UNIT: Nemesis 2 – Agents of the Vulpreen (Big Finish Review)

Not too long ago, Big Finish’s UNIT saga was on temporary hiatus, but 2022 is shaping up to be quite the year for the military organisation. In addition to two new instalments in the UNIT: Nemesis saga, there’s also a dip into the past in Brave New World, starring Angela Bruce as Brigadier Bambera from the 1989 serial Battlefield. The character’s Big Finish debut, however, takes place right here in Agents of the Vulpreen, which is packed full the usual UNIT sci-fi action fare.

The first volume, Between Two Worlds, reintroduced Kate Stewart (Jemma Redgrave) and her team after two and a half years with a new series arc and refreshed set of recurring characters. My fellow writer Ben Taylor called it “an excellent example of how Big Finish’s ‘rep company’ approach to storytelling can yield interesting and enjoyable results.” Agents of the Vulpreen continues that momentum with (most of) the same regulars while pushing the arc further along.

The Man From Gallifrey

Script editor Andrew Smith has written the opening story, which feels very much like a natural extension upon the style and substance of Between Two Worlds. Time Lord mastermind the Eleven (the ever-dependable Mark Bonnar) is now a captive of UNIT, who are keen on repairing a Stargate-like alien arch to rescue journalist and sometime-ally Jacqui McGee (Tracy Wiles), who was trapped on the other side at the end of volume one.

True to its title, The Man From Gallifrey introduces Glen McCready as Hasper, the Time Lord agent who banished the Eleven through the arch originally. He has now returned to warn UNIT of an imminent threat to the Earth, although the assistance he provides is a little too forthcoming to be entirely trustworthy, and his presence in the story causes more trouble than UNIT would prefer. All the while, Jacqui faces off against the Vulpreen themselves, a race intent on invading Earth and submitting their prisoner to coercive interrogation to obtain critical defence-related information.

Joining the UNIT team is a newcomer in the form of Lieutenant Jimmy Tan (Chris Lew Kum Hoi), a Ministry of Defence liaison offer in whom Kate sees UNIT potential. Meanwhile, Petronella Osgood (Ingrid Oliver) and Captain Josh Carter (James Joyce) carry out experiments on the arch in an attempt to reach Jacqui, and Harry Sullivan (now played by Christopher Naylor) is on medical duties at UNIT HQ.

You’d be forgiven for thinking this sounds like a lot to get to grips with. The Man From Gallifrey contains a lot of moving elements, just as The Enemy Beyond did in volume one. Once the story moves past the setup phase though, the action picks up and hidden motivations are revealed.

That action is one of the two major hallmarks of UNIT, the other being the distinctive characters and acting talent. You couldn’t reasonably deny Mark Bonnar gives anything less than 100%, for instance, and Jimmy is a breath of fresh air. And there’s something pleasingly understated about Jemma Redgrave’s performance; a cool, calm and collected air to a character who would surely prove reassuring in a life-or-death scenario.

The Man From Gallifrey is exposition-heavy, and one’s tolerance of so many characters might vary, but thankfully this is a four-part release, which means there’s room for the story to breathe as we move onto episode two.

Power of the Dominators

The middle two stories of the first volume diverged slightly from the overall arc to tell more character-centric tales, albeit with the usual fare of science and military might. This is a structure more or less repeated in the middle two episode of this set. Power of the Dominators is the first, heavy on Harry and Naomi and notable for bringing back elements from the long-gone Second Doctor’s era.

Kate, Osgood, Josh and new recruit Jimmy are back to the drawing board in terms of hunting down the Eleven, who has escaped their clutches (again). In the meantime, their interest is piqued by otherworldly happens at Portstone New Town, a seemingly utopian housing development that’s actually spewing dangerous radiation. The group teams up with a like-minded environmental activist with eyes on exposing the developers’ malevolent machinations.

“My lifespan is of insufficient duration for this sort of thing.”

For those developers are secretly the energy-hungry and corpocratic race of aliens known as the Dominators, with their robotic servant Quarks in tow. Harry and Naomi are apparently familiar with both Dominators and Quarks, hinting at, one assumes, a previous yet so-far-unreleased Fourth Doctor adventure for the pair. Here though, their familiarity with such creatures means they’re an invaluable help to Kate and her team.

