Sapphire & Steel - Articles
All irregularities will be handled by the forces controlling each dimension. Transuranic, heavy elements may not be used where there is life. Medium atomic weights are available: Gold, Lead, Copper, Jet, Diamond, Radium, Sapphire, Silver and Steel. Sapphire and Steel have been assigned.
These words opened every episode of the series.Â Sapphire and Steel aired on, what was then, the third channel on UK television.Â At the time there were only 3: BBC1, BBC2 and ITV.Â Channel 4 was still a few years off and ITV was the newcomer to the UKTV scene.
This series was presumed forgotten and has never been repeated.Â It ran, sporadically, from July 1979 to July 1982 and was probably one of the most intelligent and least patronising series broadcast.Â As a primary school child, this was the show that you ran to discuss with your friends.Â And I’m willing to believe that you’ve never heard of it.
The two characters, Sapphire and Steel were played by Joanna Lumley (The New Avengers, Absolutely Fabulous) and David McCallum (The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Invisible Man) and were Operatives sent from an unknown place by an unknown organisation to battle forces that would weaken the barriers of reality and doom the planet.Â We are also told very little about the character’s back stories: we know they have worked together for a long time, we know that Sapphire is the diplomat of the team and knows more about humanity, we know that they are aliens (of a sort) and that Steel appears to have enjoyed a liaison of some sort with Jet and that Sapphire had a relationship of some sort with the Technician Silver. And very little else.Â Each series gave us a little more information about the characters, but you really had to pay attention to catch it.Â In a time when we are force fed every last detail of a character’s story in most television shows, this is absolutely unheard of.
Of the characters, Steel’s powers are not really shown apart from the fact that he is able to drop his body temperature down to near absolute zero, he employs telekinesis, that he is able manipulate most machinery and electronics, that he can be extremely strong (as when he ties a knot in an elevator cable to prevent the car from reaching their floor), he can render people immobile with a touch and that his body can be impervious to injury.Â We are also shown his single mindedness and callousness with human lives.Â Sapphire has a wider range of powers: she can turn back time for varying periods, she can tell the age of any object and when it was made, she can tell the age of any human being and the exact point at which they will die, she employs “spot analysis” to divine whether a person is a human or not, she can tell what period they have arrived in and which period(s) they are in at any one moment and she can create visual images of anything or anyone.Â Both Operatives have telepathy, the ability to teleport and the ability to change the clothes they are wearing (the clothes are described as “images”).
The series neatly straddled the line between a paranormal show, a horror show and a science fiction show, employing elements of all three.Â We are told that what we know as ghosts are in fact fragments of Time (Time being one of our and their enemies).Â The shows, created on a fairly low budget, were forced to be very inventive in their special effects and to rely very much on lighting, atmosphere, small sets and extremely good acting.Â Each show took place in a limited number of sets: a railway station, a farmhouse, a service station and so on.Â The actors rarely ventured out side 4 sets and the special effects were mostly a matter of lighting and the musical score.Â And yet, they managed to enthrall and spook viewers effectively.Â The final series, especially, showed the quality of acting and what any programme maker worth his salt (or her) can do with just a few sets and a small number of actors.
Sadly, the show ended after just 6 series when the two main actors lost interest in the show and wanted to stop.Â And it languished for over a decade until it was released on video (and later on DVD), riding the ever present wave of nostalgia for shows from the 70s, 80s and 90s.Â The writers of the new Doctor Who series have cited that they used it as a reference point.Â It was an intelligent drama for adults, teenagers and children who like that sort of thing.
I believe that there is no real reason that it could not be remade (or a sequel created) now.Â The fact that we know so little about the characters means that there will be no continuity to break, new actors could be used (regeneration, as in Dr Who?) and Russell T Davies and the BBC have shown that a writer who loved the original and has respect for the original can make an excellently updated version of the show.Â It’s no longer so revolutionary, elements of the show can be seen in Dr Who, though this should mean that it can return and have a familiarity.Â Of course, the show would need some excellent actors, though television science fiction/paranormal shows are now commonplace so the required actors can be found.Â Get a taste for the shows at Veoh – several episodes have been uploaded there.
To illustrate this, the company Big Finish have released several audio book productions with David Warner and Susannah Harker in the lead roles – they have managed to recreate the atmosphere and the few sets and have managed to be successful doing so.Â I believe this shows that there is an audience out there and the correct calibre of actors, writers and composers to do it real justice.
So, join me in demanding a return!!