The new UNIT team are back for their sixth series of adventures! They’ve battled Autons, Tengobushi, Silence, Silurians, Daleks, ghosts, Sontarans and themselves, but now it’s time for them to go toe to toe with the Cybermen… and the War Master. Today, I’ll be reviewing the first story in Cyber-Reality, Game Theory by Matt Fitton.
Sam Bishop is missing. Lost at sea, imprisoned with a valuable hostage, UNIT’s troubleshooter will need all his skills to survive. To save their comrade, Kate Stewart and Osgood are offered a deadly challenge. But this game might be impossible to win…
Hello internet, and welcome to Game Theory! (I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist.) Sam is dead, or so it seems. It appears that Cyber-Reality follows on directly from the previous box set, titled Encounters. It’s up to Kate and Osgood to go and try and discover the truth about what happened to Sam.
It’s not long before we learn the “truth” about Sam, and it appears he could well be… well, he couldn’t be? Could he? (Yes, I’m being vague, I have my suspicions, but I’m not going to ruin it for you.)
Kate and Osgood are soon introduced to the Overseer, a seemingly sadistic presence who is wanting to play a game. A little bit like Jigsaw from the Saw franchise of movies, but using virtual reality and not wanting Kate or Osgood to die grizzly deaths. Yet.
By about the end of the first act, it’s clear that Game Theory has a very Black Mirror vibe; there’s a lot of mentions of morality, the price of an individual life vs that of all of humanity, wealth, status and their link to importance.
Sam’s thread of the story gets a great expectation subversion, and, I don’t know why, but there’s something really sinister about having a character believe that their life is like a game, filled with levels and checkpoints and boss battles. Matt Fitton has managed to use a trope that a lot of listeners are used to, that of gaming, and somehow made it really creepy and unnerving.
The idea of Kate and Osgood being isolated from the rest of UNIT, being led on a game of cat and mouse, with the two of them being totally in the palm of the Overseers hand. For once, it appears that Petronella Osgood may not be the cleverest person in a room.
This may be somewhat cliche, but I genuinely think that there are great parallels between Osgood, Kate and the Overseer with Holmes, Watson and Moriarty. Osgood, like Sherlock, is the genius who is always two steps ahead of everyone, Kate, like John, is from a somewhat military background and is inferior in intelligence, but superior in combat and empathy, and the Overseer is exactly like Moriarty, a man who enjoys making the aforementioned two dance to his tune, attempting to prove that he is the cleverest in the world, not Sherlock. I’m not sure if Matt Fitton intended this; but it’s really hard to go wrong with this iconic dynamic in my opinion.
Also, something very important. MALCOLM GETS A SHOUT OUT! That is all for this paragraph.
At the end of the episode, it seems that we can expect more of the Overseer will be a presence in the upcoming stories, and maybe even the upcoming box sets.
Overall, the conclusion is fairly standard, and I have to admit that I’m surprised that we didn’t get a hint to the Cybermen or the Master, however Game Theory really did hammer home the virtual reality in Cyber-Reality, so I wonder if it will play a part later on in this set.
I’ll be honest, I’m not normally the biggest fans of the UNIT box sets, however I did enjoy listening to Game Theory, the pacing was fantastic, and using some tropes of video games in a “real world” scenario made for interesting listening. It would have been nice if there were a few pieces of music that sounded every so slightly more like a video game, especially for the segments in virtual reality, as an audio clue before the reveal; however I understand that games nowadays have much more naturalistic soundtracks as well.
I wouldn’t say it’s the best script Matt Fitton has ever written, it’s not got many “highbrow” themes or emotional gut punches, but, for setting up a box set which has the chance to either be extremely dark if they continue down the Black Mirror-esque route, or potentially extremely fun, if they use the campiness of the Master, I think Fitton did a rather good job, and it leaves me wanting to listen to the rest of the set, to see where it goes from here.
Should you want to purchase UNIT: Cyber-Reality, it’s currently available from Big Finish here for £23 on CD or £20 for a digital download for a limited time.