Written by Cal Wilson

Arts

Rated or Dated: Sapphire and Steel

Standard Issue writers are revisiting a film/book/TV series to see if it’s stood the test of time. Rumours of a remake have sent Cal Wilson back to a bit of bonkers (and terrifying) low-budget sci-fi.

sapphire and steelWhat and why: A low-budget ITV science fiction TV show that ran from 1979-1982 and scared the bejeezus out of me and every other kid that watched it. Admittedly, my survey size was pretty much me, my brothers and the kids from across the road, but it terrified us weekly.

Sapphire (Joanna Lumley) and Steel (David McCallum) are mysterious Interdimensional Agents who appear in our world to sort out malign entities and anomalies in time.

McCallum & LumleySapphire is warm and knowing, with a dash of sexiness, while Steel has the irascible air of a man surrounded by idiots, who just wants to get this shit sorted out. They communicate telepathically and say profound things like: “There is a corridor and the corridor is time.”

Time itself seems to be a malevolent force, but nothing very much is ever explained. The opening sequence voiceover gravely intones: “All of the irregularities will be handled by the forces controlling each dimension… Sapphire and Steel have been assigned,” and you have to pretty much work it out from there.

The serialised storylines contain everything from ghostly soldiers to a man without a face who traps people in photographs, as well as dread – lots and lots of dread.

It’s all incredibly claustrophobic and gloomy: there’s never enough light, which is either intentional, or they just didn’t have enough electricity back then.

Sapphire ‘senses’ things so there’s no need for extravagant sets: she just describes it all.

In fact, quite a large part of it is just Sapphire walking into empty rooms, looking concerned and saying “Steel?” without moving her lips. Most of the rest of it is Steel looking annoyed and yelling “Sapphire!” before dashing off to find her slumped in a corridor.

“Forget creepy twins covered in blood in hotel hallways, Sapphire and Steel had shadows, and circles of light that moved.

Somehow it’s incredibly compelling. I LOVED this show, and watching it again, I still do.

The final season ends with a cliffhanger (spoiler alert for 33 years ago) that sees Sapphire and Steel trapped in a motorway cafe for eternity. I know that might sound like an ordinary weekend trip to some of you, but 11- year-old me was destroyed by the realisation that not everything turns out all right in the end. Forty-four year-old me is still not happy with it.

Rated or dated: My overwhelming feeling rewatching Sapphire and Steel is how old it clearly looks, but how menacing it still remains. I’ve described it as science fiction, but it’s basically horror for kids.

faceless manForget creepy twins covered in blood in hotel hallways, Sapphire and Steel had shadows, and circles of light that moved. The special effects look incredibly cheap and rickety now, but I can still remember the terror induced by what was presumably just a lighting guy up a ladder waving a strong torch.

By today’s standards, the pacing is incredibly slow. Only one thing seems to happen per episode, so if you haven’t watched it before, you might not see the appeal. However, my nostalgia has overpowered any objective analysis, just like the dead airman overpowered Steel at the abandoned railway station. It might be dated, but I absolutely rate it.

@calbo

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Written by Cal Wilson

Cal Wilson is a Kiwi who calls Australia home. Comedian, Writer, amateur Cat Lady.