Book Review – Sapphire and Steel: The Surest Poison

  • Title: The Surest Poison
  • Series: Sapphire and Steel
  • Discs: 2 CDs
  • Author: Richard Dinnick
  • Director: Nigel Fairs
  • Characters: Sapphire, Steel
  • Cast: Susannah Harker, David Warner, Richard Franklin
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 09/20/2018

The Surest Poison is a full-cast audio play and an original story set in the Sapphire and Steel universe. Sapphire and Steel was a British SF drama from the late 1970s / early 1980s starring Joanna Lumley as Sapphire and David McCallum as Steel. The show was known for its atmospheric storytelling and spooky haunting stories. Big Finish creates original dramas both original and ones like The Surest Poison based on other licensed universes (such as Doctor Who). This is a full-cast drama with music, sound effects, and actors playing the parts. David Warner plays Steel, sounding very much like David McCallum, and Susannah Harker plays Sapphire – and although she sounds a bit younger than Lumley, she still does a brilliant job.

The Surest Poison begins with an auction of antique and extremely valuable watches. Sapphire and Steel arrive after the auction has concluded and speak with the man whose collection was being auctioned. Sapphire immediately realizes that the man (Mr. Webb) is 156 years old. He admits he’s selling his collection because he knows the watches are responsible for his extraordinarily long life. Sapphire also detects residual time in the watches. Webb is an expert on Breguet – a master watchmaker and had auctioned off Breguet watches in his personal collection. Webb fills Sapphire in on Breguet’s history and his influence in fine watch-making including some of his inventions. Sapphire uses one of the watches as a means of travel for herself and Steel. In the past, they meet Breguet’s assistant and apprentice, Breguet himself, and an apparition who resembles Breguet’s deceased wife. When confronting the ghost – Sapphire and Steel are thrown forward in time to 1986 Jerusalem – a time and place infamous in horology circles because a large collection of Breguet watches was stolen from a museum there. Sapphire and Steel return to the past, find another watch, and then return to the future – and Webb. Knowing how the watches work – Sapphire tries to return to the past, but she is blocked. Sapphire tries other years but is continuously blocked.

Then Sapphire has an inspiration – maybe if she focuses on a specific event instead of a full year she’ll be able to get through. She quizzes Webb on Breguet’s inventions. He tells her about them, and for the rest of the story, Sapphire and Steel travel to specific instances in Breguet’s life.

The second time Sapphire and Steel travel back – they go to the instant of Breguet inventing the pare-chute – an anti-shock device for watches. They discover the apparition again, who resembles Cecile, Breguet’s wife. Knowing this apparition to be Time itself trying to break through, Sapphire tries to talk Breguet into rejecting it – telling him it’s not his wife. The apparition traps Steel and flings Sapphire to 1986 again. In Jerusalem Sapphire meets Webb who has used a watch to travel in time himself. Sapphire is overly hyper, upset, and very worried about Steel whom she is now separated from. Also, standing outside the museum where the collection of watches is on displayed she is affected by the watches – especially as she carries a watch as a means of time travel. Sapphire gets an idea and she uses her own abilities to travel with Webb to the morning of the theft. Once there, she detects that the watches are gone. Not just gone from the building, but gone, destroyed, no longer in the city. She and Webb travel backward and into the museum. Sapphire tries to open the case with the watches but she can’t touch it. Webb smashes the case and the watches are destroyed.

Sapphire and Webb meet up with Steel at the auction house in the present. They travel again to the past, to the invention of the tourbillon – one of Breguet’s most important inventions. Again, Sapphire attempts to convince Breguet that the apparition isn’t his wife and that Time can’t be trusted. Slowly Breguet starts to realize this, especially once Time helps him invent devices to split time into hundredths and even thousandths of a second. Time slips and reveals her plan – with more intricate, accurate, and precise methods of measuring, displaying, and recording time humans will become obsessed with time and productivity: humans will become slaves to time. But her bragging is her fatal flaw and Breguet realizes this is not his wife nor can he save his wife. When Sapphire, Steel, and Webb return they are able to defeat Time. Breguet’s life will return to normal (he is due to die naturally soon) and when Webb returns to his own time, he destroys all the watches at Sapphire and Steel’s insistence. Webb will also now have a normal life.

I enjoyed this story very much. Focusing as it does on watches and watch-making, it works as a Sapphire and Steel story. Webb is a good third partner – adding exposition, and enthusiasm (his joy when he realizes he’s successfully traveled through time is wonderful). I also liked that he was friendly to Sapphire and Steel – and not opposed to them. He doesn’t even object to destroying the watches. The different time zones are established with sound and the accents of the characters so the listener never wonders where they are – even when Sapphire and Steel are being bounced from time zone to time zone by time itself. Time is a cruel mistress and a very effective villain in this story. I also liked the sound design of subtle clock sounds throughout most of the audio play.

