Book Review – The Martian Invasion of Earth (audio)

  • Title: The Martian Invasion of Earth (based on War of the Worlds)
  • Series: Big Finish Classics
  • Discs: 2 CDs
  • Author: HG Wells (original novel); Nicholas Briggs (adapted screenplay)
  • Director: Nicholas Briggs
  • Cast: Richard Armitage, Lucy Briggs-Owen, Hywel Morgan, Ewan Bailey, Richard Derrington, Helen Goldwyn, Christopher Weeks

The Martian Invasion of Earth is Big Finish’s full audio play adaptation of War of the Worlds. They couldn’t use the actual title due to copyright reasons. The audio play is an adaptation of the original 1897 novel and thus is set in the UK. Herbert Wells and a scientist named Ogilvy are studying meteorites in the night sky when one seems to become a shooting star. They track it to a field or common in the country and find a fallen cylinder. Herbert hears movement inside the burning hot cylinder and goes off to find help. He finds a guy with a cart who completely and totally doesn’t understand the urgency of Wells’ request for help. This will be a reoccurring theme, as nearly everyone our main characters encounter who represent “normal” working people are complete idiots.

Eventually, a group of people gathers near the cylinder to help and begin working to get around or through the pit that surrounds the cylinder. One is the scientist, Ogilvy, who insists that any culture advanced enough to travel to another planet must be advanced and peaceful, therefore they must help. One of the workers falls into the pit, and the crowd tries to get him out. Even soldiers arrive in case the cylinder is a threat. The creatures inside do emerge and before long they attack the soldiers with their heat ray, a sort of invisible laser. Ogilvy is one of the first to die, as do many of the soldiers.

Wells and his wife, Amy, return home. The next day, it’s clear there is great danger from the cylinders as the Martians are now in metal machines that attack with their heat rays and clouds of deadly black smoke. They are also turning the countryside red by leaving behind some type of red weed. Wells urges Amy and his servant to leave. They get in a dog-cart and run, but during a storm spot a  Martian machine literally on the warpath. There’s an accident and the servant girl is killed, as is the horse, and the cart is destroyed and useless. Amy and Wells survive and begin to walk, hoping to find safety by getting to the coast. Herbert mentions his brother, Edward lives in London and that the Martians seem to be heading towards the city.

Meanwhile, near London, a woman named Agatha is trying to escape in her hot air balloon. She’s being swamped by other people who also want to escape. Edward Wells stops one of the men attacking Agatha and the two escape in the balloon. They are later attacked in the air by Martians, but Agatha sacrifices her nearly dead mother-in-law to escape. They reach the coast and try to get to a ship. Succeeding they will be at the center of a battle between the Royal Navy and the Martians and in the middle of a fleet of civilian ships that are trying to escape.

Herbert and Amy are simply trying to escape. They stay overnight at the house of a cleric, who loses it when he sees the actual Martian invaders. Amy and Herbert see people frozen and unable to move, then forced into pits. Herbert is even able to look inside an abandoned and partially scraped cylinder and finds dead beings with two arms, two legs, and a head – in other words, beings that resemble humans. They are the food of the bulbous Martians. The cleric attempts to give Amy to the Martians to save himself, but Herbert stops him.

Amy and Herbert leave, see that the Martians are moving to London, and attempt again to reach the coast. Herbert reflects that it makes sense the Martians would want to take over the greatest city in the greatest Empire on Earth. Once they reach the channel, Herbert and Amy strip to their underthings so they don’t drown, and attempt to swim the channel. They duck underwater to avoid the heat ray of the Martians. They are eventually picked up by a ship and get to France, where they run into Daniel, an Army sergeant they met before. He’s assembled a rag-tag group of soldiers and civilians to fight the Martians. Their idea is to shoot large guns straight up to hit the underside of the Martians – which is how they accidentally defeated one of the machines. It’s a good plan, but unfortunately, it doesn’t work as the guns explode instead, killing the men who load and aim them. Amy and Herbert see lights in the sky.

Meanwhile, Agatha and Edward are in the midst of a sea battle. A naval captain goes against orders to protect the civilians, ordering not only his ship but the others in his fleet to stop the Martians and protect the civilians. They shoot the Martian ships and even ram one of the machines – destroying it. Agatha and Edward see lights in the sky.

