AUDIO DRAMA
Sapphire & Steel
The Passenger

Starring: David Warner and Susannah Harker
Big Finish Productions
RRP: 14.99
ISBN 1 84435 138 6
Available 24 May 2005


Steam enthusiast and book dealer Philip Burgess steps on to his long overdue train, unaware that an old book has given Time a means to break its chains. As reality and fiction become intertwined, a familiar story begins to play itself out: a 1930s steam train, twelve passengers with ulterior motives, a mysterious conductor, one victim, and two detectives...

I've been waiting a long time for this! Sapphire & Steel is my second favourite British show (after Doctor Who) and I am extremely pleased that it is finally back, albeit in a different medium and with a different cast.

In Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (bear with me, I'm going somewhere with this), David Warner's dying words were: "Don't let it end this way." By a staggering coincidence, those were my thoughts exactly when, way back in 1982, I realised that the ending to the final television episode of Sapphire & Steel was not just another cliffhanger to be resolved the following week but the end of the series altogether.

It is unclear whether the time agents have somehow escaped from the prison in which we last saw them, or whether this adventure is set before that assignment. Here they refer to 2004 as the present, so I favour the former interpretation.

David McCallum and Joanna Lumley were sadly unwilling or unable to reprise their roles, so David Warner (no less) and Susannah Harker have stepped in to replace them. But can they fill their elemental shoes? Though his vocal qualities are quite different from those of the other David, Warner provides the necessary cold detachment to convince us as Steel. Harker possesses the required refinement as Sapphire, though she doesn't convey the warmth or confidence that Lumley did. Joining them is Mark Gatiss, who is splendidly arrogant as their fellow elemental Gold.

The television series was always less concerned with plot than it was with atmosphere. Accordingly, writer Steve Lyons allows his two-hour story to unfold at a sedate pace. Since the audio medium cannot reproduce the old show's signature visual chills, such as faceless or blank-eyed people, the creepiness comes in the form of sounds and voices. For example, there's a haunting young girl (Clare Louise Connelly) whose repeated enquiry of "Have you seen my daddy?" is coincidentally similar to the creepy Empty Child's "Are you my mummy?" in the recent series of Doctor Who. And proving that the sound of silence can also be unnerving, there's a voiceless conductor, of whom we are only made aware by other characters' reactions to him.

Thankfully, the familiar signature tune - both the pre-teaser bit and the main title - has been lovingly preserved, complete with its opening narration. I cannot begin to convey how thrilled I was to hear those familiar yet awe-inspiring words:

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...

However, there are no recaps in their traditional position between the pre-teaser and the main title music, which is a shame. Recaps would have been useful, especially to those who choose not to listen to all four episodes in one go.

Another shortcoming of The Passenger is that the forces of the resentful dead are rather similar to those in the second television serial.

These are my only real criticisms, though. Now I can't wait until Sapphire and Steel get assigned again.

Richard McGinlay

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