This is it then, this is the beginning of the end. I’m quite sad really because I did really enjoy the Counter Measures range. I remember when their first series came out way back in 2013/14, people wondered why we needed this spin-off. These guys were throwaway characters from Remembrance of the Daleks, surely we don’t need to hear more from them, why can’t we have another UNIT spin-off?
What these fans had forgotten was that Counter-Measures and the team of Group Captain Gilmore, Allison Williams and Rachael Jensen, soon to meet Sir Toby Kinsella were always designed to be a prototype UNIT. It also added a little of the Avengers’ feel to the Doctor Who universe, with them undertaking spy-missions and infiltration missions.
Because they would very often fight human villains what made Counter-Measures even more special was when they had to fight alien invaders, or teamed up with the Seventh Doctor and Ace once again, as they have done on a number of occasions. It seems right then that the final two missions for Counter-Measures feature some returning Who-villains, the opening episode sees the Movellan’s make a return and then the concluding episode of the series sees it come full circle with them having to face off against the Daleks once again…
For long time listeners, The Movellan Manoeuvre feels much like many previous releases for this range. Continuing with their Avengers-vibe, Racheal infiltrates a factory making machines to do the chores around the house. Things quickly start to go wrong though when their old foe, Lady Suzanne Clare turns up again, this time having funded the new machines.
Listeners familiar with stories like Destiny of the Daleks will know instantly its the Movellan’s but even I was wrong-footed on a number of occasions because of the author, John Dorney doesn’t call them that right away. Instead, I was left wondering if there was a third creature that we hadn’t been told about. I remember the Sixth Doctor and Mel audio, The Juggernauts, did something similar with the Mechanoids and initially tried to distribute them as cleaning machines.
I’ve also thought of Lady Clare as the ‘Master’ of these audios. She’s teamed up with monsters like the Yeti and the Great Intelligence in the past and seen her plans go awry in spectacular fashion. Of course, it doesn’t take long for things to go pear-shaped for her as the Movellan’s move the timeframe and begin to activate the robotic duplicates they’ve installed around the country. It was nice to hear Lady Clare having to team-up with the Counter-Measures team for a while, though she does always have a trick up her sleeve and makes her escape.
It makes sense that Dorney does an excellent job with the espionage aspects of this story, mainly because he helped bring us the Avengers range a few years ago, but where Dorney’s script also shines in his handling of the Movellans. On-screen, they were interesting for their disco-outfits, something which Racheal amusingly comments on in this outing. Destiny of the Daleks seemed to promise something we didn’t get when it came to the Movellans but we’ve seen them pop up again briefly in the Peter Capaldi episode, The Pilot and they’ve only featured once before in Big Finish in The Movellan Grave. As a result, there is a lot of room for their development.
Dorney seems to imply here that they are much more than just you’re standard Doctor Who robots and they do have the capacity to adapt themselves and take on more human traits. Cyril Nri’s character, Maurice Vallan is the Movellan commander who has taken on human speech and is trying to live as a human being. It’s an interesting move to see them take when they’ve only really turned up and blown things up in the past. Of course, their history with the Daleks isn’t forgotten and while they don’t feature here, the Daleks do loom heavily on this piece, with the promise of their arrival. It was also nice to hear the Counter-Measures team have their suspicions about what old foe was lurking in the wings.
As with all the Counter-Measures stories though, the massive strength of the range is the chemistry between the main cast. The original three, Simon Williams, Pamela Salem and Karen Gledhill make for a fantastic trio, effortlessly recreating characters that they first played in 1988. The addition of Hugh Ross as their boss, Toby Kinsella was an inspired piece of casting and Kinsella adds a lot of dry-wit and sarcasm to the proceedings, rounding the quartet out really nicely. And Carolyn Seymour continues to be an excellent addition to the cast making the perfect foil in the form of Lady Clare.
With the global-lockdown continuing for the foreseeable future, The Movellan Manoeuvre is an excellent way to spend an hour. As an opening episode for a two-part adventure, it works marvellously on its own, as well as listened together with the concluding episode, which I did. This is a clever story that always keeps on the wrong-foot and Dorney manages to pull the rug out from under you at all the right moments. And well done to the sound designer, Joe Meiners who managed to recreate the original sound for the Movellan guns, it’s a small aspect but it makes all the difference! Everything about this story is just sublime.