- 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.