Amy is nearly panicked as she realizes there are Martian machines in the sky. But then, suddenly, everything stops. And the Martians simply collapse their ships and machines crashing to the ground. In a spoken coda, Herbert explains the Martians succumbed to Earth bacteria from the air they breathed and the human blood they drank. People returned from exile to the North of England, and the continent. Food was sent from the Continent and America to aid the recovery and things quickly returned to normal. But Herbert fears a second attack and urges that the government and scientific community keep an eye on the skies.

This was an excellent presentation of War of the Worlds – a familiar story since it’s been adapted many, many times. The British setting, which of course, is the original setting adds to the story as you have people in horse-drawn carts and on horseback battling Martians. But throughout the story, pretty much everyone Herbert and Amy meet is a complete and total idiot. They do occasionally get help from others, only to have that same person do something dumb because of their fears or just not quite understanding the situation. Edward and Agatha fair somewhat better – the Naval captain who does what’s right to save people instead of following his orders to retreat is one of my favorite characters (he also sounds like Captain Picard). But I wanted to see a fortunate reunion between the brothers Wells and for Amy to meet Agatha and that didn’t happen. I found myself wondering if Edward and Agatha even survived. I also found their story romantic! But overall, this is great story and I really enjoyed it. Recommended!

Book Review – Doctor Who: The Jigsaw War

  • Title: The Jigsaw War
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Discs: 1 CD
  • Author: Eddie Robson
  • Director: Lisa Bowerman
  • Characters: Jaime, Second Doctor, Moran
  • Cast: Frazier Hines, Dominic Mafham
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 01/04/2014

**Spoiler Alert** Big Finish’s The Companion Chronicles focuses on the companions, who tell their own stories. The Jigsaw War starts with the Doctor’s companion, Jamie, being held and questioned in a cell. Someone wants to know where the Doctor is, what his plans are, how he is helping the Unhelt, the inhabitants of the planet. But this isn’t your typical interrogation – as Jamie moves back and forth in time, even becoming the interrogator – while his interrogator is now the prisoner. a being called Side tells Jamie if he puts the scenes in order he can create a code that will open the door, a door only he can see. Jamie does put his experiences in order – but he doesn’t key in the entire sequence – realizing that if he does, he will be truly trapped.

As to Side, he is a Fifth Dimensional Being, the Unhelt’s god, who feeds on the emotional upheaval of the Unhelt and the Humans who are repressing and killing them. The Unhelt didn’t attack the complex where Jamie is being held. Everything is an elaborate game. Solving this puzzle lets Jamie and his captor escape.

The Jigsaw War is complex, but not as confusing as one might think. It’s a good story. Recommended.

Book Review – Doctor Who: Starborn

  • Title: Starborn
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Discs: 1 CD
  • Author: Jacqueline Rayner
  • Director: Lisa Bowerman
  • Characters: Vicki, First Doctor, Barbara, Ian Chesterton, Violet
  • Cast: Vicki (Maureen O’Brien), Violet (Jacqueline King)
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 12/19/2018

**Spoiler Alert** Starborn is a story in Big Finish’s Doctor Who the Companion Chronicles line. The story is told by Vicki (Maureen O’Brien) one of the First Doctor’s companions with help by Jacqueline King as Violet. The story features the First Doctor (as played on the BBC television series by William Hartnell), Ian, Barbara, and Vicki – but it’s really Vicki’s story. The Companion Chronicles tell stories from a companion’s point of view and often consist of a companion somehow telling a story to someone else for some reason.

This story begins with Vicki running through the rain in London to the TARDIS. She calls out and pounds on the door but no one answers her. The woman with Vicki, Violet, insists that Vicki will die if she enters the TARDIS and also tells her that as a medium she has a contact who must speak with her. Vicki is skeptical but follows Violet to her rooms.

During the seance, Vicki first hears from “Crispus” a Roman citizen killed for rebelling against Nero. Vicki is, of course, skeptical about this, but after a bit of back and forth between this Control and Violet, she hears from another spirit. This spirit claims to be Vicki from the future, a Vicki who is dead.

