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!

Advertisements

Book Review – Sapphire and Steel: Dead Man Walking

  • Title: Dead Man Walking
  • Series: Sapphire and Steel
  • Discs: 1 CD
  • Author: Nigel Fairs
  • Director: Nigel Fairs
  • Characters: Sapphire, Steel, Silver
  • Cast: Susannah Harker, David Warner, David Collings
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 07/31/2018

**Spoiler Alert** The most frustrating thing about Dead Man Walking is that it is not a 2-disc release. The second disc included in the CD case is, rather, a Big Finish Sampler – a collection of extended trailers and sneak peaks. While this would have been fine as an extra bonus, I fully expected the actual story to be four episodes (not two) and to span two CDs. Even when the story reached its end, I figured Sapphire, Silver, and Steel would have to go back for some reason. But, nope. So it really feels like the story was cut short.

It’s a pity because the story, as it is, is a rather good one. It opens with a new arrival at a prison being taken to his cell. He freaks out when he sees the cell. The next day, Sapphire and Steel arrive, and face a very overwhelmed, upset, and frustrated prison administrator who doesn’t want to deal with another morale-busting report. But Sapphire assures them they are an independent body looking into the inmate’s suicide.

Sapphire and Steel go to investigate the cell, and Steel is literally kidnapped by Time. Sapphire cannot reach him. Silver arrives and works on a device using a tape recorder to establish communications. Sapphire returns to the prison office and finds the file of Michael Kent – a prisoner with two files at two different times and two lives.

Sapphire realises that there are now multiple timelines in the prison. Once Silver establishes a link, Sapphire communicates with Steel – he is in grave danger, the people in the prison think he is Michael Kent, and they intend to murder him for killing a child. (Britain abolished the Deah Penalty in 1965; Steel is trapped in 1968). Sapphire even thinks they do kill Steel. But he is trapped in a single moment. Steel manages to give Sapphire and Silver a clue: Jackson. Silver and Sapphire talk to Jackson, who thinks they “work for the creatures”. Jackson then says he can’t leave the prison. Literally, he cannot – his legs freeze when he tries. Sapphire and Silver realise immediately he’s made a deal with Time.

Sapphire, with Silver’s help, goes back to when Jackson killed his son as his part in his deal. At first, she thinks Jackson was meant to kill his son. Then she realises, no, he was meant to kill his wife. She goes back, now corporal instead of merely as an observer, and convinces the young boy, Marcus, to play hide and seek with her and hold her hands. A drunk Jackson enters, and abuses, hits, and ultimately kills his wife.

Sapphire, Silver, and now Steel return to the prison, where they find Jackson spent fifteen years in the prison and then died of natural causes. The prison administrator doesn’t know anything about Jackson’s son. But as Sapphire, Silver, and Steel leave, the BBC radio announcer announces that the cello music that the administrator has been listening to is from the London Symphony, with lead cellist, Marcus Jackson.

Again, this was a good story, but the end seemed abrupt. Maybe it was because I was expecting the story to continue on to disc 2, but I was disappointed when it didn’t. There’s also precious little of Steel in this one, though it’s always fun to see Silver. Overall, an intriguing premise, but it wraps up too quickly without the twists and turns in the story that I normally expect in Sapphire and Steel.

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!

Book Review – Sapphire and Steel: The Lighthouse

  • Title: The Lighthouse
  • Series: Sapphire and Steel
  • Discs: 1 CD
  • Author: Nigel Fairs
  • Director: John Ainsworth
  • Characters: Sapphire, Steel
  • Cast: Susannah Harker, David Warner
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 07/25/2018

**Spoiler Alert** When I listened to the trailer for The Lighthouse on All Fall Down I realised that I had listened to this audio play before, however, I did just listen to it again – twice. I still feel that The Lighthouse is one of the more violent and depressing Big Finish Sapphire and Steel stories that I’ve listened to, but the story is also complex and multi-layered, which makes it successful, if a bit violent.

Often, in a Sapphire and Steel story, the titular characters arrive and try to find the trigger which time is using to break out. However, in this story, they basically arrive late, and in the middle of events. A young couple visits the Lighthouse with their architect, in hopes of converting it into a home. But Nicholas and Adrian seem to know each other. Meanwhile, a young boy is horribly abused by his father. And an old man pretends to be an artist, but really he is luring young homosexual men to their deaths. And another man kills his wife. How are these events connected? All take place in the Lighthouse, but first Sapphire and then Steel are caught up in events – unable to influence or stop them. A Time Storm is coming and there seems to be no way to stop it.

Sapphire realises the young boy, the husband – who first visits the Lighthouse with his wife, Susie, and later kills her, and the old man who is luring young men to their deaths at his hands – are the same person. Nicholas has made a bargain with Time, but he cannot change things, he can only repeat the same loop – over and over again. First, Sapphire is drawn into the loop as Susie accuses her of having an affair with her husband, Nicholas. Then, Steel is drawn in. Finally, the two are pushed out of Time altogether.

Being pushed out of time gives the two a little clarity, and they realise they need to find the trigger, or rather, triggers – three of them. Sapphire finds one trigger. Steel finds another. And then Steel forces a change in time that breaks the loop and stops the breakout. Sapphire realises that Time was even able to use her, her sympathy, her disgust at the waste of life, and her horror at all the death.

The Lighthouse is about cycles of violence, and how men abused as children often become child abusers themselves. It’s also about homophobia – and has some very rough language, so be warned. This also means it’s not a story for everyone – it’s violent and rough. But it is also complex, and although it has a downbeat ending, it is a well-told tale. If the listener can handle the violence and rough language, I do recommend it, but it’s definitely not for everyone.

This CD includes a trailer for the next CD in the range: “Dead Man Walking”. There is also a trailer for “The Tomorrow People”.

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!

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!

Book Review – Sapphire and Steel: The Passenger

  • Title: The Passenger
  • Series: Sapphire and Steel
  • Discs: 2 CDs
  • Author: Steve Lyons
  • Director: Jason Haigh-Ellery
  • Characters: Sapphire, Steel, Gold
  • Cast: Susannah Harker, David Warner, Mark Gatiss
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 07/22/2014

I just listened to this story for the second time (I’ve purchased the entire series of Sapphire and Steel audios from Big Finish, so I’m now listening to them in order.) Big Finish audio plays are full featured plays – with music, sound effects, and actors playing the parts.

The Passenger is a good story and I liked it. The story opens with a man complaining about a train not arriving on time. We don’t hear who he’s talking to. Suddenly, a train arrives, an old-fashioned steam train, and he gets on.

Sapphire (Susannah Harker) and Steel (David Warner) arrive and talk with the man. They are soon trying to find out what’s going on, what Time is trying to do. Sapphire discovers it’s a different time period in each car of the train – and outside, there’s nothing. Steel discovers the passengers are ghosts. Steel calls in Gold (Mark Gatiss), a technician, for help. The three work to figure out what’s going on and it becomes an excellent mystery. The train gives a spooky sense of atmosphere to the story.

I don’t want to spoil the plot, so I won’t say more – but I liked this, and it’s an excellent introduction to the series. 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!