Review by Jacob Licklider
Brigadier Winifred Bambera is a Doctor Who character who is interesting. Appearing on television in Battlefield played by the wonderful Angela Bruce and created by Ben Aaronovitch, had the show lasted past Season 26 there was a good chance she would reappear especially since Andrew Cartmel had what would become the ‘lost story’ Animal in his head as a story at the time. So it became puzzling that in the Virgin New Adventures, while UNIT featured heavily especially in books like Blood Heat, No Future, and Eternity Weeps, Bambera herself would only appear twice, in Head Games and The Dying Days as cameos. The UNIT stories of the New Adventures were more concerned with deconstructing the UNIT family and the Pertwee era as it was the era many of the writers grew up with and were fond of. She had a similar cameo in the novelisation of Downtime by Marc Platt, but after that didn’t appear in any of the novels by BBC Books. Then in 1999 Big Finish acquired the Doctor Who license and begun their takeover of Doctor Who dominating the early 2000s until the revival, yet Bambera only appeared in Animal released in 2011. So it became a surprise with the success of the UNIT spin-off, Angela Bruce was brought back in the second set of UNIT: Nemesis as a backdoor pilot for UNIT: Brave New World, a currently two set release giving Bambera her own UNIT team in the late 1990s post-Battlefield, focusing on incursions from Earth itself and not the standard alien invasions.
Seabird One is the first of these sets and contains three stories under the direction of Scott Handcock and scripts guided by Robert Valentine and Alfie Shaw making an interesting connection. The types of stories are very much in the vein of Counter-Measures but brought into the 1990s and the sound design of the entire release just feels like the 1990s or at least like a piece of drama from the 1990s. Jack Townley did the sound design for this release while new to Big Finish Borna Matosic does the music including the theme which is one of the most distinctive themes to come out of Big Finish in recent memory. Not since The Diary of River Song’s theme have we had a spin-off theme that perfectly encapsulates the tone the spin-off has been going for and this is an achievement that should be celebrated since it’s a theme with an idea. The three stories themselves are also distinct from one another yet are all intensely focused on laying the groundwork for what UNIT: Brave New World is going to be.
The third story of the set, Dark Side of the Moon, is the only story where all the pieces and characters are in place from the beginning meaning that it is essentially acting as a mission statement for what the series is going to do. It’s telling that Valentine and Shaw both contribute stories to this set so there is a solid foundation to build on. Shaw’s story is Dark Side of the Moon and it is the story with the most moving parts, as it deals with a space mission gone wrong in tribute to both the old Quatermass serials and The Ambassadors of Death, but the person that makes it back now has multiple people living in their head. This is an aspect of the set that feels almost artificially aged, it is essentially creating a character which can be read as an allegory for dissociative identity disorder, and it builds to that character being the villain which is already a problematic trope as it tis. It’s the story that also builds to a cliffhanger of sorts for the second set to pick up from which is great and it further explores the relationship between the three series leads so this one problematic element doesn’t stop it from being great.
Angela Bruce is joined by Alex Jordan and Yemishi Oyinloye playing Sergeant Jean-Paul Savarin and Dr. Louise Rix respectively, with Oyinloye being introduced in the second story Time Flies and Savarin being introduced in Rogue State, the opener. There is also Liz Sutherland-Lim’s Dame Lydia Kingsley acting as liaison to the United Nations and essentially the person who is higher up and allocating funds for the team. Sutherland-Lim gives Bambera someone to be stubborn to, as Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart is retired and Ancelyn has returned to Avalon. It would be perhaps a bit unfair to compare the character to Sir Toby Kinsella as she isn’t outright malicious or crafty, but knows what she is doing and providing the resources for something that may become more clear in the second set. Building the relationship between Bambera and Savarin from officer to subordinate is all down to Robert Valentine’s very quick style of writing in the opening of Rogue State. It’s a single scene from the story but it is the one that is integral in making the rest of the set work, while it is in a story that struggles after opening in media res with a villain who doesn’t feel nearly as important as he should.
The middle story, Time Flies, is from new writer Alison Winter who manages to be the pinnacle of the set simply by her fascinating ideas and character work. This is basically that one scene in City of Death where Kerensky is aged forwards to death, but as the premise for an entire scheme of mad science born out of a genuine attempt to cure illnesses. There are also insects causing the time shenanigans and fears of genetic engineering which really fits well in the 1990s setting, though hasn’t quite aged as well due to how the field of genetics has evolved and changed despite how it is often reported on. It’s also the first story for Dr. Rix as a character which was the correct decision to make, introducing her in a story that could explore who she is as a person and what she wants. Had she been in Rogue State that story would have become cluttered and there wouldn’t have been enough time to establish any of the characters properly as the writing would have become competitive.
UNIT: Brave New World: Seabird One is wonderful set that sets itself apart as a unique piece of Doctor Who media by fleshing out the amazing groundwork laid down by Ben Aaronovitch in Battlefield with inventive minds, some brilliant sound design, and an excellent cast coming together to make something new. 9/10.
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