This spirit tells Vicki of her next trip in the TARDIS. She, the Doctor, Ian, and Barbara materialize on another planet – the planet is lit by a thousand suns, and the TARDIS crew must wear dazzle hoods to prevent blindness. The Doctor also has each of them wear bracelets that are personal air conditioners. They meet a young woman, Annet, with silver hair who appears to be glowing. She explains the suns in the sky provide all the power for the planet and they communicate through streaks of light. She also explains that nearly everyone on the planet has some “star blood” in them and they are known as “Starborn”. Every so often, one of the stars in the sky will die. One of the Starborn will take its place, ascending in the sky to become part of the star network, providing power. The new star can communicate with the other stars, feeling the thoughts of loved ones who have become stars. Annet is Starborn and one of the stars is about to flame out – when it does, she will take its place. Annet says her mother ascended when she was twelve, and she knows she will be able to communicate with her when she ascends. Annet also tells the TARDIS crew that not only must a Starborn take the place of the dead star, but the gap causes energy to drain away, and if it’s not plugged – the entire network will drain through the gap and the planet below will die.

The Doctor and crew stay for the ascension ceremony and manage to secure an invitation to watch, even though strangers are normally not allowed. The star dies, and Annet is ready to take its place. But another black area appears in the sky, a pirate ship – crewed by female pirates. The pirates appear at the ceremonial grounds and knock most everyone out with a flash-bomb grenade. Only the TARDIS crew are unaffected. Annet falls from the pillar where she had sat waiting for her time to ascend. The Doctor orders Ian and Barbara to take the girl to the nearest town to find a doctor. Vicki thinks this is silly, as the Doctor is, well, a doctor – but it seems to be a ploy or distraction on the Doctor’s part. Vicki suggests someone else take Annet’s place as the now unstable network is draining away – and the pirates have placed a mirrored box on the pillar where Annet was. The Doctor takes one of the personal air conditioner bracelets, punches the button to lower it to the coldest setting, and throws it at one of the mirrors in the box. All the mirrors explode from thermal shock. Vicki suggests someone else take Annet’s place – but the Doctor is hesitating. Vicki, then, as her spirit tells Vicki herself in Violet’s room, takes Annet’s place. It’s actually working – until the Doctor throws his ring in the beam of light from the stars instead. Vicki falls to the ground – and presumably meets her death.

But Vicki’s figured it out – she knows whoever is telling her this story isn’t a future version of herself. She’s her this person refers to “Vicki” as well as Annet and Vicki as “the three of us”. Obviously, there was a third person there. Vicki also finds some of her descriptions of the Doctor’s behavior and even her own to be out of character. She then discovers this “dead spirit” is one of the pirates – she’d been sent to gather information about the planet and to find a way to steal their energy. But she became friends with Vicki and Annet and gradually realized that the pirates who raised her were selfish and cruel. Well, they were pirates. The pirate, whose name was Stella, threw herself into the beam and it was going OK until the Doctor threw his ring, then she fell instead of ascending – and died. The Doctor’s ring balanced the power long enough for Annet to return and take her rightful place. Stella tries to convince Vicki to destroy the Doctor’s ring so that she can ride out the paradox and survive. Vicki, knowing time travelers cannot interfere, refuses.

Stella’s time bubble collapses – and Vicki and Violet forget everything that happened. Vicki returns to the TARDIS.

Episode 1 and Episode 2 of Starborn are very different. The first episode describes this really beautiful though also very different society. With this being a First Doctor story he doesn’t condemn this different culture or try to prevent the “sacrifice” of young people becoming stars. He accepts that the culture works that way, and understands that Annet is honored and willing to become an actual star. And, as she says, she will see her mother again.

In Episode 2, some pirates show up. The pirates are greedy and want the planet’s power for themselves. And if a beautiful planet and its people are destroyed utterly in order for them to get some power – they simply don’t care. It becomes clearer in part two that whoever is telling this story to Vicki – it’s not Vicki herself. Among other things, she refers to “the three of us”. And there are other clues. So not only does disc introduce some pirates showing up out of nowhere – but it presents a bit of a mystery.
I liked Starborn more than I expected to and this story, like the rest of the Companion Chronicles, is highly recommended.

