Sapphire and Steel : Assignment 6

May 29, 2014 in Cult TV, Guest Blogs by GuestBlogs

A Guest Blog by Hevy782


From an old house to an abandoned railway station. From a futuristic time vessel then to a modern day apartment. Now from a 1930’s style dinner party to our final destination, a seemingly abandoned roadside café where time has stopped and the only clue is two humans who claim to be from 1948. This is it, the final assignment for Sapphire and Steel. Series creator P J Hammond returns to write this final four part story. Unlike the other assignments, this one directly relates to Sapphire and Steel and where they come from. While we are still left basically in the dark at the end of this story we do get more tantalising hints as to who they really are in this than in any other story.

We also get to see Silver again in this and he has mysteriously arrived before hand, rather than the usual procedure of specialists being sent after operators have arrived and if their help is necessary. This makes Sapphire and Steel initially wary of him and adds a deeper level of mystery to the story, as if there wasn’t enough already. It also means we get to spend more time with the brilliant Silver which is never a bad thing. Another good thing about this story is that it doesn’t just fade out at the end, it goes out on a real gut-punch and leaves us with a great cliff-hanger to end the series on. I’ll go into more on that and why it’s so great later.

First off let’s look at the characters, of which there are only a few, going back to the traditional small cast of the series. Of course we have Sapphire, Steel and Silver, all of whom have a very great dynamic in this which I quite like. I always find that throwing Silver into the mix adds a bit more tension between Sapphire and Steel and also adds a bit more humour with Silver often being far more sarcastic that Sapphire and Steel who share a much more subtle humour. Then we have the couple who claim to be from 1948 who are there from the start and are quite mysterious, one often speaking for the other and the way that they are always sat in the same place is often quite unnerving. It’s also interesting to note that there names are never given, in the credits simply being called the man and the woman. Next we have the old man, again simply credited as such, who is probably the most mysterious as he only seems to appear as a ghost of the past (although we later find out he’s a ghost from the future) and he himself claims to be from 1925, despite the couple in the café contradicting that and claiming that he comes from their time. Finally we have the one who’s probably the most creepy and that is Johnny Jack who claims to be part of a carnival from 1957 and in his make-up he really is quite unnerving.

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During this story the human characters seem to blend into the background, becoming just as mysterious as the set and are used far more a plot devices than actual characters. Not that that’s a bad thing at all, as this way they help to make it all the more unnerving. The set itself is very much typical of Sapphire and Steel. It’s small, dark and somewhat ordinary. These features, coupled with the mysterious characters, all help to make this place fairly inhospitable. Having something abandoned always make it more creepy, and this one is no exception. It seems we almost take for granted the people around us in public places and don’t know how creepy these places are until they’re gone. There’s also the fact that it’s cut off from civilisation and that no matter how fast our heroes run there is no escape from this place. As far as actual scares go there aren’t many in this story, it’s more down to the atmosphere created by the setting and characters to creep you out and it certainly does so. It does get quite tense and more scary during the final episode where your building towards the climax, and what a climax it is.

No were going to be moving into heavy spoiler territory so you might want to skip to the conclusion if you haven’t seen this story. The biggest of which is that the human characters in the café are not at all what they seem and the whole thing is actually a great big trap set up by an unknown higher authority. To help in this trap this higher authority employed transient beings to deal with Sapphire and Steel. While the man, the old man and Johnny Jack are transient beings it’s unclear about the woman and who she really is. So who are these transient beings? How should I know? We know as little about them as we do about Sapphire and Steel, all the information we get is that they were trapped in the past for some reason or another. Going back to the topic of scares earlier, the cliff hanger to the third part is probably the scariest part of the whole story with the transient beings getting suits similar to that of Steel’s and Silver’s and they start walking, with no expression, to kill Sapphire, Steel and Silver. This then leads into a slightly more action packed episode than the norm which features one of the greatest cliff-hangers of all time.

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Now I’ve put of talking about this ending for long enough now but I think we’ve finally reached the right point to talk about it. So as Sapphire and Steel go for the final stand off against the man and the woman in a café similar but different to the one from before when suddenly the man and women disappear, leaving Sapphire and Steel floating about in a café in the middle of space, they are now caught in the trap. There really is something so hopeless about it and the way Steel hurries to open the box (which was originally a time machine) and only chess pieces fall out is very well done. This ends the series on a defining note and it’s not at all a happy ending. It’s never really explicitly stated what happened to Silver as we see him when the box is opened but not in the café for the final confrontation. I must say that it really is a gut punch and it’s very hard to imagine a way out of it. Originally this was intended to be picked up and resolved in the next story but the lead actors David McCallum and Joanna Lumley decided not to go on and thus the series ended on a bleak cliff-hanger never to be resolved. In retrospect however, it does seem very much like the style and the tone of the series for it to end in such a way and anything else would’ve seemed like a disappointment. Sapphire and Steel is a very different type of show so it seems fitting for it to have a different type of ending to the norm. It’s far from a happy ending, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Looking back at the show from the start it seems that a lot of things have changed. It seems slightly more grown up than when it started (although it was already quite grown up back then) although it was probably at its peak in only the second assignment. It also seemed embrace more science fiction elements as it went along, rather than being ghost stories with a few science fiction elements thrown in. However, over the course of the series one thing that didn’t change was the mysteriousness of the title characters. All we know about them at the start is that they are operators from some kind of authority who are sent to deal with problems in time caused by anachronisms. We never see the civilisation which they come from or even have it described to us. We get hints that they do have a life outside of their work but we never see any of that. All we see is their assignments. The biggest revaluation we get is in this story when it is revealed that a higher authority tried to recruit them both at one time but they both declined and now that higher authority wants them out of the way. The characters themselves didn’t change all that much. The main bit of character development we see is with Steel as he goes from cruelly sacrificing an innocent mans life in assignment two to risking his own life, along with that of Sapphire’s and Silver’s, just to save one women from the transient being in this. It’s unfortunate that that compassion is ultimately what ends up being their downfall when she seemingly betrays them all.

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In conclusion, I think this was an amazing story and a great one to end of the series with. At only four parts long it doesn’t drag at all like some of the longer ones did and it was also very creepy, with loads of build up in the first half and a lot of pay off in the second. In this the series really did go out with a bang and it’s that ending which helped it to leave the legacy it has done as a mature, horror filled sci-fi series that doesn’t talk down to you.