There was always something about Sapphire and Steel‘s on-screen adventures: a je ne sais quoi in the same vein as MR James’s ghost stories. It was a feeling that something very scary and dark was out there. You wouldn’t have the vaguest idea what it wanted, why it wanted it, what it could do, or how it could do it. But you knew that if it got what it wanted, there’d be nothing but disaster.
Only the equally inexplicable “time agents”, Sapphire and Steel, would be there to do anything about it. And they’d be just as likely to sacrifice you to stop the dark thingie as help you. It was a world where science had no meaning, where anything “old” could kill you and even the most human of these supernatural characters would have unfathomable, alien emotions.
Sapphire and Steel ended after just six stories, a victim of the regional franchise shake-ups at ITV in the early 80s. But Big Finish, purveyors of fine audio plays for almost a decade, have been putting out new, original S&S stories for over a year now.
Starring David Warner and Susannah Harker rather than the original Steel and Sapphire – David McCallum and Joanna Lumley – the new stories have somehow always lacked that necessary je ne sais quoi: S&S have been too human, too vulnerable, the enemy has been too explicable and the morals of the stories have been too obvious and predictable. Where S&S would simply have snuffed out the existence of anyone who was bringing “time” into our world, they’ve agonised about whether the decision is right and resorted to other measures instead.
But here’s The Surest Poison, the most Sapphire and Steel-esque of all the stories so far. It’s far from perfect, but it’s a whole lot better than its predecessors.