Blurb: Old soldiers, comrades in arms - the Brigadier saw many fall during his years with UNIT, but perhaps none more tragically than those at Kreigskind. Called to help when a friend falls ill, how can Lethbridge-Stewart fight an enemy that can breach every defence?
Format: Limited-cast audio drama, a Companion Chronicle from the point-of-view of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. Published by Big Finish Productions and released December of 2007.
Setting: Earth: Kreigskind Castle in German. UNIT dating makes the precise chronological placement of this story iffy but it's clearly during the Doctor's first year at UNIT, which I place in 1970. The Brigadier narrates this story from sometime in the future although the exact time is unknown.
Continuity: This story takes place between The Silurians and The Ambassadors of Death. The Brigadier mentions his recent falling out with the Doctor over his decision to destroy the Silurian base, killing all of the reptiles inside. THe fallout from this decision forms most of the backdrop of the story.
Canonicity Quotient: As far as I can tell, nothing in this story breaks with established continuity. 1.00
Discussion: There are old soldiers and there are bold soldiers, but there are very few old, bold soldiers. Old Soldiers is a sombre tale given by the Brigadier reminiscing about two old, bold soldiers. One is the Doctor and the other is his friend in UNIT Germany, Colonel Konrad. I really like how the opening draws you in. You can imagine the Brig seated by a fireside and drinking some brandy as he talks about this story. The way that he mentions that he keeps expecting to see one of these men one day and that he may end up seeing the other soon too in hindsight really adds an edge to the proceedings. We know that the first person that he mentions is The Doctor but the other is Colonel Konrad who we later learn has died. The fact that Nick Courtney died without ever recording another Companion Chronicle gives added weight to this scene and really to the entire story.
The sound design is really effective on this story. Firstly there's the piano score that sets that melancholy mood. Then there's the sounds of creaking doors and thunder outside the castle that lends itself to the spooky atmosphere of the place. Nicholas Courtney turns in a fantastic performance. He really has a voice suited for audio and his narration of this tale is excellent. He also does the best third Doctor impersonation of any of the actors who have done a third Doctor companion chronicle. While you can always tell that its not Jon Pertwee he seems to catch all of the right mannerisms and expressions and you can tell that there was a lot of love and respect between the two men for Courtney to be able to capture that much of the performance.
The story being told is very interesting and deals with a lot of interesting themes. One of them is the aftermath of the Brigadier's decision to bomb the Silurian base. This story shows that the Brigadier is a protector and that the Silurians had already shown themselves to be a dangerous threat. Yet at the same time and even knowing that he would do it again, it is a decision that weighs upon him because he doesn't consider the loss of life lightly. I also like how the Brigadier was concerned that the Doctor would never speak to him again but when he does call the Doctor and ask for assistance he shows up quickly by parachuting into the castle, a move that I can totally see Jon Pertwee with his love of stunts doing on screen.
I like the discussion of sacrifice. We see the Brigadier here willing to give his life for his men and for the Doctor. The decision is taken out of his hands and of course he lives and its all because of the sacrifice of his friend, Colonel Konrad. The way that the Brigadier says "It was anything but that" when the Doctor asks if Konrad gave the abort code and in fact had given a confirmation on the Arklight command was very well done and shows his own sense of loss at what he considers to have been a life needlessly wasted by his own mistakes in command. In many ways that's what I like about this story. It puts the Brigadier in his own situation that causes him to question his decisions in the way that the Doctor wanted him to question his decision to destroy the Silurians.
The other thing that I really like here is the idea of what UNIT is really willing to do to protect the Earth and at what point such protection would become a pyrrhic victory. UNIT is trying to use alien artefacts, technology, and biology to enhance their capabilities but if humans give up their humanity to fight aliens at what point does it no longer serve a purpose? I really like the Brigadier's assertion that if the inhuman is to be fought then it is through humanity that people will gain their advantage not by becoming more like the ones that they're fighting. There's also the Arklight protocols to "sanitize" an installation if its feared that it may fall to the enemy. The morality and praticality of such a protocol is questioned and dissected. What happens if whatever menace is placed back under control? What if an incompetent gave the order? There are no absolute answers in this story and I like that, just an exploration of the themes and how taking things to extremes can lead to bad decisions.
I also really liked the conceit of the science-fiction aspect of the story. What starts out masquerading as a story about ghosts becomes about time travel and then you finally get the reveal of why apparitions of ancient armies are appearing in Kreigskind. It's not the most original explanation in the world but I like stories with something of a twist. While I guessed that it had something to do with Colonel Konrad's condition the exact form of what was going on was a surprise and a welcome one.
There were a few things that I didn't like about this story. Toby Longworth is rediculous as Major Schrader. It's the most overblown, cartoon German accent that I've ever heard. While the character type was an interesting one to throw into the story and worked well thematically his performance just makes me cringe. I'm also confused about how UNIT is supposed to work. We never see a single non-British soldier as part of UNIT within the Pertwee era. Here we have an international group at Kreigskind. I had always thought that UNIT worked with the local countries to receive a group of their regular soldiers to be seconded to UNIT. If it doesn't work that way then how is UNIT England able to operate the way that it does? I know that this is a bigger issue than just this story but I have always wanted a writer in either the novels or audios to explain just how UNIT operates on an international basis. Overall, though, I really enjoyed this story.
Final Rating: 8/10
Recommendation: Melancholy and creepy, Old Soldiers is a story to listen to on cold winter nights while you huddle next to the fireside or heater. Nick Courtney is on fire as usual and the story is a great one with some twists and dealing with a lot of interesting themes. You'll also get some great insight into the Brigadier's point of view on the Doctor, UNIT, and his own life. Definitely recommended.