A Guest blog by Hevy782
The second assignment of Sapphire and Steel is both longest and notoriously the scariest of all the stories. This story was again written by P J Hammond, who also envisioned and created the series, and it is eight parts long. Again, keeping to the same formula of small sets and minimal casts, its hard to believe that it’s able to sustain itself for eight parts but it does so surprisingly well. While there are moments which feel quite padded out it still manages to keep itself going and there are times where it flies by surprisingly quickly. Watching this, you’d be mistaken for thinking you’re watching a ghost story rather than science fiction as it really does focus more on the ghost story elements that provide all the scares rather than the science fiction which come to think of it there wasn’t that much of at all. It does still provide the explanation as to what ghosts actually are and, unlike many other science fiction series, does draw off this idea that there is life after death. The creature itself in this story is feeding off the resentment of the dead and is using an abandoned railway station as a rallying ground for those who died unjustly. This provides a basic premise for a story which really does feature lots of scares and dark imagery.
For the characters in this we again have a very small cast with only three heroes (if you’ll call them that) in this story. First, we have Sapphire who is as great as ever and is often teasing Steel during this. Joanna Lumley actually gets a lot to do with this character this time around as she not only gets to play Sapphire but a couple of other characters as well, both of which she does with particular unease. Next up there’s Steel who stays himself throughout and is very much the centre of this story with the character of Sapphire spending a lot of time in other roles. I’ll go into more about what he does later but I will say that he takes cold and detached to a whole new level. Finally we have Mr George Tully who is a ghost hunter at the railway station Sapphire and Steel are investigating. He is a good man and the character you really do sympathise with and get attached to the most. It’s also nice and quite convenient from a plot perspective that he is a very open minded man which means he is quickly able to accept Sapphire and Steel and their abilities (which again are not used as much as last time). He is often left in the dark by Sapphire and Steel and they often, Steel especially, treat him quite badly which makes it all the more surprising that he insists on staying there to help them.
Inhabiting the railway station we have a group of ghosts who were brought there by the Darkness to feed it. Firstly there’s the soldier, later revealed to be Sam Pierce, who was killed by mistake eleven minutes after the end of the first world war. He is the main ghost and also the most villainous. There are times when he comes across as quite innocent and there are others where he scares the life out of you and I think that the actor, Tom Kelly, gets both sides done just right. Next up we have the world war two pilot who not much information is given on but we are told that he was shot down one flight away from being demobbed. Finally there’s a group of civilians who volunteered to go on a experimental submarine during which the air pumps failed. Steel, Sapphire and Tully are made to live through each of these deaths and experience them the way they did in some sequences which really are terrifying. The Darkness itself is never really displayed as a physical form but mainly just as a malevolent entity which speaks mostly through Sapphire in the final two parts.
The setting itself is actually quite creepy but that is only the tip of the iceberg in this story. It has moments that make you jump, like when Sapphire walks out a room and is suddenly confronted with the soldier, and moments that leave you on the edge of your seat, like when the darkness creeps in and consumes the room around Tully. There are so many of these moments that I could go on all day but instead I’m just going to pick out a couple. One that was very well done was when Steel was sitting on the chair listening to a recording when suddenly he is experiencing the pilot’s death and the room around him begins to shake and turn and it very much feels like he’s in a plane but still in that room. It’s not really the scene itself but Steel’s reaction, as he’s a character who has never been visually scared before it’s shocking to see his face full of fear and that really sells the scene from me. Another part is the first time Sapphire is possessed by the darkness where she has solid black eyes which sends a shiver down the spine. This deceives you into thinking the second time will be the same but instead you’re met with a gruesome red face which you see for less than a second which is both shocking and sickening. For the rest of the time when she is possessed you only see her from the back advancing on Steel and it really is terrific stuff.
One of the most memorable and best moments of the story is the ending to part six which really does have a feeling of hopelessness about it. While the whole thing is generally quite dark and hopeless this moment really does feel like its the end for our heroes with Sapphire in a coma, Steel stuck motionless in barbed wire and Tully fleeing the railway station to look for help. It is here in which the soldier takes his chance to sit and talk with Steel. It really is a great sequence with him being very ruthless to Steel and appearing to be getting his own back on him. The imagery of steel himself being stuck in the wire is quite grim itself but the way the soldier casually talks to him really tops it off. It then starts to dip a bit here in the horror aspects of it as we move into the next episode where they wake up twelve days in the future but it adds a new layer of mystery to the story to make up for this. It could be viewed as a cheap solution to a spectacular cliff-hanger but I think it’s unfair to view it as such and also anything that followed something like that up would be viewed as cheap in comparison. So they add in a new mystery to make up for this which strangely calms the situation while also putting you even more on edge as you know something has to be wrong here, and of course there is.
Now I’m going to move on to the ending and if you haven’t seen the story yet then I suggest you go watch it before reading this part especially as you really should go into this unsuspecting of it to get the full experience. So now we are deep in spoiler territory so if you haven’t turned back by now, then you have been warned. So then, Steel makes a deal with the Darkness where by sending all the dead back where to where they came from and leaving this place it will receive, in return, Tully’s life to change history so it can feed off of the resentment of Time itself. It truly is heartbreaking and the scene where Tully (who seems oblivious to what is about to happen) talks to Steel honestly reduces you to tears. He really was such a sweet character and its such a shame to see him go in such a way that makes you question whether Sapphire and Steel are really the heroes. Steel especially treads a very fine line and while Sapphire obviously isn’t okay with it, she still lets Steel go through with it. It’s also interesting to see how manipulative Steel becomes in the final two episodes and he even acts nice to Tully to gain his trust, in which we find out he has no family at home and only a one-eyed cat named Nelson. Building up this background makes it even more of a tragedy from him and the scream he makes from off screen just sends a chill down the spine and really does hammer the point home. Sapphire and Steel are very much bigger picture characters and are arguably just as dangerous as the threats they fight. Their moral centre is very much in question and if it’s necessary they will sell you out, that’s the way they work. It makes them a very different type of hero and makes Sapphire and Steel possibly the most unique sci-fi series ever.
To sum up, this one of the darkest and most impressive stories of all. Gone are any elements of a children’s show that were in the first assignment and we now move into a much darker type of story telling. With assignment two now done we move onto the third featuring many more science fiction and futurist elements, along with the specialist Silver played by the brilliant David Collings.