Overall, this story really felt like a Sapphire and Steel story, which is essential for any book (or in this case audio play) based on an existing universe or series. Highly recommended.

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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Book Review – Doctor Who: The Magician’s Oath

  • Title: The Magician’s Oath
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Discs: 1 CD
  • Author: Scott Handcock
  • Director: Nigel Fairs
  • Characters: Capt. Mike Yates, Third Doctor, the Brigadier, Jo Grant, UNIT
  • Cast: Richard Franklin (Mike), Michael Chance (Diamond Jack (guest))
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 11/13/2017

The Magician’s Oath is a story in Big Finish’s Companion Chronicles line, told by Capt. Mike Yates (Richard Franklin), though it’s set fairly early in the Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) era, probably his second season. The framing sequence has Capt. Yates showing up at UNIT to “make a statement”, this being his story.

During the Summer, in London, a series of strange weather events occur. At first, these strange occurrences are amusing, but when a flash freeze hits half of Hyde Park and kills everyone there, UNIT becomes involved, including Mike, Jo, the Brigadier, and the Doctor. The Doctor also detects some strange energy readings, which he thinks are more worth investigating than the weather.

Mike and Jo, despite being warned off, decide to investigate anyway. A witness comes forward, the only person to survive what happened in Hyde Park, and she gives the cryptic clue of “Diamond Jack”. following the weather reports, Jo and Mike go to Trafalgar Square where a street magician named, Diamond Jack, is performing. Jo is dragged into his act and disappears. When Mike confronts him, weird stuff happens, including Diamond Jack floating in the air.

Capt. Yates finds Diamond Jack’s house. While outside, Mike is warned off confronting Diamond Jack by the Doctor and the Brigadier, but he ignores the warnings to rescue Jo. He locates Jo inside, who can’t believe she’s only been gone a few hours – she thinks it was days. The house itself is strangely empty with no photos or personal touches. Before Jo and Mike can escape, they are confronted by Diamond Jack.

The Brigadier, the Doctor, and UNIT arrive. The Doctor had found Jack’s spaceship. At this point, things get a little weird. The Doctor uses a device he found at the spaceship, a red cylinder, which seems to work in the reverse of the zap device from “Men in Black” – and restores Jack’s memories. But Jack is actually an alien prisoner – and a prisoner in three types, a “human” Jack who’s suffering from short-term memory loss until the Doctor reverses it, the person’s memories, stored in the cylinder, which the Doctor restores, and the physical body – which has only animal instincts. The Doctor, Jo, and UNIT go to the spaceship, where they manage to release the animal creature.

Meanwhile, Jack manages to kidnap Jo, again, and take her to Tower Bridge. Mike and the Doctor race to rescue Jo before the human Jack and his animal counterpart meet. Mike does rescue Jo, but not before Jack attacks her mind again, causing her to be placed in a coma. UNIT manages to take down Jack and the monster.

In the end, Mike confesses it took Jo a week to recover from her coma, and she lost her memory of the incident. Mike also confesses that he truly cared for Jo, even loved her, but she had only feelings of friendship for him.

The first half of this story works pretty well – the flash freeze is an intriguing mystery. But the second half, with the mysterious three-part alien, not to mention some alien civilization deciding Earth would make a great prison planet, works considerably less well. It’s like part 1 and part 2 are almost different stories, and they don’t gel being forced together. Mike’s sudden crush on Jo also seems misplaced, though the ending interview remarks that Mike was supposed to be a love interest for Jo. (Note: Mike was on the show before Jo Grant, as he was introduced with UNIT in Pertwee’s first story, whereas Jo was the Third Doctor’s second companion.) Even the flash freeze seems a little weird as “freezing to death” doesn’t work that way (it’s usually a process that takes a lot of time, and in cases where people have fallen into freezing water, for example, and are pulled out immediately – even if they seem “dead” they recover.) The way the situation in Hyde Park is described by Mike it’s more like the entire park was flooded with liquid nitrogen. I was left wondering, “huh?” Not to mention thinking the author had never actually experienced cold weather or frostbite.

But this is a Companion Chronicles story told from the point of view of an unusual companion, Capt. Mike Yates. As far as I know, it’s the only story told from his point of view in all of the tie-ins for Doctor Who. Yes, there are various UNIT stories, but they are often more team stories than the point of view of a single member of UNIT. Though as I said, I don’t remember even hints of a Mike-Jo romance, this is from Mike’s pov, and from what I remember of his character, he could quite easily have a thing for a woman who has no interest in him.

Overall, I’d give this 3.5 stars. It’s not horrible, but it’s not one of the best Companion Chronicles either.

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

Click here to order The Magician’s Oath on CD or Download.

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