Set in a world in which the future and past collide and Time
can overturn reality, Sapphire & Steel will capture
your consciousness and transport you to altered states. Eerie,
frightening forces are at work, and only Sapphire and Steel
can stop the strange events and restore natural order to the
universe. These two superhuman agents have been assigned to
safeguard the structure of Time. With their uncanny powers,
they protect the present from malign forces from the past
and Steel have been assigned - again. This collection contains
all 34 episodes of the ATV series, produced between 1979 and
1982. Although all six stories have been previously released
on DVD through various labels, including A&E Home Video
in Region 1 and Carlton in Region 2, some of the new special
features on this Network release might persuade you to part
with your cash, including audio commentaries on two episodes...
parents of two children suddenly disappear from a lonely house
by the sea. They have not walked out - they have simply ceased
to exist in the present. Equally mysteriously, two strangers
arrive on the scene. Their names are Sapphire and Steel, but
who are they? Can they bring back the parents who have been
trapped by unknown powers...?
One gets the series off to a good start. The mysterious
characters of Sapphire (Joanna Lumley) and Steel (David McCallum)
are established through their interaction with the young Helen
(Tamasin Bridge) and her initially distrustful older brother
Rob (Steven OShea). Thus we learn that the agents are
far from human, but rather are elemental forces assigned to
investigate and deal with Time anomalies. We never discover
the exact nature of these characters or the limits of their
abilities, but this is all part and parcel of the appeal of
this curious and unique show.
audio commentary by writer P.J. Hammond and director/producer
Shaun ORiordan on episode one and a documentary, Counting
Out Time, on disc six, reveal that Assignment One
was initially intended for a childrens TV timeslot.
This explains the major involvement of child actors and a
more upbeat ending than subsequent assignments. By contrast,
Assignments Two and Three come to bittersweet
conclusions, with some particularly callous actions being
taken by Steel.
OShea is impressive as Rob, though the younger Tamasin
Bridge doesnt enunciate all that clearly at times. Talking
of enunciation, Hammond and ORiordan often speak too
quietly to be heard clearly during their commentaries.
Steel is a particularly forbidding presence during this opening
serial, partly because we are seeing him through the eyes
of frightened children. Following his starring roles in The
Man From U.N.C.L.E. and The Invisible Man, the
actor evidently relishes the opportunity to play a very different
character as the cold and logical Steel. Both McCallum and
Lumley remain consistently excellent throughout the series.
Sapphire and Steel appear at an old, derelict railway station.
Many years have passed since any trains ran through it. Now
it echoes with mysterious figures and voices from the past.
A ghost hunter makes contact with what appears to be the spirit
of a soldier from the Great War, and Sapphire senses an overwhelming
feeling of hatred...
eight episodes duration, the lengthiest serial in this
collection, Assignment Two is a bit on the long side,
to say the least. This is possibly the result of ATV changing
the number of episodes they required from the creative team
even as the show was in production, as the documentary Counting
Out Time reveals. The story could easily have been told
in six episodes or fewer - but then, Sapphire & Steel
was never known for being a fast-paced adventure series.
essential attribute has always been its atmosphere, and plenty
of that is generated on the dimly lit set of the disused train
station. The programme has a knack of tapping into primal
fears and childhood nightmares, from the creepy parental impostors
of Assignment One to a character with pitch-black eyes
in this adventure.
is a low-budget production, but the programme avoids the pitfalls
that often beset its rival Doctor Who by never attempting
to over-reach its limitations (aside from a rather poor-looking
fake swan in Assignment Three). The principal monsters
in each of the first three stories are basically lighting
effects - white light in Assignment One, darkness in
Assignment Two and swirling coloured light in Assignment
Three - though the darkness also involves some clever
use of electronic effects. Each of the stories confines itself
to a single basic, typically spooky, location - a coastal
house in Assignment One, a tower block in Assignment
Three and the railway station here.
gives one of her greatest performances here as the empathetic
Sapphire. During this story, she convincingly portrays several
different personalities as Sapphire acts as a medium.
How can Sapphire and Steel help people they know nothing about
- people who are inside a building they cannot see? All they
know is that these people have come from the future and that
they are in danger. Inside the building, a woman is troubled
by disturbing visions. Can the house be coming to life to
terrorise her, her husband and their baby...?
Three uncannily predicts aspects of reality TV shows such
as Big Brother and The 1940s (or whatever) House.
Eldred and Rothwyn, time-travellers from millennia hence,
re-enact a 1980s lifestyle while inhabiting a replica of a
contemporary high-rise flat, each room of which contains a
camera to record their activities and opinions. There is even
a room that resembles Big Brothers Diary Room!
