In the late 1970s, as Star Wars blew away all preconceptions of science fiction on the big screen, Doctor Who was still one of the most popular TV programmes ever, and Blake's 7 were just starting their doomed fight against the Federation, ATV produced Sapphire and Steel. With a tiny budget but superb scripts and acting, something special was created. The series ran from 1978 to 1982.
The opening credits voiceover:
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, Lead1, Copper, Jet, Diamond, Radium, Sapphire, Silver and Steel.
Sapphire and Steel have been assigned.
The viewing public was first introduced to Steel (David Macallum, star of The Man from UNCLE and The Invisible Man) and Sapphire (Joanna Lumley, of The New Avengers and later Absolutely Fabulous) as they appeared, as if by magic, in a house with too many clocks and proceeded to fight creatures which had been released from who knows where, by the power of nursery rhymes.
Sapphire and Steel
No explanation was given for where they came from, who they actually were, or what they were fighting, except the opening voiceover. All that was clear is that, despite appearances, they were not human. Steel was immensely strong, could withstand extreme cold and remotely manipulate locks. Sapphire could turn back time a short way and appeared to have an empathic link with anyone/anything she met. They could also communicate telepathically.
Initially, Sapphire appeared to be the more sympathetic character, happy to help children. Steel found humans a distraction. However, as the series progressed, Steel becomes more caring and Sapphire less so.
The general assumption is that their names are only code names, perhaps with humans being recruited to fill the positions. In one episode a human gets given some limited powers (and takes the name Brass) but this is deemed to be irregular. They are fighting forces akin to Terry Pratchett's Dungeon Dimensions forces, which are brought into this world by combinations of antique objects, historical rhymes and old buildings. They normally have quite a job on their hands.
Sapphire and Steel did not have story titles, but fans tend to give them ones. Each episode was half an hour long. All stories were written by series creator PJ Hammond, except Adventure Five which was by Don Houghton and Anthony Read
Known to fans as either 'The House with the Clocks' or 'Nursery Rhymes', this story lasted for six episodes.
Two parents vanish while reading their daughter the nursery rhyme Ring a Ring a Roses'. Sapphire and Steel arrive and try and return the parents while the two children get in the way. Eventually Steel uses the younger one (singing 'This is the House that Jack Built') as bait. A third 'element', Lead, turns up half way through to further annoy Steel.
Memorable scenes include a policeman stuck in a time loop and all the clocks stopping.
Known as either 'The Train Station' or 'The Soldier', this adventure lasted a whopping eight episodes.
Sapphire and Steel arrive at an abandoned railway station, where they find a ghost hunter. He is trying to communicate with the ghosts in the station, while Sapphire and Steel want to get rid of them. To send the ghosts on their way Steel does a deal with a demon which proves how little he values human life.
The adventure is memorable for Steel hanging from WW I barbed wire and his skip of joy at a job well done at the end.
This adventure lasted for four episodes and is known by the titles 'Animals', 'The Time Capsule' or 'The Creatures' Revenge'.
While being memorable for introducing Silver (a smarmy technical genius), this one, about time travellers from the future attacked by their own technology, has three quite interesting episodes of build up followed by a really poor finale.
It is also unfortunately memorable for Steel being attacked by a pillow.
This episode has four episodes and is known as 'The Man Without a Face', 'Photographs' or 'Pictures'.
Sapphire and Steel arrive at a bric-a-brac shop, where sepia coloured children play in the backyard. They are investigating the disappearance of the landlord, and one of the tenants of the upstairs flats.
The story includes a character who, it is suggested, might be working as a prostitute. It also features the disturbing sight of a man with no face, Sapphire and Steel being trapped in a photograph, someone else being burned to death inside a photograph, and the line:
Find every photograph ever taken of you. Burn them. Never have another one taken.
This particular adventure is divided into six episodes. Titles used by fans include 'Dr McDee Must Die' and 'The Dinner Party'.
A rich industrialist has a 1930s party to celebrate the anniversary of his company. Guests start to die off, youngest first, as something tries to change history and wipe out humanity.
Memorable bits include the childlike joy of Brass with his new powers and the looping finale.
This, the last adventure, was divided into four episodes and goes under a number of names, including 'The café' and 'The Petrol Station', though it's more commonly known by a name that might potentially spoil the plot for some people, so if you want to know, follow this footnote to find out2 .
Sapphire, Steel and Silver arrive at a petrol station frozen in time. The building is from the 1980s, but there is a car and two passengers from the 1940s, an old man out back who can see them as ghosts (and claims to be from the 1920s) and a tinker from the 1950s.
Which time period is the 'real' one, how can the people get everyone back to their own times, and will Silver learn to lose on the fruit machine?
Sapphire and Steel was top stuff. Very British, with heavy scripts and limited action, but something to put you off singing nursery rhymes or owning anything old. It is, unfortunately, best remembered for being confusing, due to a lot of the abstract concepts at play within the show's framework.