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The UNIT dating controversy is a problem of retroactive continuity (retcon) which has attracted considerable interest from fans and professional Doctor Who writers alike.It has also been the subject of a 2|entertain DVD documentary, The UNIT Dating Conundrum, included in the special edition release of Day of the Daleks. These have most prominently included a sly remark made by the Tenth Doctor in The Sontaran Stratagem and on-screen graphics seen in The Lost Boy — but writers in other media have occasionally referenced the controversy, or attempted to solve parts of it.
In Pyramids of Mars, however, it is claimed several times that Sarah Jane Smith is from "1980", and they briefly revisit the year.One possibility given by The UNIT Dating Conundrum is that the entire lot of UNIT stories from Spearhead from Space to The Seeds of Doom (where the Brigadier is still in UNIT but away in Geneva) happens from 1979 to 1980; if Sarah is speaking of her "home time", i.e.the time she (and Harry Sullivan) left with the Doctor, that would imply Planet of the Spiders, Robot, and possibly Terror of the Zygons when Harry leaves the TARDIS, would take place in 1980.However, the events of The Invasion, the first story in which UNIT properly appears, approximately occurred in 1979.Thus, the UNIT dating controversy is, broadly speaking, an attempt to understand how the Brigadier could have retired from UNIT before UNIT even existed.He's a Brigadier by then with a remarkable active service record.' He leant forward slightly.
'And then he vanishes.' 'You must have known him during your time at UNIT,' said Miss Waterfield. 'Sorry to disappoint you, but I'm just a journalist.' 'With no "official" records of him, you could easily imagine Lethbridge-Stewart was dead,' continued Christopher. 'UNIT looks after its own.' The notion of UNIT personnel being protected later comes up in the audio Find and Replace, where it's stated there was a fear of enemies coming after personnel after they'd left UNIT.
It is further revealed that 1935 was "over forty years ago", tacitly setting The Web of Fear approximately in 1975 if not after.
In a later adventure battling the Cybermen, called The Invasion, the Second Doctor again encounters the newly-promoted Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart.
Though replete with additional nuance, the nub of the narrative problem stems from one serial.
Mawdryn Undead tells viewers that Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart retired from UNIT in 1976.
Writer Ben Aaronovitch has notably opined that there is simply no way to retcon the problem.