story that is as entertaining as it is breathless. Drawing influence from the likes of Alastair Maclean and Robert Ludlum, it’s a fast-paced and massively fun ride that if listened to on the road is likely to lead to lots of ignoring sat navs to make the journey longer just to get to listen to a bit more. At times too the intrigue calls to mind Brosnan-era Bond, and when it comes to action then Howard Carter’s superb sound design takes no prisoners and really gets the blood pumping. You can really imagine this as a miniseries that would be prompting much watercooler conversation – I’d take this over another resurrection for Jack Bauer any day!
The cast are as fantastic as expected, with Jemma Redgrave and Ingrid Oliver immediately reminding us why we love their characters. The devil’s in the details, and there’s no shortage throughout, especially around Osgood!
A high bar was set when Big Finish released UNIT: Extinction, yet they’ve somehow managed to top it with the brilliant UNIT: Shutdown. There’s just one question that has been puzzling me since – exactly where do the batteries go in a raven?
UNIT: Shutdown is available now from BigFinish.com