March 04, 2006

SCAREY STUFF T.V > SAPPHIRE & STEEL Part 2

We now review, with the spoiler content reduced to a minimum, the rest of these fascinating adventures combined with specially chosen screenshots to illustrate. From these on display I hope you will be able to get an indication of the ‘feel’ visually of the programme. There is of course, no substitute, for a box set purchase. Refrain from the region 2 bare bone release and opt for the American release on region 1, this is what the box set could’ve been had Carlton been more attentive.

The second and fourth stories are arguably the definitive examples of the shows high achievement capabilities. They could not only be considered classic instalments form the series but also from televisions golden age in the late 1970’s, which was killed off mid-80’s to make way for the thoughtless chav cathode dross that nearly dominates every frame and every style whatever the programme and content.

“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……’’

STORY TWO – Soldier at the Station (8 episodes) (ITV Regional)

Tx date; 31st July 1979 to 8th November 1979*

*When this was first shown a strike occurred after episode 4. In the HTV, Ulster, Thames and Southern television regions episodes 3 and 4 were not broadcast at all. For these regions the entire adventure was shown from the start when the strike was over. The dates above are inclusive of these lost months which occurred for the whole of September and almost all of October (bar 1 day in fact as the story resumed on the 31st October 1979 – most fitting !).

PLOT

In a disused railway station George Tully middle aged amateur ghost-hunter sets up his paranormal equipment and waits for communication. The train station is a hive of spiritual activity and it isn’t long until eerie paranormal activities begin to manifest…..


Sapphire and Steel are assigned to investigate as the ghosts of military personnel maybe due to a more sinister, more evil entity than any human being could ever imagine.

They face ‘The Darkness’ a malevolent force that feeds upon the resentment and anguish of people who have died prematurely. Tormented spirits of three experimental submariners suffocated to death, a pilot tragically killed one flight from demob and the sad ‘Sam Pearce’ a WW1 private blown up on Armistice Day; grow in strength and number as the darkness feeds on their tragedy.


In an attempt to contact them Sapphire is taken over by the darkness and Steel is transported to a battlefield seemingly trapped without the ability to return to stability and safety…………..

A truly stunning performance by Gerald James playing Tully and spot on performances from the minor cast members makes this a truly first class, sophisticated viewing experience.



Written by P.J Hammond

Directed by Shaun O’Riordan and David Foster

The players;

Sapphire (Joanna Lumley) Steel (David Macullum)

George Tully (Gerald James) Sam Pearce (Tom Kelly)

With; David Woodcock and David Cann.

MOST OUTSTANDING MOMENT

One of the most powerful images for me that has lasted for all my years and memorably scary was an episode ending.

As Sapphire and Steel look down from a building window to the platform more of the melancholy and angry spirits appear, they begin to enmass signifying time may be winning fuelled by retribution and with destructive intent. Chilling, powerful stuff.




STORY THREE – Revenge of the Beasts (6 episodes) (ITV Regional)

Tx date; 6th January to 22nd January 1981


STORY


An odd one this, considered by many to be the weakest entry, I disagree and refer to Story 5. It also features one of the most surrealistically unforgettable animal attacks ever seen.

Rothwyn and Eldred live in an invisible experimental time capsule 1,500 years into the future it is situated on a block of flats in contemporary time.

Time starts to menace the couple and their sibling resentful that they are the only animal left alive from extinction.

Sapphire and Steel are assigned. Sensing the detectives purpose time attacks both of them. The baby begins to change rapidly, going through stages of adulthood at an alarming rate.


Amidst the danger and disorientation enters ‘Silver’ another elemental. The three attempt to restore and rectify the imbalance caused by an unknown menace intent on destruction and bitterly cold vengeance ……….


This is the only occasion when location shooting was used.

First appearance of the excellently suave ‘Silver’ played impeccably by Paul Collings.

Written by P.J Hammond

Directed by Shaun O’Riordan

The Players;

Sapphire (Joanna Lumley) Steel (David Macullum)

Rothwyn (Catherine Hall) Eldred (David Gant)

Changeling (Russell Wootton) Silver (Paul Collings)


MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT


Steel is on the top of a high rise block of flats, a step away from plunging death. He is measuring the capsule area area. Time senses this and the manifestation of energy affects a pillow. This heads from the bedroom to outside, right the way up to the top of the block of flats. It advances on Steele and originates to its organic representation - a swan, it screeches, pecks and claws at Steel pushing him to the edge of fatal fall.



STORY FOUR – Picture Man (4 episodes) (ITV Regional)


Tx date; 27th January – 5th February 1981

Another classic story, wonderfully penned, taught direction and convincing characterisations, even by child actors who usually let the side down. Wonderful, wonderful stuff,pure magic.

