United Nations Intelligence Taskforce

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The United Nations Intelligence Taskforce (also known as UNIT) is a fictional military organization from the British science fiction television series Doctor Who. Operating under the auspices of the United Nations, its purpose is to investigate and combat paranormal and extraterrestrial threats to the Earth.



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UNIT in action (from Spearhead from Space).

The roots of the organisation in the history of the Doctor Who universe lie in two alien incursions. The first, taking place in 1963, was related in the 1988 Seventh Doctor serial Remembrance of the Daleks. In that incident, two Dalek factions fought a battle in London over the Time Lord artifact known as the Hand of Omega. They were defeated by a company of infantrymen from the RAF Regiment, commanded by Group Captain "Chunky" Gilmore, along with help from the mysterious time traveller known as the Doctor. Gilmore also had the assistance of a Scientific Advisor, Dr. Rachel Jensen. The model of a specialised military force with scientific assistance would form the basis of the future UNIT.

The second incursion, as seen in the 1968 Second Doctor serial The Web of Fear, was an attempt to take over London by a disembodied entity known as the Great Intelligence, using robotic Yetis and a deadly cobweb-like fungus. Another small group of British infantrymen, led this time by Colonel Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart of the Scots Guards (assisted by the Doctor) beat back the attempted conquest in the tunnels of the London Underground.

Following the Yeti Incident, the United Nations became aware that the world faced threats from extraterrestrial sources, and that with the space program sending probes deeper and deeper into space, mankind had drawn attention to itself. Consequently, the United Nations established UNIT with the mandate to investigate, monitor and combat such threats. Lethbridge-Stewart was promoted to the rank of Brigadier and put in charge of the British contingent, organisationally known as Department C19 within the British government. Department C19 is first introduced in the serial Time-Flight, at whose behest the Fifth Doctor investigates the mystery of a dissapeared Concorde aeroplane. Several of the spin-off novels explore the idea that C19 gathers up alien technology for their own ends.

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The 1970s-1980s era UNIT insignia.

The newly formed UNIT's baptism of fire was an invasion by the Cybermen, in the 1968 serial, The Invasion. UNIT repulsed this, once again with the Second Doctor's help. Following this, Lethbridge-Stewart became convinced of the necessity of scientific advice in battling extraterrestrial threats, and recruited Dr Elizabeth Shaw from Cambridge. Coincidentally, the Third Doctor had been exiled to Earth by the Time Lords, and he agreed to join UNIT as its Scientific Advisor just in time to help defeat the Autons (Spearhead from Space).

UNIT first operated out of an office building in London and subsequently moved to a headquarters in the country that had been built over the ruins of a priory (Pyramids of Mars). Its main headquarters, mentioned but never seen in the television series, is with the United Nations in Geneva.

UNIT was referenced was the 2005 series episodes Aliens of London and World War Three, where it sent a delegation to a gathering of experts at 10 Downing Street in response to an spaceship crashing in the River Thames. All of the experts were electrocuted by the alien Slitheen. None of the members of UNIT seen were from the original series, although one of them may have been the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip character Muriel Frost.


UNIT's status is supported by enabling legislation that allows it to assume emergency powers when necessary. Although it operates under the authority of the United Nations, its members are seconded from the host country's military and are still obligated to obey that chain of command. Lethbridge-Stewart, for example, reported to the Ministry of Defence and the Prime Minister. However, where such orders conflict, appeals can be made to Geneva. Due to the international nature of the organisation, it is sometimes viewed with suspicion by local military and national security agencies, who feel that it might impinge on their sovereignty. UNIT's existence is known to the public, but mainly as a security organisation; its actual agenda is classified, some believing it to be some kind of covert counter-terrorist unit.

Its personnel have a wide range of weaponry to call on, some custom-made to combat specific threats. Among these are armour-piercing munitions for use against robots and Daleks, explosive rounds for Yetis, silver-tipped rounds for werewolves and vampires, and gold-tipped rounds for use against the Cybermen.

Prominent members of the British contingent of UNIT included Liz Shaw, Sergeant Benton, Captain Mike Yates, Jo Grant and later, Harry Sullivan. Civilians who have worked with UNIT include the journalist Sarah Jane Smith. When the Doctor's exile was lifted, his association with UNIT became more sporadic, especially after his regeneration into his fourth incarnation. However, the organisation continued to execute its mandate to investigate and combat alien activity. Eventually, Lethbridge-Stewart retired in 1976 (Mawdryn Undead), and was succeeded by Colonel Crichton (The Five Doctors). The last appearance of UNIT in the original television series was the 1989 Seventh Doctor serial, Battlefield, where the British contingent was commanded by Brigadier Winifred Bambera, and Lethbridge-Stewart was called out of retirement to help defeat an other-dimensional invasion of armoured knights led by Morgaine.

Other appearances

UNIT has also featured in many Doctor Who spin-offs. Both Virgin Publishing's Missing Adventures and BBC Books' Past Doctor Adventures have set stories in the UNIT era, with the French division of UNIT being NUIT (Nation Unies Intelligence Taskforce) and the Russian division named OGRON (Operativnaya Gruppa Rasvedkoy Obyedinyonnih Natsiy). The novel Just War by Lance Parkin mentions LONGBOW, a world security organisation set up by the League of Nations that encountered the occasional extraterrestrial incident but was disbanded after it and the League failed to prevent World War II.

The New Adventures and Eighth Doctor Adventures traced UNIT's history into the future, where it becomes, by the 30th Century, a secret society called the Unitatus, pledged to defend the Earth against alien threats. The novels also featured a futuristic, more ruthless version of UNIT called UNISYC (United Nations Intelligence Security Yard Corps), and a rival division within the Central Intelligence Agency headed by a man known only as Control.

The Doctor Who Magazine comic strip also frequently featured UNIT, and in the 1980s introduced a new UNIT officer, Muriel Frost. One story, Final Genesis, was set in a parallel universe in which humanity has made peace with the Silurians, and UNIT has become the United Races Intelligence Command.

BBV have made a trilogy of UNIT videos featuring the Autons, although they feature none of the original members. An alternate version of UNIT and the Brigadier (played once again by Courtney) appeared in the Doctor Who Unbound audio play, Sympathy For The Devil, produced by Big Finish Productions.

In December 2004 Big Finish released Time Heals, the first of a new series of UNIT audio plays, featuring a retired General Sir Lethbridge-Stewart as an advisor to a new generation of officers. A preview episode, The Coup, had Lethbridge-Stewart finally breaking decades of secrecy by informing a press conference of UNIT's true purpose as humanity's first line of defence against the unknown. The series also introduced another rival division, this time within the British government, the Internal Counter-Intelligence Service, or ICIS.

For the new series, BBC created a faux website for UNIT at www.unit.org.uk, complete with "easter eggs" that can be accessed by the reader with the passwords "bison" and "buffalo" (the latter mentioned on screen in World War Three). "Bison" (now changed to "badwolf") uncovers a section which provides UNIT point-of-view reports about various events in the 2005 series, although its canonical status is debatable.

UNIT dating

Main article: UNIT dating controversy

The exact years in which UNIT operates are never made precisely clear and there has been much confusion and continuing fan debate on this subject. Although there is strong evidence that at least some of the production team intended for the UNIT stories to take place in the "near future", this policy was not consistently applied. Whether the stories take place contemporaneously with the broadcast dates or a few years in the future is therefore highly debatable.

External links

  • UNIT website (http://www.unit.org.uk/)
  • The U.N.I.T. Files (http://www.whoniverse.org/unit/index.php) - a fan-written site about UNIT from an outsider's point of view, incoporating information from various spin-off media.

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