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.
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
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
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:
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...
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.
shortcoming of The Passenger is that the forces of
the resentful dead are rather similar to those in the second
are my only real criticisms, though. Now I can't wait until
Sapphire and Steel get assigned again.
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