THE STORY

An antiquarian bric-a-brac shop and something here has gone terribly wrong. The old landlord has simply vanished and has been replaced by another who no one seems to remember what he looks like. Ruth, a lodger, is witness to these bizarre events and stumbles upon something that also leads to her odd disappearance.

Sapphire and Steel are assigned to investigate and prevent further danger to the only source of information left, Liz - another lodger and part time stripper.


Together they reveal that the old landlord used to splice old photographs with the new this acted as the trigger for the tear in time. Time manifests itself into ‘The Shape’ a faceless identity that moves through time zones via photographs.

The horrifying truth about Ruth’s’ disappearance is revealed and in a bid to save her Sapphire and Steel become trapped; leaving only Liz to save them but can a mortal stand up to such a terrifying entity?


MOST OUTSTANDING MOMENT




It has to be the revelatory instant when we discover ‘The Shape’ is in fact featureless!


Story by P.J Hammond

Directed by; David Foster

The Players;

Sapphire (Joanna Lumley) Steel (David Macullum)

Liz (Alyson Spiro) The Shape (Philip Bird/Bob Homery)

Ruth (Shelagh Stephenson) Parasol Girl (Natalie Hedges)


STORY FIVE – Virus of Dr.Mcdee (6 episodes) (ITV Regional)


Tx date; 11th August – 26th August 1981

Tepidly interesting Agatha Christie based yarn, some occasional flashes of inspiration but quite an easily forgettable tale on the whole.

STORY

To celebrate the 50th Anniversary of his business partnership with recently deceased Dr.George Mcdee; Lord Arthur Mullrine decides to throw a fancy dress party where all the props are genuine antiques of the time.


At the party time breaks through causing the date to regress by 50 years, Sapphire and Steel are assigned. The guests who were not alive at the time are being destroyed one by one.

Further discovery confirms that Dr.Mcdee had created a virus that would wipe out the whole of humanity. An incident that happened prevented the virus from being released. Now time has reversed it is determined to ensure that history is changed and a global apocalypse actually takes place…………….


MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT

For me personally it is a little ‘touch’ that meant so much. What I thought was good was when a tape of a 1930’s cricket match plays hidden behind a deco radio for authenticity. When checked at a later stage, after time breaks in, the tape has gone but an orchestra from1930 is still being broadcast but on this occasion it is in real time signifying time has begun it's menace.


Story by Don Houghton and Anthony Read

Directed by Shaun O’Riordan

The players;

Sapphire (Joanna Lumley) Steel (David Macullum)

Emma Mullrine (Patience Collier) Lord Mullrine (Davey Kaye)

Felcicity McDee (Nan Munro) Howard McDee (Jeremy Child)

George McDee (Stephen Macdonald) Felix Harborough (Jeffery William)





STORY SIX – Johnny-Jack (4 episodes) (ITV Regional)

Tx date; 19th August – 31st August 1982

The last, how sad……


PLOT

Arriving at a Petrol station, Sapphire and Steel meet an old man from 1925, a travelling entertainer from 1957 and a couple from 1948. The couple seem unaware of the time mix-up and a tambourine seems to provide clues to many unanswered questions.

The time detectives are joined by Silver, and all three seem unaware that the whole thing is a fatal trap set up by the ‘Transient Beings’ arch rivals of Sapphire, Steel, Silver or from the very race they originate from.................


MOST OUTSTANDING MOMENTS

Definitely the ending sequences and the final last shot, most uncomfortable.

Story by P.J Hammond

Directed by David Foster

The players;

Sapphire (Joanna Lumley) Steel (David Macullum)

Man (Edward de Souza) Woman (Johanna Kirby)

Johnny Jack (Christopher Fairbank) Old Man (John Boswall)

Silver (Paul Collings)


Additional credit to;

Title Sequence ; Ivor Weir

Music; Cyril Ormadel

Lighting; Jim Boyers

Executive Producer; David Reid

Produced by; Shaun O’Riordan



PART 3 – THE CONCLUSION coming next………..

SCAREY STUFF T.V > SAPPHIRE & STEEL Part 1

“There is a corridor, and that corridor is time. It surrounds all things and it passes through all things, you can’t see it – only sometimes and it’s dangerous. You cannot enter into time, but sometimes time can try to enter the present. Break in. Burst through and take things. Take people. The corridor is very strong; it has to be. But sometimes, in some places, it becomes weakened. Like fabric, worn fabric and when there is pressure put upon fabric…….Time comes in……….”

A break from our recent decadent escapades takes us to TV land where I have the pleasure of looking at the classic ‘individual’ Sapphire and Steel.

Sapphire and Steel in my opinion was one of the most unique television science fiction dramas ever made. Although I had already started a liking towards ‘Doctor Who’ on BBC 1 it didn’t really scare me that much even though I was about 5. I can’t recall scurrying away at the show behind a sofa come to think of it. Sapphire and Steel made me grab a cushion, it was so ethereal even at a very young age I was fascinated and genuinely concerned about the stories. The
show was originally shown in 1979, in a Tuesday and Thursday night format.

