The UNIT Years
As we prepare for UNIT’s return, John Hussey attempts to tackle their TV timeline so far.
UNIT. One of the greatest components that has ever been added to Doctor Who. It gave birth to one of my favourite eras of Doctor Who; the Jon Pertwee Era. One of the most confusing factors of UNIT is its timeline, which on many occasions, has left viewers wondering when their adventures with the Doctor actually take place. Allow me to give you a rough timeline into their history on Doctor Who.
Their origins all began back in the 1968 story ‘The Web of Fear’, set in 1971, which saw the military come face to face with the Robotic Yeti in the Undergrounds of London. It was also the first meeting of the Second Doctor and Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, who was then, of course, ranked only Colonel. Due to this event the United Nations decided to form UNIT, the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce, a top ranked military operation to investigate and deal with extraterrestrial encounters. Four years after the events of ‘The Web of Fear’, ‘The Invasion’ (set in early 1975) saw the Second Doctor reunited with old friend Lethbridge-Stewart, who was now promoted to Brigadier of the UK branch of UNIT. Together they managed to discover that sinister businessman Tobias Vaughn was working with the Cybermen in an attempt to take over the Earth. Also during the events of ‘The Invasion’ the Doctor was introduced to new friend Corporal Benton, another member of UNIT and would later become a great ally to him.
A matter of months later, the Third Doctor arrived on Earth in ‘Spearhead in Space’ to begin his exile after the Time Lords forced him to regenerate as punishment for his constant inference in time. Throughout the next year or so, the Third Doctor worked for UNIT, alongside old friend Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, as their Scientific Advisor in a bid to help them combat alien threats. The Doctor was also introduced to new companion Liz Shaw, who became his assistant until her off-screen departure after ‘Inferno’ where she returned to Oxford University. Benton also returned to aid the Doctor in ‘The Ambassadors of Death’ and was now promoted to Sergeant. In ‘Terror of the Autons’ the Doctor was introduced to new assistant Jo Grant while the audience was introduced to Captain Mike Yates who had been working for UNIT off-screen in the previous season. The UNIT family had begun and would remain for the next three seasons of Doctor Who. Throughout 1975-1976 they would battle against the Autons and the Nestene Consciousness (‘Spearhead in Space’ and ‘Terror of the Autons’), the Silurians (‘Doctor Who and the Silurians’), the Axons (‘The Claws of Axos’), Azal and Bok (‘The Daemons’), the Daleks and Ogrons (‘Day of the Daleks’), Omega (‘The Three Doctors’), Giant Maggots and BOSS (‘The Green Death’) and Dinosaurs (‘Invasion of the Dinosaurs’). The Master was also a massive reoccurring enemy to the Doctor and UNIT throughout this era.
The Doctor was finally granted his freedom by the Time Lords at the end of ‘The Three Doctors’ and began to have more adventures away from Earth and his job at UNIT, which he had done in the past in ‘Colony in Space’, ‘The Curse of Peladon’ and ‘The Mutants’ as errands for the Time Lords. In ‘The Green Death’ Jo Grant made her departure and began the breakdown of the UNIT family. The following season saw the introduction of Sarah Jane Smith in ‘The Time Warrior’ who became the Third Doctor’s new companion. Captain Mike Yates then suffered from a breakdown in ‘Invasion of the Dinosaurs’ where he went rogue, brought on by side-effects after his mental take-over by BOSS in ‘The Green Death’. Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart had him retire and Yates ended up going to a Tibetan meditation centre in order to redeem his foolish actions. This lead to the events of ‘Planet of the Spiders’ where Mike called the Doctor back to help him investigate weird goings on at the centre which results in the Third Doctor’s regeneration in order to stop the Eight Legs and the Great One from taking over the universe. This was also Mike Yates’ last appearance in the show, apart from a brief cameo in ‘The Five Doctors’ where he and Liz Shaw appear as phantoms to test the Third Doctor in Rassilon’s Tower.
‘Robot’ saw the introduction of the Fourth Doctor along with the introduction of Harry Sullivan who made his departure the following season in ‘Terror of the Zygons’ and began the Doctor’s journey of slowly leaving UNIT behind to continue his adventures in time and space. In ‘Terror of the Zygons’ we saw the last appearance of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart until he later returned in the 1983 story ‘Mawdryn Undead’ set in 1983 after his retirement from UNIT where he had become a Maths teacher. Benton, who had been promoted to the rank of Warrant Officer in ‘Robot’, made his final appearance in ‘The Android Invasion’ and retired from UNIT shortly after the Brigadier to become a used-cars-salesman.
‘The Seeds of Doom’ saw the last time the Doctor worked for UNIT, also being the last time UNIT appeared in Doctor Who, until the 1989 story ‘Battlefield’ which is set in 1997. ‘Battlefield’ also saw the final return of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart in Doctor Who as he battled the might of Morgaine and the Destroyer alongside the Seventh Doctor.
UNIT didn’t return to Doctor Who until a cameo in ‘Aliens of London/World War Three,’ set in 2006. They would later get a bigger role in ‘The Christmas Invasion’ during Christmas 2006, helping Prime Minister Harriet Jones deal with the Sycorax. They made another brief appearance in ‘The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords’ during the Master’s sinister reign over the Earth during the Toclafane invasion.
UNIT didn’t get a full-on appearance fighting alongside the Doctor until ‘The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky,’ where former companion Martha Jones (now a trained Doctor for UNIT) called the Tenth Doctor in to aid them in combating the Sontarans plans to turn Earth into a Clone-World. In this story, the Doctor was still on the staff file and was technically still a member of UNIT. The Brigadier was mentioned, with the Doctor wishing for his assistance, but Colonel Mace informed him he was stranded in Peru during a Peace Conference.
UNIT then made another cameo later that year in ‘The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End’ during the Daleks invasion of Earth.
The Brigadier had his last onscreen appearance in The Sarah Jane Adventures story ‘Enemy of the Bane,’ where he fought alongside his old friend Sarah Jane Smith in order to combat the threat of Mrs Wormwood and Commander Kaagh.
UNIT returned alongside the Doctor in ‘Planet of the Dead’, where they tried to contain a Worm-Hole on a London motorway while the Doctor was trapped on the other side. They later dealt with three Stingrays before the Doctor congratulated them on their efforts. In this story, UNIT had finally found a replacement scientific advisor in the form of wacky Welshmen, Malcolm Taylor.
The 11th Doctor encountered UNIT in The Sarah Jane Adventures story ‘Death of the Doctor.’ This time they were led by Colonel Tia Karim, who was revealed to be working for the villainous Shansheeth.
It was revealed in ‘The Wedding of River Song’ that Brigadier Sir Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart passed away in his hospital bed in the year 2011. He died a peaceful death, waiting for one final visit from the Doctor, that sadly never came.
UNIT’s next encounter with the Doctor will be in this Saturday’s ‘The Power of Three’. In this story, UNIT will return during a mysterious crisis involving the mystical cubes that have appeared across the planet over night. The Doctor will be joined by UNIT’s new leader, Kate Stewart, who will aid him during this puzzling invasion and the mystery behind who sent the Cubes and why.
Well, there you have it. A rough timeline into the history of UNIT in Doctor Who, which isn’t counting most of their spin-off appearances in other media. Hopefully this helps to make a little more sense of their adventures so far. Of course, there are many different versions and ideas to how their adventures coincide with Doctor Who’s timeline, but this, for me, is the easiest and best to understand, so I hope you like it and agree with its logic.