|Type||Intelligence agency, military organisation|
|Key people||Brigadier Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart
Captain Mike Yates
Corporal / Sergeant / WO1 John Benton
Dr. Elizabeth Shaw
Sarah Jane Smith
Lieutenant Harry Sullivan
Brigadier Winifred Bambera
Dr. Martha Jones
Colonel A. Mace
Captain Erisa Magambo
|Purpose||Defending Earth from extraterrestrial and paranormal threats|
|Technologies||Unreliable access to Gallifreyan technology, advanced translation software|
|Powers||Military authority in UN member countries|
UNIT, or UNified Intelligence Taskforce (formerly United Nations Intelligence Taskforce) is a fictional military organisation from the British science fiction television series Doctor Who, Torchwood, and The Sarah Jane Adventures. Operating under the auspices of the UN, its purpose is to investigate and combat paranormal and extraterrestrial threats to the Earth. In the original Doctor Who series, several UNIT personnel (such as the Brigadier) played a major role in the programme.
Following the broadcast of the 2005 series, executive producer Russell T Davies claimed that the UN were no longer happy to be associated with the fictional organisation, and the UN's full name could now no longer be used. However, the "UNIT" and "UN" abbreviations could be used, as long as it was not explained what the letters stood for. In 2008, he announced that the organisation's name had been changed to the "UNified Intelligence Taskforce". This new name was first mentioned on-screen in "The Sontaran Stratagem", also in 2008, in which it was indicated in a line of dialogue that the United Nations still supports UNIT with funding.
- 1 Fictional history
- 2 Organisation
- 3 Other appearances
- 4 UNIT dating
- 5 Critical reception
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 External links
The roots of UNIT in the Doctor Who universe lie in extraterrestrial incursions featured in the Second Doctor serial The Web of Fear (1968) and the Seventh Doctor serial Remembrance of the Daleks (1988).
Following these incidents, the newly formed UNIT's baptism of fire is an invasion by the Cybermen, in The Invasion (1968). The contribution of scientific advice in battling extraterrestrial threats is recognised and both Dr Elizabeth Shaw and the exiled Third Doctor joins UNIT just in time to help defeat the Autons in Spearhead from Space (1970).
UNIT continued to feature in Doctor Who after Spearhead, but when the Third Doctor's exile is lifted in The Three Doctors (1972–73), his association with UNIT becomes more sporadic, especially after his regeneration into his fourth incarnation at the end of Planet of the Spiders (1974). The last appearance of UNIT in the series for many years was in The Seeds of Doom (1976); however, the organisation continues to execute its mandate to investigate and combat alien activity. The final appearance of UNIT during the original run of Doctor Who was the Seventh Doctor serial, Battlefield (1989).
UNIT is mentioned by both its acronym and full name in 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. UNIT appeared again the same year in "The Christmas Invasion". In addition to Doctor Who, UNIT has also featured in the spin-off series Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures.
From "The Power of Three" (2012), the first on screen appearance of UNIT in any Whoniverse media since the two-part Doctor Who special The End of Time in 2009–2010, UNIT has been shown to have been reorganised by Kate Stewart, the Brigadier's daughter.
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 bound to obey that chain of command. Ranks, within the UK section of UNIT at least, thus mirror those in the British Army — Lethbridge-Stewart is a Brigadier, Yates is a Captain, a Major appears in "The Christmas Invasion" (2005), and a Colonel and Captain appear in "The Sontaran Stratagem"/"The Poison Sky" (2008). UNIT personnel are seconded from the Royal Navy, British Army and Royal Air Force, and are still bound by the UK chain of command, and the commander reports to the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Defence through Department C-19. However, if the commander feels it appropriate and necessary, the commander can request that Geneva overrule the national government. Lethbridge-Stewart, for example, reports to the Ministry of Defence and the Prime Minister, and Major Blake reports to the Prime Minister in "The Christmas Invasion". UNIT is able to call on the conventional military branches for support, such as the RAF for precision air-strikes. 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 with scientific expertise; its actual agenda is classified, some believing it to be some kind of covert counter-terrorist unit. Although the Brigadier originally states that UNIT do not arrest people, as of the 21st century, UNIT has the authority to detain persons indefinitely without trial, appeal, outside contact or legal representation, as experienced by Toshiko Sato before she was recruited to work for the British government by the Torchwood Institute in a flashback in the Torchwood episode "Fragments" (2008). The organisation was rearranged by Kate Stewart, the daughter of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. In "The Power of Three" (2012), Kate heads UNIT's scientific research department, which now has authority over the military branch.
