Sunday, 15 May 2011

Daisy Chain written by Joseph Lidster 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. Suburbia, 2004. And it looks like rain. Sapphire and Steel are drawn to a house apparently much like any other on the street, except that this one, and the family living in it, harbour a secret that threatens to destroy them all.

Icy Investigator: He wants to get straight to the heart of the matter but Sapphire insists that they need to understand the family and forced him to listen to Gabrielle’s woes about her daughter. Warner plays the character with an icy detachment that leaves you with no doubt that he could do without all this touchy feely nonsense. When she gets hysterical thinking that they are social workers he is not aversed to clouting her around the face to knock some sense into her! Steel is not above shocking people to get some answers and he throws down Tom’s electrocuted body before the family and tells them it is the work of Joshua. Steel calls Jennifer’s suicide ‘a tidy resolution.’

Almost Human: Sapphire asks Steel if he has ever he has had nightmares (which of course he hasn’t) but speaks as if she has experienced them herself. I love the whispered conversations between the two investigators; there is an intimacy between them that is sensual and mysterious. And yet when asked outright if they are a couple she laughs and says they are free agents. Sapphire asks Steel if he loves her and he answers of course she does because she is pretty which instantly gives away that this isn’t the genuine article. Nothing could stress the alieness of Sapphire more than when she calmly accept Jennifer’s wish to commit suicide and soothes her with the lullaby as she performs the act.

Standout Performance: Poor Kim Hartman, even though she gives an exceptionally realistic performance as soon as I heard the name I was screaming ‘General Von KlinkerHoffen!’ and various other memorable Allo! Allo! catchphrases around the house! Actually this is a small and impressive cast which genuinely do sound like a dysfunctional family and Stuart Pipe and Lena Rae reminded me of me and my sister and all the jealous undercurrents that come with the love and affection. Nice little cameo of Joe Lidster at the beginning of part three.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Every single family has a skeleton in its closet and this one is no different.’
‘She said that Jennifer was killing her brother…’
‘I felt him die inside me.’
‘It stings…’

Great Ideas: Joe Lidster has tapped into a very powerful transitory period – when one of the children heads off to university. This story took on a deeper meaning for me as I know a family that consists of a single mother and her two kids and the boy has recently headed off to university and the vacuum that leaves behind and the shifting relationships is very palpable. Whilst listening I kept hearing their voices rather than the characters and it was quite a nightmarish take on something real that is happening in my life. Things do seem different when you come back from the holidays after moving on. Sapphire senses something old but not ancient haunting suburbia. Lidster taps into that eerie feeling of ‘do you actually know what goes on behind closed doors with your neighbours?’ An ordinary family on the outside that proves to be anything but. The presence has always been there, like one of the family but now it is starting to use voices and noises to get inside their heads. Time snatches James’ bedroom – something is letting time break through and it has something to do with the Sowersby family. Time is using the fractured relationships between the family to burst into reality, the fact that they don’t know how to talk to each other and they are scared that they might not love each other anymore. The creature wants Sapphire to stay out of the action and force time for this family to roll back. The story pulls off a very impressive revelation that Gabrielle had another child, Joshua, and he died and his ashes are sitting in the music box we have been listening to throughout the story. He was Jennifer’s twin brother and she was a dominant twin and taking his foods and nutrients, effectively killing her brother inadvertently. Gabrielle’s husband left because he couldn’t understand how she could get over such a tragic event. The music box is keeping him alive, giving him energy as it is wound up over and over – the more energy Joshua creates the greater time’s foothold. It is Jennifer that is keeping Joshua anchored to reality because she is his twin and by killing herself she breaks the link and rescues the rest of her family.

Audio Landscape: The opening scene is haunting with a celebratory party in full swing with a nostalgic jingle playing over it. Any story that opens with such a happy atmosphere is simply asking for trouble. Putting together the scenes of all the characters voicing the creature must have been a nightmare of editing and yet it slips together seamlessly. Whispering voices, birds twittering, a dog barking, thunder rumbling, the rains coming down, clock ticking, running the tap, Sapphire’s mental powers at work, a gap voice of whispers where James’ bedroom should be, doorbell ringing, pouring a drink, smashing the TV.

Musical Cues: A chilling version of ‘Boys and girls come out to play’ brings home feelings of childhood nightmares. The furniture world jingle is horrendously awful! Who hasn’t experienced the horrors of listening to the rebellious daughter of the family’s god-awful music? The doorbell playing the lullaby is a creepy audio touch.

Isn’t it Odd: This story doesn’t feel as well structured as the previous one – the first episode will tickle at your senses with something going terribly wrong with this family but beyond introducing the players it doesn’t really achieve anything plot wise. I was shocked to hear the title music play after 25 minutes because it jarring to interrupt a narrative that hasn’t even kick started so soon. If I was directing this story I would have let the story play on until the end of the first disc. Unlike The Passenger the story is more concerned with stirring up atmospherics than exploring the concepts behind the series, it’s a fresh approach to focus entirely on the characters and far less on the plot and it should be commended but I have to say I prefer shrewd imagination of Lyons script over the domestic dramatics in this one. There is an irritating post modern touch at the beginning of part four that sees the TV channels being flicked through before settling on ‘previously on Sapphire and Steel…’ which is a lovely idea but totally out of place modernist touch in this evocatively theatrical piece.

Standout Scene: Jennifer slitting her wrists with a broken piece of television screen is a devastating conclusion and mirroring events that have happened with my sister in the past it stuck with me for a long time. I was hoping we wouldn’t have to experience the family finding her body and the director chose exactly the right point to end the story.

Notes: In this first series of Sapphire and Steel audios they have gone for a safe approach in the first few stories by telling tales with settings that remind you of the strongest entries of the television series – a railway for the first story (Assignment Two) and our investigators turning up in an everyday house in this one (Assignment Two). This is a smart move since I was instantly whipped back to the atmosphere of the series but in both cases the writers have brought the stories bang up to date and put their own stamp on them. They are in no way copies of the TV stories.

Result: Typical controversial Joe Lidster drama unrestrained by the Doctor Who censorship, Daisy Chain is a strong character tale that starts quietly but gets better and better as it continues. Like the first story it is astonishing to think this is all set in such a confined location with such a small cast but the intimacy of the performances and the growing understanding of the characters makes the story much more powerful. On a production level this is faultless with some exceptionally skilful editing that gives Joshua myriad of voices and a musical score that slithers under your skin. The ending will leave you reeling; its painfully, nauseatingly inevitable and is all the more shocking for being played so quietly. There are a few flaws – the story plays with the same atmospherics repetitively and I don’t think the cliff-hangers served the story at all but overall this is an unforgettable slice of paranormal drama with a last episode that challenges and satisfies at the same time: 9/10

Buy it from Big Finish here:

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