Big Finish: UNIT: BRAVE NEW WORLD: VISITANTS Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Matthew Kresal parties like it's 1999.
The 1990s.

It's easy to view it as a long ago, even peaceful time, sandwiched between the end of the Cold War and the start of the War on Terror. A time of transition and one that wasn't as peaceful as we might think, with terrorism, rogue states, ethnic cleansing, and the start of political struggles still playing out nearly thirty years later. And now, caught in the crossfire of a century's end and the turn of the millennium is UNIT, led by Angela Bruce's Brigadier Winifred Bambera in their second box set: Visitants.

Seabird One, released this past July, served as a solid start for the series. In it, series script editor Robert Valentine and his writers reintroduced the UNIT commander from 1989's Battlefield alongside her new sergeant in the form of Jean-Paul Savarin (Alex Jordan) and the organization's late nineties scientific advisor Doctor Louise Rix (Yemisi Oyinloye). Now, it's time to get down to business in The Visitants, with Valentine and the series writers exploring some nineties and present-day concerns in an SF action-adventure context.

Take The Frequency by Tajinder Singh Hayer, for example. Opening the set, The Frequency takes the UNIT trio to the United States for a closer look at a US Air Force project. One that could revolutionize warfare in the next century, for better or worse, as they discover through its creator, Colonel Alexander Hagen (a deliciously amiable but slimy David Menkin). Like Time Flies in the previous set, it's a compliment to say that this feels like it could have been the plot from an unmade X-Files episode from the time, as it so wonderfully captures the mood of the times. Even if, thanks to the central characters, it has very much its own feel to how things play out over the hour. And it also, like the most recent season of Apple's For All Mankind, reminds us for a moment that the nineties weren't necessarily the golden age we might consider them to be. It's a lot to pack into an episode, but something that Singh Hayer does compellingly.

As does Lizzie Hopley in the middle episode, Haunt. Perhaps it's a coincidence that this set has been released just before Christmas, a traditional time for ghost stories in the UK, but Hopley crafts one heck of a tale here. Haunt sees the curiosity and skepticism of Rix and Bambera increasingly pushed to their limit when an excursion to the abandoned Greensands Hotel turns into a series of escalating oddities. Hopley's script and Scott Handcock's direction lets Oyinloye shine as Rix, playing the Mulder to the more skeptical Bambera's Scully as they stand with awe and terror on the brink of the unknown. And, like any good ghost story, a matter of interpretation is at play here, making this a thoughtful bit of listening and a spooky one.

And it's all building up to a grand finale. Having launched the series with Seabird One’s Rogue State, Valentine returns to pen the effective season finale with The Last Line of Defence. Collecting strands from across the five previous episodes with a host of nineties conspiracy theories and pre-millennium jitters, Valentine crafts a new take on the "UNIT guarding a peace conference" trope from the Pertwee era. Only here, it's in a full-on nineties blockbuster involving London landmarks, hostage situations, aliens, and enough action set pieces to keep the listener on the edge of their proverbial seat. Offering the odd character moment along the way and seeing the return of Bambera's benefactor Dame Lydia Kingsley (Liz Sutherland-Lim), it's an action-packed finale to the set and an immensely satisfying one.

In fact, the set as a whole is immensely satisfying. Bruce is on fine form as Bambera, sounding still like she just stepped off straight from the Battlefield set in the BBC's TV Centre and into the Big Finish recording booth. Morgan and Oyinloye are likewise solid as fellow leads, with Morgan finding the right mix of sarcasm with sincerity and Oyinloye Rix's offering a playful but serious when needs must alternative to the two soldiers. The supporting casts are solid, from Sutherland-Lim as Dame Lydia to Menkin's Colonel. Granger and Ian Abeysekera as Colonel Birch in the finale. The set's trio of sound designers wonderfully bring the varying locations to life, helping capture the sense of time and place. But the icing on the cake is the music from Borna Matosic, which cover a wide range from local radio jingles with even a snippet of nineties rock in Haunt to a blockbuster movie score in The Last Line of Defence that echoes much of composer David Arnold's scores from the time. The music suite from Matosic is a highlight of the set and worth a listen to on its own for the styles that the composer captures.

Or, to put it another way, Visitants has everything that made the first UNIT: Brave New World set so enjoyable taken up a notch. From action thrills to a haunted hotel and a finale worthy of a blockbuster movie, this is the UNIT spin-off we missed out on decades ago, now realized in all its glory on audio to be savored and enjoyed this holiday season and beyond. So make your own visit to this Brave New World of adventures.

BNW2. UNIT: Brave New World: Visitants is exclusively available to buy from the Big Finish website until 31 January 2023, 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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