In the 1970s-produced serials,[vague][which?] the British troops of UNIT are armed with standard British Army weapons such as the L1A1 Self Loading Rifle, Sterling submachine gun, Browning Hi-Power pistol and wear 58 pattern webbing. They are also shown utilising heavy weaponry such as bazookas, machine guns, mortars, and in Terror of the Zygons (1975), a depth-charge launcher. For Battlefield (1989), they have the Steyr AUG assault rifle while the Brigadier uses a Webley Revolver. In the 2000s, they use Heckler & Koch G36C carbine, the M4 Carbine (with different scopes used such as ACOG and holographic weapon sights, as well as equipping CQB receivers for indoor use), SIG P226 pistols, and for heavy duty, use Stinger missile launchers. They wear PLCE pouches on police tac-vests, and also wear riot-protection arm pads and gloves, and have side-handle batons and quick-cuffs for arrests.[additional citation needed] In "The Power of Three", they are further equipped with PASGT helmets, goggles, and riot armour for their shins.
UNIT's personnel have a wide range of weaponry to call on, some custom-made to combat specific threats. Among these are special ammunition described by the Brigadier in Battlefield as armour-piercing rounds with a solid-core and Teflon coating which "could go through a Dalek". Other munitions include explosive rounds for Yetis, other armour-piercing rounds for robots, and gold-tipped rounds for use against the Cybermen (as well as silver-bullets as suggested by the Doctor), and rad-steel coated bullets to neutralise Sontaran anti-bullet fields that target copper.
In The Invasion (1968), UNIT has a command centre established in the cargo hold of a Lockheed Hercules military transport aircraft. The Dæmons (1971) features the UNIT Mobile HQ, a large bus-like vehicle that could be driven to the site of an incident. A mobile command centre is also shown in "The Sontaran Stratagem" and "The Poison Sky", where it is depicted as a black articulated lorry with UNIT insignia.
UNIT employ unarmed helicopters for transport and light air support. They are also shown using a tank in Robot (1974–75). In "Planet of the Dead" (2009), they use trucks with SAM launchers.
In "The Christmas Invasion", UNIT is shown to have translation software which can decipher alien languages with great accuracy. The software, or at least the results from the translation, can be loaded on a hand-held device.
In "The Poison Sky", UNIT is shown to be able to command and co-ordinate the world's combined nuclear arsenal for strategic strikes on orbiting alien craft.
In "The Sound of Drums" (2007), the flying aircraft carrier the Valiant is introduced. The Valiant is also shown (in "The Poison Sky") to be equipped with a scaled down version of the Torchwood Institute weapon that destroyed the Sycorax ship in "The Christmas Invasion".
In "The Power of Three", UNIT is shown to have a scientific research department with a large laboratory in the base beneath the Tower of London. During the story, the laboratory is dedicated to studying cubes that appeared out of nowhere. Kate Stewart, daughter of the Brigadier and head of the scientific research department, has a handheld device that can scan a body (picking up the Eleventh Doctor's twin hearts), and also serves as a communication device. The computers at UNIT HQ can detect anomalies such as artron energy spikes, and can also access CCTV on the streets. There is also mention of them using helicopters and tanks while testing the destructibility of the cubes.
"The Day of the Doctor" (2013) shows that the Tower of London base contains the Black Archive housing various alien technological devices that UNIT has salvaged over the years and kept hidden away. Protected by various alien defences that erase the memories of visitors to ensure that they cannot reveal what is inside the Archive, the Archive is also 'TARDIS-proof', and has been used by UNIT as a means of assessing the Doctor's companions to confirm whether they can be trusted. UNIT is also shown to at least have access to the Under-Gallery, a secret gallery containing works of art dating back to the Elizabethan era that Elizabeth I ordered locked away as they were too dangerous for the public.
