Wednesday 8 November 2017

30 Discs Hath November #8: Call To Arms

UNIT: The New Series: Assembled #1
Call To Arms

written by Matt Fitton

The thing about Big Finish is that it is always fanservice, that's the nature of it. That having been said, there are levels of fanservice and the more the idea of story seems more geared towards it than having an interesting high concept, the more wary I become.

Take this box set, for example, which promises a team-up between Big Finish's modern UNIT and the surviving members of the 1970s “UNIT family”. On the plus side BF waited to do three box sets before pulling the trigger on this idea so I have at least as much of a grip on the voices and character of the new guys as the familiar old faces. Matt Fitton starts us off with a very traditional story as not only do we hve old UNIT foes the Silurians but the format of Call To Arms is the “traditional base under siege”.

In this case the base under siege is the pub run by retired UNIT sergeant John Benton the night after his retirement party. Kate, Osgood and a six pack of soldiers have been checking up on a known Silurian hibernation base in the area which turns out to be something modern UNIT does routinely to make sure the inhabitants are safe and asleep. There's even references later to other bases where the inhabitants woke up too find the world overrun by talking apes and decided just to go back to sleep and wake up later. The fact that we've never had a Silurian story with a peaceful resolution is largely down to the fact it wouldn't be that interesting but having some confirmation that it can happen helps with the idea that these are an intelligent race of individuals and not a series of interchangeable monsters.

Giving this impression through dialogue does help because the actual Silurian antagonist, a military type by the name of Jastrok, is about as stereotypical a made alien general as it gets. Osgood tries to open negotiations with him using Silurian formalities but he responds by laughing and shooting people regardless. He's not without depth but its clear he's not going to be a vehicle for intelligent and rational dialogue any time soon.

Anyway, Jastrok and his soldiers wake up and ambush the UNIT team. The soldiers cover Kate and Osgood as they escape and the two important characters take shelter in Benton's pub where Mike Yates happens to have just arrived. On the subject of Mike, its interesting to see someone who actually holds a grudge against him even if the grudge less about the whole massive betrayal thing (though it gets mentioned) and more about jealousy over a woman. Benton, of course, can't help but fall into the habit of saying “sir” and “captain” which is both sweet and a sad reminder of his undeservedly low position on the UNIT food chain of old.

The story unfolds much as you might expect with a few interesting details that lend some flavour like Kate being the only person in the pub who's armed. Osgood and Benton get to replicate the old Doctor/Benton relationship of sciency explanation followed by polite bewilderment which is nice but I do hope that later in the set we get some reminder of the fact that as baffled as he often is Benton is a smart guy.

There were also a couple of references to the wilderness years novels including calling UNIT's observation of the hibernation bases “The Earth Reptile Initiative” (the “politically correct” name the Silurians were given in the New Adventures novels that was later changed to “Indigenous Terrans”) and Benton's past as a used car salesman.

It was a fun time but, much as I don't want to play favourites, next episode has Katy Manning on the cover and I am rather looking forward to that a little more. 

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