You can almost hear the Marcus Bentley voice-over: Day
27 in the 1980s house. All the housemates are awake, except
Eldred, whos still in bed!
coincidental factors aside, Assignment Three is my
personal favourite Sapphire & Steel adventure,
because, more than any of the others, it scared the living
daylights out me as a child and because its the most
unusual of the bunch. Instead of the usual ghosts and images
from the past, the agents have to deal with a threat from
the future. And, in contrast to the previous two assignments,
the budget stretches to a little location work, which, though
confined to the roof of a tower block, nevertheless lends
a significantly different look to the show.
story also sees the first of two guest appearances by David
Collings as the charming but vain technician Silver, an appealing
and distinctly Doctor Who-like character. Indeed, Collings,
who has notched up several appearances on Who over
the years, including that of an impostor for the Doctor in
Mawdryn Undead, would have made a great Time Lord on
TV, and has since played the character on audio for Big Finishs
Doctor Who Unbound series. The success of his performance
as Silver, which makes a great contrast to the straight-faced
Steel, led to his eventual return in Assignment Six,
not to mention Big Finishs Sapphire & Steel audio
other guest stars, playing the time-travelling family, are
also notable, particularly because of their very weirdness.
The querulously voiced Eldred (David Gant) constantly defers
to his wife Rothwyn (Catherine Hall), who is shorter in stature
but infinitely stronger in character. Meanwhile, Russell Wootton
gives an unnerving performance as the Changeling, their infant
son, who is aged to adulthood by a vengeful Time Force.
Is Time trying to break through into the present via old photographs?
Temporal investigators Sapphire and Steel probe the secrets
of an old shop that never opens, a shop in which nothing is
new. They see children from the past - children who are neither
real nor images but something in between - and an evil shape-shifting
In contrast to the lighting-effect villains of
Assignments One to Three, the Shape (played
by both Philip Bird and Bob Hornery) makes a big impression
here as the detectives first tangible adversary. Frequently
appearing as a man without a face, he is truly the stuff of
on from two six-parters and an eight-parter, Assignment
Four, which comprises just four episodes, is noticeably
swifter in pace. Episodes two to four really race along.
assignment also addresses the question of why Sapphire and
Steel always seem to arrive after a Time-break has
occurred, never before, when they might have been able to
prevent the damage instead of merely repairing it. Perhaps
some fans wrote to writer/creator P.J. Hammond posing that
very question to him!
in vision, due to low light levels in the studio, is particularly
apparent during this serial. However, this is a quality inherited
from the master videotape recordings, rather than a fault
in the transition to DVD. Looking back at my old VHS tapes
of the entire series , I see that this is how the original
A wealthy industrialist holds a themed house party to celebrate
his companys golden anniversary. Every detail has been
turned back to the style and atmosphere of 1930, the year
in which the company was founded. But things go disastrously
wrong when Time starts to roll back the years for real. Sapphire
and Steel have a new assignment...
presence of guest writers, former Who scribes Don Houghton
and Anthony Read, in place of the usual Hammond, is noticeable
during Assignment Five. A pastiche of Agatha Christie-style
murder mysteries in general, and Ten Little Indians
in particular, this whimsical tale involves the detectives
to a lesser extent than it does the large cast of eccentric
not necessarily a bad thing, though, since this adventure
is packed with intriguing plot developments. The lack of story
padding is evidenced by the relatively short duration of the
recaps at the beginning of each episode - in other serials,
these can last for anything up to three minutes.
particularly memorable character in this story is the bluff
Felix (Jeffry Wickham), who is briefly recruited
by Sapphire and Steel, and adopts the nickname of Brass.
Silver joins Sapphire and Steel for their most perplexing
case yet, the investigation of a present-day Time-break that
somehow points to 1948. A motorway service station appears
to be frozen in Time. Who are the young couple they find inside
the service station café, and how are they involved
in the bewildering shift in Time...?
by Sapphire & Steel standards, Assignment Six
is seriously weird stuff! The first three episodes dont
make a whole lot of sense, but then they arent supposed
to, and they still make compulsively unnerving viewing. In
the audio commentary on the final episode, writer Hammond
confirms my suspicion that he was making it up as he went
Collings, who made such an impact in Assignment Three
as the charming rogue Silver, puts in a very welcome return
appearance here. Meanwhile, future Auf Wiedersehen, Pet
star Christopher Fairbank is truly chilling as Johnny Jack
(with his children on his back), a sinister travelling
performer who has rag dolls attached to his coat.
when I was a lad of 12, when this story was originally transmitted,
I didnt even realise that episode four was the final
one of the serial, never mind the conclusion to the entire
series! So try and imagine my surprise as you reach the end
of this fateful instalment.
the commentary and the documentary Counting Out Time
(presented on the same disc as this serial), Hammond and ORiordan
discuss some fascinating ideas for what might have happened
had there been a seventh assignment. However, no mention is
made of the continuation that has already taken place - the
Big Finish series.
This release lacks the TV Times text articles, ITC
press material and cast biographies that appeared on the Carlton
Assignments I-III and IV-VI DVDs. However, there
are stills galleries on each disc, as well as (according to
the press release) PDFs of original scripts, designers
floor plans and PR paperwork. I have been unable to locate
these PDFs, but hopefully the packaging (which was not available
for review) explains how to access them.
any event, if you dont already own these episodes on
DVD, then this entertaining collection will truly allow you
to take Time back.