Across the eras, UNIT have been identified with different styles of uniform.
For The Invasion, Privates and Corporals wore No.7 dress, while ranks of Sergeant and above wore uniforms based on No.4 dress, but lacking buttons and with the jacket — which appears to be fastened by velcro — tucked into the trousers. All UNIT members wore oval patches with 'U.N.I.T' embroidered on them on their left sleeves and NCOs wore their badges of rank on their right sleeves. Sand/Beige coloured berets, similar to those worn by the Special Air Service with the black UNIT logo on a round white background as a cap badge were worn by all ranks. There was also the assault team, who wore 1960 pattern fatigues and dark berets with the same UNIT insignia. For UNIT's next appearance, Spearhead from Space (1970), the No.4s became uniform for all ranks, except for two radar operators seen in the opening who wear No.7s; the female officer wearing a tie with a UNIT logo printed on. The No.4 style of uniform stayed throughout Doctor Who and the Silurians (1970).
Christine Rawlins had a new futuristic-looking design produced for The Ambassadors of Death (1970), which features only in this story. All ranks are given khaki-coloured zip-up jackets without lapels, which are worn over tan rolled-neck sweaters. The Brigadier retained his No.4 uniform.
For Inferno (1970), these changed to Denison smock camouflage uniforms. From Terror of the Autons, producer Barry Letts decided to have UNIT wearing 1960 pattern fatigues, while the Brigadier, Sergeant Benton and Captain Yates also wear appropriate contemporary uniform, such as service dress and barrack dress. The UNIT patches and tan berets remain standard, except for the Brigadier and Yates who would also wear caps with their rank insignia.
The fatigues were changed for Terror of the Zygons, as director Douglas Camfield reckoned the fatigues "looked too soft". For this serial, they wear DPM camouflage jackets and tactical black cap badges. The Android Invasion (1975) sees them wearing barrack dress, which they also wear for their brief appearance in The Seeds of Doom (1976).
UNIT then had a lengthy absence from the screen. They made a small cameo appearance in The Five Doctors (1983), which sees Colonel Crichton wearing service dress and a Sergeant in barrack dress, both with the oval patches on their uniform. Captain Yates returns in the serial also wearing service dress but with no markings.
For their full return in Battlefield, their look was completely updated. Their appearance in this serial is close to the real-world United Nations Peacekeeping troop outfits. UNIT are represented by a nuclear missile convoy wearing UN issued blue berets and DPM camouflage. They have a new UNIT insignia patch of a winged globe, which is worn the upper sleeves and beret. There is also a Czech engineer team wearing Czech camouflage with the same UN issued blue beret as the convoy. The Brigadier returns, wearing at different times service dress, barrack dress, and DPM while wearing a cap rather than beret.
After the series was cancelled and recommissioned, UNIT first had a minor appearance in the episode "Aliens of London" (2005). In this episode, UNIT were represented by four high-ranking US military officers, wearing Army Service Uniform with real UN peacekeeper patches on the sleeves, and Navy Service Uniform. Only the female officers wore headwear, the Army officer a garrison cap, the Navy officer a white female variation combination cap.
UNIT's first major appearance in the new series was in "The Christmas Invasion" in 2005. Here, a new insignia has been designed based on the Battlefield version. The troopers wear black uniforms consisting of police clothing/SAS Counter Revolutionary Warfare (CRW) Wing overalls and a red Royal Military Police beret, and equipment. Insignia is a small silver-metal UNIT parawings on a red beret and a large UNIT Parawing patch worn over the left breast pocket on the utility vest or fatigues. Commanding officers wear No. 2 service dress with UNIT insignia. Variations include Captain Magambo from "Turn Left" (2008) wearing a black version of service dress with a red beret, and Colonel Karim in The Sarah Jane Adventures story Death of the Doctor wearing black civilian clothes with UNIT insignia and rank epaulettes. This UNIT also includes a uniform for scientists: a lab-coat with the UNIT insignia on the chest.
