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The Last Days of UNIT

By Guy Blythman

We can only guess at the nature of the process by which the Doctor eventually convinces himself that he is right to leave humanity to face its own destiny and resume the nomadic lifestyle of his pre-exile days. This article considers the way in which the Doctor's association with UNIT ended.

It is a mistake to see the Third Doctor as firmly tied to UNIT by his own volition, only acquiring wanderlust after his regeneration. In the first place he was not on Earth by choice; he had been exiled there by the Time Lords.

I believe that the Time Lords secretly realised the necessity of his interventions in the affairs of the cosmos at large and had been meaning to do this rather than execute or imprison him all along - having been convinced by the Celestial Intervention Agency of Earth's importance in the future history of the Universe and the consequent need to protect it. It cannot be a coincidence that he arrives on Earth at the same time and in virtually the same place as the meteorites which harbour the main Nestene invasion force.

However by the time his exile was lifted he had grown sufficiently attached to his life at UNIT not to want to cut his links with the organisation. Terrance Dicks provides an insight in his novelisation of The Three Doctors: 'Now the ability to take off in the TARDIS was once more within his power, he wasn't sure he wanted to go. He knew he'd miss his friends ... and his life as UNIT's Scientific Adviser. For the first time in many years of wandering, he'd found something that could be called a home, and he didn't want to give it up. Not completely, that is. One or two little trips from time to time, of course...' He does go off in the TARDIS quite frequently, and at inconvenient (for the Brigadier) times, but always comes back in the end.

With the Doctor's regeneration his personality changed. In his new incarnation he was less happy to be tied to just one planet and time zone. But he nevertheless felt unhappy about leaving his old friends, as his miserable frame of mind at the start of Pyramids of Mars makes clear. Here we should note that at some point the Brigadier, whose need to have the Doctor always on call obviously conflicts with the latter's tendency to disappear on his travels whenever he feels like it, has been given, as a compromise, a gadget with which he can call the Doctor whenever a real emergency arises on Earth. It is with this 'space-time telegraph' as it is referred to in the novelisation of Terror of the Zygons, that he summons the Doctor to Loch Ness to deal with the threat of the eponymous aliens. Although it would not have ended the Doctor's angst over his responsibilities (if, while attempting to sort out the affairs of some distant planet, he received an urgent message from the Brigadier, he could not sort out his immediate problems and then return to Earth before it was invaded or destroyed because of the Blinovitch Limitation Effect), it could nevertheless have served as the basis for future UNIT stories. It is a great pity this device was not adopted, especially as Nicholas Courtney was quite happy to go on playing the Brigadier for a bit longer. Whatever one might think about the benefits of retaining UNIT in the series, it is odd that the space-time telegraph is never again used, or even mentioned by the Brigadier's successors.

The unsatisfactory treatment of UNIT in The Seeds of Doom, with none of the regulars present highlights the way its phasing-out from the series was botched by Philip Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes. Its partial replacement by the World Ecology Bureau (WEB) as the focus of opposition to the alien menace is however interesting, since it provides a pretext for the latter's return in future Earth-based Doctor Who stories.

Hinchliffe tells us he wanted to get rid of UNIT because it limited the scope of the programme. I can see what he means (although I don't think it should have been written out altogether; the concept could have been expanded and more fully explored, by bringing in some new characters and showing how the Brigadier is eventually changed by the Doctor's influence from being at times rather stupid and chauvinistic person to someone with a greater understanding of the universe, while retaining the good characteristics he already has), but at the time I felt the departure of the UNIT regulars like a bereavement. This sense of loss was heightened by the failure to properly write them all out.

[Terror of the Zygons]

This neglect to give popular characters a decent sending off illustrates a mercenary attitude on Hinchcliffe's part towards things he didn't like (it makes one wonder whether it's all that unlikely that he would have had Benton perish in the grinder instead of his replacement, Sergeant Henderson, if the character had appeared in The Seeds of Doom!). The last time the UNIT regulars are all seen together is in Terror of the Zygons, at the end of which there is no indication that the Doctor is going to part company so drastically with his old friends.

The next story to feature UNIT is The Android Invasion, which left me with a feeling of sadness. Although the Brigadier's name is on the door of his office at the Devesham Space Research Centre it is occupied by a stranger, and the Benton we see is for most of the time not the real one but a cold, emotionless android copy. This I found at the time to be symbolic though the symbolism was probably unintentional. In The Seeds of Doom we don't see any of the regulars at all although the Brigadier and presumably Harry are still around the place (the Doctor expects to find the former at WEB when he goes there to discuss the Krynoid threat). We don't know whether Benton is alive or dead after the events in The Android Invasion (although in the final episode he definitely blinks after being struck down by his android counterpart, which gives cause for hope).

The last time they are mentioned for quite a while is in The Hand of Fear when Sarah offers to remember the Doctor to Harry and the Brigadier (not Benton, which we hope isn't significant), and none of them appear thereafter until Mawdryn Undead.

It doesn't make sense that the Brigadier and co. just disappear with the Doctor not properly saying goodbye to them, considering he has formed what is clearly a genuine and affectionate (if not without its ups and downs) friendship with them, in the course of which they have faced many dangers and it seems rather cavalier when they have been an important ingredient in the show's success. I understand that there were problems with Nicholas Courtney's outside commitments, but I feel the popularity of the characters with the programme's fans would have justified any problems caused by deciding to have a proper UNIT write-out story and then working around those commitments.

It is regrettable that Terrance Dicks in his novelisations makes the same error as Hinchcliffe; he too makes the Brigadier and Harry disappear while not telling us whether Benton is alive. I hope some future Missing Adventures writer will make up for this deficiency by penning a novel which shows why the Doctor left UNIT when, and in the way he did and how his friends react to his departure.

This item appeared in TSV 44 (June 1995).