Big Finish Productions
Sarah Jane Smith:
Test of Nerve
|Written by||David Bishop|
|Starring Elisabeth Sladen|
|Also featuring Jeremy James, Sadie Miller, Robin Bowerman, Caroline Burns-Cook, Juliet Warner, Mark Donovan, Roy Skelton|
|Synopsis: The London Underground will suffer an horrific terrorist attack during rush hour unless Sarah can find and stop those responsible. As rush hour draws closer, the terrifying reality of the threat becomes all too apparent. One friend is murdered and another abducted. Sarah must be willing to sacrifice everyone and everything she holds dear to save the city. This is one deadline she cannot miss!|
It's Not Paranoia if They Are Really Out to Get You... by J. Paul Halt 25/9/02
After The Tao Connection's disappointing departure into the realm of fantasy, I was happy to see Test of Nerve take the Sarah Jane Smith series firmly back to the "real world." The script by former journalist David Bishop is well-researched, plausible, and even relevant -- lending this entry a frightening edge that its predescessors just didn't have.
Test of Nerve is a tightly-paced concoction, mixing equal parts paranoid thriller and race-against-time with expert precision. All the regulars are well-used (for a change), with growing tension among the previously tight-knit group bringing the characters into much sharper focus than in the first two stories. Test of Nerve finally sees wheelchair-bound Nat (Sadie Miller) given a meaty portion of the action, including a memorable confrontation with the series' recurring villain. Sadie Miller rises to the occasion with a very strong performance. Her scene with the villainous Mr. Harris carries real tension, and Miller hits the right notes of both pride and desperation to hold up her end.
Robin Bowerman is wonderfully menacing as Harris, even better here than he was in Comeback. And Roy Skelton puts in a strong performance in a demanding guest role as an unstable man who knows he is being used by somebody, but isn't quite sure by who.
With an ending that doesn't quite put everything back together again for the heroes, and indications that the villains are just getting warmed up, Test of Nerve effectively raises the series' temperature to an enticing simmer. Now let's just hope the remaining two entries can fulfill its promise and bring it to a boil...
Overall Rating: 9/10.
A Morality Tale! by Joe Ford 29/10/02
I've never made any secret about my love for Sarah Jane Smith. My partner gets a little scared sometimes about how much I obsess about this woman and was terrified at the thought of a Sarah Jane audio series coming out gauranteing more loss of money on Doctor Who merchandise! I couldn't wait, what an excellent idea, a more gritty down to earth audio series to accompany the more fantastical nature of the Doctor Who and Benny stuff. Aside from Liz Shaw (who has her own series with the excellent PROBE videos) and Romana (either really) I can't think of many companions that would have the personality (or career) to hold their own series. She's always been an induvidual, never a cipher, so an older and slightly bitter take on Sarah had to be good stuff.
Wrong. How can anybody be so wrong? What ever posessed Gary Russell and his lackeys at Big Finish to acquire the 'talents' of those old hacks Terrance Dicks and Barry Letts is beyond me. It is clear that these two, who creatively had a bit of a flourish during the early seventies, haven't a clue how to structure a drama these days. Terrance (if you ask me) has been going steadily down hill ever since The Five Doctors (the NA Exodus was a little gem but then everyone can get lucky and his other books Shakedown, Mean Streets, Endgame and Warmonger were hardly critical success were they?) and seems to trade off his own reputation these days. His Doctor Who work should end now. He is contributed his last word on the subject or at least the last word of value. And as for Barry Letts (whose scripts in the seventies were hardly brilliant anyway), his two radio plays The Paradise of Death and The Ghosts of N-Space were so badly written I stamped on the cover of one and never, ever finished the other.
I could understand why Russell and his cohorts would want to return the characters to their roots but the first two scripts of this Sarah jane series are diabolical, flat dialogue, terrible characters and worst of all, really boring. Letts is still harping on about Buddhism for God's sake! Why would anybody want to stay with this series if they're this quality?
On the positive side it is clear they have thought out the regulars quite well. I love the idea of Sarah desperate and without contacts, her speech in Comeback "My identity was erased, my passport was invalid. I ceased to exist because someone, somewhere went to great pains to frame and ruin me. Now its time to fight back." It says everything you need to know, doesn't it? The thought of Sarah trying to take on the 'system' with her little band of 'rebels' is an appealing one. Lis Sladen gives a solid performance in both stories and rises above the bland storytelling to prove giving her a series was worthwhile.
Nat, the computer specialist, wheelchair bound, is probably the next best character being a little prickly and bored with life. Played by Sadie Miller (who I think is Ms Sladen's daughter) she is very engaging if a little underused. Jeremy James plays Josh, the street wise companion, a little too confidently and has an annoying habit of adopting strange accents with ever other thing he says...p robably trying to make us more entertained by the apalling dialogue than we otherwise would be. He's okay though, quite bubbly and the sense of humour any series needs.
Even the theme tune is instantly likable, David Darlington going wild on his drum and disco-beat!
It's just a shame the stories for Comeback and The TAO Connection are so bad. What we needed was something gripping, something you're desperate to reach the end of, something bursting with energy and witty lines.
What we needed was Test of Nerve.
Imagine my surprise when I realised how brilliant this is. It's about as perfect a use of the audio medium as these CD's gets. It uses the characters in engaging ways, and much like any series where they want you to CARE about the characters they are willing to kill them off unexpectadly to shock you. I love it when they do that.
It's only 65 minutes long but its a perfectly gripping story. The plot involving an old soldier being manipulated by Sarah's enemies to poison the London underground is great. James Carver proves to be a frightening character, not only what he says (he is sick of being lied to and will kill to make a point) but his voice is the most spine tinglingly scary since the kid in The Holy Terror. He really freaked me out. Mind you, old men have that effect on me (they ARE all evil I tell you!) so maybe it's just me.
What's especially good is how the story closes around Sarah and her chums, the danger coming from every side. With events never under their control it is heart stopping to find out what trouble will come next. Who is pulling the strings to make Sarah's life hell? You find out in this one and the answer left me reeling. It's a fab final twist to a fab story.
Lis Sladen (ooh I met her once and she's just lovely!) gives her best performance since The Hand of Fear (who was that in The Five Doctors?). Her desperation to keep her indentidy secure and her friends safe makes her a very interesting protagonist, its always great when the protagonist is improvising, just trying to SURVIVE and Sarah is one of the best. Josh is toned down considerably in this and I really liked him, his bites at Sarah are both relevant and nessecary. But Sadie Miller is even better as Nat, I was terrified that she would be harmed during the action-packed last half. Her outburst at the end is sterling stuff, the real meat of the story after the terrorist plot has blown away.
The music is excellent (complimenting the drama superbly) and the post production work has been flawless for all of these Sarah Jane stories. Several moments spring out, the muffled voices in the underground, the mobiles ringing (I thought it was mine!), even simple things like people walking about... it's all very realistic.
David Bishop is on quite a roll, his Amorality Tale was both gripping and atmospheric and his dialogue and story here are just as good, probably better. His grasp on the characters in this story is excellent. The danger in this story feels very real and I know the production helps but it's the script that makes the difference. Without a decent story you've no chance. Yay David, this is great stuff!
I said to my partner (who was relieved!) that I wouldn't buy any more Sarah Jane stories if Test of Nerve proved dispointing like the first two. The poor sod was devasted when he found out how much I enjoyed this.