Big Finish: THE NEW COUNTER-MEASURES - THE MOVELLAN MANOEUVRE Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Tony’s getting his disco-hair on again.

Well now there’s a surprise.

The New Counter-Measures team have had a somewhat rough, staccato couple of years – since the single-episode story Who Killed Toby Kinsella?, which took the Sixties Counter-Measures team forward into the Seventies with new funding, a new building and a slightly new remit from their beginnings, we’ve had one full box-set in the Seventies, and then finally, another single-episode story, The Hollow King, which until now was both the start of Series 3 of New Counter-Measures and seemingly its end.

Delightfully then, the New Counter-Measures team are back for at least two more stories which, if their story ends at this point, at least puts them back on top of their game and lets them go out in our memory on something of a high.

After all, if you’re going to bring this team back, you could do worse than giving them a double-disc blow-out up against first the Movellans and then the Daleks, as episodes 3.2 and 3.3 do.

The Movellan Manoeuvre in particular is a pacey little number which dispenses with much of the mystery of previous stories with long build-ups. The Counter-Measures team face the resurgence of what might be considered their Lex Luthor, their arch-rival, Lady Suzanne Clare (Carolyn Seymour) who appears to be…erm…manufacturing home-cleaning robots.

On investigation, there seems to be nothing nefarious or deadly about these robots, which is quite enough to drive group Captain Gilmore (Simon Williams) up the wall, so he goes to the expedient of kidnapping Lazy Clare and demanding answers.

It’s fair to say he gets them, but they’re by no means the answers either he or Lady Clare expect.

The Movellans are in and of themselves a great creation – for those not familiar with 1979’s Destiny of the Daleks, first of all, go back and get acquainted with Destiny of the Daleks immediately, and secondly, the Movellans are a force of disco-haired, gorgeously humanoid androids, ruled by pure logic and able to tell you calmy and in words of as many syllables as you like why they’re the superior form of life and why you should submit to their conquest.

They were a driving force in Destiny of the Daleks, a form of robo-life equal to the Daleks in ruthlessness and conquest, and whom the Daleks couldn’t defeat or exterminate in great enough numbers. They were later revealed to have won their war against the Daleks by attacking the part of the Dalek with which they themselves were unencumbered – the organic part - with a Dalek-eating virus. So firstly, you should never underestimate the Movellans. Yes, they might have dodgy disco-hair, but they defeated the Daleks. When was the last time you did that? And secondly, when they have a plan to take over a planet, more often than not, that planet gets taken well and truly over, thank you very much – and by ruthless android overlords with much more conversation than your average Dalek or Cyberman too.

The plot here, written by John Dorney, is effective and holds onto its mysteries as long as it possibly can – for a story where the Movellans are right there in the title, it’s an admirable exercise in delayed gratification that they don’t appear en masse for the longest time. When they do make their move though, it’s pitched at such a pace of ‘Ta-Dah!’ triumph as to make all the waiting and hoping worthwhile. The fact that it also takes the notional human villain by surprise is just an additional joy. While it would be a mistake to over-use them, this is a story that proves the viability on audio of the Movellans, and we could happily listen to more from these ultra-calm robotic overlords in future stories (We’ve never yet had a Movellan origin story, for instance, and that could be fascinating to listen to). Their viability is partly due to the way Dorney writes them here, and partly down to a joyfully understated performance from Cyril Nri as Movellan Commander Vallan, his rich, melodic tones perfectly showing the difference in approach between the Movellans and the Daleks.

The story, in which perfectly innocent cleaning robots are a front for something significantly more insidious, makes perfect sense when you’re dealing with the Movellans, and utilizes a modern technology that didn’t exist when they first appeared on-screen, but which has subsequently been used in a different way with a different robotic life-form, the separation of body and animating mindset and then at an appropriate moment, the downloading of the latter into the former. If anything it makes rather more sense here in The Movellan Manoeuvre than it did on-screen with the Cybermen, adding to the indefatigable potential menace of the Movellans and answering another of the questions we’ve always had about them – how do the Movellans get the armies they need to withstand the onslaught of a might like the Daleks’? Since Power of the Daleks, we’ve had the haunting image of conveyor belts full of Dalek shells being filled with mutant occupants. Here we don’t get quite the same scene for the Movellans, but we get at least one arresting mind-image of how they multiply and activate, and it’s at least very nearly as alarming.

The Movellan Manoeuvre has a lot to do with its hour of run-time – bring back the New Counter-Measures team, advance their emotional story slightly (here with a sense that Rachel Jenson – played as ever by the unsurpassable Pamela Salem – might be getting sick and tired of the front-line danger of her role with the team, and that the affection between her and Gilmore might be coming to a point of decision), bring the Movellans back in a viable way, show them as potentially epic threats in their own right and set the scene for what could be the end of the Counter Measures stories in a re-match with the Daleks.

John Dorney seems to do all this without batting an eye, and while giving every member of the team something to do, and bringing back Carolyn Seymour’s arch villain Lady Clare with just the right amount of laughter and scorn for the do-gooders from the Post Office Tower. It’s a bit of a triumph, this story, and it’ll blast you through an hour of your life without you noticing it’s gone.

The fact that the story is based around the mass production of robots is a particular joy, because there’s just something about the idea of the Movellans being involved in factory-based mass-production that’s deliciously right (ahem), and there’s something wonderful about the fundamental difference between Movellans and Daleks being the fact that the Movellans are a potentially more talkative villain, able to reason, to explain and to oddly enough hope for accommodation with lesser species, rather than the immediate necessity of extermination which is your average Dalek’s response. That gets more fully explored here than it ever did in Destiny Of The Daleks, and it’s partly this reasoning ruthlessness that makes us hope for more Movellans in the audio future.

Check out The Movellan Manoeuvre and discover what the Discobots have been up to lately. Then crack straight on with The Dalek Gambit and hear how this story-arc – and possibly much more – ends for the New Counter-Measures team.

The New Counter-Measures: The Movellan Manoeuvre is exclusively available to buy from the Big Finish website until May 31st 2020, and on general sale after this date. 

Tony 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

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