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SAPPHIRE AND STEEL

Available on DVD

Sapphire and Steel Box image




Series Overview
  1. Assignment 1
  2. Assignment 2
  3. Assignment 3
  4. Assignment 4
  5. Assignment 5
  6. Assignment 6






Sapphire
Joanna Lumley

Steel -
David MacCallum

Silver -
David Collings




OTHER PARANORMAL INVESTIGATIONS
Fringe
Millennium
Eleventh Hour









SERIES OVERVIEW

When the final, definitive work on science-fiction television is written, the only series that will stand any chance of matching THE PRISONER for sheer bloody-minded impenetrability will be SAPPHIRE AND STEEL. Time elementals (except neither steel nor sapphire are elements of course) who go to the scenes of time breaches and put them right, fighting alien forces not fully understood for an agency that is never seen for reasons that are never given. Hell, the stories and episodes don't even have titles, that's how enigmatic this all is.

SAPPHIRE AND STEEL started off as a children's drama, something that is clearly visible in the first adventure, but it quickly transcended that. All of the future shows were written for decidedly adult audiences. The episodes were transmitted (in the UK) on weekday evenings, usually twice a week, and rarely left the viewer any closer to understanding what was going on than at the start. They were, and still are due to their enigmatic nature, compulsive viewing.

All of this disdain for audience understanding could have been seriously distancing for the show, but it is blessed with two leads who are quite perfectly cast and fill out the roles with such skill that you quickly connect with them, even if you don't know them any better by each passing show. Steel is played by David McCallum of MAN FROM UNCLE and THE INVISIBLE MAN fame and is the nominal leader of the pair (or team when other elementals Lead and Silver-not elements either-show up to help). Like his name, he is cold and hard, doing what has to be done without thinking of the emotional or human cost. Complementing him is Sapphire, played by Joanna Lumley, later to become even more famous in Absolutely Fabulous. Sapphire is the humanist of the team, full of fun and able to show warmth and kindness to the humans caught up in the situations. She is also a mistress of time, able to pause it, or even to take it back, though only in limited terms.

Around these two central characters, the rest of the, usually small, casts revolve in claustrophobic tales of mystery that never become clear. Victory is never quite assured, often not total and rarely without a price. These are the things that really lift SAPPHIRE AND STEEL above some other genre shows.

Being of its time, budgets are low and special effects are variable, but are rarely used. That said, all this works for the show, trapping us in a few rooms with something we'd rather not be with. Our only hope is two people who are not what they seem and may not even care what happens to us as long as they succeed in their task. We shall not see their like again, though we never saw their like before either. SAPPHIRE AND STEEL is uniquely itself and to be cherished for that.

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ASSIGNMENT 1

EPISODE 1 - Robert Jardine is doing his homework in the remote house where he lives with his family. Mum and Dad are reading nursery rhymes to Helen in the top bedroom and all is normal with the world. Until, that is, the clocks stop. Going upstairs, he finds that his parents have vanished and only Helen remains. He calls the police, but instead two strangers appear, a man called Steel and a woman called Sapphire. They explain that they are here to get the parents back and take the children up into the bedroom and get them to recreate the events that just transpired. As 'ring-a-ring-o-roses' is read out by Sapphire, strange images appear, people from another time, and the room seems to stretch away to infinity, a plague carrying man coming towards them. The strangers explain, after a fashion, that something is wrong with time and they are there to help. The key to it all was the nursery rhyme, the same rhyme that Helen has just started to recite unnoticed in the bedroom.

EPISODE 2 - Sapphire and Steel manage to save Helen when she recites the rhyme and reopens the tear in time. The policeman that Rob called from the mainland arrives, but Sapphire catches him in a time loop until Rob agrees to let them handle things. They board up the door at the top of stairs which leads to Helen's room and which has been taken over by whatever has broken through. That something calls out to Rob in his mother's voice and convinces him to recite a new rhyme, Goosey-goosey gander. As he does so, ghostly roundhead soldiers appear and advance upon him.

EPISODE 3 - Rob summons Steel to the door at the top of the stairs, but everything seems to be back to normal. Something, though, has escaped, a patch of light.Whilst Sapphire and Steel investigate, the light secretes itself in a painting and then pulls Sapphire into the same painting. It is here that the roundhead soldiers belong and they carried out an atrocity in that room, one which they wish to repeat on Sapphire. Steel has to cool himself to absolute zero and then freeze the painting. The light is caught, but the soldiers are now back, and looking real this time.