The programme was utterly unique in it’s conveyance of menace, a claustrophobic menace and the inescapable, using the crudest resources (by our standards to date) available to work in favour than work against we can see an example of the televisual medium at it’s very best.

A brew of the bewilderingly paranormal and the perplexing marriage of science fiction with thriller this was addictive, compulsive viewing that really exercised the imagination. The show even seemed to, at times; make fantasy seem plausible – P.J Hammond, the writer, expertly crafted old historical sensation with new modernism to create a scary alien menace that seemed so otherworldly but so close to home at the same time.


The show ran from 1979 – 1982 consisting of a mere six stories. This intensely claustrophobic and eerie slab of fantasy emerged from the corridors of ATV (ITV Midlands Area) thanks to Sir Lew Grade, I have admiration for this man and the deepest respect as he made television for the viewer, not for the profit and he was not frightened of sticking his neck out and saying ‘give it a whirl’, a crucial part of ingenuity , creativity and evolution that one will never see these days.


The series was actually commission don the strength of one episode penned expertly by P.J Hammond. An allowance of £2500 per episode was negotiated and was given a 5.30 p.m transmission slot in the schedules. When the two leads were announced as David Macullum and Joanna Lumley the casting allowance was raised to £10,000 per episode and the time slot moved to 7.30 p.m. 36 episodes were made. After its four year reign, the series ended for good.

This was allegedly due to an amalgamation of things; sfx costs, high production charges and the irregularity of the actors’ availability. In 1982 ATV became Central Television; with the outbid changing the face of the station and its output programming this also put an end to our time detectives’ assignments.


Viewed in contemporary times the imagination evident throughout the series still bursts through, the expert use of facilities available, the lighting and the successful usage of sound with music can be seen, and you simply can’t help admiring it.

Sapphire and Steel has been quoted and referred to as the precursor to the infinitely inferior ‘X-Files’, I say inferior because they had better technology, more media whoring and let’s face it after the fourth season this became the stereotypical U.S cannon fodder and a dead horse flogged too many times. S & S was leagues above this show and has never quite been equalled.


THE EPISODES AND THE STORIES

Adding, I believe, to the mystery of the stories was that they had no real reference point. The first five could easily be shown out of synchronisation to the non-anal viewer and they wouldn’t notice. The sixth story is a kind of ending but not a definite one that you need to make of it what you will.


The video releases in 1992 onward referred to them as ‘adventures’ and the recent DVD releases as assignments. Fans of the show have also contributed their own titles. To confuse matters more, I am going to create my own titles but will also refer to them as they were initially intended ‘Story 1, Story 2, etc, etc’. It was also rumoured that P.J Hammond was the originator of some of the episode titles for fans to ‘freely use’, this is in fact bollocks.


So let’s introduce the stories, I hope I haven’t pissed any ardent purists with my version of titles but I do think they are quite cool, I have tried to amalgamate the best of the titles used from varied sources.

Story 1 - House of Clocks

Story 2 - Soldier at the Station

Story 3 - Revenge of the Beasts

Story 4 - Picture Man

Story 5 - The Virus of Dr Mcdee

Story 6 – Johnny Jack


STORY ONE – House of Clocks (6 episodes) (ITV Regional)



Tx date; 10th July 1979 to 26th July 1979

PLOT

A remote house by the sea, upstairs little Helen Jardine is being read her favourite nursery rhymes before she goes to sleep.


Downstairs dutiful son Robert is studying ; all that can be heard are the feint voices of the parents and the ticking of the several clocks that seem to dominate over the sounds of anything else, a rhythm, a rhythm of times measurement…..then the clocks stop.

Rob discovers his parents have vanished and his younger sister has been left apparently traumatised by some terrifying act of the paranormal.


Rob contacts the police and in a matter of minutes there’s a bang at the door… Sapphire and Steel have been assigned.

Sinister child’s’ rhymes, ghostly manifestations of plague victims and roundheads are linked to a crack in times’ surface which could ultimately destroy every living thing in the present time.


* The character of Lead made his first and only appearance in this story.

Written by P.J Hammond

Directed by Shaun O’Riordan

Sapphire (Joanna Lumley) Steele (David Macallum)

Robert Jardine (Steven O’Shea) Helen Jardine (Tamasin Bridge)

Lead (Val Pringle)

With; Felicity Harrison, Jon Golightly, Charles Pemberton and Ronald Goodale.

MOST OUTSTANDING MOMENT

Sapphire is trapped in the picture at the top of the stairs and will soon be at the mercy of the ghosts of the past.




In Part Two; Stories 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 reviewed.