Sapphire & Steel
Water Like a Stone

Starring: David Warner and Susannah Harker
Big Finish Productions
RRP: 14.99
ISBN-13: 978 1 84435 221 0
ISBN-10: 1 84435 221 8
Available 19 November 2006

Christmas Eve, 2006. The Capital Palace, once a popular theatre, now stands disused next to a long-abandoned graveyard. Plans to celebrate the work of a dead playwright in the theatre draw Sapphire and Steel into a deadly maze from which there is little hope of escape. In a house where all the clocks stopped at midnight, Sapphire finds herself at the mercy of an old woman with a familiar face. And Steel is reunited with an old ally... but for how long...?

I ought to be more careful what I wish for. In my review of the previous Sapphire & Steel story, The Surest Poison, I commented that I found the narrative a little too comprehensible when compared to the perplexing scripts that P J Hammond used to pen for the original ATV series. Well, the conclusion to this audio drama well and truly captures the spirit of Hammond's bewildering writing! I had to listen to the final few tracks two or three times before I could even narrow them down to two possible versions of events. (Highlight the following spoiler if you wish to read it.) Was Ruby ever really there, or was she just a product of the same lonely spirit that caused all the other apparitions? Even now I'm not sure which one - or both - of these alternatives is the intention of the author, Nigel Fairs. But that's not really a criticism: it's good that it got me thinking.

What should be criticised is that these plot developments don't take place until the final episode. The preceding three instalments are a run-around affair in which Sapphire (Susannah Harker) and Steel (David Warner) find themselves trapped in a succession of fictional and/or historical scenarios.

Fortunately we have the vocal talents of Big Finish stalwarts Nicholas Briggs and Lisa (Bernice Summerfield) Bowerman to keep us entertained along the way. Briggs puts in an emotive performance as Arthur and his forebears, while Bowerman has some wonderfully bitchy moments as the prim Ruby, a former partner of Steel. There's more than a hint of jealous tension between her and Sapphire.

In his sleeve notes, Fairs indicates that he regards this as the equivalent of a Sapphire & Steel Christmas special, complete with songs, pantomime dames, Dickensian characters and a ghost. His only regret is that he couldn't persuade cover designer Lee Binding to add a layer of snow to the logo! Perhaps Binding has a point, because, for all its frivolous moments, at the end of the day this is a tragic tale rather than a light-hearted piece.

The drama runs a little shorter than usual for a two-disc release (90 minutes) but it is supplemented by full versions of the songs written for the production plus some out-takes, which add more of a festive flavour. Water Like a Stone isn't perfect, but it's no Christmas turkey either.

Richard McGinlay

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