Category Archives: Sapphire & Steel

1.5 – Dead Man Walking

Cover Art for Sapphire and Steel 1.5 - Dead Man Walking

Copyright ©2008 Big Finish Productions

Sapphire and Steel are assigned to Blackledge Prison to investigate the latest outbreak by Time. They impersonate Government inspectors to investigate an unexplained death: Stuart Kilsby hanged himself in an empty cell. At the same time, a new inmate has arrived and he knows every inch of the prison, despite coming here for the first time. This is a prison in which the guards have more power than the Governor, a prison where people die and where Steel risks becoming a part of the story. Can Sapphire and Steel solve the mysteries and save the inmates before Time breaks out?

I have to declare, early on, that I do not like this episode. There is a lot that is right with it, but there is more that is wrong with it. Although this is written by the inestimable Nigel Fairs, it never seems to flow. I think that this is because large and important parts do not ring true. Fairs took a brave step in placing the story within a prison. For a variety of reasons we all have an image of the inside of a prison, particularly one for long term prisoners. The idea of a desolate, remote prison is fine, as is the seeming supremacy of the guards. The problem lies with the prisoners themselves: because these audio adventures are designed to be relatively “family friendly”, the language has to be toned down a fair way. This means that the writer is left with the “milder” swear words and we are left with weak dialogue for the prisoners – in fact, they sound like the inmates of a boys boarding school from a film circa 1955! This is a real shame as the story itself is well plotted and as complex and satisfying as we have come to expect from this series. Read the rest of this entry

1.4 – The Lighthouse

The Lighthouse

Cover art for The Lighthouse

Two newly-weds plan to renovate and move into a lighthouse. They arrive there with the architect to discuss the changes to be made and to plan their new life. The lighthouse, however, is haunted by ghosts of the past. Sapphire and Steel are called to the site to stop Time breaking out, but the quickly building electrical storm, coupled with the encroaching time-storm mean that their lives are all in danger. Who is the old man who warns of danger? What is the history between the newly married man and his architect? What went on between the man and his father and who is the middle aged artist who asks young gay men to model for him? And how does it all tie together?

This episode can quite easily be added to a list of Marmite episodes – for those who don’t know what I’m talking about, Marmite is a yeast based spread sold in the UK and the advertising tag line explains that you either “love it or hate it”. There are a couple of other episodes which evoke the same sort of feelings in the fans, but this was the first. It is penned by Nigel Fairs and he has been absolutely interwoven with the revival of this classic British series.  The story is a fairly straightforward one, but it is complicated by the fact that it is fragmented and we deal with 4 or more different story lines taking place at different points in time with no real cues as to who the characters are or at what point in time we are meeting them.

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1.3 – All Fall Down

CD cover for All Fall Down

All Fall Down

Ring a ring of roses

A pocket full of posies

Atishoo! Atishoo!

We all fall down

Traditional English Nursery Rhyme

Sapphire and Steel are summoned to a condemned warehouse in the City area of London. There is a team in the warehouse transcribing documents and cataloguing artefacts found beneath the land the warehouse sits on. The warehouse was built over a plague pit dating back to the Black Death.

As expected, the past starts to creep in and affect the present. Why is Sapphire’s voice stored on a wax cylinder recording from 200 years ago? What is in the book that Dr Webber keeps to himself? And why is everyone coming down with what appears to be bubonic plague? Sapphire is trapped and Steel is falling ill. How can our heroes save the day…? Read the rest of this entry

1.2 – Daisy Chain

Sapphire and Steel - 1.2 Daisy Chain

A bit of a change for our heroes this time. Sapphire and Steel arrive at a suburban home to deal with an incursion by time. They meet a normal family – son on holiday from university; daughter still at school and coming into her womanhood; and their widowed mother. All seems to be ordinary, but why does Brahms Lullaby keep playing and why does the television seem to be attempting to communicate… As the story progresses, Sapphire and Steel face death and danger and uncover secrets going back 16 years. Finally, Sapphire and Steel have a hard decision to make that will affect the family deeply.

In the audio plays, it’s possible to see the writers struggling with the format – trying to break away from the set up put in place by the television series. Whereas the television series portrayed isolation by making the settings fairly isolated from everywhere else (the remote farmhouse, a railway station, a filling station by the side of the motorway), the audio plays have more range – the steam train is clearly isolated, but this has a suburban house as the setting: showing that you can be alone even in a large crowd.  The characters also show their isolation (and we will see this recurring motif in later episodes) – the family secrets, Philip Burgess with his own secret in 1.1.

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1.1 – The Passenger

Sapphire & Steel 1.1 - The Passenger

Sapphire & Steel 1.1 - The Passenger

This is a choo-choo train
Puffing down the track.
Now it’s going forward.
Now it’s going back.

In this, the first outing for David Warner and Susannah Harker, our eponymous heroes meet on a train.  Their “target” is Philip Burgess, a steam train enthusiast and antique book seller.  While investigating, they realise that each of the carriages has it’s own time and each of the passengers in the carriage has their own story and their own connection with Philip Burgess.  An old detective novel appears to be the trigger for the events.  A new operative, Gold (Mark Gatiss), is also on the train in one of his first missions – how will his actions affect the resolution of the case?  And what is Philip Burgess’ secret? Read the rest of this entry

Big Finish – Audio Productions

A few months ago, I finished the series of posts on the TV series of Sapphire & Steel. If you will recall, they ended in 1982 and were sands_003_allfalldown_big_mconsigned to the television history books. It’s worth noting that although it was somewhat different from most other shows of the time, UK television was pushing the boundaries of what had been possible and were really flexing their artistic muscles. There were shows such as “Play for Today” which started any number of now well known writers and actors on their path to stardom.  Was there a real, single, reason for the end of Sapphire and Steel?  Probably not, there were any number of factors involved and any creative endeavour will suffer them.  The ideas were left on the shelf and became largely forgotten.

In 1998, Big Finish Productions was founded.  The company began with the licence to produce audio plays based on the Professor Bernice “Benny” Surprise Summerfield character.  These were popular enough that the company were able to expand their range, moving into Doctor Who plays (being the main output of the company to this day), plays based on the 2000AD comics, the Tomorrow People and others.  They also produce, of course, the Sapphire and Steel audio series starring David Warner (Steel) and Susannah Harker (Sapphire).  They began the series in May 2004 and continued producing them until the end of the third series in 2008.  These audio plays are notable for their high production values and the fact that they have been able to have many of the original actors from the TV shows reprise their roles – particularly in the Doctor Who series. Read the rest of this entry