Big Finish Productions
UNIT: The Wasting

Written by Iain McLaughlin and Claire Bartlett Cover image
Format Compact Disc
Released 2005

Starring Nicholas Deal, Siri O'Neal and David Tennant

Synopsis: A deadly flu-like infection is sweeping the planet.


Dirty-Wood! by Joe Ford 9/8/05

Nicola Bryant where have you been all my life? When I first heard that the ex-Peri actress would be taking her hand to directing it had an aura of "stunt casting" to it (you know, like having Anne Robinson doing a voice over for Doctor Who!). That's not really fair. I now feel pretty ashamed, why shouldn't an actor be equally good at directing? What about all those American shows that let its stars helm certain episodes (Avery Brooks' DS9 episodes are stunning, David Duchovny's written and directed comedies later in The X-Files life were some of that show's best episodes and Jennifer Garner has recently turned her hand to directing an episode of Alias which was an emotional feast), why shouldn't Doctor Who get on the bandwagon?

Unfortunately Bryant's dynamic direction once again proves that the spinoffs are where the treasure lies, to the detriment of the Doctor Who releases. She carefully crafts this piece of drama, fully aware of where there needs to be heavy sound FX and music (especially when UNIT head out to tackle ISIS) and when to let the actors do the hard work (the stand offs between Chaudhry and Wood and the Brigadier and Winnington). She shows a terrific understanding of how to pace the story too, the first half almost too quiet for season finale leading me to believe this would be anti-climatic before suddenly, surprisingly kicking into high gear and ending the series on an explosive high. The sound FX are as convincing as ever and there is a particularly tense attack on a UNIT plane that had me leaping about on the sofa as though it was actually happening. Yes I am clinically insane and it is entirely possible to get carried away by these things. And why not??? We pay good money for these things to entertain us and Big Finish have the best medium to make us believe the drama is actually going on around us... shame they don't do it THIS effectively very often. I was very impressed with the realisation of this story and am eager for the next release she tackles.

This was everything The Longest Night was without the "ooh look how brave we are" efforts to shock the audience. It capitalises on the strengths of the UNIT series, the modern day, gritty setting, the well-written relationships between the regulars and the high action content. And whilst the previous release was dramatic and involving, The Wasting manages the same level of breathless drama without resorting to discussing every non-PC issue this country has at the moment (Women in power! Black women in power! Terrorists! Immigrants! Power-mad politicians!). The Wasting saves its political debates until the climax and thanks to a gobsmacking, ohmyGodIneversawthatcoming! twist it manages to be powerful and effective without feeling like blatant button-pushing. The ISIS creed of kicking out foreigners and going to absurd lengths to do it is a genuine problem this country faces. Having a down-to -Earth soldier boy like Brimmicombe Wood spout this racist rhetoric really hits home that ordinary people have these feelings, people you go to work with and socialise with. Certainly I am friendly with a good many people who share Wood's sentiments (England for the English! We must protect our own! God they sound like a Daleks!) and it struck me how frightening this way of thinking is. But that's not for here and I would certainly never condemn anyone for having different opinions as me (unless they start praising Zagreus) but it is fantastic that a Doctor Who spin off could tackle these issues and bring it all home so effectively.

Thanks to the efforts of Iain McLaughlin and Clare Bartlett the UNIT series climaxes on the perfect note. I can remember feeling faintly disappointed with the unfinished ending of Time Heals which opened the series but like Trial of Time Lord and The Gallifrey Chronicles and every running story Doctor Who (and its related spinoffs) story arc, the answers are dished out eventually. Fortunately this is only a four part series so we haven't had to wait long (or should that be unfortunately considering the series itself has shown such promise?). This UNIT series has clearly been more adequately thought out than any of the other spinoffs as The Wasting plucks hanging threads from each story and lets them converge almost as if it had been planned all along (I wonder...). What happened to Colonel Brimmicombe Wood? Did Doulton die at the end of The Longest Night? Who stole the spaceship in UNIT custody and what was its purpose? Who is the power behind ISIS? I went into this with very few expectations about the actual script (which is always wise) and was pleasantly surprised at how elegantly these plot threads were satisfactorily handled.

I adored the Unbound audio Sympathy for the Devil and the spanking new Doctor David Tennant's portrayal of Colonel Wood was one of the reasons why. It was wonderful to have such a loud, rude, arrogant bastard as a lead in an audio and his bolshie attitude and nastiness was such a breath of fresh air (so many characters in these stories talk like TV Doctor Who characters... clipped with perfect BBC English and unrealistic pleasantries). It was nice to see one of the heroes acting with such venom, I was sure I wasn't supposed to like him and his insulting attitude left me quite uncomfortable with how much I did. In a drop-your-bacon-sandwich moment of wrong-footing Wood is exposed as the power behind the throne of UNIT's enemy organisation and he gets to bare his teeth. What a total bastard. The story goes from being very good to excellent when the unrestrained David Tennant chews up the scenery, Wood baiting Emily with some marvellous digs and vocalising his bloated ego. He makes a fantastic villain because he's just so horrible and provides the climax with some decent emotional fireworks. Emily's disgusted reactions to his nefarious activities hit you right in the chest and her parting line to him: "Colonel Brimicombe Wood I am placing you under arrest, for murder, attempted murder, hijacking, treason, terrorism and being the biggest arsehole on the planet!" made me punch the air with delight.

The Brigadier makes a fine return and forms a good, productive partnership with Emily. I am glad the story left him open for further appearances as Nicholas Courtney is always a welcome addition. Considering the UNIT series has gone to some lengths to avoid being a nostalgic peek at old Pertwee favourites, it surprised me to see so many of them being name checked in this story. The best of them was the inclusion of Harry Sullivan, a touching reminder of the loss of Ian Marter who I am certain would be pleased that his wonderful contribution to Doctor Who has led to his character living on in books and audios decades after his death.

David Darlington has really started coming into his own with these spinoff CDs, I don't remember being as impressed with his music as I have been lately with his Benny and UNIT scores. Credit where it is due, he got my foot racing many times during the action packed climax of this story, especially his dramatic use of militaristic drumbeats.

What else is there to say? Another successful spin off from Big Finish. Another seventy minute release that did not feel rushed, padded or underdeveloped. Another sterling cast that can be assembled again for series two.

Gosh, when did I start spouting rhetoric?