EPISODE 4 - Having frozen away the soldiers, Steel is incapacitated by the cold. Sapphire supervises the imprisoning of the now frozen shard of light and they all wait for Steel to recover. In the meantime there is a new arrival. Lead, another of the 127 elementals (if you count the unstable transuranics) has arrived to help and not before time. Steel determines that all of the books and pictures in the house must be burned and then he and Lead will attempt to freeze the problem out of Helen's bedroom. One of the books has a different idea, however, and uses another rhyme to set loose a hurricane in the house's kitchen.

EPISODE 5 - Sapphire manages to capture and burn the page that was causing so much trouble, but the enemy now holds the upper landing and the light has escaped from its prison. Things are looking bad, but they get a whole lot worse when Rob's father appears and tells him that both of the parents have been in hiding from the real threat, Sapphire and Steel.

EPISODE 6 - Rob is trapped in the cellar, but in a time before it was built. The shards of light are also there and so are the civil war soldiers. Sapphire and Steel need to act quickly. They know now where the enemy is hiding and Lead is on hand to provide insulation.

REVIEW - The first episode of SAPPHIRE AND STEEL contains everything that is so great about the show and everything that is not so great. The production values are low, the whole story being restricted to a few rooms and special effects kept to a minimum, but that lends a whole aura of claustrophobia and fear to proceedings. The lead actors are brilliant, turning out fully-formed characters that are compelling and alien from the very start. Without them at the centre, the uncertain acting of the children and overacting of Lead just wouldn't carry the show through. Very little is explained, even by the end, which helps to hide the fact that not a whole lot of it makes any sense. Atmosphere is everything to a show like this and SAPPHIRE AND STEEL has atmosphere in spades. The unseen threat is palpable, even more so when it isn't represented as circles of light. Though far from perfect, this first outing for the time detectives is compelling stuff.

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ASSIGNMENT 2

EPISODE 1 - George Tully is a psychic investigator. The abandoned railway station is giving him a lot to investigate. Flowers are appearing out of nowhere, there is the sound of whistling and of a man moving about carrying heavy things. When Sapphire and Steel arrive, he takes them for fellow ghosthunters and is suspicious of their motives. Sapphire picks up on a change of season and is caught out on the platform when summers suddenly comes and a marching band is heard approaching.

EPISODE 2 - The presence that Tully has been chasing solidifies into a World War Two soldier. Sapphire senses that he is not the threat, but there is a darkness that is using him. Steel checks Tully's tapes and finds sounds from a sunken submarine in World War 2. There are more figures appearing on the platform with the soldier. One of them is an airman and Steel is suddenly forced into reliving that man's death.

EPISODE 3 - Sapphire turns back time to save Steel, who is now angry and decides to take the ghosts head on. He rigs up the lights and gets Tully to start singing the soldier's favourite tune in the hope of stinging a reaction out of the soldier. What he gets is machine guns, grenades and both Sapphire and Tully choking to death in a corridor.

EPISODE 4 - Tully and Sapphire are reliving the death of the submariners heard on Tully's tape, but Steel manages to rescue them. He then decides to take up Tully's suggestion of a seance with Sapphire as the medium. She is contacted by the spirits of the submariners and then possessed by a schoolteacher when Steel forces her to go back into the soldier's past.

EPISODE 5 - The schoolteacher was the soldier's lover and tells many of his secrets before the soldier retaliates, setting the darkness upon them. The circle of the seance is broken, leaving Sapphire in a catatonic state.

EPISODE 6 - The soldier parades what appears to be Sapphire's spirit as one of his recruits on the platform whilst her body remains dormant in the waiting room. Steel gains access to the figure and learns from her that the ghosts represent no threat and neither does the darkness that is behind them. The darkness moves in and Tully is given the chance to leave, abandoning the still recumbent Sapphire. Steel rejects the false Sapphire and is also allowed to leave, but runs into a barrier of barbed wire.

EPISODE 7 - It's dawn and the spirits are all gone. Sapphire is returned to health and Steels barbed wire turns to spiderwebs. The threat seems to have passed, but they have moved 12 days into the future. Steel is not willing to lose and forces Sapphire to summon the darkness back offering it a deal.

EPISODE 8 - The darkness listens to Steels proposal and agrees to return them back in time by the missing 12 days. Steel gets Sapphire to jump them out after 11 to give him freedom to act. He shows the soldier what the future will really be like and how it can be avoided and then strikes his bargain, a deal that will require betrayal and sacrifice in equal measure.

