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By the fourth series of the rebooted Doctor Who, Earth has faced numerous crises and is beginning to come to terms with the fact that humans are not, in fact, alone in the universe (generally the presence of aliens tends to be especially conspicuous right around Christmas). In response, the Unified Intelligence Taskforce (UNIT), established by the United Nations as the planet’s main line of defense against extraterrestrials, and commanded by a British brigadier is on high alert, keeping a constant vigil against invaders from the sky. The overall command and organizational structure of UNIT is…opaque at best, but is at the least multinational, with the UK contributing a sizable contingent.

What struck me as interesting, however, was a scene in the fifth episode of the fourth series, “The Poison Sky.” The second of a two-part episode, “The Poison Sky” deals with the menacing Sontarans, a warrior species bent first on converting the entirety of Earth into one giant clone breeding habitat, and when that plan is foiled, killing every living being on the planet. Part of the UNIT response is a nuclear strike on the orbiting Sontaran mothership, coordinating the worldwide nuclear grid – which is already at the NATO Defence System’s “DEFCON 1 initiatives” – to simultaneously launch the world’s ICBMs. The countdown can be seen here around 1:11:

Of note, though, is the sequence of activation:

North America: online.
United Kingdom: online.
France: online.
India: online.
Pakistan: online.
China: online.
North Korea: online.

Some very, very peculiar facts about this global nuclear defense grid. For starters, one glaring, glaring omission: where’s Russia in all of this? One’s first thought might be related to the fact that in some unspecified way this nuclear grid is under both NATO and UNIT auspices (a “NATO Defence System” can be seen onscreen). Perhaps a super-recalcitrant Russia might have never been persuaded to join a now massively-expanded NATO, but the presence of Pakistan and India together in some sort of common alliance strains credulity to the point where it should probably be assumed that this is more of a loosely-bound grid than a mutual defensive alliance (i.e., closer to the UN General Assembly than to the UN Security Council). Either way, Indo-Pakistani relations have apparently improved to the point where they can cooperate on matters of nuclear weaponry and targeting, at least against an existential threat.

But how does this explain Russia? The Soviet Union cooperated with both the UK and UNIT throughout the Cold War, and in 1979, specifically placed its entire nuclear arsenal at the disposal of UNIT command. The only hint of a fate for Russia different from that of our world is in the “Year that Never Was,” when virtually the whole of Russia is turned into massive shipyards to create missiles – but this alternate timeline was erased. It is also unlikely that Russia would have rid itself of the ICBM leg of its own triad without reciprocation from the United States (while the inverse is possible, this would not account for the lack of Russian participation). So, for whatever reason, Russia does not participate in the aborted nuclear strike on the Sontarans.

Another omission, though far less blatant, is that of Israel. Israel does have an ICBM capability, but whether this is enough to reach a ship in a high-Earth orbit is another story (as is, for that matter, the abilities to do this possessed by the countries that do appear on the map). Presumably, the use of a nuclear weapon, in whatever context, would violate Israel’s self-imposed policy of nuclear opacity and confirm to the world officially that Israel possessed nuclear weapons. Some things, it would seem, never change.

However, some things certainly do change: like North Korea contributing to world security and stability in any way whatsoever, in developing an long-enough-range ICBM to hit an orbiting target, and in the international community not only tolerating this but in welcoming them with open arms. I mean, we all know that nuclear weapons contribute to world peace, but North Korea doing so? Through use of their nuclear weapons? It defies all logic. Perhaps in the world of Doctor Who, the Kim family has decided to faithfully pursue measures towards Korean reunification under the Sunshine Policy or something similar. But still, for a North Korea still separate from the South to participate in a global nuclear strike…the one positive attribute of North Korea as a world citizen on display here puts everything Parag Khanna wrote to shame.

The other countries involved in the strike make more sense. But check out the nuclear sites, especially those in the US:

The “Worldwide Nuclear Grid,” as seen on Doctor Who

There’s a site or two in the West, but also it would appear as if we’ve stationed some nuclear weapons just outside Chicago, in upstate New York, in Texas (or is that Mexico?), and that we’ve allowed Alabama to possess the most destructive weaponry in human history. Also, it seems Canada has gone nuclear, with weapons stationed somewhere around Saskatchewan (granted, probably a decent location for them in Canada). Perhaps our update force dispersal patterns are in response to a specific or general extraterrestrial threat.

All of this is rendered rather irrelevant by the fact that UNIT never even manages to launch the nuclear weapons, as an inside threat continuously cancels the launch whenever the system re-cycles. Which points to further flaws in UNIT’s nuclear command-and-control infrastructure, but we can leave those aside for now.

In case of future alien enemies above, it’s good to know who’s really on the side of defending the Earth. With weapons measured in kilotons.


The Star Wars “Expanded Universe” (EU) – that is, the incredible wealth of fiction, stories, and other new material set in the Star Wars universe but outside of the events of the three real six films – generally gets a bad rap. And it’s not wholly undeserved. The various young adult series, The Crystal Star, everything Kevin J. Anderson has ever written – I get it. But there are some true gems in the EU, the pinnacle of which is Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire trilogy.

Zahn created a number of characters that would go on to become long-running franchise favorites in their own right, like Mara Jade, who many books later marries Luke Skywalker. One of his most iconic creations was an embodiment of the most dangerous (and least cartoonishly evil) aspects of the Empire, a man who posed possibly the greatest threat to the fledgling New Republic in the wake of the Rebel Alliance’s victory at Endor: Grand Admiral Mitth’raw’nuruodo, or more commonly known as Thrawn.

Grand Admiral Thrawn

Here it should be emphatically stated that what follow are pretty major spoilers, if you have not yet read the series. So continue, but be warned…