Assignment One

For the uninitiated, Sapphire and Steel was a short lived UK television series which ran from July 1979 to July 1982.  There were only 6 seasons of the series in total and it is a great cult classic.  For an overview of the shows and the ideas around them, please see the first post in this series.

By design, the seasons and the episodes were not named.  They are known as “The Assignments” and run, naturally, from one through to 6.  The first of these was originally to be a chldren’s show and this can be seen by the fact that the supporting characters throughout the first set of episode are mostly children.

The story begins in a remote house.  The parents are reading nursery rhymes to their young daughter, Helen.  Downstairs, their son Rob is doing his homework.  The clocks in the house stop ticking and the parents disappear.  The children are alone in the house, after verifying that their parents have vanished, they call the local policeman.  Shortly afterwards, Sapphire and Steel arrive at the door.

Steel explains that he has been in touch with policeman to tell him that he is no longer needed.  They explain that the children’s parents have been snatched by Time in an attempt to break through into our reality.  Time uses images (ghosts, as we would know them) of Roundhead soldiers and plague victims to get through to our reality and, sensing a threat in the two operatives, imprisons Sapphire in a painting set in the time of the Black Death.

To save her, Steel drops his body temperature to Absolute Zero, touching the painting and enabling Sapphire to escape.  They are joined by another Operative, Lead, and track the break through to a corner stone of the house.  To beat it, they travel back in time to the point at which it was laid and trap Time in it.  Lead then crushes the stone out of existence.  The three Operatives then vanish as the parents reappear.

Three short paragraphs to sum up six episodes of the first season of the show.  It’s difficult, in text, to summarise the episodes and to do justice to the menace of the show.  The children are left alone in a remote house that is only acessible by boat.  The disappearing parents embody the fear of every small child: that they will be left to fend for themselves.  Time, goes fairly quickly from annoying antics to imprisoning Sapphire and attempting to behead her.  And all throughout there are only two, very enigmatic adults, around.

We find out very little about the two Operatives.  Sapphire has an affinity and empathy for human beings, her role is to get to know the “witnesses”, to allay their fears and to find out why they have been targeted.  Steel is cold and sees them as impediments as best, he is focused on doing the job as quickly as possible and does not care for the feelings of the humans.

Of their particular powers, we find out here that they both employ telepathy to communicate noth privately and when they aren’t in the same room.  Steel, as mentioned, can reduce his body temperature.  Sapphire is able to “take back time” (a device which will be employed throughout the whole series, including the audio series) in short batches – effectively reversing time for everyone but her and Steel, allowing them to undo things that went wrong or to see what happened when they were elsewhere.  Steel is also somewhat of an engineer, reworking the refrigerator to assist him with the temperature reduction.  Lead, we also learn, is supposed to help Steel when he goes to Absolute Zero: he acts as an insulator to prevent permanent damage or death to Steel.

The thing I enjoy most about the series, and this episode, is the way it uses a very comfortable atmosphere – the home – and turns it into a forbidding and scary place.  I’m sure we can all appreciate that, when the lights went out when we were children, the home suddenly gained more shadows….  I also like that there is no backstory, no detail on the characters or the situation.  We learn with the characters and are given little extra detail that the characters themselves can’t learn.

Despite it’s origin as a children’s story, the work put in to make it appealling to adults means that people of all ages can find something to enjoy and capture their attention.  The fear, the chilling atmosphere, the heroes; all these things combine to make a very well told tale.


Posted on 2 October, 2008, in Films, Sapphire & Steel, Television and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. it sounds fascinating. 🙂 i’d never heard of this series.

    kouji@haiku poems examples´s last blog post..haiku poem: friendship (loss)

  2. If you can, track it down. It’s influenced a number of shows.

  3. I never heard of this series either. But it’s quite interesting. I will probably track it down.

  4. I’ve never heard of this show, but your description of it made it sound pretty good.

    Justin@Airsoft Rifles´s last blog post..More Spring Pistols Added

  5. It’s a great old show, lots of fun and lots to discuss the next day!

    Ray´s last blog post..I Know How You Got Here!

  6. This show looks pretty cool. Thanks for sharing this!

  7. I remember Sapphire & Steele it was a great series. Personally I just love the actress Joanna Lumley, she was also great in the Avengers!

  8. Sounds like an awesome series. I will have to check it out. Gracias for the lead! I have always loved Red Dwarf and I just recently discovered how much I like the back seasons of Dr. Who. I know I know, but we’ve all gotta start somewhere!

    Stephen@ Manzanillo Mexico´s last blog post..Surfing in Manzanillo- Mi Paraiso Surf Shop

  9. i love things which look natural and beyond imagination. supernatural power is also a gift of Jesus that is given as holy spirit.

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