REVIEW - Bloody hell! SAPPHIRE & STEEL's first outing was great, but it did nothing to prepare us for the second. Gone is any vestige of the children's show that it seemed the first time out and in comes full-blooded adult fantasy. No quarter is given to the audience to explain what is going on. The set up is revealed slowly towards a climax that is positively shattering in its bravery. Along the way there is some very serious and disturbing imagery including Steel strung up on barbed wire, the death of an airman and the submariners choking to death, all of them acheived with great lighting and sound and nothing more. The threat to all of the participants is very real and nobody comes off unscathed. There is a very real sense that the heroes are not in control of events and that they could very easily lose. There is a fine central performance from Gerald James as Tully that makes the events of the last ten minutes of episode 8 all the harder to bear. Joanna Lumley continues to be excellent as the gifted Sapphire, but is overtaken by David McCallum as the implacable Steel, a being driven to succeed and willing to do anything at all in order to win. Neither of these are conventional heroes, but they are brilliantly written and superbly played. The direction is magnificent, making the most of the limited sets and money, creating again the sense of claustrophobia and threat that permeated the first adventure. This is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the greatest pieces of television fantasy ever transmitted.

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ASSIGNMENT 3

EPISODE 1 - A family wakes up in an urban flat, but this is no ordinary family. For one thing, there is a recording/communication device in the wall. They have come from the future to carry out a historical experiment, living like the present-day folk, but sealed away from them. Communications are down and strange things are happening. Meanwhile, Sapphire and Steel have arrived and discovered an invisible pod on the top of a building. Whilst exploring the edges of the pod, dangling over the edge of the roof, Steel is attacked.

EPISODE 2 - The site is secured. Sapphire makes closer contact with the inhabitants of the pod, but they are no closer to entering. In the meantime, the adults within begin to worry that they can't contact either their home base in the future or the other research centre in the present. An apparent foetus in the wall, possibly a crystal of pure time, has turned their baby into a man and seems at the heart of the attack on the pod's occupants.

EPISODE 3 - Whilst Steel tries to track down the disappeared Sapphire, a new agent appears. His name is Silver and he is an expert in machines. His job is to get them into the pod. He tells Steel that there are two other pods, but that they are no longer a worry. Sapphire reappears in one of the other pods and discovers why this is. Eldred and Rothwyn, the pod's inhabitants, discover their baby, now in the body of a man and with the power to turn things to sand.

EPISODE 4 - Silver gets them all together into the one pod, but the adults and child have vanished and in their place is the child/man. Silver immediately decides that it is a machine and attempts to disassemble it, but is touched and vanishes.

EPISODE 5 - the child/man rebels against the power controlling it and Steel finds a way to return it to its proper state, bringing back Silver and the pod's occupants at the same time.

EPISODE 5 - The grisly truth about the time source is revealed and its reasons for attacking the humans. When it breaks its bonds and enters the pod proper, enough energy is released for Silver to send the pod back to its proper time, along with the threat it contains.

REVIEW - Following on from the sheer genius that was Assignment 2, this was always likely to be a disappointment and it is, but only because of the standard set so far. The main issues are the not so special effects (especially the final appearances of the time source and the attacking pillows). These undermine the seriousness of the threat facing them. Catherine Hall's patchy performance as Rothwyn, the female from the future also distracts, veering from Mrs Angry to smiling woman in the span of a single shot. Major plus points, though, remain the oppressive atmosphere of dread and the introduction of David Collings as Silver. Atmosphere is everything in SAPPHIRE & STEEL and this show continues to rely upon it. The claustrophobia of the pod is somewhat lost by the sequences shot on the open rooftop, but there are enough moments where the threat is brought home. Especially chilling is the moment when Silver coolly announces to Steel that there is no need to worry about the other pods, not anymore.David Collings is a delight as Silver, another brilliant addition to the investigative team. His relationship with Sapphire is hinted at and makes Steel even more irritable than usual. It is touches like this, not overstated, that make the character work so brilliant. Though it has its faults, this is remains a thoroughly watchable adventure.

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ASSIGNMENT 4

EPISODE 1 - Children appear near to an old building, children who are seen only indistinctly. Sapphire and Steel appear to investigate. The building's ground floor is a lost and found shop, jammed with potential triggers. The landlord is missing as is one of the tenants and the new landlord is a man with no face who can place people inside photographs and take them back out again.

EPISODE 2 - It's to do with photography, that much is now getting clearer. The girl living on the top floor is questioned. Sapphire attempts to bring the faceless man back through her mastery of time, but he resists and sets the shadowy children on Sapphire.

EPISODE 3 - After speaking to the faceless man, who now has two faces, one for Sapphire and one for Steel, they discover that he has trapped the missing landlord and girl in an old photograph. Sapphire tries to contact them, but the faceless man gets hold of the photograph and sets light to one corner.

EPISODE 4 - Following the deaths of the two trapped humans, Steel decides to fight back. His efforts, though, only manage to get himself and Sapphire trapped in another photograph whilst the Shape is coming for them.

