Big Finish - UNIT: Brave New World 1: Seabird One, Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Big Finish - UNIT: Brave New World 1: Seabird One, Review

"From the Worlds of Doctor Who: UNIT: Brave New World 1: Seabird One." Matthew Kresal blows the word count with the title alone.
In 1989, the Seventh Doctor serial Battlefield launched what seemed to be a new era for Doctor Who's venerable UNIT organization. One that saw what was, in essence, a changing of the guard from Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart to the younger Brigadier Winifred Bambera, played by Angela Bruce. The end of Classic Who just a few months later curtailed any future appearances. Since then, Bambera and her era of UNIT have sporadically appeared in various spin-off media, never giving them their due. That's changed as Big Finish takes Bambera, UNIT, and listeners into a Brave New World of adventures with Seabird One (named for Bambera's UNIT callsign).

In doing so, the company behind more than two decades of Doctor Who audio dramas starts by asking, "What would a 1990s UNIT spin-off have been like?" Range script editor Robert Valentine starts answering that question with the opening episode, Rogue State. Set about a year after Battlefield, Rogue State finds Bambera on the trail of an arms-dealing terrorist and gradually getting burnt out by the job. That is before finding herself with a new sergeant in the form of Jean-Paul Savarin (Alex Jordan) and a potential promotion from Dame Lydia Kingsley (Liz Sutherland-Lim). Not to mention a new threat in the form of a mysterious Soviet-era weapon potentially making its way into the hands of her recent foe.

It's a hefty brew of ingredients, one that displays many of the nineties influences on Brave New World. As Valentine states in the extras, everything from The X-Files to the James Bond film Goldeneye and, of course, Battlefield is at play. Brought together into an action-adventure package, one that nonetheless deals with the more sensitive side of Bambera and the changing post-Cold War pre-9/11 world, it makes for fantastic listening. Particularly with this group of characters, the chemistry between Bambera and her French sergeant being apparent from their first scene. As first episodes for a range go, Rogue State is a triumphant opening installment setting both the tone and standard for what's to follow.

The middle episode of the set, Allison Winter's Time Flies, introduces the third member of this UNIT team. UNIT wouldn't be complete without a scientific advisor, with Bambera's being Doctor Louise Rix (Yemisi Oyinloye). Time Flies brings the trio together to investigate disappearances at a genetic research facility working with crops and insects. It's an episode that very much captures the mood of the time its set, as concerns about out-of-control insect populations and the rise of GMO crops began to make themselves felt. It's a compliment that Winter's script feels like it could have been the plot of an X-Files episode, perhaps with a slight change of emphasis and focus on body horror. Yet something about the Time Flies feels off, perhaps in its pacing or slightly rushed climax. Even so, the ideas shine through, and with Rix's forthrightness on display alongside Silas Carson channeling Richard E Grant as Dr. Grange, it's a worthy addition to the set.

Alfie Shaw brings the set to a close with Dark Side of the Moon. Like Valentine's Rogue State, this draws on a wide range of nineties sources for its plot, one involving the apparently body-hopping spirit of a dead British astronaut proclaiming doom if the Britannia space station launches at the end of the week. There are elements of the X-Files between paranoid thriller and potential paranormal elements, but also the lingering dreams of NASA's shuttle era, presented vividly in the BBC's late eighties series Star Cops, that lingered well into the nineties. More than that, it feels like a slick nineties update of the sort of story that Doctor Who itself might have done in the heyday of the Third Doctor. Indeed, the only thing missing might well be a reference to The Ambassadors of Death! Shaw places all of that into a compelling thriller that further fleshes out the new members of the UNIT team, with the dead astronaut being an old friend of Rix's, and presents one twist after another right up to the final scene. It's a twist and action-filled conclusion to the set that had this reviewer smiling from ear to ear throughout in delight.

As is often the case with Big Finish, Seabird One benefits from all the strengths that have made them as long-lasting as they've been. Bruce is one fine form as Bambera, sounding as if she just stepped off straight from the Battlefield set and into the Big Finish recording booth. Morgan and Oyinloye both make strong debuts in their roles as Sergeant Jean-Paul Savarin and Doctor Rix, with Morgan finding the right mix of sarcasm with sincerity and Oyinloye Rix's sense of determination to get to the truth. The supporting casts are solid, from Sutherland-Lim as Dame Lydia to Carson's Dr. Granger and the ever-reliable Tracy Wiles in numerous roles. The icing on the cake is the sound design of Jack Townley which, paired with the scores and title theme from Borna Matosic, goes a long way to helping complete the nineties setting of the series.

Put together across three episodes and a little over as many hours, Brave New World: Seabird One is a successful launch for the range. One which makes the most of this overlooked UNIT era, delivering on the promise made in Battlefield. And with a second set, Visitations, announced for December, there are more adventures to come with them.

A "Brave New World," indeed.

From the Worlds of Doctor Who: UNIT: Brave New World 1: Seabird One is exclusively available to buy from the Big Finish website until 31 August 2022, and on general sale after this date.

Matthew Kresal is a writer, critic, and podcaster with many and varying interests. His prose includes the non-fiction The Silver Archive: Dark Skies from Obverse Books, the Cold War alternate history spy thriller Our Man on the Hill, and the Sidewise Award winning short story Moonshot in Sea Lion Press' Alternate Australias anthology. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, or follow him on Twitter @KresalWritesHe was born, raised, and lives in North Alabama where he never developed a southern accent.

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