Remember Sapphire and Steel? I have very vague recollections of it as a primary school child. What I do recall is that the show was slightly scary and very odd. Watching Sapphire and Steel The Complete Series Special Edition many years on and that opinion hasn’t really changed.
Sapphire and Steel is indeed incredibly odd, both as a show and as a concept. To sum it up, Sapphire (Joanna Lumley) and Steel (David McCallum) are two of a number of elements, trusted to look after the fabric of time. If there’s an anomaly, the elements are despatched to sort it out. For the show, this tends to be Sapphire and Steel, but other elements, such as Lead and Silver, occasionally pop up to help out in particularly tricky situations.
Not exactly today’s idea of early evening viewing, but back in the late 70s, ITV obviously thought this mix of sci-fi, ghost story and thought-provoking drama was just what we needed after a hard day at work/school. Indeed, it was intended as genuine competition for the Beeb’s Dr Who. It didn’t really take off, developing the trademark cult following before being shelved by ITV after a few years and six ‘assignments’ (no stories were ever named). Shame really, because Sapphire and Steel is rather good.
The budget for locations and special effects must have been pretty slim – the pair never leave a badly-constructed indoor set and the effects, when used, are just a few pretty tame camera tricks. But good drama never ages and thanks to P.J Hammond’s pen, that’s what you get. Indeed, this is very intelligent drama, albeit with storylines that would baffle a hardened BBC4 viewer today, let alone a casual ITV watcher in the 70s and 80s.
Miss five minutes and the plot gets confusing. Miss an episode in those pre-VCR days and you’ve no chance. But in this era of DVD, we can watch the shows at our leisure, working out the complexities of time when our brains are in gear. Plots range from ghosts in old houses and railways stations (there’s a lot of nostalgia here) through to a bizarre tale of time travel with killer babies. And there’s some particularly gruesome moments for prime time – like someone being burned alive in an old photo for example. Oh yes – and the strangest ending to a TV show ever.
It’s the kind of thing that is certain to be lapped up by fans of cult sci-fi, although for more casual viewers, this kind of complex drama is likely to be a turn-off. But if you’ve any inclination towards cult TV, I would recommend it. I was expecting the worst and ended up enjoying pretty much every episode. It’s certainly not background viewing, but if you have the time, this DVD box is certainly worth the effort.
Extras on the DVD:
Exclusive documentary on the making of the show, featuring stars and crew.
Original PR paperwork and script PDFs
Original designer’s floor plans in PDF format