Book Review – Sarah Jane Smith: Test of Nerve

  • Title: Test of Nerve
  • Series: Sarah Jane Smith
  • Discs: 1 CD
  • Author: David Bishop
  • Director: Gary Russell
  • Characters: Sarah Jane Smith, Josh Townsend, Natalie Redfern, Ellie Martin
  • Cast: Elisabeth Sladen, Jeremy James, Sadie Miller, Juliet Warner
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 06/07/2018

**Spoiler Alert** Big Finish’s Sarah Jane Smith Test of Nerve is my favorite so far of the Sarah Jane audios I’ve listened to. It’s fast-moving, has a real sense of danger, and adds to the continuing plot of the series. I lost my first attempt for this review due to an unexpected computer shut-down so hopefully, the second will be OK.

Test of Nerve opens with a radio broadcast of three news stories: a junior minister being “jostled” by protestors and the arrest of one of the same, “New Age Travellers” being forcefully evicted from an old tube station, and a break-in at a bioweapons/testing lab in which the lab officials insist “nothing” was taken. All three of these stories prove to be interwoven skillfully into the plot.

Josh and Natalie, Sarah’s friends, are waiting for her at her house for a meeting that Sarah called. Sarah arrives, late, toting a large gift she found outside her apartment addressed to her. She opens it and finds a living rat in a cage. When she, with Josh’s help, removes the note stuck to the cage, the cage seals and a pellet releases gas – which quickly kills the rat. The note is also a threat – if Sarah doesn’t do something to stop it, all of London will suffer the same fate as the rat. Sarah and her friends have a subject for investigation. Natalie will remain at the flat to investigate on-line; Josh goes off to investigate the bio lab (Bioguard), and Sarah takes the very dead rat to her friend, Claudia, at C19, to find out what happened.

When Sarah calls Claudia she’s busy with someone in her office – but she manages to make an appointment with Sarah for a late lunch. Josh, pretending to be a reporter for Metropolitan magazine, interviews Mr. Harris at Bioguard. It turns out that Ellie Martin was one of the “travelers” kicked out of the tube station. She discusses it with Josh, saying that she and the others weren’t even allowed to take their gear, and they were well away from the platform so it was safe.

When Sarah returns to her apartment, James Carver arrives. He’s a former British soldier, trying to get compensation for soldiers who were subjected to experiments with anti-nerve gas agents without their permission. He had organized the protest mentioned on the news radio program but was released without charge. When he gets to Sarah’s he seems unstable and threatening. Natalie calls the police, but Sarah gets angry – Carver leaves and Sarah tells the police it was a mistake.

When Sarah goes to meet Claudia to find out about her rat, she nearly runs into a man running from the apartment. The door is open and Sarah finds Claudia on the floor, dying. The police arrive and arrest Sarah on suspicion of murder. Josh meets up with Ellie to get her stuff from the tube station and finds her stuck in a glass box. Before long, he is knocked out and they are both stuck in a glass box. Harris threatens to kill them, placing a nerve gas pellet on the top of the box and telling them if they try to escape the pellet will be released – killing them. Why am I now thinking of Schrödinger’s cat? But anyway…

It takes seven hours for the police to release Sarah, and they still do not believe her warnings of an imminent nerve gas attack on London. While she’s being interrogated, and Josh and Ellie are being stuffed in a glass box – Natalie is at Sarah’s when Harris shows up. He threatens her, pushes her out of her wheelchair, and then takes it. He also tells her there’s a bomb in the building and gives her 30 minutes to escape.

When Sarah leaves the building Harris calls and threatens all she holds dear – telling Sarah she can save her friend Natalie from a bomb – or prevent Carver from releasing nerve gas in the tube tunnels (i.e. the subway).

Sarah, surprisingly, shows up at the tube station, where she finds that Carver has just released Ellie and Josh from their trap, Ellie has run off both to escape and to possibly get additional help, and Carver is threatening to throw himself under the train – which will crush and release the vest of nerve gas pellets strapped to him. One thing that Claudia was able to tell Sarah before she died was that C19 suspects that Bioguard lied when they claimed nothing was stolen during the recent break-in, and that in reality a tray of nerve gs pellets went missing and it’s suspected to be an inside job.

Sarah, with help from Josh, manages to get Carver to remove the nerve gas – but he still throws himself under the train. A news report ties into the opening of the story and fills in a few details.

Later, we learn that Natalie dragged herself free of the flat and managed to escape, barely. But when Sarah meets up with her, Natalie tells her: that’s it, she’s had enough. She can’t get over Sarah leaving her to die – even though Sarah had an impossible choice. When Sarah says that even five years ago she would have saved a friend first, but now she has to see the bigger picture and save the world – Natalie cannot accept it and leaves. Sarah accuses Josh of wanting to do the same thing and leave – but he vows to stay with her and help her.

I really enjoyed Test of Nerve from the punny title to the action and suspense. The intercutting between Natalie swearing she “won’t be a victim” as she pulls herself through Sarah’s flat and Sarah rushing, at first we know not where, and later trying to talk down Carver is masterfully and suspensefully done – especially for audio.

There are some plotholes. Sarah calls Natalie’s cell but can’t reach her because it’s in her car – but she apparently doesn’t think to call a neighbor to check on the situation. And Josh, Ellie, and Sarah could have saved everyone a lot of trouble if they’d simply forced Carver into the convenient box that Josh and Ellie had been stuck in. Presumably, it could be sealed. But even so, this was the best Sarah Jane Smith audio so far. I hope the range continues to improve. Highly recommended.

This is a full-cast audio play with the cast performing their roles.

Read my review of the first story in the Sarah Jane Smith audio play series, Comeback.

Read my review of the second story in the Sarah Jane Smith audio play series, The Tao Connection.

Find out more about Big Finish audios at their website: www.bigfinish.com.

To order Test of Nerve on Download only, click the link.

Note: No promotional consideration was paid for this review. I review because I enjoy it!

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