DVD
Sapphire & Steel
Assignments IV, V & VI

Starring: Joanna Lumley and David McCallum
Carlton
RRP 40.99
37115 03913
Certificate: PG
Available now


Temporal investigators Sapphire and Steel encounter an evil shape-shifting entity that has broken through Time using photographs...

In contrast to the lighting-effect "villains" of Assignments I to III, the Shape (played by both Philip Bird and Bob Hornery) makes a big impression here as the time detectives' first tangible adversary. Frequently appearing as a man without a face, he is truly the stuff of childhood nightmares.

Following on from two six-parters and an eight-parter, Assignment IV, comprising just four episodes, is noticeably swifter in pace. Episodes Two to Four really race along.

This assignment also addresses the question of why Sapphire (Joanna Lumley) and Steel (David McCallum) 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 creator P J Hammond posing that very question!

"Ghosting" in vision, due to low light levels in the studio, is particularly bad during this serial. However, looking back at my old VHS copy, I see that this is how the original programme looked.

 

A dinner party to celebrate a business's golden anniversary goes disastrously wrong when Time begins to roll back the years for real...

The presence of guest writers - former Doctor Who scribes Don Houghton and Anthony Read - in place of the usual P J Hammond, is noticeable during Assignment V. A pastiche of Agatha Christie-style murder mysteries in general, and Ten Little Indians in particular, this whimsical tale involves the time detectives to a lesser extent than it does the large cast of eccentric guest characters.

That's not a bad thing, though, since this adventure is packed with intriguing plot developments. The lack of story padding is evidenced by the relatively short length of the recaps at the beginning of each episode (in other serials, these can last for up to three minutes).

A particularly memorable character in this story is the bluff Felix (Jeffry Wickham), who is briefly "recruited" by Sapphire and Steel, and nicknamed Brass.

 

Sapphire, Steel and Silver tackle their most perplexing case yet, when they arrive at a petrol station that seems to be frozen in time...

Even by Sapphire & Steel standards, Assignment VI is seriously weird stuff! The first three episodes don't make a great deal of sense, but then they aren't supposed to, and they still make compulsively unnerving viewing.

David Collings, who made an impact in Assignment III as the charming rogue Silver, puts in a very welcome return appearance here. Meanwhile, 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.

Back when I was a boy of 11, when this story was transmitted, I didn't 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 extra features are nothing much to write home about. There are transcripts of the original - and sometimes amusingly inaccurate - ITC press releases. There are also screen biographies for several of the guest cast. And there are a couple of picture galleries, although these don't include any shots from Assignments IV or V.

But who cares when you have such excellent adventures as these to enjoy?

Richard McGinlay

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