Big Finish: The New Countermeasures: Who Killed Toby Kinsella? Review

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Tony’s in Dictionary Corner.


New.

New’s a word with multiple meanings. Never-before-seen work is considered new. Never-before-seen-here, or never-before-seen-with-these-people-involved also, perhaps oddly, fit the description. As geeks, we understand that New Who is still Doctor Who (well, most of us do, anyway), but done with a different philosophy, running time and budget. Perhaps the most apposite comparison for our purposes here though is with The Avengers, which in the Sixties saw Steed and Keel, Steed and Gale, and Steed and Peel foil international and occasionally interplanetary espionage, and then in the Seventies, saw ‘The New Avengers’ – Steed, Purdy and Gambit – doing much the same in a new economic and political climate.

The New Countermeasures, from the sounds of this release, is attempting to follow in the New Avengers’ footsteps, but on the basis of Who Killed Toby Kinsella? it’s either going to have to up its game, or it’s keeping its groovy Seventies powder dry for the first full series, out in December this year.

Who Killed Toby Kinsella? is a strange audio release. Essentially, for fans of what will now presumably have to either be thought of as The Old Countermeasures, or more disingenuously as The Classic Countermeasures, it’s the same old game, just ten years later. Three of the original Countermeasures crew have been hiding in plain sight with new identities after the events of Series 4, while Sir Toby, denying the existence of any such group as Countermeasures, has been doing his best to mop up the threat that seemed intent on bringing them, and much of the world, to their knees.

Who Killed Toby Kinsella? is strange then by virtue of how familiar it is, despite the passing of a decade in the lives of these people, and the shift in world politics in the meantime. It seems a little too much ‘business as usual’ to herald the coming of a ‘New Countermeasures.’ But that’s perhaps the point of it – the ‘New Countermeasures’ proper begins in December 2016. Who Killed Toby Kinsella? is by way of being an interim story, a mopping up of business from the Old Countermeasures, and the establishment of everything necessary to start the new series with enough of a bang to hit the new ground running, as every other series of Countermeasures has done.

That said, the actual story of Who Killed Toby Kinsella? is all about buried secrets, old betrayals, pigeons with silenced pistols coming home to roost, and how in a one-man war, the ageing Sir Toby is still more than able to hold his own – until, just possibly, he isn’t any more, given the title of the release. What follows is fairly standard Countermeasures fare, though if we’re absolutely honest, the abandonment here of the four, single-hour episode format in favour of the two single-hour connected episodes makes for surprisingly exhausting listening.

The Countermeasures team are on good enough form – as Simon Williams says in the extras, they’re really getting to know these characters now, and the writers are beginning to write to their individual strengths – and there’s an agreeable build-up of tension, bringing the real-world politics and economics of the Seventies into play – the oil crisis, the three-day week, increasing tension between the West and the Middle East etc. There’s also – and this is less successful – a good deal of bafflement along the way, things happening for which there must logically be explanations, and eventually are, but which take their own time coming across the two episodes here, and which sometimes lose our urgent need to know them along the way, meaning by the time it’s all explained, it gets the head-nod of something wrapped up, rather than the ‘Ahhh,’ of satisfied comprehension. That in turn means some of the plotting elements set up by John Dorney in episode 1 feel lukewarm by the time we get their explanations in Ken Bentley’s second episode, leaving the whole thing feeling rather shrugworthy at the end.

Another noticeable issue in episode 1 is the need for both the good guys and the bad guys, on covert missions, to narrate what they see and think. That significantly lessens the impact along the way, for all it feels like a necessary evil in terms of getting the tale told.

This story’s by no means all a hot mess though – taken in the right spirit, the plot of Sir Toby’s demons coming back to haunt him has a pretty John Le Carre feel, for those who like such things: spies and counter-spies, coming in from the cold or shooting each other on the basis of some ancient grievance that makes sense at least to the people within the drama. There are some good dramatic moments, even if the main one we’re savvy enough not to believe in for a moment. And listen out too for Belinda Stewart-Wilson as Overton – despite at first confusing the listener, sounding like a reasonably ten years older Alison, when given her head in episode 2, she has the makings of an interesting potential ‘New Countermeasures’ recruit.

The ending of this series-bridging two-parter…well, it does what it absolutely has to – it sets up the personnel of the ‘New’ Countermeasures (we won’t spoiler you by telling you who that comprises of), and gives them a new, unnaturally quirky headquarters, which feels like a somewhat gimmicky departure for the previously fairly gritty Countermeasures franchise. It promises new challenges, operating in relative obscurity compared to the Sixties variant, and possibly more in the way of the undercover work which was occasionally a standout hit in the earlier version.

So there’s a new location, a new challenge in terms of being ‘invisible,’ possibly new personnel (though again, no spoilers!) and a new decade, with its new socio-political challenges. Is that enough to justify ‘The New Countermeasures’?

Well, does it feel contrived simply to provide new challenges and stories to the writers? Yes, pretty much. Do the changes feel exciting enough to herald a whole new generation of Countermeasures? Mmmmnot really, even with the best will in the world. Who Killed Toby Kinsella? sweeps away the last untidiness of the Original Countermeasures and sets up the scenario of the new version, ready for Series 1 in December. But that series will still have work to do to convince the listeners either that a time-shifted ‘new’ version is actually necessary, or that there’s enough that’s genuinely ‘new’ about the Seventies version to justify the name.

Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk

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