Kate Stewart is back on TV! And if that wasn’t enough UNIT action for you, there’s a whole new UNIT family to meet at Big Finish.
Doctor Who: Flux saw the return of the Unified Intelligence Taskforce to our screens for the first time since 2016’s ‘The Return of Doctor Mysterio’. ‘Survivors of the Flux’ even expanded on UNIT history by introducing original commanding officer, General Farquhar. But with Kate only featuring in a handful of pivotal scenes, and her trusty sidekick Osgood only referenced, some viewers may have just been left hungry for more.
Fortunately, Big Finish have been making UNIT: The New Series since 2015. The range of audio dramas featuring Kate, Osgood, and their team is now on its eighth boxset. And the latest volume, Nemesis 1, is designed as a perfect jumping-on point for new viewers. The fast-paced, action-orientated series plays out like an audio version of Mission: Impossible and introduces a whole new UNIT family. But who are they?
Kate Stewart (Jemma Redgrave)
Kate needs no introduction to Doctor Who fans, of course. The daughter of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, she’s UNIT’s first civilian commander. She comes from a science background and “Science Leads” is her mantra for her reforms to how UNIT operates. Inevitably, over thirty episodes of having her own series, she’s become a slightly more rounded character. The ethical conflict between her dedication to science and her job deliberately concealing scientific breakthroughs from the public becomes a theme, for instance. Meanwhile, past experience makes a cynicism about politicians and officials a hallmark of her character too.
But at her core, her strongest instinct is to protect her people, no matter what the cost – sometimes, even, placing the world itself in greater jeopardy to rescue them. It’s a trait which underlines that this truly is a new UNIT family.
Colonel Vikram Shindi (Ramon Tikaram)
The original intention was to kill Colonel Shindi off by the end of first boxset UNIT: Extinction, symbolic of the change of the taskforce’s philosophy. Instead, he’s become a regular member of the team, with his military mindset providing a balancing force to his boss’s instincts. He may be old school in his approach – more ready to solve problems with high explosive – but he’s proven a valuable devil’s advocate in Kate’s decision-making process.
Despite their differences, he’s also fiercely loyal, courageous and quick-thinking. Time and again he’s proven that willing to put his own life on the line if that’s what it takes to protect his country, planet, and team. Ironically, he’s as likely to upbraid his people, particularly Captain Carter, for taking unnecessary risks.
Osgood (Ingrid Oliver)
UNIT’s Chief Scientific Advisor introduced on television in ‘The Day of the Doctor,’ Osgood is an established fan favourite. These adventures are largely set before that 50th Anniversary special so we only get one Osgood here, with her Zygon twin not yet on the payroll. This setting does make for a slight discontinuity, though. After six years of saving the world, escaping tight corners, and facing off against Cybermen, Silurians, Autons and even the Derek Jacobi Master, she’s grown in confidence and experience in a way that’s a little tough to square with the meek scientist who later curls up in a corner chanting “the Doctor will save me.”
So in other ways, this Osgood is more akin to the one we saw in ‘The Zygon Invasion’; more confident and calmer under pressure. But still adorably keen, and liable to babble enthusiastically about the science of whatever’s about to kill everyone.
Captain Josh Carter (James Joyce)
The new series’ answer to the Pertwee era’s Mike Yates, Josh Carter is UNIT’s resident action man. Despite his military status, he’s also the team’s class clown, ready with a pun or quip no matter the danger, much to Colonel Shindi’s chagrin. In ‘Extinction’ he’s also subject to the Nestene’s experiments to replace humans from the inside out. This leaves him with super-strong plastic bones, which proves an advantage to his lifestyle of jumping out of helicopters, crashing motorbikes and getting manhandled by various alien bad guys.
Josh also has an ongoing flirtation with Osgood, which starts out as him simply teasing the easily embarrassed boffin but has grown into a genuine affection. Meeting their alternate universe doppelgangers who were not only evil, but lovers, in UNIT: Encounters has only added to the unresolved tension, so it will be interesting to see where ‘Joshgood’ goes from here.
Lieutenant Sam Bishop (Warren Brown)
Sam is UNIT’s “international troubleshooter,” trotting the globe on espionage missions. Due to Warren Brown’s busy schedule on shows such as Strikeback, Sam is a recurring presence who doesn’t appear in every series. And the nature of his role also means he’s often off on solo missions which tie-in with the main series arc the rest of the team are dealing with. But his stoic determination and unstoppable pursuit of his assignment are still a key part of the UNIT formula. And those times when he does meet up with the rest of the team, like in UNIT: Cyber-reality, his wry view of his more eccentric teammates nicely shakes up the status quo.
Jacqui McGee (Tracy Wiles)
Freelance journalist Jacqui isn’t a member of UNIT but rather Kate’s best frenemy. As a character she plays with the unspoken question that surrounded Sarah Jane in the 1970s – why would a top secret organisation let a journalist hang around with them? Jacqui is originally hellbent on exposing UNIT and the existence of aliens to the world, but eventually becomes an uneasy occasional ally.
Sometimes she realises she’s in over her head and calls in UNIT to help defeat the latest alien conspiracy she’s uncovered. Other times, UNIT co-opts her sources and skills in return for giving her access to print as much of the truth as they can possibly allow. This friction stops things from getting too cosy, and having someone who can sometimes actually get under Kate’s skin is a nice variation.
Lieutenant Surgeon Harry Sullivan & Naomi Cross (Christopher Naylor & Eleanor Crooks)
Arriving in new boxset UNIT: Nemesis 1, Harry and Naomi are intriguing additions. Harry, originally played by the late Ian Marter, was a companion to the Fourth Doctor on television. So what is he doing working alongside Kate Stewart in the 21st century, having not aged a day inbetween? We’re told that Naomi, too, is a former companion originally from the 1970s. All we’ve been told so far is that there was an “incident.” It’s a fun way to refresh the UNIT lineup, particularly with Harry struggling with electric cars and sincerely doing his best to adjust to a more politically correct world.
And the rest…
UNIT: Assembled featured a team-up for the ages, as Kate recruited Jo Jones (Katy Manning), Mike Yates (Richard Franklin), and John Benton (John Levene) back to active service to help stop a faction of Silurian zealots. UNIT: Incursions has the taskforce work alongside River Song (Alex Kingston). And with Nemesis 1, we get the return of the Curator (Tom Baker.) He may or may not be a future incarnation of the Doctor, but the Curator holds many of UNIT’s most prized secrets in his Undergallery, and stands ready to defend them…
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