The other really big first for this story: it’s the debut appearance of UNIT, the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce, with the Doctor and Jamie’s old friend Lethbridge-Stewart, played by Nicholas Courtney, promoted to the rank of brigadier and in charge of the group. UNIT becomes that secondary cast that Bryant and Sherwin had been considering, and they’re still around in the show today, seen most recently in a 2015 adventure with Lethbridge-Stewart’s daughter Kate in command. The name has changed a little bit, though. In 2005, the United Nations requested the BBC take their name off the fictional organization, so it’s called the Unified Intelligence Taskforce these days. John Levene’s Benton, who only gets a little time here, will graduate to become one of the semi-regulars of this group.
So why’s there a need for a secondary supporting cast, anyway? Well, in 1967-68, Peter Bryant and Derrick Sherwin were looking to the future and noting how much less expensive the show could be if it took place on contemporary – or near-future – Earth. With the BBC on the precipice of switching their entire output over to color videotape, things were going to get really pricey for the perennially cash-conscious corporation, and whatever form season seven took – if indeed there was to be a seventh season at all – taking the TARDIS to far-distant planets and times wasn’t going to be an immediate option.
When it comes to the question of when the UNIT-led Earth stories take place, I’m very firmly in the “date of broadcast” camp for many reasons. Case in point: Here’s Zoe and her new friend Isobel Watkins, dressed in miniskirts and boas, about to confuse a sixties supercomputer to self-destruction via an insoluble equation spoken in what’s alleged to be ALGOL.
I adore this scene. It’s so dated. I just love the concept that Zoe, who lives on a space station in the 2060s or 2070s, is fluent in ALGOL and reads a superhero comic that was published in 2000. Back in ’68, these were intended to be “futuristic.” These days, it makes Zoe fascinated by her grandparents’ tech and culture. And of course, this is another example of sixties teevee so worried about computers while simultaneously seeing them as something so fragile that they can be talked into exploding.
Although, fair’s fair, we giggle about this, or ITC’s The Prisoner, or Gerry Anderson’s programs predicting the future and getting everything so wrong, but darned if that computer receptionist isn’t exactly like every infuriating, job-destroying, press-zero-a-million-times, please-say-“customer-service”-if-you-want-to-talk-to-a-human-being nightmare that we all experience when we have a question about our credit card or utility bill.
Speaking of Zoe and Isobel, our chivalrous son was actually extremely upset by the climax of this episode. He seemed to be enjoying it just fine, and told us that he’s intrigued by the “science machine” in the wall knowing who the Doctor and Jamie are, and how they travel. It knows them from “Planet 14,” mysteriously. But the girls are taken by IE’s guards after destroying the receptionist, and the charming-but-malevolent Tobias Vaughn has them imprisoned. In a warehouse, the Doctor and Jamie hear them scream, and we see the guards placing their unconscious bodies into metal crates. Our son was wide-eyed with shock and downright infuriated, with a wobbling lip. We had to give him lots of assurance that they’ll be okay!