For the third set of the series it has kept up the quality and fleshed out and the characters feel more complete as a team a force to be reckoned with one I did not particularly feel they were in the TV show. I think the standard is held high due to the excellent writing and pacing of the adventure by Matt Fitton and John Dorney with the excellent directing by Ken Bentley. it’s also a set I believe you can have no previous knowledge of say Impossible Astronaut and still remain wise though for fans it’s there but not necessary to know you can piece it together from the four stories. it definitely would have made a tight and gripping TV episode
This marks my very first foray into the UNIT audio range(s)! I'm reasonably excited! I didn't much care about the Silents in the TV show (one of those Moffat monsters that never felt more than half-baked) but I did enjoy Kate Stewart and Osgood, and I'd heard this set was among Big Finish's very best.
My reactions to the set:
UNIT 3.1: House of Silents
So we're playing with Pokemon rules here, right? The Silents are called the Silents because they go around shouting the word, "Silent!"
Love the idea of UNIT working with a conspiracy-theorist blogger. It's an interesting hook—shame it doesn't really go anywhere. I assume the character is someone from one of the prior stories, so maybe her role here is more satisfying with that context.
I really like the theme music they're using here! Very exciting! It does an excellent job of setting the tone, very much like the 'Diary of River Song' and 'War Master' themes.
I genuinely think the Silents work much better as a villain her than they did in the TV show. They're much better suited for relatively small-scale espionage thrillers than large-scale world domination stories.
Though, as was the case with the TV show, the logistics of the Silents organization are... not something it appears anyone, ever, put much thought into.
Can't help but feel like the Silents are really used to their full potential here—nor do I think they were in Moffat's story. Maybe it's the iconoclast in me? I dunno. Ultimately, I just feel like they're kinda wasted being generic bad guys. Wouldn't it be insteresting if they were treated as an actual group of people, rather than evil monsters?
Imagine if you could have a conversation with the Silents; imagine if they ever had anything to say.
Which is a polite way of saying that I am sick to ****ing death of monsters. If you're writing a story and your antagonist cannot reasonably articulate why they're doing what they're doing, you've written a boring antagonist! Don't be boring! In context here we've got, presumably, several generations of Silents living on Earth after the Doctor's genocide. This raises so many questions that this story (and the set as a whole) has zero interest in exploring.
UNIT 3.2: Square One
So is this LeBlanc meant to be a Boris Johnson parody? Interesting touch giving him a French name. Though, once again, Big Finish sets out to tell an apolitical political story. We're left to infer LeBlanc's politics, which gives BF deniability, I suppose, which is—in my opinion—a distinctly cowardly approach.
The computer scene with everyone constantly forgetting what they were doing was some really solid and well-delivered comedic writing. Definitely one o the high points of this set.
Oof. There's a really bad take here about how otherwise perfectly reasonable people suddenly transform into 'deplorables' just because they're influenced by populist leaders. Again: oof. That is absolutely not how it works: people may reveal themselves, but those who support bigotry are, themselves, bigots—though we were perhaps more willing to overlook or ignore that aspect of their character in prior contexts. Over here in the USA there was, for years, a common (moronic) refrain about how Trump reshaped the Republican party—but he didn't. The GOP has always been the party of white supremacy with fascistic tendencies. The Trump era didn't transform the GOP—if his election did anything, it simply helped strip off the very thin veneer of respectability it once tried to maintain. But even that is arguable.
Sorry, sorry. I know no one wants to get into that. Doctor Who is for escapism, right? Right?
LMFAO that UNIT has to hunt down a "Let's Play" YouTuber for intel—I mean, really? That really happened?
Silliness aside, I do have to applaud the dialog here. This is a Dorney script, right? I don't know that I've ever really seen anyone talk about this, nor do I recall pointing this out myself, but it occurs to me now that Dorney's greatest strength as a writer may be his capacity of engaging and naturalistic dialog. He's got a lot of exposition to get through, but it's all delivered so naturally—and often in an entertaining way—that you barely even notice it. He's got a very, very deft hand here.
Love how the ending perfectly sets up the next episode. Excellent rising tension!
UNIT 3.3: Silent Majority
Ya' know, I really love how each of the stories so far has been fairly self-contained, while still contributing significantly to the larger arc. It feels very reminiscent of JMS' writing style.
This set raises some interesting questions that I hope they explore, especially given that they're partly leftover questions from the TV show, where they didn't really have the time or inclination to fully explore thir own premise with the Silents. EG why are the Silents still on Earth and interacting with the humans more than a half century after the Doctor's Genocide order? Are there Silent civilians? Children?
How big is their population now? How big was it before the moon landing? What are the ethical repercussions of the Doctor forcing every human being on the planet (or nearabout) to participate in a genocide without their knowledge or consent? There's a whole host of things to explore here with fallout from the TV show, but this story doesn't really deal with any of it. The stories are engaging and entertaining, yes, and very well written—but I cannot help but be disappointed by their failure to really engage with the premise.
It's fine and all to set up the Silents as yet another gimmicky alien threat, but the far more interesting story here would be to depict them as victims, desperate to survive in a world where the humans are forced into the role of villains, perpetrating genocide against their will. How many people have been forced into murdering children?
They could even gently retcon the Silents from the TV show to be a small, radical extremist group that's not representative of the Silent community as a whole, and really probe into the morality of the Doctor passing judgement on an entire planetary population of a species based entirely on the actions of a very small number of Silents who'd taken over the Nixon administration.
