‘Unnatural Selection’ (P.R.O.B.E.) (Film)

‘UNNATURAL SELECTION’ (P.R.O.B.E.)

Please feel free to comment on my review.

Project BEAGLE with Liz Shaw

This ‘P.R.O.B.E.’ episode should be 15-rated, not 12-rated according to the DVD!

‘Unnatural Selection’ is the third episode of the ‘P.R.O.B.E.’ series by BBV productions, starring Caroline John as Liz Shaw. My best school mate Stephen gave this to me as a birthday present in May 2021. I looked forward to checking out this ‘P.R.O.B.E.’ episode and what case Liz would solve. 🙂

The problem I find with the ‘P.R.O.B.E.’ series as well as ‘The Stranger’ series by BBV is that they’re short-lived in terms of the amount of episodes produced. ‘The Stranger’ series has six video productions under its belt and ‘P.R.O.B.E.’ has five video productions (baring the webcasts later on).

This isn’t uncommon as BBV is a smaller production company and it must have taken time to produce a new video drama every year in the 1990s. ‘The Zero Imperative’ was produced in 1994, ‘The Devil of Winterborne’ was produced in 1995, and ‘Unnatural Selection’ was produced in 1996. 🙂

The reason why I bring this up is because we’re not given enough time to know the regular characters. Sometimes the supposed regular characters keep changing. As far as I’m concerned, Caroline John’s Liz Shaw and Louise Jameson’s Patsy Haggard have been ‘P.R.O.B.E.’ mainstays so far.

In ‘The Zero Imperative’, we had Linda Lusardi’s Lou Bayliss and she lasted for one ‘P.R.O.B.E.’ episode. In ‘The Devil of Winterborne’, we had Terry Molloy’s D.I. Burke and he lasted for one ‘P.R.O.B.E.’ episode. Now we have a newcomer in Alexander Kirk as Colonel Ackroyd for ‘P.R.O.B.E.’.

If the ‘P.R.O.B.E.’ series had multiple seasons and a variety of writers to provide more depth to the characters, Liz Shaw’s spin-off series might be longer. I’m surprised BBV audios of ‘P.R.O.B.E.’ weren’t made. It would have been superb to explore the ins-and-outs between each of the episodes.

Anyway, let’s talk about ‘Unnatural Selection’ itself. The story is by Mark Gatiss who previously penned ‘The Zero Imperative’ and ‘The Devil of Winterborne’. He plays a different character in this episode too. Beforehand, he had played characters like Dr. William Bruffin and Georgie the gardener.

Here he plays Alfred/Emerson who, unlike the previous two previous ‘P.R.O.B.E.’ characters he played, turns out to be a villain in this episode. Mark Gatiss is allowing his Master-like qualities come into his performance as Emerson. The revelation of what Emerson happens to be is very shocking. 😮

‘Unnatural Selection’ is also directed by Bill Baggs, who directs most BBV productions whether video or audio. 😀 In the story, Liz Shaw investigates a case that involves the British government. It quietly closed down a secret evolutionary project dating back to 1975 and was given the codename BEAGLE.

All research materials were ordered to be destroyed. However, the discovery of several horrifically mutated bodies alerts Liz Shaw and P.R.O.B.E. to the fact that something is stalking the original site of project BEAGLE. It’s something that could challenge the very nature of humanity itself in the story.

I found a number of scenes featured in this episode pretty gruesome. This included a dead girl’s eyes having pus coming out through her eyelids; a naked man attacking someone and gouging his heart out; and a zombie-like mutation of Mark Gattis’ character attacking our heroes at the episode’s end.

‘P.R.O.B.E.’ is clearly a series aimed at more older and mature ‘Doctor Who’ fans rather than the younger ones. Hence why I feel some of the ‘P.R.O.B.E.’ episodes should have been rated 15 instead of 12. How come BBV didn’t consider that when it came to providing the age rating for their DVDs?

Surely some of these ‘P.R.O.B.E.’ episodes were rated 15 one time on the VHSs. Anyway, Caroline John as Liz Shaw is very good in the episode. She does get the centre of attention and we see how she manages to cope under pressure when a case appears difficult and her team is getting nowhere.

It helps that there are less recognisable ‘Doctor Who’ actors in the production to distract the attention away from Liz Shaw’s centre stage. Mind you, that was more prevalent in ‘The Zero Imperative’ as opposed to ‘The Devil of Winterborne’ and ‘Unnatural Selection’ featuring Liz Shaw. 🙂

Louise Jameson returns to play Patsy Haggard in the episode. Patsy doesn’t share many scenes with Liz in this episode as opposed to ‘The Devil of Winterborne’, but she continues to be supportive of Liz and P.R.O.B.E’s activities, especially when they are trying to solve the case going on with BEAGLE.

