Sapphire & Steel
The School

Starring: David Warner and Susannah Harker
Big Finish Productions
RRP: 14.99
ISBN 1 84435 218 8
Available 06 July 2006

The school has stood for a hundred years and is rightly proud of its pupils' achievements. But not everyone wants to join in the fun. What are the teachers so afraid of? Why have the school's ghosts chosen this moment to enact their revenge? What terrible truth is the headmaster hiding? Sapphire and Steel could spoil it for everyone by asking such awkward questions. Perhaps they should be taught a lesson...

A new series, a new cover design. Evidently the folks at Big Finish felt that the series style of the previous season, with the faces of Sapphire (Susannah Harker) and Steel (David Warner) shown in profile to the left of the image, was too monotonous. I'm not sure I agree, but nevertheless we can expect more variety with the covers during this, the second season.

The storytelling front, however, remains as dependable as it has ever been, and that's the important thing.

With his school setting, writer Simon Guerrier has tapped into the locus of many of our childhood fears, and it's easy to imagine the original ATV series visiting such a place. However, whereas the television show was intended as family viewing, these CDs will be listened to by a prominently adult audience - those of us who grew up with the show - so Guerrier deals as much with the teachers' fears as he does with those of the pupils. While the children are afraid of such things as not fitting in with the "in" crowd, bullying and strict teachers, the staff have more adult concerns, such as disruptive pupils, OFSTED inspectors, disciplinary procedures and losing their jobs.

This audio drama, like The Lighthouse and Dead Man Walking, deals with decidedly adult subject matter. For example, the headmaster, Mr Leslie (Keith Drinkel) makes a pass at Sapphire, while another teacher, Max (James Daniel Wilson) makes an inappropriate comment about adolescent schoolgirls. Even Steel had a "thing" with fellow operative Jet, as Sapphire reminds him. The play also features some particularly gruesome sound effects.

On a more light-hearted note, several characters take on childish personality traits (well characterised by Harker, Wilson and Warner) but even these moments have their more sinister side.

The first of the two discs in this pack also includes a behind-the-scenes look at the writing of last season's Daisy Chain (which was my personal favourite). It is revealed that the ending proved controversial with certain listeners (but not with me - I thought it was very effective). As writer Joseph Lidster points out, the conclusion isn't that different to the end of Assignment Two, so it's hardly unprecedented.

All in all, The School demonstrates considerable class. Well done, Guerrier - eight out of ten.

Richard McGinlay

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