UNIT returns in the series 7 episode "The Power of Three". Their uniforms in this series are an alteration of the uniforms seen since 2005. They no longer wear ID cards on the right breast pocket, and appear to lack the logos on the arms. They wear PASGT helmets with black covering and black goggles in place of berets. They also wear riot armour for their forearms and shins, and plain black brassards on the left arm. The scientific research department that now serves as the head of UNIT consists of plainclothes civilians.
Prominent members of UNIT
Prominent members of the British contingent of UNIT include Dr. Elizabeth Shaw, Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, Sergeant Benton, Captain Yates, UNIT operative Jo Grant and later, Surgeon-Lieutenant Harry Sullivan, RN. After leaving the Doctor, Martha Jones joins UNIT. Civilians who have worked with UNIT include the journalist Sarah Jane Smith. In The Claws of Axos (1971), an American agent named Bill Filer was sent from Washington to assist in the hunt for the Master. Kate Stewart, the Brigadier's daughter, becomes Head of Scientific Research, and appears in multiple episodes beginning with "The Power of Three" in 2012.
Republican Security Forces
The 1970 serial Inferno sees the Third Doctor visit a parallel universe. In this reality, Great Britain is a fascist republic; the Royal Family having been executed for undisclosed reasons at some point. The parallel version of the British contingent of UNIT is an SS-like state paramilitary organisation known as the Republican Security Forces (RSF), manning their version of the drilling project as a "scientific labour camp". They are armed with a mixture of Soviet and German weapons, such as the SKS rifle and the Walther P38 pistol. Their rank system uses titles based loosely on that of the British Union of Fascists: Sergeant Benton is Platoon Under Leader Benton, Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart is Brigade Leader Lethbridge Stewart, and Elizabeth Shaw, a soldier rather than a scientist in their dimension, has the rank of Section Leader (which appears to be an officer rank). Their uniforms consist of contemporary US Army olive green military fatigues for Other Ranks, tan uniforms with black rank slides on the shoulders (based on the brown shirts) for officers, and black garrison caps with white piping and an RSF cap-badge as head-dress for both. The organisation has full authority to interrogate, court-martial, and formally execute prisoners as they see fit under the "Defence of the Republic Act, 1943". By the end of the story, most of the members of the RSF are killed when a volcanic cataclysm engulfed Great Britain and left much of their world devastated.
UNIT has also been featured in many Doctor Who spin-offs. Different spin-offs have made varying attempts to be consistent with other stories.
In 1984, a stage comedy titled Recall UNIT: The Great T-Bag Mystery was produced, written by Richard Franklin (Captain Yates) who reprised his character in the play. The cast also included John Levene as Benton, and the play was performed between 20 August and 24 August as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Due to other commitments, Nicholas Courtney was unable to appear as the Brigadier, but pre-recorded a telephone message from Lethbridge-Stewart which was written into the plot.
The novelisation of Remembrance of the Daleks (1990) by Ben Aaronovitch mentions that the troops that Gilmore commands were from the "Intrusion Counter-Measures Group". UNIT Exposed, the 1991 Doctor Who Magazine Winter Special, suggests that the ICMG is a forerunner of UNIT.
Both Virgin Publishing's Missing Adventures[vague][which?] and BBC Books' Past Doctor Adventures[vague][which?] have set stories in the UNIT era and have revealed new information about UNIT's past, present and future.
No Future (1994) by Paul Cornell featured an intelligence section of UNIT in an alternate 1970s called Broadsword. Broadsword agents wore plain clothes and were "hand-picked to offer us lateral and non-military solutions, backed up by SAS training and sheer common sense".
The 1996 New Adventures 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 standalone 1996 Virgin novel Who Killed Kennedy by David Bishop, which provides a fictional history of UNIT from an investigative journalist's perspective, reveals Lethbridge-Stewart's role in proposing the formation of UNIT after the Yeti incident.
