Try and imagine you or your lifetime as approximately one inch in length. Then compare it to the first CD of Cruel Immortality, which is a thousand million miles long. One inch, you. CD one of Cruel Immortality a thousand million miles. Just compare them. It’s very, very long. And it’s very, very boring.
Those were more or less the thoughts that passed through my mind as I tried to get through the first half of Cruel Immortality. Each track was like having teeth drilled. Every single thing that was wrong with the Big Finish series of Sapphire and Steel audio plays was here and taken to the Max. Trite characterisation, poor acting, a Sapphire and a Steel completely unrecognisable and way too human in comparison to their on-screen selves. Listening to David Caruso sing the works of Marilyn Manson would have been preferable.
But, suddenly, come the end of CD one, it all changes. It becomes interesting. All the pain, all the hurt dissolves away and suddenly, you don’t want to use the second CD as a hat, garden ornament or eccentric clothing decoration. Instead, you want to listen to it.
1949. The Tithonus Retirement Home, deep in an English forest. Sweet rationing has ended, the lights have come back on in London, and Matron is in a good mood. Celebrations are underway when a new resident arrives.
Steel is alone. And tired. Soon he realises that linear time has stopped, but not only for the people in the home?
Is it any good?
Once you find out what’s going on, Cruel Immortality is indeed a great big bundle of fun. Until then, you’re forced to undergo a rather poor attempt to create sympathy for old people in a 1940s retirement home. Apparently, the primary defining characteristic of old people is their desire for 40 winks; the primary characteristic of carers in old people’s homes isn’t kindness but extreme sadism. Rubbish, huh?
But as we head into episode three, all is forgiven, even though we get more of the same. We get a whole load of continuity with the rest of the Big Finish range; we get some much-awaited continuity with the TV series, including an explanation of how Sapphire and Steel escaped from that service station and the return of an old enemy. And while there is some debate about whether Sapphire and Steel are becoming more human and whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, the standard human-centric view of things is never endorsed by anyone in their right minds. The ending’s a little pat, but it’s also nasty enough that it’s still thoroughly enjoyable.
If you can overcome an oft-repeated pun, the second CD is certainly worth getting and you should regard the first CD and the extra subscriber CD as bonuses with its purchase. If you only buy one Sapphire and Steel audio play (and you might well not), buy this one.
Steel (David Warner)
Sapphire (Susannah Harker)
Mrs P (Muriel Pavlow)
Enid (Daphne Oxenford)
Stanley (Ian Burford)
Matron (Lois Baxter)
The Carers (Lucy Gaskell, Steven Kynman, Lisa Bowerman, Nigel Fairs)
Writer: Nigel Fairs
Director: Lisa Bowerman