Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Dead Man Walking written by Nigel Fairs & John Ainsworth 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. When Sapphire and Steel arrive at Blackledge Prison, an unexplained death proves to hold the first of an intriguing series of inconsistencies. What has happened to Time?

Icy Investigator: Whoops Steel has chosen the wrong cover story for this story posing as prison inspectors! He gets a right earful about suicide rates, budget cuts and a general mouthful of feeling hard done by. Fortunately he can drift off and have a telepathic conversation with Sapphire and only pretend to be listening! Steel is cut off from his friend and forced into the uncomfortable role of as prisoner. He always did lack the human touch.

Almost Human: Poor Sapphire she really does get up close and personal with the dregs of humanity doesn’t she? This time she is stuck in the freakiest prison known to man but this season she has also rubbed shoulders with mass murderers, plague pits, wrist slitters and a man who derail a train and murdered a young lady. What must she think of our world? Now child molesters and perverts! Once again Sapphire steps in and ensures that the right person dies, hiding Marcus away and making sure that Maureen is stabbed to death. She wants to know why they chose Marcus to die, just a little boy.

Slippery Silver: Once again Silver makes a welcome return and David Collings purrs his way through his first scene as though he has never been away. Ultimately he isn’t really needed because Sapphire and Steel figure out what is going on without him but regardless I love having him around.

Standout Performance: An impossibly unlikable role Neil Cole has to play, a man who in the course of this play has to murder both his son and his wife and frame an innocent man for the crime. Cole is very convincing in the role and even manages to play the murders with a chilling remoteness especially when he tries to wake up his wife afterwards.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Time never honours a deal. You can’t bargain with it, you can’t fight time.’
‘Its such a cruel world. He’d never have lasted. It was a mercy killing.’ – Jackson on murdering his own son!

Great Ideas: Terrifying behind the scenes prison horrors are suggested from executing the prisoners to beating them to a pulp. Michael Kent was imprisoned on manslaughter charges for murdering an 8-year-old boy. Ouch having to listen to a drunken father slaughtering his own child who is singing a nursery rhyme to try and forget he is being menaced is really horrific. Kent is here in both timelines, one where he was hanged for his crimes in secret and another where he only committed fraud and was released. Jackson is working in both 1964 and 2008 without having aged, he’s made a deal with time to do its bidding. He sees that Michael Kent is hung and he gets to live out the rest of Kent’s years of life. Marcus is Jackson’s son and the creatures made him murder his own flesh and fracture time. Kent was framed for the murder because he ruined their lives, setting up a bogus company using Jackson’s name and ruining him. Time fractured because Jackson was supposed to murder his wife, not his son.

Audio Landscape: Prison grumblings and cell rattling. I don’t know what that sound was that approached the prisoner in the teaser – it sounds like someone scrunching up plastic, its horrible and really set my teeth on edge! Argh, it’s a swinging rope! Scary! Ticking clock, frying food, prison bell, prisoners screaming as a fight almost breaks out, bell tolling Kent’s execution.

Musical Cues: A gorgeous melancholic violin score opens this story, a lovely morose background atmosphere. The music throughout this debut season of Sapphire and Steel audios has been first rate and responsible for creating a great deal of the intimidating and foreboding ambience that is needed for these stories to shiver beneath your skin. Nice touch with the final line, tying in the music and the plot.

Standout Scene: Because of these time jumping, fractured narratives it is very satisfying when all the pieces come together and Dead Man Walking is a particularly satisfying example which draws in every element (even the forging which I thought was just a throwaway line) to create some lovely surprises.

Result: Another winner in this superlative first season of Sapphire and Steel audios and the first piece that I felt was entirely original without relying on any of the elements of the television series to give it an authentic touch. The prison setting gives this audio a distinctive feel and more uncomfortable moments abound with a staged execution and some terrifying domestic abuse and murder. I love the moral ambiguity of this series, it’s the same sort of pleasing grey area that Dexter wanders in to each week – you know you should be appalled that Sapphire and Steel are instrumental in the murder of an innocent woman but the consequences would be far worse if they didn’t. You should find both characters hugely unlikable and yet there is something ethereal and hypnotic in the way that both Harker and Warner play their roles that assures you that these are not human beings and they work with a different morality. Like The Lighthouse the shorter running time means the plot is extremely tight (hence the reason Silver doesn’t have time to make his presence felt) and the lack of padding only works to the stories advantage. It’s a powerful end to a great first series. What a shame that this series was cancelled because it lacked sales because this is one of the most consistently excellent series Big Finish has created. If these reviews can convince just some of you to give them a try I would be in my element: 8/10

Or alternatively you can get the entire (excellent) first series for £25.00:

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