Tuesday, 17 May 2011

All Fall Down written by David Bishop and directed by Nigel Fairs

What’s it about: All 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. London, a late summer morning. The present. Sapphire and Steel investigate an area of the city that is steeped in a rich and bloody history. Artefacts are uncovered that form a dangerous link with the past

Icy Investigator: For such a rude man he certainly has a high opinion of himself. Its odd how Steel never wants to let mere humans in on what they are actually up to and winds up creating a situation and yet as soon as he tells the truth (‘we work for a higher power’) people seem to co-operate! Steel tells Silver not to get emotionally involved in their assignments but he replies saying some people lack his clinical detachment. It’s unusual to see Steel in such a weakened state and for time to take such an insidious and bacteriological approach to getting him out of the way.

Almost Human: If we were travelling with the Doctor he would have landed in this busy street and been off on a rip roaring adventure straight off but I really enjoyed the fresh perspective these regulars give to things that we take for granted. Sapphire steps into reality and educates Steel on cause and effect through an ambulance siren and the age, warp and weft of the street they have arrived in. It’s a perfectly alien perspective that Bishop nails. Sapphire arranges a ten second time loop to keep the police away while they sort out the time spillage. Brilliantly Sapphire traps herself Maldeb in a time loop to prevent time from stealing her identity and escaping. She is willing to sacrifice herself to defeat time.

Slippery Silver: Nice to see a character ruffling Steel’s feathers and enjoying a good smooth flirt with Sapphire. He loves a good cup of tea and sometimes it can be centuries between a cup. He’s always wanted to take apart a mobile phone and now he gets the chance. When Steel is indisposed you can see how Silver would make an ideal replacement if the situation ever arose.

Standout Performance: Is it some kind of Big Finish policy that every script David Bishop writes that superb character actor David Collings must play a part? Okay I exaggerate (as usual) since Collings is only in All Fall Down and Full Fathom Five (love that ending!) but either way he is a very welcome face and delivers as brusque a performance as you could hope for. How wonderful for Big Finish to be able to avail themselves of the services of one of the original cast.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘They’re coming for our corpses!’
‘I have lived countless times, awareness growing like a cancer in my mind.’

Great Ideas: Silver is a specialist and he shouldn’t have arrived before them. A recording made in 1892 of Sapphire singing the same nursery rhyme as the little girl. Time has already broken out and they have arrived over 100 years too late. Photographs of the Bethlam asylum taken with the assertion that an inmate forced to confront their own image would shock them out of their madness. It’s not uncommon for children’s rhymes to be inspired by real life events just like myths and legends are often steeped in fact. It became fashionable for the upper classes to come and observe the antics of the patients at Bedlam for entertainment. Some estimates say that 100,000 people visited Bedlam in the course of a single year – that’s disgusting but you cannot really judge by today’s standards. A shadow growing from nowhere and engulfing people…brrr! Another great idea comes when Steel discovers a journal written by the same person with the entries 300 years apart. Time broke out in 1665 and was contained but not destroyed and now it is trying to break free via a bridge into the present day via Webber. When any family members fell with the plague, Lord Have Mercy on Us was painted on the front of their house to warn people away. A human time loop with Webber being born and dying and coming face to face with himself in the mists of madness.

Audio Landscape: Train platform announcement, annoyed crowd, ambulance siren, laughing little girl, seagulls, given the mention of plague Professor Flemming’s sneezes made me physically recoil even though this audio, ringing the bell to bring out your dead, Sapphire reading the journal and mirroring Webber’s voice, crackling fire, crackling fire, the screams of Bedlam, dog barking, horses screaming.

Isn’t it Odd: The first two parts seem to be on the periphery of something exciting but never quite get there – there’s plenty of clever and potentially scary ideas in play such as nursery rhymes about bubonic plague, photographs of asylum madness, a machine for rolling back time but they are all discussed and not explored. Sapphire says that the puzzle pieces are coming together but I feel that any one of these concepts would have been enough to bring this story to life.

Standout Scene: The end of part three is the best cliffhanger yet where Sapphire and Silver realise that a family was condemned to death by the plague in 1665 which caused the breakout of time and by replicating the events in the present day they have created the bridge that has allowed time to escape.

Notes: The first scene once again sees this season not straying too far away from the path of the original series with a nursery rhyme haunting a man just like ‘round and round the garden’ played a big part in Assignment One. The cover reminds me chillingly of The Dark Flame which gets this story off to a bad start.

Result: All Fall Down is bristling with great (faithfully Hammond-esque) ideas but fails to pin down any of them for quite a while but fortunately manages to cohere the jigsaw pieces into a busy, entertaining conclusion. The first disc is short on atmosphere with long stretches of blather and only scant moments of drama and horror breaking up all the talk but as we move into the latter half of the story things improve exponentially. Bishop writes the three regulars extremely well and their interaction makes for some fascinating scenes and I would go as far as to say with its inexplicable plotting and wealth of strong ideas this is the most authentic Sapphire and Steel drama yet on audio. I’m not sure we ever really get to the heart of the menace in this story or really understand how it is defeated but writes an enjoyably complex, if flawed tale: 7/10

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