The affable Harry matches well with the lively Naomi, and Gareth Armstrong brings a worthy gravitas to the villainous Portstone director Prast. Osgood’s reliably brilliant brain is of good use too, as she hacks a Quark and renames it Quentin, because why not? Writer Kenneth Grant folds in environmental concerns alongside overt menace from the Dominators, plus a few moments of humour to leaven the world-ending threat. It’s only tangentially linked to the series arc but nonetheless a pleasing diversion, and it ends on a surprisingly hilarious note.

The War Factory

Ahead of her own series Brave New World later this year, Brigadier Winifred Bambera makes her Big Finish debut a few months early. The War Factory is a time-bending tale that picks up on the Eleven’s machinations repairing the arch, before throwing him headlong into the past, where he meets Bambera, while Osgood and Jacqui are pitched into the future, with Kate and the rest stuck in between. The fractures in time draw characters from one time period to another, and under it all is the threat of nuclear explosion.

Jacqui now being on the side of the Vulpreen is one of the more interesting elements, although there was perhaps insufficient time spent on allegiance switching in episode one for it to have full impact here. The Eleven is as dangerous and volatile as ever – although his plan is still more or less the same as what it was in the previous set, so at this point his endgame is still a little unclear, beyond helping the Vulpreen invade and cause chaos for UNIT.

The War Factory is alternately a fantastic showcase for Bambera – a driven, intelligent and confident leader – as well as a taster of further UNIT tales set in the 1980s to be released later this year, plus an opportunity for a delightful team-up, however brief, for Bambera and Kate. There is more than one notable Brigadier within the Doctor Who canon, but Bambera, although appearing far less frequently on television than Lethbridge-Stewart, is no less distinctive or commanding a character.

Ten Minutes in Hell

The Vulpreen have launched an invasion, Kate Stewart is their prisoner, and UNIT must attempt another rescue attempt through the arch. Kate, set to work in the Vulpreen mines, learns that she is trapped inside a bubble of time where times passes much more quickly than it does on the outside – meaning that ten minutes, say, on Earth is hours on the Vulpreen world and perhaps many months inside the Vulpreen mine. To top it off, she’s told she won’t age inside the prison, so her interminable imprisonment could go on for eternity. It’s a rather chilling setup that raises the stakes more than usual.

John Dorney’s time-twisty script is a grand showcase for Kate’s tenacity, loyalty and resourcefulness; even as she is broken down by Vulpreen torture, she remains steadfast and kind. Dorney presents an intriguing depiction of UNIT’s course of action after the loss of their leader: a rift initially forms between Josh and Osgood about the best way forward, with the former intent on seeing the bigger picture and the latter holding out to save her friend.

Where does that leave the Eleven? He’s been a primary antagonist for two sets now, and ends this one by bringing the full force of the Vulpreen through to Earth. It remains to be seen if his presence in the story extends much further. Ten Minutes in Hell is a finale but also a new beginning, with UNIT facing a full-on alien invasion. What else is in store for the rest of Nemesis, though? We’ll have to wait and see.

In many ways, UNIT: Nemesis is a celebration of many eras of UNIT, from the Brigadier Bambera days through to the Kate and Osgood years, which, as series 13 of the show has recently shown, extends up through to the time of the Thirteenth Doctor. Plus, Fourth Doctor companions Harry and Naomi have been thrown in for good measure. At this stage it’s still unclear what Harry and Naomi are doing in the modern day – and indeed we may not know during this current run of Nemesis sets – but their presence lends extra credence to the idea of UNIT being an effective and varied team of individuals.

The spirit of camaraderie and teamwork would only be boosted further if later releases bring back characters from earlier UNIT sets, such as Warren Brown’s Sam Bishop, recently heard opposite the Ninth Doctor, or Ramon Tikaram’s Colonel Shindi, who hasn’t appeared since 2018’s Revisitations. But this could yet happen: as Ingrid Oliver notes in the interviews, an ongoing saga of stories hadn’t been done before for UNIT at Big Finish, which makes Nemesis an exciting new frontier for the team.

UNIT: Nemesis 2 – Agents of the Vulpreen was released in March 2022. It will be exclusively available to buy from the Big Finish website until 31 May 2022, and on general sale after this date.