REVIEW - It is accepted wisdom in the STAR TREK film franchise that the best films are the even numbered ones. This seems to be the case for SAPPHIRE AND STEEL as well. Going back to the creepy claustrophobia used to such good effect in the second assignment, this tale is full of dread and atmosphere. The setting is shabby and pathetic, a little like Liz, the girl from the third floor, a prostitute used to running away from things and places. She is played really well by Alyson Spiro, with a deep sense of sadness below the brittle, jolly exterior. The faceless man is great and a really effective threat, although he is far less effective when he is given a face. The climax of part three where he burns the picture containing the two trapped humans is horrifying. At the end of the story, Steel urges Liz to find every photograph of her ever taken and destroy them and you will feel like doing the same too.

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ASSIGNMENT 5

EPISODE 1 - Lord Mulrine is having a party to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of Mulrine International and has ensured that everything in the house is exactly as it was fifty years ago, with the exception of the security door into his office. The other guests were under orders to wear clothes that fit the period. Sapphire and Steel have invited themselves along as James and Virginia Cavendish to join the party. It's a game, but something is taking the game very seriously, making it real.

EPISODE 2 - George McDee, Lord Mulrine's dead partner attends the party to the shock of everyone, but decides instead to lock himself away in his laboratory. Everyone's memories are becoming unreliable. Past and present are merging. Then one of the guests is discovered during a game of Sardines with a knife in her back.

EPISODE 3 - It becomes clear that George McDee caused a major disaster in his laboratory, or would have if he had not died in a fire the very night of the forming of the company. A shooting in the Dining Room makes it clear that the guests are being killed off in order of age, youngest first.

EPISODE 4 - The murders are continuing, but Sapphire and Steel realise that they are simply a diversion, irrelevant. The true nature of events has yet to be revealed. Sapphire is taken over by the force and attempts to kill first herself and then Steel.

EPISODE 5 - There is only one guest left who was not there on the fateful night that George McDee died. Steel comes up with a plan to keep him occupied whilst they fashion an entry into Mulrine's office in the present to find out the truth about what happened in the past.

EPISODE 5 - The force has succeeded in taking time back to 21st June 1930 and the events of that night play out in front of Sapphire and Steel. As they watch the intrigue unfold, they must pick the moment when George McDee is killed and ensure that it happens again, or the whole human race will be destroyed.

REVIEW - Assignment 5 is Cluedo for time detectives with a dash of Ten Little Indians. Was it Lord Mulrine in the dining room with the poisoned port? In episode 4, Steel declares that the motivations for the killings, the killings themselves, are irrelevant, but they remain the centre of attention until the plot switches in the last episode to something out of a racy Upstairs Downstairs. It doesn't much matter because the waters are muddied enough to keep things from becoming too clear too soon and the playing continues to be exemplary from the two leads. Sapphire and Steel remain fascinating characters, even when masquerading as someone else. There is much less of a sense of dread or threat here than in the other stories, though the stakes are infinitely higher. This is the first time that the whole human race has been threatened after all. That's probably because writers Don Houghton and Anthony Read don't have the same mastery of the material as creator PJ Hammond. It's still eminently watchable and the only time where the victory of the central duo is complete.

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ASSIGNMENT 6

EPISODE 1 - Sapphire and Steel arrive at an empty service station to find Silver is already waiting for them. The only other occupants are a man and a woman from 1948. How they got there, they don't know. Time is stuck and there are images of old men in the back rooms. Then the world shakes and time moves forward by 20 minutes.

EPISODE 2 - The trio continue to investigate the service station, questioning the man and the woman more. They manage to contact the old man in the rear of the station, but learn little. Time jumps forwards again and a new shadow appears.

EPISODE 3 - A sinister tambourine player from the 1950s appears, but has no more idea how he got there than the man and the woman. Sapphire begins to suspect that something more sinister than a simple time break is at work. The ohter three men are revealed to be working together against them and Sapphire believes that they serve a higher authority.

EPISODE 4 - Now that they know they are under attack, the time detectives fight back, but the plot against them is revealed, the trap sprung and a long imprisonment begins.

REVIEW - The final adventure to date for Sapphire and Steel, but they go out on a high. At only four episodes, the story doesn't have a lot of depth, but the sense of claustrophobia and dread is back in full force. The character of Johnny Jack, with his tambourine, is beautifully threatening and the final moments are real shockers. Not a lot makes sense, but then very little ever did in this show. It's all brilliantly acted by the central trio and it is such a shame that this was the last outing that they ever had. There has never been a show like it and probably never will be again.

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