The main range takes a brief detour from the trilogy format to give a solo Fifth Doctor story based around him meeting a previously unheard/seen incarnation of UNIT. Admittedly this is to set up a lose trilogy of UNIT stories in the main range that will be split up throughout the year (so not really breaking from the trilogy format, but hey-ho…) and if this is anything to go by then… I’m not that interested. It’s a fine story, The Doctor in particular is well handled, but it’s slow going, and when it gets going it soon stops again. Let’s have a closer look, and try not to accidentally type “The Halifax Rift” while we’re at it…
Daniel Hopkins thought he knew what he was letting himself in for when he joined the top-secret UNIT organisation as its latest Medical Officer.
Racing about the countryside, chasing strange lights in the sky? Check. Defending the realm against extraterrestrial incursion? Check. Frequent ear-bashings from UNIT’s UK CO, the famously no-nonsense Lt-Col Lewis Price? Check. Close encounters of the First, Second and even Third kind? Check, check, check.
But he had no idea what alien beings were really like. Until the day of the Fallen Kestrel. Until the day he met the Doctor.
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
Cast of Characters:
The Doctor (Peter Davison) – The Doctor is alone, something that this Fifth incarnation isn’t used to. That being said, while he has the opportunity, he may as well look into a mysterious distress call, because that’s just what he does!
Lieutenant Daniel Hopkins (Blake Harrison) – Lt. Hopkins is a medical officer for UNIT, and has done his best to get on with his job despite an unpleasant boss and an often dangerous work environment…
Lieutenant-Colonel Lewis Price (Russ Bain) – An unpleasant boss who thrives in the often dangerous work environment of UNIT. Very by the book and no-nonsense, even UNIT’s famous scientific advisor popping in brings him no joy…
Annabel Morden (Deborah Thomas) – Annabel runs a hidden clinic that houses extraterrestrial life… in prison-like cells deep underground… after they’ve been cut up and examined a bit… Don’t worry though, she has her reasons!
Dr Jennifer Harrison (Anna Louise Plowman) – The head surgeon of the medical personnel on Annabel Morden’s payroll. She has cut up many an alien, and she’s sure the fact that most of them are still alive underneath the facility won’t in anyway come back to haunt her…
Rare non-companion human on the cover… although, I guess he is sort of the companion for this story…
There is a lot to be said about a story that decides to take UNIT and throw away the guns and warfare (for the most part) in order to tell a more closer, intimate story. Annabel Morden and her clinic exists because she once had a one night stand with an alien and gave birth to its child. Half human, half Helliax, the boy began to fall ill due to not suiting Earth’s environment and, afraid a regular hospital would lead to her son being taken by the government and dissected, she set up her private clinic to put her offspring underground in a safe…er, cell. It’s a good, sort-of heart warming story, at least until she lures many other aliens to her facility with a false distress signal, let’s her doctor friend vivisect them, and then stores them underground with her son… What the hell is that all about? Well, apparently she hoped that one of the other aliens could teach her a way to make her son survive in Earth’s atmosphere, so… Hmmm. The things we do for our children, I guess?
Anyway, the dad soon arrives and eventually frees her entire alien menagerie and watches them get there revenge (enjoyed the scene of Dr. Harrison getting her comeuppance!), but soon he sees that Annabel was doing it all for his son, and the three bond, leading to The Doctor, who of course throughout this all has been keeping UNIT at bay because he knew there was more to the story, to take them somewhere safe. It’s a surprisingly soft story from someone who’s brief was presumably just “create a new version of UNIT from the 80s that we’ve never seen before”.
I will also say that Lt. Hopkins and The Doctor make a good duo, Hopkins trying to play soldier with him, but all he really wants to do is help the sick and wounded, and how they’re both at the mercy of your classic by-the-books, everything alien must be wanting to attack Earth, UNIT boss Lt.-Col. Price. It’s good to see Big Finish try and bridge a few of the UNIT gaps that are left to bridge.
This thing takes an eternity to get going. Annabel and Harrison don’t even appear until the end of Part 2, and even then it takes to the end of Part 3 for anything to start really being explained. The first half of the story is all The Doctor being introduced and interrogated by the new UNIT before eventually starting his investigation. Even then, when the action starts, so to speak, it’s over almost as quickly as it began and we get the emotional bonding between the alien/human family as they’re confronted by Price et al, and that’s dealt with pretty peacefully. It tells a good story, but there is so much filler and so little action that I’m still surprised this was chosen to kick off a trilogy of UNIT-based stories, because this didn’t remotely feel like a UNIT based story at all. It felt like a modern 45 minute episode stretched to two hours.
There isn’t much to say here. It’s the start of a trilogy, and will be continued in the Sixth Doctor audio “Hour of the Cybermen”, but that makes this continuity to that, rather than the other way round, release-date-wise.
The Helliax Rift is a good story, just overly long and unjustly has a UNIT branding all over it, which puts people’s expectations in the wrong way. Cut out an hour and you’d have a good story, with The Doctor and Lt. Hopkins being a fun duo to listen too, and the central story being interesting and somewhat touching, but it just fails to get, or keep, your attention for very long…