Spin offs can be tricky to perfect. To ensure that they work you have to blend the right characters, the right setting and good solid writing to keep audiences coming back for more. Sometimes a spin off can go wrong; think of Joey (from Friends), The Cleveland Show (from Family Guy) or (shudder) Hollyoaks Later (or worse still, After MASH, Baywatch Nights or Joanie Loves Chaci…).
But Doctor Who always seems to get the balance right, to create spin off series’ that not only engage but also entertain. It’s not surprising given that there’s such a large Universe to work with, that Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures are so well received. Big Finish have had their metaphorical fingers in many a spin off pie over the last decade, Dalek Empire, Cyberman, UNIT, Jago and Litefoot and even the continuing adventures of Bernice Summerfield.
But with Counter-Measures, they really have done something very special indeed. What we’ve been offered is four wonderful, entertaining and, above all, fun stories that prove just how much life there is outside of the Doctor’s TARDIS.
Group Captain Gilmore, Rachel Jenson, Alison Williams all return after their one time on screen appearance in Doctor Who for 1988’s Remembrance of the Daleks albeit this time in an audio format and it’s like they’ve never stopped. It’s a remarkable talent that the three leads have that they can settle in to their roles as if they never stopped playing them, the fluidity and familiarity that oozes throughout this box set is impressive.
Counter-Measures is a Doctor Who spin off without the need to reference the Whoniverse mythology too heavily, the characters are so strong they don’t need to, and the stories themselves are lovingly reminiscent of some true cult classics such as The Avengers, Sapphire and Steel and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. with just a hint of a twenty first century stroke of direction. There’s no place for heavy Dalek references or the odd appearance of a Cyberman or an Auton, Counter-Measures lives and breathes on its own, the Doctor can’t always be around but thank goodness that this scientific investigations unit is.
The direction and incidental music are also something to be marvelled at, wonderful nostalgic flutes scores set the scene for a swinging sixties London that has no idea about the horrors that the Counter-Measures team have to deal with on a day to day basis and there are many times where it’s easy to visualise the action that’s taking place as it’s so tightly played out for listeners.
This could have been a real hit and miss affair; this reviewer will admit that when the first CD started to play, there was not a great expectation quota waiting to be filled. This was after all, a series of stories based around characters that have had no reference or thought in the Doctor Who world for well over two decades and sometimes it’s easier to throw out a quick idea for a bit of money than it is to put time and effort into it. But really, this is something very special, something that is worth your time and money. These stories take the main characters and give them life outside of the Doctor and Ace and the Daleks. They give these characters relationships, drive, troubled pasts and uncertain futures.
Big Finish have started something very, very special here, dive into series one of Counter-Measures as soon as you can!
Counter-Measures is available from www.bigfinish.com now.