Of course, if a boxset were to fully commit to that idea, it would almost certainly be necessary for the Doctor himself to make an appearance, and answer for his actions—or otherwise face the repercussions. It seems deeply wrong to me that UNIT is stuck dealing with all of this mess, while the Doctor blithely continues galivanting through space and time, and his actions are never really examined by UNIT—they just mop up these horrific problems with no word of criticism or complaint.
The big unspoken problem of this set, well, other than the unexamined premise, is that you cannot tell an apolitical story about politics! Sorry, but you can't just vaguely gesture at LeBlanc and hint that he's a vague expy of Johnson or Trump or whoever if the threat of his election is such a huge aspect of the plot. We need to know WHY he's a threat! What policies, specifically, is he advocating? What makes him dangerous? This is really basic, fundamental, important stuff! Its omission creates the impression that Big Finish is taking the most cowardly of all approaches, to the effect of saying, "we can't call the fascists fascist, otherwise we might upset any fascists who buy our CDs." So who is LeBlanc? What ideologies does he represent? He may as well be Mr Bean for how he's portrayed in the story—a bumbling, charming fool. We don't see any hate or bigotry, but be have to imagine that he must embody those things because otherwise it makes no sense for the narrative to paint him as a threat. Is he an authoritarian xenophobe? There's nothing in the text to indicate that he is, yet Kate declares with certainty that LeBlanc's election would lead to war. Simply put, this story cannot function without this basic, crucial formation. Without it, this story is, therefore, fundamentally broken.
I suspect the scene where the reporter "breaks norms" to endorse LeBlank hits harder in the UK: the kind of naked advocacy for a political candidate is not something we're unaccustomed to over in the US.
Love the deail about Osgood finding the Silents by looking for an absence of of a paper trail. It's a fairly common trope in mysteries of this sort, but I still find it very enjoyable.
And then LeBlanc dies, and we never did learn what his platform was. Beyond being very interested in dairy exports. Perhaps that was the big problem facing the UK, after all? Would his election have led to a Dairy War? Would the UK have invaded Germany for failing to buy enough good, frothy Welsh milk?
UNIT 3.4: In Memory Alone
Was it really necessary to press the reset button a third time on everyones' memories of the Silence? It just feels needlessly redundant at this point. Almost like the writers are trolling us here.
This is gonna end with me going off on a rant about Moffat, I suspect.
"No wonder the world's in the state it's end?" AND WHAT STATE WOULD THAT BE, SPECIFICALLY? Jesus. I hate this so, so much.
Repeat with me now that familiar refrain: you cannot tell an apolitical political story!
These details aren't just necessary, they are of fundamental importance! At this point Big Finish is effectively declaring that they think a significant portion of their audience holds reprehensible political views.
Which, I mean, I've been on Reddit and YouTube. It may be a fair assumption on their part. But even so—it's a deeply cowardly approach and an utter disgrace with a franchise that is largely built upon progressive values and the fight against fascism and bigotry in particular.
So the Silents are ultimately revealed to... simply want revenge. Against the humans. For something the Doctor did. No mention of the fact that the humans are -also- victims here.
And, I mean, they've been on Earth for more than a half-century. All throughout the Doctors' very favorite eras. Surely they've seen the Doctor, many times, in all of his incarnations, and... they did nothing.
Absolutely nothing to the man responsible for this mess. Nor did they make any attempt to leave the planet? Or go into hiding in some uninhabited or remote region? Surely they had options, right? I just can't wrap my brain around this too-simple premise.
So much potential here for compelling, idea-driven science fiction... and they just piss it all away for a generic evil-aliens-wanna-kill-all-humans plot. Oof. Like a punch to the gut.
Which, granted, was also a problem with Moffat's two-parter—but at least he had some (not terribly persuasive) excuses for failing to really dig into his own premise with these aliens.
Had to listen to the ending twice, and I still don't get it. How was everything resolved in the end?The alien ship with the Silents on it blows up the space station, but Osgood and friend crash-land on Earth, somehow, and then UNIT uses the footage of the exploding station to somehow neutralize the psychic order the Silents directs at Earth? I feel like there's a scene or two missing, because they just don't explain how everything happened. Maybe if they'd spent a little less time recycling the whole, "oh no, we've forgotten everything again... again" thing they could've fleshed out the conclusion more?
Ultimately a fairly rushed and incoherent ending to a very promising set of stories that nonetheless failed to really engage deeply with any of its own ideas. While it was an enjoyable and well-written set, it also came across as very unambitious. They kinda wasted their premise here, didn't they? There's so much potential for some really exceptional storytelling here, but it feels like they went with the most well-tread, by-the-numbers development at every opportunity. Did we really need scenes "explaining" the who, what and why of the Silents three different times? This story could've been genuinely great. It could have retroactively added depth to one of the most famous of Moffat's stories, that infamously prioritized style over substance. But they didn't. This could've been great; instead, it's merely good.
Overall this was a really fun, solid set and I'd definitely recommend it to others... but I had a hard time overlooking just how much missed potential there was. I can definitely see why it's generally regarded as the best set of the range, though.
I've compiled all of my Big Finishes purchases into a single massive document, alongside those on my wishlist (bolded, right-justified). Check it out to see what I've already listened to (or soon will), or to recommend me something new to listen to!
Apologies in perpetuity for my many typos (FUAC) and poor memory.
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