Big Finish Productions
UNIT: Time Heals

Written by Iain McLaughlin & Claire Bartlett Cover image
Format Compact Disc
Released 2004

Starring Nicholas Courtney

Synopsis: The UK branch of UNIT is under threat. The Government wants its own military investigative organisation, one under its sole control. The public want answers to the strange things that have been happening recently. The Brigadier, meanwhile, is trying to enjoy his retirement - but it seems it is time again for him to come to the rescue.


A Review by Joe Ford 23/3/05

What a fantastic idea this is. Of all the aspects of Doctor Who that could be brought forward into the new millennium UNIT would be at the top of my list. Whilst it was pleasant to see what Sarah Jane, Gallifrey and the Daleks were up to since they were last on our screens there was not really the opportunity to re-interpret them for modern times because they were pretty much set up in the series. UNIT however evolved throughout the series, from its basic early steps during the Yeti invasion of London to the strict military organisation of season seven; to the playful Boy's Adventure gang of the later Pertwee years, to the multi-racial organisation in Battlefield. Paranoia was extremely hot material during the The X-Files driven nineties and David Bishop's superb Who Killed Kennedy was firm proof that Doctor Who could deal with government cover-ups better than the pros of the time. I would love to see a TV episode with a similar sort of story set in the modern with a reporter snooping around secret UNIT affairs that are kept from the public and being "silenced". It would appear that audio will have to do for the moment and as usual with their single CDs Big Finish have delivered.

I have been complaining for what feels like two ice ages now about the horrific lengths of the regular Doctor Who releases, suggesting that if the creators cut out the flabby padding from the stories they would be much more accessible to listeners. Time Heals only strengthens my beliefs; at seventy minutes it is the perfect length to tell a gripping story at a lightning pace with enough depth that this sort of story requires. It is very tightly written by Iain McLaughlin and Claire Bartlett with hardly a single scene that isn't necessary to the plot. The characters are lively, the story is interesting and what's more they have successfully brought us up to speed with UNIT in the year 2005.

The Sarah Jane audio series had the ability to bring gritty current issues into a Doctor Who environment but rarely had the bravery to do so, concentrating more on traditional Doctor Who threats out in the "ooh argh!" country. David Bishop's Test of Nerve was the exception, dealing with the terrifying notion of an old war hero releasing poisonous gas on the London Underground and consequently was the best release of the series. The UNIT series has started on exactly the right foot by continuing this trend of current affairs leaking into the science fiction. Time Heals has two truly frightening events, a train and plane crash that are captured with terrifying realism. Prompting memories of the recent train disasters and 9/11, Time Heals might be a story about time hops and spaceships but it is told on a very real canvas, which helps to drag the audience into events. By the time we reach the climax with a submarine about to explode leaking nuclear radiation in a populated area the tension is almost unbearable.

I have heard another reviewer moaning about the series because it refused to dwell on the past and turn the series into a nostalgia excuse. I feared that this would be the case but was pleased by the lack of mentions of past UNIT stories, when they are referred to (and that was only in the last scene) it was for a very good reason. Admittedly the Brigadier could have been involved more, existing very much on the periphery of the story and only involving himself at the climax where his specialist knowledge comes in handy. But to trust the new UNIT regulars to hold the story together was a brave move that paid off in spades.

It helps that all of the performances were stellar but the actual characterisation is excellent too with three distinct and memorable people emerging to head up the series. To help ease newcomers into the whole idea of UNIT we have a new Commanding Officer, Colonel Robert Dalton, who has little idea of what the organisation actually deals with. His typically military attitude is a nice reminder of the early Brigadier and his scepticism towards the paranormal events sees an enjoyable Mulder/Scully relationship forming between himself and long time UNIT member Colonel Emily Chaudhry. Her no-nonsense attitude when dealing with her new CO is wonderful, I especially liked the scene where she refuses to submit to his outranking her because he hasn't shown her any of the respect she or UNIT deserve. Captain Dodds was the other standout, the Seargent Benton of modern times, the every man who fights like a trooper, takes orders well and frankly comes across much more realistically than the Bentons of the past. Whilst the flirty banter between Chaudhry and Dodds was a bit forced I very much appreciated the attempts to suggest these were real people with lives outside of UNIT, something that was forgotten in the seventies. All three actors (Siri O'Neal, Nicholas Deal and Matthew Brenher) give energetic performances and sound one hundred percent committed to the material which is a very good sign.

The story is quite fragmented with lots going but that is only to be expected for the first episode in a four-part mini series, setting up for what is to come. There is never a chance to get bored with tons of action and shocks. I loved how the story piled on the problems for the regulars, Wood's disappearance, losing the spaceship, the train crash, the plane crash, the submarine... if the other CDs are half this packed they will remain extremely entertaining.

This is the best story yet directed by Jason Haigh-Ellery after the disappointing Rapture and Dark Flame. With an excellent score by the usually tiresome David Darlington, Jason delivers an exciting story with lots of standout scenes. The previously mentioned transport crashes were genuinely scary but even more impressive were the scenes of UNIT on the run, flying about in helicopters and screaming along the roads, with sound effects so good you can shut your eyes and picture exactly what is happening. The time slips were also well directed, a disconcerting event that never left me confused as to what was happening.

I am extremely optimistic about this series, like the Gallifrey one it shows a lot of potential with lots of threads left pleasingly unresolved here (Who are the mysterious organisation that kidnapped Wood and the spaceship? What will Kelly do with the matter transmitter wreckage?). The is plenty of scope for drama with the regulars (with hopefully the Brig taking a more active role) who bounce off each other well and let's hope the writers continue to use current news stories to fuel their scripts as it gives the series a real punch.