Sapphire & Steel
The Surest Poison

Starring: David Warner and Susannah Harker
Big Finish Productions
RRP: 14.99
ISBN-13: 978 1 84435 219 7
ISBN-10: 1 84435 219 6

Available 18 September 2006

An auction of vintage timepieces; a man who has lived for more than 150 years; the finest watchmaker in history; the mysterious theft of the greatest watch ever built - these events and individuals are inexorably linked by Time and the results could prove cataclysmic for humanity. From London in 2006 to Jerusalem in 1983 and Paris in the 18th century, the strands are drawn together. Only two elements can intervene on our behalf. But when Sapphire is struck down by disease and Steel is trapped in the past, who will intervene on their behalf...?

The original ATV series of Sapphire & Steel opened with the evocative sounds of ticking clocks. Writer Richard Dinnick harks back to that beginning by penning a story not simply about time (after all, that's what all Sapphire & Steel stories are about) but a master watchmaker, Abraham-Louis Breguet (played by Tom Bevan).

Breguet is regarded as the Da Vinci of horologists, and, like Da Vinci in the Doctor Who story City of Death, his craftsmanship is being exploited by the villain of the piece, in this case Time itself posing as the man's dead wife Cecile (Helen Goldwyn). However, the fact that Time also acts as Breguet's muse and imbues his work with properties that no mere mortal could hope to replicate does undermine the man's genius in an "aliens built the Pyramids" kind of way. Nevertheless, the writer makes fascinating and instructive use of real-life people and events, and Steel (David Warner) drives home the point that the watchmaker was genuinely gifted.

The guest cast also includes Richard Franklin (better known as Captain Mike Yates from the Jon Pertwee era of Who) as the 150-year-old (not merely 100 as stated on the back of the CD) collector Mr Webb. Franklin lends enthusiastic support to the temporal detectives, in a manner reminiscent of Felix Harborough in Assignment V, even joining Sapphire (Susannah Harker) and Steel on some of their trips though time.

The original TV show can be perplexing when viewed as a child (as Dinnick recalls in his sleeve notes) and indeed as an adult, with P J Hammond's scripts offering scant few answers to the many questions they raise. Dinnick's writing is more comprehensible, containing a well-thought-out internal logic. In fact, perhaps it is a little too comprehensible: I cottoned on to Steel's plan at the beginning of Part 2 faster than Sapphire did! Maybe I'm just too au fait with the series' concept by now.

The moral of the story is that we are in danger of allowing time to govern our lives. Even though Time (with a capital "T") is defeated on this occasion, her scheme ought to strike a chord with anyone who has ever felt stressed out by the fast-paced, clock-watching mindset of modern society.

Also including a 20-minute behind-the-scenes look (or rather listen) at the making of The Lighthouse (which, we learn, began life as a Sapphire & Steel-inspired stage play set in a railway station), this double CD is well worth your time.

Richard McGinlay

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