WARNING: Significant spoilers follow!
Big Finish Productions can never, ever be faulted for a lack of ambition. They took the characters of Jago and Litefoot and made them into a, so far, five season audio series. They look Davros and created a backstory for him. They have several seasons of stories about wars against the Daleks and Cybermen. They even have an ongoing series of stories about political machinations on Gallifrey.
But “Counter-Measures”, their newest series, is perhaps the most ambitious. It follows the story of the Counter-Measures Group, a military organization created in the wake of a Dalek incursion on Earth in 1963; essentially a proto-UNIT. The origins for this group and their stories happened in the 1988 Doctor Who episode “Remembrance of the Daleks”, where we met Group Captain Gilmore (Simon Williams), Doctor Rachel Jensen (Pamela Salem), and Doctor Allison Williams (Karen Gledhill).
While I personally liked the characters, I never in my wildest, most fevered imaginings thought that I’d see a set of stories centering on them. Well, Big Finish thought otherwise, and here we are at season one. We have all three of the original actors reprising their characters and the addition of Hugh Ross as Sir Toby Kinsella, their “spymaster” for lack of a better phrase.
Series one consists of four stories, each of which tie into each other. I’ll cover them in order and then give an overall review of the series as a whole.
“Threshold” is the first story. It concerns a German scientist repatriated to the UK after World War II (*coughNazicough*). There’s some very odd goings on at his laboratory and it seems that he’s developed some sort of teleportation technology, something which shouldn’t exist yet. It also sounds as though the technology has gone horribly wrong.
This story was very confusing at first. The first two minutes or so are nothing but sound-effects, which, while doing a good job of establishing the setting, is a bit puzzling. As for the story itself, it was merely ok. I think the first two acts were kind of weak, honestly, but it really picks up toward the end and the conclusion was excellent. It did also do a wonderful job of re-introducing the characters and reminding us of who and what they are (because it’s understandable if people don’t really remember).
“Artificial Intelligence” is a stronger story. It focuses on an AI project that, among other things, is using Doctor Jensen’s voice, something which leads to much trouble. We also get introduced to an old flame of Gilmore’s, who may be working for the wrong side.
This story was better paced, and featured a bit more action. I liked the multi-layered spy story that interwove with it. Plus the moments of heartbreak with Gilmore were truly touching. I did also really enjoy the use of the Monty Hall Problem.
“The Pelage Project” is a story about industrial pollution and concerns your basic well-intentioned mad-man who’s decided the Earth is screwed, so he wants to make it a very polluted hell-hole in order to save about 1% of the Earth’s population by moving them to Venus. ‘cause that makes sense. Mad-man indeed.
This was a good story, and I liked some of the elements of it, but it seemed more than a little farfetched. On the other hand, there were some pleasantly creepy moments, and the environmental concerns seemed to fit well with the 1960s theme.
“State of Emergency” was the best of the bunch, hands down. It was tense, it was interesting, it tied together some of the various elements of the previous stories, provided a nice glimpse into how a military coup could happen and set the stage for the recently-announced second series.
I particularly liked the way that we saw various military elements afraid of change and the use of Harold Wilson as a character. I also liked the way that the story left a lot of questions open, and could leave certain listeners wondering exactly what Sir Toby is really up to.
Overall I feel this is a strong, if not perfect, start to the series. The characters are all entertaining and engaging and Big Finish’s sound people did an excellent job of using ambient noises to establish the setting, even more so than they usually do. I’m also pleased that the whole series seems to exist entirely independently of Doctor Who. Aside from a mention of the events at the Coal Hill School, there’s nothing about the Doctor, the Daleks and the like. I hope it stays that way. It keeps the stories as something unique, unlike, say, Jago and Litefoot, where (even prior to the return of Leela and a certain time traveler), one always felt like it was still connected to the Doctor Who universe. I think being independent is a real point in the series favor.
Despite the uneven nature of especially the first story, I really did like the series overall. For those of you who have fond memories of the characters from “Remembrance of the Daleks” or for those who simply want to try something a little different for audio fun-ness, I do highly recommend this series. It’s a great start and I can’t wait to see what series two is like!