Sapphire and Steel : Assignment 1

April 10, 2014 in Cult TV, Guest Blogs by GuestBlogs

A Guest blog by Hevy782

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Sapphire and Steel was a short lived British sci-fi series that has gone on to become a cult classic among many sci-fi fans. The show revolves around two interdimensional agents, Sapphire and Steel who are played by Joanna Lumley and David McCallum respectively. They work for an unknown higher order and their mission is to fix irregularities with Time (with a capital T). Got that so far? Good, because this is where it gets complicated.


During this series Time itself is described as a corridor which we simply travel along and is also somewhat implied to be an evil force. There are also creatures from the start and end of Time who travel the corridor and try to break through weak spots to get into the present and cause chaos. These breaks are usually caused by an anachronism such as an old nursery rhyme sung in the right place or a house decorated to replicate a 1930’s setting. When something like this happens, investigators assess the situation and, if warranted, operators are sent to deal with the problem and will be assisted by specialists if necessary.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s take a look at the characters themselves. First up there’s Sapphire who is quite warm and caring while still maintaining a distant quality about her. She has to power to manipulate time within a small field and by turning back time can replay events to find out more but can only go back a short while and not a full day. She can also do a spot analysis where she can find out about an object simply by touching it. Next there’s Steel who is much more cold and distant that his counterpart. He is very much focused on the bigger picture and getting the job done which can lead him to clash with humans but this does not mean he is beyond compassion. He has the power to reduce his body temperature to near absolute zero which he can use to destroy remnants of time (which are known to humans as ghosts) but this does heavily drain his energy. They are also telepathic and use this ability to talk to each other over great distances to keep each other up to date. There are said to be one-hundred and twenty-seven operatives in total including twelve transuranic elements who cannot be assigned where there is life.

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Now for this story itself which is the first assignment which is written by P J Hammond and is made up of six parts. Its title, Escape through a Crack in Time, may seem slightly familiar to fans of Doctor Who and while the general concept of it is the same, they’re not to be confused as there is something far worse on the other side in this series. We also never get to see a physical crack and the creatures who escaped through it remain largely unseen and only appear as patches of light moving across the floor for the most part. This story, along with most of the others, shares a lot in common with ghost stories and arguably has more of these elements than it does science fiction ones. This means that it is very much a horror filled show and it has gained a reputation for being utterly terrifying and one of the scariest pieces of sci-fi television that has probably ever been produced.

The story itself is set in a eighteenth century house filled with lots of clocks and antiques where after singing a nursery rhyme to their young daughter Helen, the parents disappear into thin air. While Helen’s older brother Rob goes to fetch a policeman, Sapphire and Steel arrive out of nowhere to investigate. After repeating the nursery rhyme in the child’s bedroom they begin to see ghosts of the past appear before their eyes and after this Steel nails the door shut and orders that no-one go near it. But from under the door creatures escape and begin to terrorise the occupants of the house. Later, the specialist Lead arrives to help them find the cause of the problem and meanwhile, Rob sees the his ‘father’ inside the study and disappears. Sapphire, Steel and Lead then learn the anachronism is in the cellar and that Rob is in an echo of the past while the house was still being built. They then go into the past with him and destroy the anachronism with the creatures inside
it, resetting the house to before the parents disappeared and they are allowed to continue with their life as normal.

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Rewatching this story now was very interesting as I had not seen it for a very long time and on the whole I found it very entertaining. On the characters, Sapphire is very motherly to the children in a lot of ways, especially Helen and it really does make her into a likeable character and a great foil for Steel. He is very much the fearless character and also the distant one who can come out with some nice one liners a lot of the time and is often teased because of his distant nature. However, he does show some concern and especially when Sapphire is inside the painting so its nice to know that he does care. The children themselves could’ve very easily of been annoying but these are some of the best child actors I’ve ever seen and they really do bring a believability to their roles. Finally, there’s Lead who is basically the gentle giant and is very much a child at heart although sometimes you do wonder if he understands the seriousness of the situation.

One of the main things about Sapphire and Steel is that it is very much sci-fi that doesn’t talk down to you and you really have to pay attention otherwise you can easily get lost. However, the children being here in this story help that as part of the first one as it means that they will ask questions adults simply wouldn’t and you learn much more about them than you probably would’ve done otherwise. At first I was worried that with its limited setting and small cast it wouldn’t be able to sustain itself for six episodes but it did so surprisingly well. While it was not as scary as I remember it (which I guess happens when you get older) it still had its fair share of scary moments, most notably when Sapphire was stuck in the painting. It was quite a chilling sequence, especially when the soldiers come into the room. However, I think that when the soldiers came into the real world and tried to kill Sapphire it was a bit too much as not only have you had no time to recover from the part inside the painting but also it takes away this intangible element about the threat and the idea that they don’t come to you but they take you to them gets slightly lost. But the most frightening part of this story for me was defiantly when Rob’s mother turned around and her smile was so creepy and her eyes were so scary. It honestly scared the life out of me.

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Overall, I must say that I am impressed with this story and while it wasn’t as scary as I expected when I came into it, it is defiantly a great bit of entertainment. That’s all for assignment one, next week we’ll be looking at assignment two set in an old railway station and is said to be the scariest of them all.