Writer: David Bishop
Director: Nigel Fairs
Music: Nigel Fairs
Sound Design: Nigel Fairs
Release date: July 2005
Main cast: David Warner (Steel); Susannah Harker (Sapphire); David Collings (Silver); Michael Chance (Webber); Kate Dyson (Fleming); Suzanne Proctor (Mary); Linda Bartram (The Girl); Neil Cole (Policeman)
The plot: London, a late summer morning. The present. Sapphire and Steel investigate an area of the city that is steeped in a rich and bloody history. Artifacts are uncovered that form a dangerous link with the past …
All irregularities will be handled by the forces controlling each dimension. Transuranic, heavy elements may not be used where there is life. Medium atomic weights are available: Gold, Lead, Copper, Jet, Diamond, Radium, Sapphire, Silver and Steel. Sapphire and Steel have been assigned.
After the domestic Sturm and drang of Daisy Chain we come back to basics with the next Sapphire & Steel, which above all else sees the very welcome return of David Collings as Silver, the ‘operative’ he played in two of the original TV stories. His flirtatious relationship with Sapphire was a real highlight, both there and in this production, where he also develops a strong attachment to Mary, a young student. This time the setting is the City of London archive where Mary is working to digitise historical records on the same site of a ‘plague pit’, where bodies were buried in the 17th century. It is here that a special manuscript has been found, a diary that our heroes believe may be acting as a trigger for another breakout from Time.
History has the habit of making the unique mundane
The project is being run by Professor Fleming who has to contend with a lack of funds, a dwindling timeframe to get the job done, more than just a serious migraine and the tantrums of her crotchety colleague Webber, who has been hearing voices. In fact it turns out that the whole team has come to accept that the place is haunted, this matter-of-fact admission being a very pleasant surprise in this story which introduces its first major twist when Mary plays back a wax cylinder of a recording made in 1892 to discover that it contains a recording of Sapphire singing ‘Ring a Ring a Roses’.
Some of us lack your clinical detatchment Steel. - Silver
Very soon Fleming succumbs to what appears to be signs of contagion from the plague even though the spores couldn’t have survived for some many centuries in the pit – then Steel himself appears to become infected before Mary and Webber disappear from a locked room, apparently sucked back into time. It will be up to Silver and Sapphire to find out who or what ‘Maldeb’ is, retrieve the lost members of the team and save Steel and Fleming – all this while keeping the police away from the scene via a decaying time bubble.
Steel is more of a coffee drinker, aren’t you? - Sapphire
David Bishop has crafted a nifty story, well in keeping with the series’ fascination with the theme of the past impinging on the present by supernatural means and once again uses a child’s nursery rhyme – in this case, the titular song, with its links to the plague, proves particularly apt. Bishop thankfully doesn’t keep us guessing too long that ‘Maldeb’ is ‘Bedlam’ spelled backwards, which most listeners will have foreseen and so is able to concentrate on creating a particularly strong villain for the trio to fend off. These are what makes this a very good story, well constructed with a solid beginning, middle and end, but there is a ‘but’ here: rather like the fifth TV story, the Agatha Christie homage not written by PJ Hammond, it seems to lack authenticity. Not just because of its lack of horror but also because it has little of the ambiguity that is usually associated with the series. Indeed one feels as though this just might have made a better Doctor Who story instead with its comparatively linear plot and time travel elements; and I’m still not sure if it seems likely that Steel, an elemental, could so easily have been struck down with the plague – surely he should be above such things! When I first listened to this play this struck me as one of the best of the first season. On listening to it again, I still admire the strength of its plot and strong characterisation but this still feels like an introductory story, one meant to ease people into the show rather than developing into new areas. This is not meant to be a great criticism but it does slightly change how I feel it ranks overall amongst the the first audio season’s stories.
The cast is excellent though and Collings, who played a cruel and cynical version of the Time Lord to excellent effect in Full Fathom Five, the Doctor Who Unbound story also by Bishop, makes for a wonderful return to a classic role. This very solid entry also makes for an excellent contrast with the next, and perhaps most controversial, episode in this first season – The Lighthouse by the audio series’ guru, Nigel Fairs.