Ring a ring of roses
A pocket full of posies
We all fall down
– Traditional English Nursery Rhyme
Sapphire and Steel are summoned to a condemned warehouse in the City area of London. There is a team in the warehouse transcribing documents and cataloguing artefacts found beneath the land the warehouse sits on. The warehouse was built over a plague pit dating back to the Black Death.
As expected, the past starts to creep in and affect the present. Why is Sapphire’s voice stored on a wax cylinder recording from 200 years ago? What is in the book that Dr Webber keeps to himself? And why is everyone coming down with what appears to be bubonic plague? Sapphire is trapped and Steel is falling ill. How can our heroes save the day…? Read the rest of this entry
This is the most maligned episode of the series. I believe that any failings are not down to the actual episode itself, but are down to the limitations of the technology at the time. We can see this is any number of science fiction series from the era. As with, arguably, the whole concept behind S&S, it was just ahead of it’s time.
This episode is great for two reasons, in my opinion. Firstly, we meet the fantastic character of Silver (the wonderful David Collings). Through him we learn that there are several tiers of agent – investigators (such as S&S) and technicians, such as Silver – as a technician, he can manipulate metal and transform and earing (for example) into a key with his special powers. For the first time we get some small background on the universe of the series and an idea of the wider organisation that the characters work for. Secondly, Silver and Sapphire indulge in a fair bit of flirting and it is implied that they have had a relationship. Suddenly, S&S are no longer merely ciphers who drop in to solve a problem, but real characters with a life beyond the series.
The story behind this episode is that our heroes are called to a tower block to deal with an incursion from the future. Couples from 1000 years ahead of “now” have been sent back to observe our present and to live as couples do now – a real nuclear family. However, very quickly things begin to go wrong and S&S must act before things begin to affect the present. We see much of the story in flashback, however the flashbacks have been cleverly written as if the characters are reacting to things happening in the story’s present. So when Steel bangs on the outside of the capsule, we see the characters inside the capsule react to banging noises. When S&S arrive though, these characters are already dead. The couples are menaced firstly by hallucinations of their meat dishes coming alive and reenacting the horror the animals felt when they were slaughtered. Then by a breakdown in their communications. And finally, they are killed. Their baby is left alive and is aged until it becomes an adult male. With Silver’s help S&S gain entrance to the capsule and the horror can begin. It transpires that in the future there is no eating of meat and all animal cruelty has ended, except that most of the technology is based on meat and the animals want their revenge…
As with the majority of the series (and a good number of light entertainment and more serious plays) this was quite a dark story. Even though only in flashes, the scenes of the animals are very vivid and bloody and we are given a real taste of the horror that has happened. The performances are, as ever, outstanding – Silver as a suave lounge lizard type character is a wonderful contrast to the dour and serious Steel. Despite the “rightness” of the creature’s wrath, it still needs to be stopped by our heroes and the time stream restored to it’s correct progression – dead things must stay dead!
The let down, and why it is so well known, is in the character of the artificially aged baby, played with gusto by Russell Wootton. I mean, just how do babies artificially brought to adult age actually act? I don’t know and would probably have gone with the same results as Wootton. The problem for the character is that he has very few lines to say, so everything has to be done through the power of mime and this, really, makes the actor look a little ridiculous. If you think I’m being unfair, take any piece of TV or theatre and then take away all the spoken parts of one character. No matter who the actor is or how good they are, they won’t look good.
The “bad parts” are fairly small in comparison to the whole. The three heroes are as heroic and argumentative as ever, Collings was an extremely good addition to the cast and served to strengthen it. The flashback sections were very well played, the actors brought out the idea of people out of time extremely well. The main characters progressed in terms of development and story. The overall tale fit with the canon and gave us the required sci-fi/paranormal mix. If this had been produced now, the effects would have been obviously more superior and more could have been done with the baby/man character.