Most of Patsy’s scenes are with Geoffrey Beevers’ Rutherford, whom she’s often at loggerheads with when trying to convince him that Liz and P.R.O.B.E. are on the right track to finding evidence about the killings connected to BEAGLE. Patsy also tells Liz off for getting into huge danger by the story’s end.

Geoffrey Beevers returns to play Brian Rutherford, the minister within the Ministry of Defence overseeing P.R.O.B.E.’s activities. In ‘The Devil of Winterborne’, Rutherford was finding reasons to close P.R.O.B.E. down. Here, Rutherford seems to be hiding something regarding the BEAGLE case. 😐

It turns out Rutherford had connections to the BEAGLE project in 1975 and he tries to support Julius Quilter, who was behind the BEAGLE project, by hushing things up and not let Liz and Patsy have too much access. Rutherford is soon a victim of Emerson’s villainy before he’s saved by Liz and Ackkroyd.

I suppose the biggest guest star of ‘Unnatural Selection’ is Charles Kay as Julius Quilter. Charles Kay played the Curator in the ‘Doctor Who’ audio story called ‘Excelis Rising’. He also joined the Royal Shakespeare Company. His highest profile role was as Count Orsini Rosenberg in the film ‘Amadeus’.

Julius Quilter is a science professor and the head of the BEAGLE project. He seems surprised when Liz Shaw tells him that killings related to the BEAGLE project have resurfaced. It gets disturbing when during an interrogation; Quilter dies in the process before he’s revived in a horrid manner by Emerson.

Going back to Mark Gatiss’ Emerson character, he’s revealed to be one of the three artificial life-forms created by Quilter during the BEAGLE project. Mark Gatiss’ Emerson was called Alfred and the other two artificial life-forms were Russel and Wallace. There’s this disturbing evolution theme going on.

The zombie-like monster that Emerson becomes at the end of the episode is played by Ben Hicklin. This is a rare occasion in the ‘P.R.O.B.E.’ series where we have an actual monster make an appearance. The zombie-like monster is pretty gruesome indeed and bound to give you nightmares.

Patricia Merrick returns to play Dr. Julie Gilchrist in the episode, having previously appeared in ‘The Zero Imperative’. I assume Dr. Gilchrist moved from the clinic in Hawthorne after it eventually closed down. She now works at a different hospital and attends to a patient called Angela who was attacked.

She assists Liz Shaw and Colonel Ackroyd as they investigate the BEAGLE killings. Compared to ‘The Zero Imperative’, Dr. Gilchrist seems underused as a character. Surely Liz could have utilised Gilchrist’s talents more as a physician or at least have Gilchrist be more involved in the tale’s action.

The cast also includes Stephen Bradshaw, Keith Brooks, Mark Moore and Gabriel Mykaj as soldiers. There’s George Murphy as a security guard. There’s Zoe Randall as Clare, Kathryn Rayner as Angela, Simon Wolfe as Dr. Dennis Lancaster and Jonathan Rigby as Cummings another P.R.O.B.E. mainstay.

I’m not sure I fully understand what’s going on in ‘Unnatural Selection’. There are so many complexities to the plot that it’s a challenge to take everything in. If the episode was the same length as ‘The Devil of Winterborne’ in being 80 minutes instead of 47, perhaps things would be a lot clearer.

The episode concludes with Patsy telling Liz and Ackroyd that Rutherford has stepped down in his role of minister overseeing P.R.O.B.E. The final shot is of a Penguin Classics edition of the book ‘Voyage of the Beagle’ by Charles Darwin. I would have preferred a Charles Dickens book than a Darwin book.

The DVD special features include ‘Stranger Than Fiction III – Part One’, which contains behind-the-scenes cast and crew interviews focusing on the making of many BBV productions like ‘The Stranger’ series and the ‘P.R.O.B.E.’ series. Apparently there were new scenes especially shot for ‘Unnatural Selection’ on the DVD.

I didn’t quite enjoy ‘Unnatural Selection’ as I enjoyed ‘The Zero Imperative’ and ‘The Devil of Winterborne’. It’s more gruesome in places and there doesn’t seem to be enough ‘Doctor Who’ey elements to enjoy. But the performances of the cast are great, including Caroline John as Liz Shaw. 🙂

I’m intrigued about what the next ‘P.R.O.B.E.’ episode will be like. Apparently it’s the last one to feature Caroline John as Liz Shaw and it’s a sequel to ‘The Devil of Winterborne’. Hopefully it’ll be more enjoyable than ‘Unnatural Selection’. By the way, Liz gets to use a gun in ‘Unnatural Selection’!

Thanks Stephen for getting ‘Unnatural Selection’ for my birthday in 2021! 😀

‘Unnatural Selection’ (P.R.O.B.E.) rating – 7/10


The previous story

For Liz was

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For Liz is

  • ‘Ghosts of Winterborne’ (P.R.O.B.E.) (Film)
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