Book Review – Sapphire and Steel: All Fall Down

  • Title: All Fall Down
  • Series: Sapphire and Steel
  • Discs: 2 CDs
  • Author: David Bishop
  • Director: Nigel Fairs
  • Characters: Sapphire, Steel, Silver
  • Cast: Susannah Harker, David Warner, David Collings
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 07/20/2018

**Spoiler Alert** Sapphire and Steel was a British television series on the ITV (Independent Television) network, starring Joanna Lumley as Sapphire and David McCallum as Steel with David Collings as Silver. The series was about, well, it’s somewhat difficult to explain – we don’t know exactly what Sapphire, Silver, and Steel are – just that they are elements, sent to stop time from breaking out because it would be disastrous. Like the original classic Doctor Who series, the individual stories consisted of several half-hour parts and each complete story could be of varying length. For Sapphire and Steel, this could be 4, 6, or even 8 parts. The show was creepy, imaginative, thought-provoking and, also like Doctor Who, low budget.

Big Finish’s audio series of original Sapphire and Steel stories really is quite brilliant and it’s one of my very favorite non-Doctor Who-related series from the company. The series re-casts Sapphire and Steel with Susannah Harker and David Warner, respectively, but this volume has David Collings return as Silver. And it is a full-cast audio play with music, sound effects, and acting. It is not a straight audiobook.

This play, “All Fall Down”, begins with Sapphire and Steel arriving outside the archives of the City of London Corporation. It’s an old building that has been condemned, and inside a small group of archivists and students are trying to rescue the collection stored within. They are scanning or otherwise preserving the artifacts, such as rescuing audio recordings from old wax cylinders and uploading them via FTP to the Internet for access by researchers worldwide. Similarly, old papers and books are being scanned, enhanced, and uploaded. Steel flips out a bit when he hears about this, as old objects are often used as triggers by Time to try to break out, which would be disastrous.

Sapphire and Steel enter the building, meet Dr. Fleming, the head archivist and find out that Silver was sent to the building first and is already investigating. Dr. Fleming introduces them to her student, Mary, and Dr. Webber a forensic archaeologist. Dr. Webber is studying a collection of documents, objects, and bones from a nearby plague pit (burial pit filled with victims of the Bubonic Plague in 1665). Dr. Webber is, however, already acting suspiciously. Mary says he’s over-protective of a plague journal he found in the pit. He won’t let her even look at it, which is odd since it’s her job to scan, enhance, and upload documents and sound recordings. Later, he’s observed to be talking to a match flame outside, but when asked he says he was listening.

As Sapphire, Silver, and Steel try to pinpoint the source of the breakout and encounter more and more echoes of the past – children singing “Ring a Ring of Roses”, a nursery rhyme that refers to the Bubonic Plague, and voices chanting, “Lord, have mercy on us”, another plague reference. Other references are to Bedlam Asylum, especially in the late Victorian Age. Steel and Dr. Fleming start to show signs of plague, and Steel collapses.

On disc two, Sapphire and Silver work together. Webber has taken Mary and escaped into the past. Even though they know it’s dangerous, Sapphire convinces Silver she must create another tunnel to the past, using the same technique that Webber used – burning a blank page of the plague journal. Silver develops a machine to broadcast a homing signal down the tunnel so Sapphire can find her way back. Sapphire heads down the tunnel to 1665 and meets Webber. At first, Webber tries to convince her that he’s been reincarnated over and over by his imaginary friend, Maldeb, who has gained some form of substance. However, Webber is a projection from the past and not real. The creature caught in the time trap is Maldeb. She had been trapped before in the plague journal, but now she was trying to break out. Maldeb is the time disturbance. The various Webbers, including Anton Weber the German inventor, and the Victorian “gentleman” bringing his ward to see the mad at Bedlam Asylum in the late Victorian Age, and the modern Dr. Webber, are mere echoes, ghosts, projections from the past. Maldeb wants to escape it’s prison and plans to have Sapphire take her place.

Meanwhile, Silver succeeds in communicating with Mary. He uses the homing device to bring her back. But just before he succeeds in bringing back Mary, communication with Sapphire is cut off by Maldeb. Silver and Mary then realize that to bring Sapphire back they need to destroy the journal. They burn the journal, Maldeb is destroyed and Sapphire returns to the present. She, Silver, and a now-healed Steel stand outside the Archives building. The breakout has been stopped. Like Steel, once Maldeb was destroyed and time returned to normal, Dr. Fleming was cured of her plague symptoms – because she never had the plague. Sapphire and Steel say goodbye to Silver and they all disappear.

I’ve always liked the television program Sapphire and Steel but it is far too short with only six stories (although some are quite long). This series of audio plays successfully re-creates the mood of the original series, while presenting intriguing original stories. The stories, such as “All Fall Down”, which I have listened to before, are also very easy to listen to again and are still enjoyable. David Warner is perfect as Steel, and Susannah Harker is excellent as Sapphire. The rest of the cast also does an excellent job in their performances. This play and the series are highly recommended.

The CD includes a trailer for the next play in the series, “The Lighthouse”.

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

Sadly, it looks like the Sapphire and Steel range is no longer available from the Big Finish website. But be sure to check out their other audio ranges.

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

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