The Devil Goblins from Neptune (1997) by Keith Topping and Martin Day introduced a division within the Central Intelligence Agency headed by a man known only as Control, which has featured as a rival to UNIT in several subsequent novels.[vague][which?] Alien Bodies (1997) by Lawrence Miles introduced a more ruthless UN division called UNISYC (United Nations Intelligence Security Yard Corps), which by the 2040s has replaced UNIT.
The Face of the Enemy (1998) by David A. McIntee has the British branch of UNIT facing a menace without the Third Doctor to help them, as he and Jo Grant are elsewhere (and elsewhen) experiencing the television serial The Curse of Peladon.
The 2003 Eighth Doctor Adventure Emotional Chemistry by Simon A. Forward names the Russian division of UNIT ОГРОН (OGRON) (Оперативная Группа Разведки Объединённых Наций, or, Operativnaya Gruppa Razvedki Obyedinyonnih Natsiy, which roughly translates as "United Nations Reconnaissance Operations Group").
The Eighth Doctor comic strip The Flood (DWM #346–353) establishes that the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) views UNIT with some degree of contempt in the early 21st century, and deliberately does not inform them when it detects a Cyberman incursion due to this and other unspecified problems with the United Kingdom's relationship with the United Nations.
The Tenth Doctor comic strip The Age of Ice (DWM #408–411) is set in UNIT's Australian base beneath Sydney Harbour. The Eleventh Doctor strip The Golden Ones (DWM #425–428) introduces UNIT Japan.
UNIT has also appeared in cameo roles in unrelated comics. In at least one issue of Uncanny X-Men, where a character identified as Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart was seen briefly from behind, addressing a Sergeant-Major Benton; 2000 AD's Caballistics, Inc. strip has Lethbridge-Stewart (referred to solely by rank) appearing in several adventures as a military liaison and referring to The Web of Fear; and Hip Flask has a 22nd Century UNIT tied into the origins of the Elephantmen. Marvel Comics also has two major characters called Dr Alistaire Stuart (who has claimed to know "a chap from Gallifrey") and Brigadier Alysande Stuart, Scientific Advisor and commander respectively of Britain's Weird Happenings Organisation (W.H.O.) taskforce. W.H.O. has since been disbanded and Alysande killed, but Alistaire Stuart is still a recurring character in Marvel's United Kingdom.
An alternate universe version of UNIT and the Brigadier appear in the Doctor Who Unbound audio play Sympathy for the Devil (2003), produced by Big Finish Productions. In this story, UNIT is commanded by the abrasive Colonel Brimmicombe-Wood. The story concerns a UNIT that never had the Third Doctor working for it, with many different outcomes; Terror of the Autons resulted in "the Plastic Purges", Mike Yates died on a time-travel mission to destroy the Silurians, and so on.
In December 2004, Big Finish released UNIT: Time Heals, the first audio drama in a UNIT spin-off series, which features a retired General Sir Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart as an advisor to a new generation of officers. A preview episode (given away free with Doctor Who Magazine #351, and later available as a free download on the Big Finish website), UNIT: The Coup, has 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 (although, as it turns out, the general public believe this to be a hoax). The series also introduced another rival division, this time within the British government, the Internal Counter-Intelligence Service, or ICIS.
The protagonists for most of this series are Colonel Emily Chaudhry, Lieutenant Will Hoffman and Colonel Robert Dalton. Hoffman and Dalton are killed in the third instalment, UNIT: The Longest Night (2005). The fourth play, UNIT: The Wasting (2005), features this universe's version of Brimmicombe-Wood, and is revealed to be have been the commander of ICIS all along, and working to destroy UNIT from within. The short story "The Terror of the Darkness" in the collection Short Trips: A Day in the Life (2005) reveals that Chaudhry and Hoffman had previously travelled with the Sixth Doctor. Their adventures then continue in "Incongruous Details" in Short Trips: The Centenarian (2006) before ending in Short Trips: Defining Patterns (2008).
