Monday, 25 July 2011

UNIT: Time Heals written by Iain McLaughlin & Claire Bartlett and directed by Jason Haigh-Ellery

What’s it about: 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. When the division's commanding officer goes missing whilst transporting a dangerous cargo, Colonel Emily Chaudhry, UNIT's political officer, is thrown in at the deep end. Things are not helped when a series of accidents show a bizarre pattern. The Brigadier, meanwhile, is trying to enjoy his retirement but it seems it is time again for him to come to the rescue.

Chap With Wings: The press are writing up the extra terrestrial activity at his retirement do as ‘man in a rubber costume.’ He feels like he is old news already and that’s a role he is quite comfortable with. Setting himself up as a sacrificial lamb and sitting in a car for all hours of the night…he knows exactly what Doris would think of all this subterfuge!

Colonel Chaudhry: I’m not sure that Emily is a particularly likable character despite the fact that the story goes to some lengths to point to her being the hero. She seems to talk in clichés an awful lot (‘what a mess’) and her cynical approach to her job might have been written as dry wit (‘don’t call the corpses stiffs, its tacky’) but it sounds an awful lot like Siri O’Neal wants to be elsewhere. I’m not sure that by the end of this story that I had any idea who her character was than I did when I first put it on. Rather than trust that Dalton is a man who has been drafted in to help Chaudhry checks up on his file. Not exactly the best way to form a bond with your new boss. When she suggests that UNIT needs somebody in charge who knows how they work I couldn’t disagree more – look at the list of disasters they have failed to prevent doing things their way. What they need is somebody like Dalton who can bring a fresh pair of eyes to the problem and counter all the usual UNIT nonsense and get straight to sorting things out.

Colonel Dalton: Dalton is a far more enjoyable character but I think that has more to do with Nicholas Deal’s warm performance than anything in the script. Rather than try and do something interesting with him the writers decide that he is going to be the Scully to Chaudhry’s Mulder and challenge all the science fiction elements of the range. He’s been told the sum total of sod all, just that he is taking over from Wood whilst he was being torn from his latest mission in Syria. He hears that UNIT is a law to itself, waves two fingers at the rules that the rest of them have to stick to and it has the highest mortality rate of any department in the British Army. He doesn’t like the secret squirrel nonsense that is festering at the heart of UNIT.

Standout Performance: I’m not certain the casting choices on Time Heals were thought through very well. Stephen Carlile is supposed to be representing a sinister underground organisation but sounds more like a fey politician. Plus his character his this odd function of talking to himself and telling the audience what we already know ‘Thanks Professor! Kept them busy long enough for me to get away!’

Great Ideas: UNITs CO is missing and just to make things worse they have lost an alien spaceship. Just about every foreign government in the world wants to know what Colonel Brimmicombe-Wood knows…but I can imagine after half an hour of his potty mouth no amount of secrets could be worth the torrent of abuse! Another train appears from nowhere on one of the London lines and causes a devastating collision. UNIT used to have better facilities until the government slashed their budget because they didn’t their policies on Europe or defence.

Audio Landscape: Cameras snapping away in media frenzy, helicopter landing, cars honking, cricket on the telly, a plane losing velocity and crashing with destructive force, taking a shower, seagulls, lapping waves.

Musical Cues: David Darlington’s theme music for this series is pretty unmemorable all told – I would have gone for something very modern and militaristic, a bit like the theme tune for the first two years of Torchwood. Instead it’s some more akin to lift music.

Isn’t it Odd: Honestly Emily you know saying ‘Could today get any worse?’ is tempting fate! The opening of this story is far too fractured for its own good with several storylines being stacked up (Wood’s abduction, the missing spaceship, the train crash, time going squiffy) – none of these plotlines feel as though they belong together, its like the writers have decided to set up the series in as blatant way as possible rather than weaving them into a narrative that feels like a story in its own right. There doesn’t seem to be much subtlety in the writing either with one character saying ‘you know exactly what kind of people we sold ourselves to’ being a particularly clunky moment of exposition and ‘it’s a scene of near biblical carnage’ describing a train accident. Naturally the government is pointing the finger at a militant Muslim faction. How many ways are there to say ‘this is the most profound breakthrough in science!’? The two scientists stand around bigging each other up in some hysterically overwritten scenes. Nobody has ever asked for a transfer out of UNIT? I find that very hard to believe. There is a scene between Chaudhry and Dodds where they discuss their love lives that manages to be as cringeworthy as listening to somebody scraping their fingernails down a blackboard in slow motion. Its not just that it isn’t funny or sexy (or that once again the dialogue is horrendous: ‘Chicks love uniform!’), the worst thing is the two actors have no chemistry and sound really awkward trying to suggest a long term friendship. Kelly is so obviously not who he seems to be (the way he talks behind his fellow scientists back as soon as he is out of earshot lets us know that) and I was just waiting for the ‘how could you betray me?’ me scene with crushing inevitability. By the end of Time Heals you’ve had a train crash, a plane crash and a near explosion of a nuclear submarine…we get it, these experiments are bad business. Just one of these disaster dealt with appropriate seriousness and depth would have been enough. There’s a wonderfully dreadful moment when Kelly looks out the window and goes ‘Oh no! UNIT! Scarper!’ Okay he doesn’t say that exactly but that’s exactly what his tone implies when he cries ‘UNIT!’ We don’t even get to the end of his introductory story before Dalton is willingly sacrificing himself for the greater good.

Result: The UNIT series has some real potential, a gritty contemporary thriller series with science fiction touches and some nods to the past. Unfortunately you wouldn’t think that listening to Time Heals which is one of the most awkwardly written audios with a script that is made up of the worst clichés imaginable (‘Instantaneous matter transportation wont belong in Star Trek any more!’) and crowbars the series’ running arcs with little delicacy. With Dalton turning up halfway through the story it never settles down to mark its own identity, it feels like it is jumping about all over the place with no time for its characters. The best thing you can say about this story is that Nicholas Courtney is involved but since he is pushed to the sidelines throughout it is hardly a screaming endorsement. Siri O’Neal fails to make a decent impression, coming across more as a patronising jobsworth than a quick thinking foil for Nicholas Deal’s Dalton. Too much spectacle, too little coherence - opening the series on a story this clumsy (‘It will make Chernobyl look like a wet firework!’) was a huge mistake and I was bored before the end: 3/10

Buy it from Big Finish here:

No comments: