On the face of it, writing a Sapphire and Steel story shouldn't be that hard. You can more or less make it up since there are no real rules. The less you say about what's going on, the spookier and more interesting it gets. The more alien you make the heroes, the better. Ideally, you should make it a four-hander involving Sapphire and Steel, maybe a five-hander if you bring in another element. And the plot should be about regular humans doing something more or less normal and then time deciding to pick on them for no reason.
Simple, huh? (Well, probably not. Cf Adventure Five, the only TV story that wasn't written by PJ Hammond).
And yet the Big Finish team never do it. Instead of following those simple guidelines, they always populate them with half a dozen extra characters, and have to have some moral tale in which time decides to break in because gay people are forced to hide in the closet or someone doesn't realise that death is inevitable and can't be wished away. And, like some “very special episode” of Blossom, Sapphire and Steel have to learn something about “what it is to be human”.
Have a guess what happens in Perfect Day.
The plot (a scale replica of the one on the Big Finish web site)
Sapphire, Steel and Gold are uninvited guests at a wedding on board a boat, the Perfect Day. Quite why they are there soon becomes very apparent…
Is it any good?
After a slightly slow start, it picks up a bit before crashing again in the final episode. It starts badly as we get the usual Radio Four-style performances and actors emoting like their lives depend on it. Sapphire and Steel turn up and not one person says “Christ, those are funny names. And his name's Gold! What's up with that?” They start asking a load of questions, like “Can you pass the port?” and everyone instantly confesses their life stories. It drags and drags. Even Mark Gatiss reprising his role of Gold can't lift it beyond the mundane. It's as though someone asked Agatha Christie to write for Sapphire and Steel and she turned in plot 7b minus Miss Marple saying “Don't you think there's an interesting resemblance between Sapphire and that older woman”.
It gets a little better by the mid-point and I confess to almost becoming engrossed as the third episode rolled around and bad things started to happen. The intricate conclusion is also pleasantly reminiscent of the TV series. But ultimately, all the standard flaws of the Big Finish style of Sapphire and Steel remain. Sapphire, Steel and Gold are too human and once again learn valuable lessons. The supporting characters are uninteresting and entirely responsible for their own predicaments rather than terrifyingly victimised by random fate.
Steel (David Warner)
Sapphire (Susannah Harker)
Gold (Mark Gatiss)
Lydia (Victoria Carling)
The Captain (Philip McGough)
Richard (Daniel Weyman)
James (Matthew Steer)
Jennifer (Caroline Morris)
Writer: Steve Lyons
Director: Lisa Bowerman
Price: £14.99 (International: £15.50)
Available from the Big Finish web site