I've been temporarily assuaging my X-Files withdrawal by rewatching the fantastically good Sapphire and Steel. I'm not very far through it as yet (just finished watching the aptly-named Adventure Two), but I'm being forcibly reminded of how atmospheric, tense and downright creepy the series could be.
Virtually nothing about the central characters' background, motivations or aims is ever stated, and the plot, and much of the action, of the episodes is wilfully obscure. Sapphire and Steel seems to tap into the logic of dream or myth, rather than that of conventional TV narrative. The term may be overused, not least by me, but there seems to be something archetypal about these elemental characters and the ritual dramas they act out.
I've also been impressed by the challenge facing Big Finish (coincidentally also the publishers of A Life Worth Living) in their attempt to resurrect Sapphire and Steel as a series of audio dramas. I had thought the idea of publishing novels based around The Prisoner was ambitious in terms of crossing between media, but this seems, if anything, to face even more significant obstacles.
For one thing, on TV a great deal of Sapphire and Steel's narrative progresses through dialogue-free scenes where sinister occurrences -- often, but not always, ghostly apparitions or distortions of time -- are conveyed through purely visual action. It will be remarkably difficult to achieve any similar effect through the use of sound effects -- there are only so many times you can employ distorted clock noises or half-heard babbling whispers. Furthermore, expository dialogue (never desirable in audio drama anyway) is entirely out of character for the elemental agents -- it's difficult enough working out what Sapphire and Steel are talking about when you can see it in front of you, let alone when it's only implied.
I'm intrigued to see whether anything of the aesthetic of the original can be preserved -- despite the fact that some of Big Finish's Doctor Who audio dramas, especially The Chimes of Midnight, have made bold attempts to evoke and sustain a similar atmosphere.
As if this weren't enough, neither David McCallum nor the resplendent Joanna Lumley is available to reprise their rôles. The parts of Sapphire and Steel have been assigned (yes, yes) to Susannah Harker and David Warner respectively. I'm not familiar with Warner's work, but he's supposed to be a decent actor, and Harker was fantastic as the bereaved scientist Angie in Ultraviolet.
Lumley and McCallum, on the other hand, have been called wooden, an accusation not without a polished grain of truth. However, this works strongly in Sapphire and Steel's favour. Excellent actors Warner and Harker may be, but they'll have to be prepared to play impersonal, immaterial forces obliged for mere convenience to put on the semblance of human personalities like masks. There are times in the TV series when Lumley's face becomes so inanimate and doll-like it's simply terrifying. If that's an artefact of bad acting, it's a remarkably fortuitous one -- and also one it won't be easy to reproduce on an audio track.
As with the Prisoner novels, I'm going to have to buy at least some of these CDs, simply because I'm so intrigued as to whether this can possibly be pulled off.