Following the death of Lethbridge-Stewart's actor Nicholas Courtney in 2011, in 2015, Big Finish announced a new series of UNIT audio dramas to be released in six-month intervals beginning with UNIT: Extinction in November. The series features Lethbridge-Stewart's daughter Kate Stewart in her role as Head of Scientific Research, as established in "The Power of Three" (2012), and is the first time that Big Finish have been licenced elements from the 2005 revival series from BBC Worldwide.
In 1987, John Levene reprised his role as Benton for a made-for-video film entitled Wartime. Produced by Reeltime Pictures, this was the first independently made Doctor Who spin-off film and would be followed by many others[clarification needed] over the next 20 years. In 1997, the film was revised with voice-over dialogue provided by Nicholas Courtney in character as Lethbridge-Stewart. The Brigadier would himself get a made-for-video film, Downtime, which also sees appearances from UNIT and a corrupt UNIT officer named Captain Cavendish.
BBV have made a trilogy of UNIT videos involving the Autons, although they feature none of the original members, with the main character being Lockwood (a codename for the otherwise nameless UNIT Operative 8954B) – an investigator with psychic powers. The trilogy introduced one of UNIT's facilities (the Warehouse) for containing the remains of alien technology; the Containment Team responsible for these facilities and preventing alien outbreaks at them; and the Internal Security Division.
For the new television series, BBC created a faux website for UNIT, 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"). The 'public' part of the website advertises UNIT Conferences and publications relating to "extra-territorial threats", as well as press releases on the establishment of a central New York Liaison office; the press releases and publications also make reference to off-screen adventures, such as the Skaniska Incident and Jersey Tollgate Situation, with the most recent covering the events of "The Christmas Invasion" (2005) ("Alien Life Confirmed"). The Secure Login link, using the password "badwolf" (originally "bison") uncovers a 'private' section which provides UNIT point-of-view reports about various events in the 2005 series, as well as mention of missions such as The Fourth Reich and Guatemala "Big Locust" Problem. Due to the objections by the United Nations as noted above, the letters "UN" are no longer expanded to "United Nations" on the website.
The original 1963–1989 series presents conflicting evidence about when the stories featuring UNIT are meant to take place, and there has been much confusion and continuing fan debate on this subject. Initially the production team intended for the UNIT stories to take place in the "near future". In the 1975 story Pyramids of Mars, Sarah Jane Smith explicitly states that she is "from 1980". The 1983 story Mawdryn Undead explicitly states that the Brigadier retired from UNIT in 1976 and that Sergeant Benton left the army in 1979. Whether the stories take place contemporaneously with the broadcast dates or a few years in the future is therefore highly debatable — with the exception of Battlefield, which is set in an unspecified near future. A reference to this confusion appeared in the 2008 episode "The Sontaran Stratagem", where the Doctor was unsure if his time on the UNIT staff took place during the 1970s or the 1980s. Similarly, an episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures[vague][which?] displays a UNIT file on Sarah Jane Smith which says, "The service quickly expanded, making our presence felt in a golden period that spanned the sixties, the seventies, and, some would say, the eighties." Yet another reference occurred in "The Day of the Doctor", where Kate Stewart refers to "one of my father's incident files. Codename: Cromer. Seventies or eighties depending on the dating protocol". The Cromer wording is a reference to the 1972–73 story The Three Doctors which, as well as being the first time that Doctors from different eras come together to fight a common foe— similar to the War Doctor, Tenth Doctor and Eleventh Doctor in "The Day of the Doctor"— was the occasion where Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, on first being transported to an alien world, likened it to the Norfolk coastal town of Cromer.
The concept of UNIT has been generally well received by Doctor Who fans. In Andrew Cartmel's Through Time: An Unauthorised and Unofficial History of Doctor Who, the sharp contrast between the Doctor's eccentric personality and the seriousness and normality of UNIT is described by Cartmel as an "inspired stroke".
The organisation is often seen within the context of other international organisations which featured in science fiction of the post-war era. Among others, these included SMERSH and SPECTRE from the James Bond novels, S.H.I.E.L.D from Marvel comics, and U.N.C.L.E. from The Man from U.N.C.L.E. – like UNIT, intended as a fictional United Nations intelligence agency.
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