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

Click to order Starborn on CD or Download.

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

Book Review – Doctor Who: House of Cards

  • Title: House of Cards
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Discs: 1 CD
  • Author: Steve Lyons
  • Director: Lisa Bowerman
  • Characters: Jamie, Polly, Second Doctor, Ben
  • Cast: Frazer Hines (Jamie), Anneke Wills (Polly)
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 12/12/2018

House of Cards is another story in Big Finish’s Doctor Who – The Companion Chronicles line, which features stories from the point of view of the Doctor’s companions, often with two actors performing the parts as if it was a two-hander play. This story is mostly from Polly’s point of view, but also includes parts performed by Frazer Hines as Jamie McCrimmon. The story features the Second Doctor (as played on television in Doctor Who by Patrick Troughton), Ben, Jamie, and Polly.

The story opens with the foursome already split up, and the Doctor is absent for much of the story, the TARDIS crew has landed in an intergalactic casino. The enforcers in the casino are snake-like beings called the Sidewinders, and the casino is owned by Miss Fortune. Polly is appalled by the Sidewinders. No sooner than she complains to Ben about them being split up than the casino’s slot machines go haywire and start spitting out chips. Patrons rush the machine for free chips, even with the Sidewinders urging them to turn in the casino’s money.

Ben picks up enough chips to start playing one of the games – badly. Jamie watches Ben play while striking up a conversation with a red-haired girl named Hope. Across the table from Ben, Jamie and Hope, a mysterious woman in a red cloak and china mask is the only person at the table who seems to win. Jamie tells Ben to copy her, and he does, winning back some of his losses.

Polly, meanwhile, tries to find the Doctor – passing a pit where robot dogs are viciously fighting each other, and meeting a gambler down on his luck named “Lucky Bill”. She catches up with the Doctor and ends up with a time bangle, which someone had slipped in his pocket. Time travel is absolutely forbidden in the casino. Taken to meet Miss Fortune, Polly is informed of the rules against time travel and finds out Ben has lost his stake and the money he borrowed from the casino. He and Lucky Bill must now play the Game of Life – Miss Fortune tells Polly she must press one of two buttons – which will either allow Ben to go free but kill Lucky Bill or the reverse. Miss Fortune coldly tells Polly that because the buttons are randomized even she doesn’t know which button will kill Ben and which will save him. But when the time comes Polly doesn’t push that button – she grabs the time bangle and activates it.

Polly arrives a bit earlier and meets Hope – the redhead from Ben’s gambling table. Hope is a time traveler and the woman in the China mask too. Polly tries to explain it was her and her companions who set off the time travel alarm but it doesn’t go well. She tries to save Ben by getting him some money so he doesn’t have to borrow money and to find the Doctor for help. Plus, Polly wants to help Hope too – knowing she’s stuck in a bad situation.

Ben avoids the Game of Life – but the Doctor gets stuck in a game of life of his own – playing a winner takes all card game against Miss Fortune for Polly’s life and their freedom. The Doctor chooses the game and produces “Happy Family” cards. He wins by laying down all his cards at once. Miss Fortune disappears in a red mist. The Sidewinders take over the casino and the Game of Life is shut down. Having won his amnesty – Lucky Bill starts over, trying to win again. The time travelers leave the casino.

This story seems to take place immediately after The Selachian Gambit since that story is mentioned. It’s a fun story, somewhat basic (most of the little stories going on are similar to what you’d find in any story about a casino) and the setting is very confined. I did like the fighting robot dogs – they reminded me of K-9. And the robot croupiers who look like playing cards were very cool. But there’s not much meat to the story itself. It starts with the Doctor, Ben, Polly, and Jamie already in the casino. They meet people, do stuff, then leave. I liked that Polly got to do a lot in this story – but Jamie seemed under-used, especially as Frazer is narrating. So it’s like the reverse of Selachian Gambit which had a lot of Jamie and less of Polly. Still, it’s fun, it’s light, it’s enjoyable and it’s a good adventure – so if you’re looking for an enjoyable Second Doctor story, this is a good place to start. Recommended.

