Take notes, people, because this is how you marry two generations of UNIT together properly. And I know it’s been done before–and done well–but there’s something about this that just feels so right. Getting John Levene and Richard Franklin to team up with Gemma Redgrave and Ingrid Oliver is–quite simply–sublime. This is in no small part due to another astonishing piece of writing by Matt Fitton, who has somehow managed to get this balancing act 100% right.
And not only does it bring the two eras together, it also brings multiple areas of Doctor Who together. Mostly by leaning (quite heavily from time to time) on elements from Gary Russell’s 1996 novel The Scales of Injustice. But it also addresses and fills in some of the continuity gaps between the televised stories featuring the Silurians of both Classic and New Who.
For instance, the question of the Silurian “third eye” is addressed in so far as how some of them have it, some do not, and they’ve come up with weapons that can function the same way. And the tongue-lashing thing that was introduced in the Matt Smith era of the show very much comes into play. We find out that UNIT’s been searching for and keeping tabs on Silurian nests everywhere, sometimes even intervening to makes sure that their hibernation chambers were functioning properly in an effort to protect the species and hopes of brokering a future peace. Benton and Yates both had a hand in starting this and it continues on into the era of Kate and Osgood. I get the feeling this was the Brigadier’s way of trying to redeem himself for the events of Wenley Moor, which is still a sore point for Kate as much as it was for him.
The fact that this opener is pretty Benton-centric made me very happy indeed. I’ve always had a soft spot for him and felt he was highly underrated. And I felt he never got the respect he truly deserved. But here and now, he’s finally getting that long overdue acknowledgement, not to mention being arguably the biggest (legit) hero of the opening story. We find out that he married Margery Phipps–who he met and began dating in the audio Council of War–and in the years he’d been selling used cars and running a pub, he was also quietly restoring Bessie in his garage. Honestly, I never do this, but I actually said “Aww!” when that came up. Good old Bessie. And good old John Benton.
Mike Yates is great in this as well, which is not something I say about him all that often. I was never as attached to him as I was to Benton, though that’s not to say that I don’t really enjoy Richard Franklin in the role. I do. It’s just the way he was written sometimes that bothered me. I was taken aback when Terry mentions Mike’s “breakdown” (Invasion of the Dinosaurs) and actually angry at the way he attacked Mike for it. But Mike didn’t make a big deal out of it, which shows how much the character has grown and changed. I love that we’re still getting character development for this lot more than four decades on.
Their reaction to Kate Stewart is minimal but does exactly what it needs to do. Benton first refers to her as “Little Katie” but not in a derogatory way. Both he and Mike clearly hold a great deal of respect for her and her role as UNIT’s leader, and not simply because she’s the Brigadier’s daughter. They jump back into action and follow her orders without question and it’s like nothing’s really changed in all the ways that matter. There are touching moments where they speak of the Brigadier that very nearly had me in tears because they’re said and written with so much love for the character, and I suspect for Nicholas Courtney as well.
Osgood is brilliant. Benton almost immediately tells her that she’s exactly like the Doctor, though Osgood seemed to expect to hear she was just like her father (who, if you’ve been living under a rock, was Sgt. Tom Osgood, a UNIT Engineer from the 1970s). I was slightly disappointed that her own family connection to UNIT wasn’t acknowledged, but I’m hopeful that it will come up later on. She even manages to get Bessie running, which is lovely. You can hear how much it means to her that she’s being put on par with the Doctor by his former colleagues. And early in the story when she tries to formally address the Silurians in the hopes of making peace, it is very similar to the way Clara tried to speak with Grand Marshall Skaldak in Cold War. And is equally successful, of course, which I found amusing.
But what is really driving this story? Well, that’s where the Silurians finally come in. Led by the warmongering Jastrok, a nest of Silurians has woken up and they’re out for Ape blood in a major way. They have no interest in sharing the planet with anyone and are actively hunting the humans. A pretty classic Doctor Who setup, really.
However, I will admit that I do have a couple of problems with them:
1. Why do the Silurians howl when they’re “hunting”? Is that a thing? Or is that new? Am I a fake fan for not knowing that? Whatever, I can live with it.
2. Jastrok’s title of “Grand Marshall” put me in a more Ice Warriors frame of mind. It’s probably just me but it again took me back to Cold War.
3. The constant talk of battle, hunting, and killing “primitives” for sport is straying dangerously close to Sontaran territory. It’s not a huge issue I suppose, but it bugs me enough to take me out of the story from time to time.
4. Do the Silurians actually call themselves “Silurians”? I haven’t watched Warriors of the Deep or The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood in quite a while, I admit, but I’m reasonably confident that they don’t refer to themselves as “Silurians” in the first story–which yes, I know is called “The Silurians” but whatever. Shut up. The point is that Jon Pertwee’s Doctor contested their coming from the Silurian era at all. And Matt Smith’s Doctor referred to them as Homo Reptilia. So hearing Jastrok refer to their species as such was surprising.
Found a much needed bright spot in the world. @bigfinish‘s UNIT: Assembled is giving me life right now. All I could’ve hoped for and more!
— Kat (@katstrovalva) May 24, 2017
Still, none of these issues are enough to dampen the actual genuine joy I got from this story. I said on Twitter that this audio is a much needed bright spot in the world right now, and I meant it. This is a happy thing and, especially after the horrific events in Manchester this week, we all really need happy things to escape to from time to time. And for me, bringing back beloved characters (and monsters!) from one of my favorite eras of Doctor Who is a great way of doing that.
Obviously it’s difficult to judge an entire story arc solely by its opening, but if the rest of the story works as well as this did, we’re not going to have any problems. It’s beautifully crafted in the way that it gives us about as much fannish delight as you could ask for, but also manages to do it while giving us a strong, action packed setup for what will probably be a pretty epic tale. Even by the end of part one, when you think they’ve reached resolution–or respite, at any rate–you know that this story is far from over.
So, have you listened to UNIT: Assembled yet? What did you think? Let us know in the comments below!
Oh, and if you’re wondering where our reviews of Season 10 of Doctor Who have been, fret not. They’re coming soon!
Up Next: UNIT: Assembled – Part II: Tidal Wave