WELCOME to Daily Audio, another regular blog presented by this website. Daily Audio is the blog designed to offer a little help through lockdown life with reviews and recommendations on easy to find audio books.
This week we’re taking an extended look at the ouput of one of the giants of twenty-first century audio drama, Big Finish. Please see our earlier review (here) for more about Big Finish, who they are and what they do. Today we’re taking a look at another original drama production…
12x 60 minute episodes >>> full cast original dramas >>> 4x series released as box sets containing four episodes apiece >>> Released via Bigfinish.com 2012-15
The 1960’s were a tense time for international relations. Spies coming in from the cold were one thing but the shrinking British Empire was also affecting ardent imperialists in the aftermath of the second wolrd war. In the wider geopolitical landscape, leaders of wealthy nations wanted anything that would give their country an edge over enemies old and new, usually the Russians. There really was a post-war scramble for any techonological developments from the recently collapsed Nazi empire. Scientists whose research had been funded by the Nazis were gladly snapped up the formerly allies in the following years. Counter Measures is a drama set in these dark cold war days; a secret department created to expand the frontiers of knowledge, even if that knowledge comes from slightly dubious sources.
Starring Pamela Salem, Karen Gledhill and Michael Williams, the Counter Measures team encounter a wide range of odd scientific advances; mind control, teleportation, communication with the dead – there is many an old sci-fi trope inserted into this series, but that old maxim holds true here; as ever it isn’t what you’ve got, it’s what you do with it that counts. Counter Measures nets all this standard sci-fi stuff but sets it loose in all-too-real post-war world.
Counter Measures is a department set up by the British government and commanded by Professor Rachel Jenson (Salem), who joins the team in episode one, ousting the organisation’s former head, Group Captain Ian Gilmore (Williams) who has been seconded from the RAF. They are looked after by civil servant Tobias Kinsella (played by Hugh Ross) and joined by the third member of their team scientist Alison (Gledhill). It is the team of Gilmore, Jenson and Alison who are the main protaganists but the most interesting character in the series is Kinsella. At first he comes across as a reliabley stoic British government type, forever trying to satisfy his own superiors, ministers and serve his nation, he soon develops into a character with ambiguous morals, to counterpoint the straight forward heroism of the Counter Measures team.
This is another Big Finish production where fine British actors are given some meaty material to work with. Simon Williams (Upstairs,Downstairs) and Pamela Salem (Bergerac) have been familiar faces on UK television for decades. As you’d expect they absolutely leap at the chance to do something different, and do it in a series that is so brilliantly off-kilter with most audio drama it must have been a complete surpirse and pleasure. At least the first two series of Counter Measures (each comprising four hour-long stand-alone episodes) is very much made in the same vein as television programmes such as Department S, The Baron, The Saint and all those wonderful 1960’s series produced by the powerhouse that was ITC productions. There really is no radio drama equivient to make comparrisons but if you ever saw any of those aforementiond shows (which you may as they are still repeated on British televison to this day) you will see a very definite simlarity of style. It’s warm, kind of cosy and it absolutely should not work in today’s audio drama landscape. That style of television, and to a lesser degree radio, is now very much in the past, and putting such a visually-heavy type of production on audio should fall flat on it’s arse. But it absolutely does not. The slight kitch helps rather than hinders Counter Measures to develop it’s own unique style. And when things ocassionally happen that absolutely would not be allowed in the more culturally sensitive post-war climes of 1960’s television it’s jups the ante in a most existensial manner. Once again Big Finish demonstrate that not only do they know their audience, but they are skilful at bending the rules of a genre they gleefully ape.
The series theme and incidental music shows it’s ITC roots pretty blantantly. It’s eerily authentic but eschews the conventions of the genre by being far more politically aware, bringing to mind would-be stable mates Undermind and Doomwatch, swapping international intrigue for British grit and double-think.
The Counter Measures team aren’t always running up against alien tech – in fact the most chilling stories are where the threat comes from within. Sometimes within the establishment, or from unscrupulous businessmen, sometimes from miltary men craving the thrill of war and sometimes from the very corridors of power that Kinsella walks every day. Counter Measures turns the clock back to when drama television drama was less sophisticated than it is now, and shows us what it would be like if that style was still in vogue in the twenty-first century. Can you put on modern spin on a television show like The Avengers or Jason King? Download a box set or two of Counter Measures and you will see that you absolutely can – and totally nail it too.
Counter Measures can be purchased from Bigfinish.com. We are not affliated with Big Finish, we just love audio drama.
Check back here in a few days when Daily Audio takes a look at another Big Finish release.
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Photo copyright Big Finish under licence from the BBC
Written content copyright Martin Gregory 2021.