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

Click to order House of Cards on CD or Download.

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

Book Review – Doctor Who: The Selachian Gambit

  • Title: The Selachian Gambit
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Discs: 1 CD
  • Author: Steve Lyons
  • Director: Lisa Bowerman
  • Characters: Jamie, Polly, Second Doctor, Ben
  • Cast: Frazer Hines (Jamie), Anneke Wills (Polly)
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 12/05/2018

**Spoiler Alert** Space sharks robbing an intergalactic bank vault? The Second Doctor (as played by Patrick Troughton on the long-running British SF series Doctor Who) and his companions Ben, Polly, and Jamie get caught up in a bank robbery. The Selachian Gambit is an audio play in Big Finish’s Doctor Who The Companion Chronicles series, with Frazer Hines as Jamie, the Doctor, the Selachians, and other voices, and Anneke Wills as Polly.

The Doctor, Jamie, Ben, and Polly return to the TARDIS, only to find it clamped and covered by a force-field with a notice saying 10 credits is due for parking fees. As they are outside a bank, Ben, Polly, and Jamie convince the Doctor to go inside to get the money. But the Doctor is unable to fill in the form to open an account – refusing to provide a name or address because “he can’t”. However, there isn’t much time for anyone to argue about this as three sharks in space suits enter the bank to rob the vault.

The sharks wave around guns, Ben manages to hide before anyone sees him, and Polly is sent to make tea for twenty in the kitchen. The Doctor tries to defuse the situation. When Polly heads off to the kitchen, she runs into Ben who has been crawling around in the bank’s ductwork, trying to find a way to help. The two discover some glue that hardens quickly until it’s rock-hard. They make three “glue bombs” to attack the robbers. Polly is able to pass one to Jamie, but when she tries to tell him the details of the plan she’s made with Ben – they get caught and she has to shush.

The sharks demand the bank manager open the vault, but he says he doesn’t have the combination. The sharks then open the vault with a combination they have – but instead of a bank vault, all they see is a blank void. The vault is dimensionally transcendental (“Like the TARDIS!”, Jamie points out) and without the proper combination, it remains hidden in a pocket dimension. Next, the sharks try to blow the vault door – this doesn’t work.

Seeing that the sharks may be violent but not particularly smart, the Doctor offers to “help” them if they stop killing hostages (they kill one woman when they first enter the bank). Very soon Tartarus Security contacts the bank – and the Doctor becomes the negotiator. He manages to get six hostages released including Polly, despite the sharks’ complaints. But they also threaten Jamie. A bomb is discovered, but Jamie uses his glue bomb to gum up the works.

The Doctor is able to convince the sharks that the only way into the vault is the hoppers used to deposit and remove valuables. Polly reaches the Tartarus Security ship with the other hostages and soon discovers the captain intends to storm or even blow-up the bank, hostages included, to stop the Selachians.

Things come to a head, and Polly thinks the bank including the Doctor, Ben, Jamie, and all the hostages have been destroyed by Tartarus. But the Doctor managed to get everyone inside the dimensionally transcendental bank vault. He then opens a bridge, so the door can be opened on the Tartarus ship. The Doctor also discovers that Galatibank had made a series of bad investments, losing their investors’ money and valuables, and lied about it. The bank had hired the Selachians and Tartarus to ensure that the bank itself was destroyed. As a result, the embezzlement would remain hidden and the bank’s investors would be paid off by insurance companies. The bank’s manager is so disgusted he decides to offer bonuses to everyone affected by the robbery with higher rewards to the Doctor, Jamie, Ben and Polly for rescuing everyone from certain death. Ben is surprised the Doctor takes the money but finds out from Jamie that he asked for his reward to be given to charity, except 10 Credits – which the Doctor uses to pay the parking fee on the TARDIS which the Tartarus captain found floating in space and claimed as salvage.

Moral of the story? Always pay your parking fees!

