Doctor Who: UNIT–The Coup [A Big Finish sampler]

In the wake of the whole COVID-19 pandemic, Big Finish–most famous for their original licensed Doctor Who audios–began to release a variety of projects for free on a weekly basis.  Some of these are “proper” Doctor Who adventures, some are licensed from other sources, and others are completely original.  I have been taking advantage of these, as I’ve written about here and elsewhere. This time around we’re looking at a bonus “preview” of a series of dramas that Big Finish produced featuring UNIT, back in 2004-2005.

Big Finish has been pretty generous with all this free product, but the question is how successful each sampler is at tempting me to buy the full release.

(Daily Doctor Who #85)

Spoilers ahead!

The Coup

Line:  UNIT (1.0)
Length:  24 minutes
Buying Price:  This preview episode, originally given free to readers of Doctor Who Magazine, is still available on the Big Finish website for free. Each of the following four episodes of the series are for sale at $2.99 each, or you can get “The Complete Series” for $9.99.

Comments:  Last time we took a look at Sarah Jane Smith. This time, with UNIT, we are in a similar boat–a Doctor Who spin-off series from Big Finish that was produced before the TV series came back life, and before the audio’s concepts were re-imagined for TV. In this case, this early episode of a new UNIT series came out in December 2004, only a couple of months before the TV show was revived.

The rest of the audio series (four additional episodes, all substantially longer than this one) came out over the first half of 2005, which means it actually crossed over with the TV series. On TV, some UNIT people made a brief appearance during that time, in the first two-parter, Aliens of London and World War III, before they were all killed. They later returned in force much later in the series, led by Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart’s daughter Kate, who herself eventually starred in her own series of Big Finish audios.

But obviously none of that had happened yet. In this story, we find that UNIT’s London office is about to close, with operations being transferred over to a new, solely British organization, the Internal Counter-Intelligence Service (with it’s rather unfortunate initials, ICIS.) Retired former UNIT commander, Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart, is called upon to speak at a special ceremony where power will be publicly transferred from one organization to the other, albeit without drawing attention to what either organization actually does, as the existence of aliens is still supposed to be a secret. But, in the midst of all this, Silurians are suddenly appearing, seemingly intent on causing chaos and even intending to kill Lethbridge-Stewart. The former Brigadier begins to realize that there is more to what is happening than meets the eye, and must make some bold decisions to attempt to identify the world’s true enemies, and to help everyone find their way forward in a changing world.

The Coup is an economically told story, filling a whole plot in its short length. It is setting up a much larger epic but actually works well as a standalone story. It makes clever use of non-linear storytelling with the Brigadier’s speech. All throughout the drama, we hear different portions of it as he practices, but it’s not until the end that we are given the whole thing in order. By then, he has made a series of significant discoveries, and the speech takes on a new meaning and purpose. And it’s a bold one, in the world of Doctor Who, as the Brigadier defies instructions and uses the public ceremony to announce to the world the truth about UNIT, aliens and ICIS. It sets up a whole new status quo for any earth-bound stories, which strangely, is also what Aliens of London did, although in a very different way. On the whole, I prefer The Coup, as it didn’t have any farting Slitheen in it.

Nicholas Courtney is obviously the star of The Coup (and several of the follow-on episodes), and it’s great to hear him as the Brigadier again. In that way, it’s again a bit like listening to Sarah Jane Smith, as we get to hear more of one of our beloved old favorites. Courtney is joined by some new characters, who to be honest did not stand out to me all that much, but were basically fine. I guess if I ever listen to the rest of this story, I’ll get to know them as well.

Does it tempt me to get more?  Not greatly. I enjoyed it well enough, but knowing that Nicholas Courtney is only in some of them diminishes interest a little. I’d be happy to listen to them all, but I’m unlikely to spend money on it.

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