Extras

“I think this boxset is the most exciting adventure UNIT has been on so far. It’s a complete rollercoaster.”

Around an hour of interviews are split across the four discs, giving cast and crew the chance, as usual, to discuss their role on this release. Highlights include:

  • Producer Heather Challands, who joined after the first release had been scripted, explaining her response to joining a series part-way through, and layers praise upon the characters of Kate and Osgood.
  • Andrew Smith running through the rationale for introducing a new UNIT officer in the form of Jimmy, who is said to have a long future at the organisation.
  • Chris Lew Kum Hoi, himself not unfamiliar with the Doctor Who universe having appeared towards the end of The Husbands of River Song, sharing his thoughts on joining the crew.
  • Ingrid Oliver’s enjoyment of the ongoing, “Avengers-like” continuity of the Nemesis series, which enables the cast to work with an array of recurring characters and within a story world for longer.
  • Angela Bruce’s summation of returning to a role she originated over 30 years previously: “It’s like you never stopped. This is where I belong. This is where I should be.”

Want to know more? You’ll have to listen to the release…

UNIT: Nemesis returns in November 2022.

Synopsis

UNIT has stopped the Eleven’s efforts to retrieve the Arch. But questions remain. How did an artefact imbedded with advanced technology become buried under a prehistoric lava flow? Why does it form a connection with an alien world? And just who are the Vulpreen, the alien race that live there?

Those questions are about to be answered…

The Man From Gallifrey by Andrew Smith

As Osgood works flat out to rescue a lost friend, Kate is at a demonstration of a new UK spaceship, the Starseeker. There she meets two people.

Lieutenant Jimmy Tan looks like potential UNIT material, and the stranger called Hasper knows a lot about UNIT and the Eleven. He should – he’s the Celestial Intervention Agency operative who sent the Eleven through the Arch millions of years ago.

Power of the Dominators by Kenneth Grant

Portstone New Town is a living space for the future. A dream community, or so the advertising promises. But UNIT discovers the developers are alien Dominators. Which means there’s a more sinister purpose behind Portstone, and the Dominators’ deadly killer robots – the Quarks – can’t be far away.

The War Factory by Lizzie Hopley

Temporal anomalies strike in the present and the past – 19th century infantry at Belmarsh Prison in the present day, and Brigadier Winifred Bambera is confronted by Tudor warships on the Thames in the late 20th century.

Enquiries by UNIT past and present lead them to the site of Woolwich Arsenal, where the Eleven is trying to create a bridge to another world. And UNIT will learn he’s not the only one on the side of their alien adversaries.

Ten Minutes in Hell by John Dorney

On the alien world on the far side of the Arch, the Vulpreen put their human prisoner through an ordeal. Osgood must lead a desperate rescue attempt – and she’s got ten minutes to do it.

Cast

Jemma Redgrave (Kate Stewart)
Ingrid Oliver (Osgood)
Gareth Armstrong (Director Prast)
Mark Bonnar (The Eleven)
Angela Bruce (Brigadier Winifred Bambera)
Beth Chalmers (Quarks)
Eleanor Crooks (Naomi Cross)
Susie Emmett (Worrall)
Chris Lew Kum Hoi (Lt Jimmy Tan)
David Holt (Orgus)
James Joyce (Josh Carter)
Glen McCready (Hasper / The Vulpreen)
Yasmin Mwanza (Private Lauren Huff / Sorka)
Christopher Naylor (Harry Sullivan)
Alisdair Simpson (Varliss)
Andrew James Spooner (Engineer Sabo)
Homer Todiwala (Junaid)
Tracy Wiles (Jacqui McGee)

Production Credits

Producer Heather Challands
Script Editor John Dorney & Andrew Smith
Written by John Dorney, Andrew Smith, Kenneth Grant & Lizzie Hopley
Cover Art by Caroline Tankersley
Director Ken Bentley
Executive Producer Jason Haigh-Ellery & Nicholas Briggs
Music by Howard Carter
Sound Design by Howard Carter
Senior Producer David Richardson

Suggested Listening

UNIT: Nemesis 1 – Between Two Worlds
UNIT: Brave New World 1
The Eighth of March 1

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