The Selachian Gambit is an action-packed story, very much in the flavor of Classic Doctor Who though it feels a bit more like a Third or Fourth Doctor story than a Second Doctor story, even though it features the early Second Doctor cast of Ben, Polly, and Jamie. Frazer Hines is brilliant – handling a number of different voices, including the monsters (which I didn’t realize was Frazer – I thought it was an uncredited Nicholas Briggs. I learned it was Frazer when it was mentioned in the after the story interviews/commentary). I liked Polly in this too. She’s often an under-used companion, but even though she’s sent “to make the tea” it’s clear that both the Doctor and Polly know that’s code for, “See if you can find anything to get us out of this mess”. This is a recommended and fun story.

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

Click to order The Selachian Gambit on CD or Download.

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

Book Review – Doctor Who: The Rocket Men

  • Title: The Rocket Men
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Discs: 1 CD
  • Author: John Dorney
  • Director: Lisa Bowerman
  • Characters: Ian Chesterton, First Doctor, Barbara, Vicki
  • Cast: William Russell, Gus Brown (as Ashman)
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 11/27/2018

**Spoiler Alert** John Dorney’s The Rocket Men very cleverly starts in the middle of the story and then uses flashbacks to fill in what’s going on. But unlike the normal “start with an exciting bit and flashback to explain it” technique, The Rocket Men flashes back and forth between the near “past” and the present, using a word, phrase or action to move from one time to the other and back again. It’s a very effective technique and the story flows extremely well – without being overly confusing.

The Rocket Men is a volume in Big Finish’s Doctor Who the Companion Chronicles series, and features William Russell as the First Doctor’s companion, Ian and Gus Brown, as the Leader of the Rocket Men, Ashman. The First Doctor (as played by William Hartnell on the long-running BBC television series, Doctor Who), Barbara, and Vicki are also featured in the story. The Companion Chronicles feature a story told from one of the Doctor’s companions’ point of views and are often more wordy, framed as a two-hander play.

The TARDIS lands on Jobis, an idyllic gas giant and tourist destination, with cities built on platforms in the air, floating luxury hotels, and even beautiful creatures to watch – such as giant flying Manta Rays in the skies, and insects that sparkle like diamonds. After a few days, the Doctor goes off to another platform to visit and share ideas with some local scientists. Ian books a tourist trip on a glass-bottomed boat. Barbara isn’t feeling well and decides to stay at the hotel. Ian checks to make sure he doesn’t need to look after her, but Barbara decides she’s okay and Vicki really wants to try the boat ride, so the three split up. On the boat ride, the tourists, including Ian and Vicki, are attacked. Ashman leads his fierce Rocket Men, a group of pirates who want to steal the “diamonds” from the sky. The Rocket Men wear brown leather and rocket packs on their backs – and they attack the barge. Once the attack is winding down, Ian is able to attack one of the guards, knock him out and steal his uniform and pack.

Later, and the first scene in the story as one listens to it, the Rocket Men have attacked the hotel and gathered up the people they haven’t killed. They demand that the companions of “The Doctor” turn themselves over. When Ashman starts to threaten innocent tourists – Vicki and Barbara turn themselves over. Ian struggles to not admit who he is and seems to be waiting for his chance for something. When Barbara is thrown out an airlock, he rushes the door and follows, then uses the jetpack he’s wearing to control his descent and direction. He rescues the terrified Barbara and takes her to a nearby platform. She cries. They hug.

But Ian and Barbara aren’t completely safe. Ashton attacks and he and Ian start to fight each other in midair. Ian gains advantage, but then Ashton deactivates his rocket pack and Ian starts falling. He’s rescued by a Manta Ray. Meanwhile, the Doctor’s been working with the local scientists. They manage to break through the Rocket Men’s jamming signals and get out a call for help. The local authorities wrap things up and defeat the Rocket Men.

This an awesome story – it’s full of adventure and fun, but the core of the story is Ian’s feelings for Barbara and her feelings for him. It’s a very romantic story – both in the traditional sense in terms of the adventure and the scope – with men with rockets strapped to their backs running around, gas giant planets, giant manta rays, and a floating hotel. It’s awesome. But it’s also romantic in it shows a relationship between Ian and Barbara. That’s extremely fun.

Highly recommended, especially if you’re a fan of the Ian-Barbara relationship from early Doctor Who.

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

Click to order The Rocket Men on CD or download.

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

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!