With UNIT set to return in the next series of Doctor Who, here are some of the best Doctor Who UNIT series to bring you up to speed.
UNIT – sometimes known as the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce, or the Unified Intelligence Taskforce – is a military organisation specifically set up to combat alien threats. It was originally established by Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart, later Brigadier, who had the idea for UNIT after helping the Doctor to combat the dreaded Great Intelligence in ‘The Web of Fear.’
And if you’re new to the series or have never seen a Doctor Who UNIT story before, here are some of the best adventures to get you started…
1) The Invasion
This is the Doctor Who UNIT story which started it all. Although nobody is quite sure when this adventure takes place (it could be the late 60s or the 70s) it is certainly an epic Doctor Who tale, and the very first to feature Lethbridge-Stewart as the Brigadier. In ‘The Invasion,’ a mysterious company known as International Electromatics is secretly building up an army of Cybermen for world domination – starting with London.
This Doctor Who UNIT story is perhaps most famous for its iconic scene of the Cybermen descending the steps outside St Paul’s Cathedral, but it is also notable for being one of the longest single adventures in the history of the programme, beaten only by ‘The War Games’ and ‘The Daleks’ Master Plan‘ (and ‘The Trial of a Time Lord’ and ‘Flux’ depending on how you count them.) Moreover, as mentioned previously, this is the very first of the UNIT adventures and therefore an important piece of Doctor Who history.
2) The Green Death
Otherwise known as ‘The One with the Giant Maggots,’ this Doctor Who UNIT story takes place during the Third Doctor’s era, and sees the eponymous Time Lord and UNIT joining forces to combat a host of oversized insects in contemporary Wales. These have ballooned in size after being exposed to a deadly substance engineered by the villainous Global Chemicals organisation.
‘The Green Death’ is shorter than ‘The Invasion’ at just six episodes and, aside from the green maggots, is most notable for being the last to feature Jo Grant as the Doctor’s companion, played by Katy Manning. She falls in love over the course of ‘The Green Death’ and leaves the TARDIS at the story’s conclusion to go on an around-the-world adventure with her fiancé. Interestingly, the fiancé in question was the actor Stewart Bevan, who was Katy Manning’s real life boyfriend.
3) Terror of the Zygons
The next Doctor Who UNIT story on our list comes from 1975 and launched the Fourth Doctor’s second season. In ‘Terror of the Zygons,’ the Doctor and his companions Sarah Jane and Harry are summoned to Scotland to help UNIT investigate the mysterious destruction of a number of oil rigs. Naturally, as they all were destroyed next to Loch Ness, the true culprit can only be the infamous monster.
However, with this being Doctor Who, this is a robot monster, and it’s controlled by the sinister Zygons – rubbery, octopus-like creatures with a spaceship grounded on the bed of the famous loch. They are master shapeshifters, and intend to use their morphing technology (and indeed their Loch Ness monster) to disrupt an international energy conference.
Their ultimate goal, though, is to take control of the whole world, as their home planet has been destroyed and they have their sights set on transforming the Earth into a planet more suitable for Zygon occupation.
Simply put, this Doctor Who UNIT story is often regarded as one of the highlights of the Philip Hinchcliffe era, and is the last of the ‘true’ UNIT stories of the classic series, as they were gradually phased out over the Fourth Doctor’s time.
4) The Day of the Doctor
Surprisingly, it was some 38 years before the Zygons made a return to our screens. They were chosen as the main baddie for Doctor Who‘s 50th anniversary story ‘The Day of the Doctor,’ which is arguably one of the most epic and cinematic of all the Doctor Who UNIT stories on our list.
This time, Matt Smith is the incumbent Doctor, joined by David Tennant as his Tenth incarnation, and John Hurt as the War Doctor. And once again, the Zygons are hell-bent on wreaking havoc on planet Earth, this time using stasis cubes to conceal themselves within paintings which they can stealthily escape from.
And this is very much a Doctor Who UNIT story for the modern age, with the military organisation now being led by the Brigadier’s scientist daughter Kate, who’s ably assisted by scientist, Doctor Who fan and cosplayer Petronella Osgood.
Another element to watch out for is UNIT’s mysterious Black Archive, which is based in the Tower of London. Originally introduced in an episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures, this storage facility is the place where all of the Doctor’s associates are taken by UNIT for screening – before having their memories of the event completely erased.
5) The Daemons
For many Doctor Who fans, ‘The Daemons‘ is one of the ultimate Doctor Who UNIT stories. Written by the producer Barry Letts, this 1971 story epitomised what subsequently became known as the UNIT Family – the combination of the Doctor, the Master, Jo Grant, the Brigadier, Captain Mike Yates and Sergeant John Benton. Each of the characters is given an opportunity to shine in this story, and it is widely regarded as one of the finest of the Third Doctor’s era.
In this Doctor Who UNIT adventure, the Doctor is investigating mysterious goings-on at the village of Devil’s End where his old enemy the Master has taken up residence as the new vicar, whilst secretly using the church crypt as a pseudo-coven to stir up the power of an alien being known as Azal. It concluded a solid run of Doctor Who UNIT stories throughout the show’s eighth season, many of which are similarly well-regarded by fans such as ‘Terror of the Autons‘ and ‘The Claws of Axos.’
And whilst all of these Doctor Who UNIT stories serve as a great introduction to the alien-fighting organisation, there are many others: honourable mentions include ‘Spearhead from Space,’ ‘Inferno,’ ‘The Sea Devils’ and ‘Battlefield,’ to name a few. And who knows how many more stories we will be able to add to this list after UNIT’s return in 2024.
Which is your favourite Doctor Who UNIT story? And which ones would you add to this list? Let me know in the comments below.