Sapphire and Steel follows a long line of great creativity in 1970's programming. The series had an incredibly short run, was shown on the rapidly dying ATV Network at a crisis time and was made on an very small budget. However, this never stopped it becoming one of the most memorable science fiction series ever made. There are so many reasons for this, and I will attempt to explain some of them in this brief summary. P.J Hammond was and is an incredibly intelligent and skilled writer, never one to talk down to his audiences, Hammond had contributed scripts to the highly successful Ace of Wands series and the anthology series Shadows before pitching the idea of Sapphire and Steel - or as it was originally known 'The Time Menders'. The idea took some time to catch on, but eventually it was picked up by ATV and filming began in January 1979. The appealing factors to ATV about Sapphire and Steel was the fascinating concept - the idea of two time travellers (elements from the stars) called to solve dangerous breaks in time, no one knows who they are and where they really come from, but they simply appear when they are needed. The other factor is that P.J Hammond was happy with the show being a low budget production, this in many ways was always the original intention. The strength of this lies in the nature of the material written by P.J Hammond and later writers Anthony Read and Don Houghton in Assignment Five. No major special effects were needed, sets could be small and few in number, the beauty of the concept is that it actually relied upon small, claustrophobic, poky settings to work and thats why in so many ways the series has stood the test of time. Throughout its three year run, the programme was (despite the restrictions) extremely well made, the excellent sets and wonderful low key lighting standing out as making the production particularly creepy and mysterious, in an era when television lighting tended to be hideously over-lit (you only have to look at the early 1980's episodes of Doctor Who to realise that!) P.J Hammond's strength was working with the power of suggestion. No violence and very little blood is ever seen and yet the series was (and is) extremely frightening to audiences. Cyril Ornadel's marvellous music is also a highpoint. Subtle, often beautiful and deeply sinister, the music was a key ingredient that complimented the other qualities of the series perfectly. Another essential ingredient was the excellent casting. The programmes ITC connections allowed the series to hire two leads that many low budget shows would never have dreamt of. David McCallum is excellent as the cold and ruthless Steel,playing all of his scenes with astonishing conviction and pathos,complimented by the excellent Joanna Lumley as Sapphire, a more compassionate character, but equally as sinister and unnerving in many instances. As a result the trend of acting throughout is exceptionally good (the only exception being the woeful child actress playing the little girl in Assignment One). The supporting artists were never big names like the leads but they still gave tremendous performances. The excellent David Collings as Silver, a superb, quirky actor (now also known for his terrific performances in Doctor Who and Blakes 7) John Golightly, Edward De Souza and the particularly excellent Gerald James, who plays Tully in Assignment Two (one of the finest stories). The final sequence where Steel gives up Tully for sacrifice is a highlight of the series. The scene is heart wrenching, tense and poignant, with actor Gerald James easily matching the marvellous acting talents of David McCallum as he has an inkling of his impending fate. Beautifully directed and acted, with exceptional music, the audience have a real sense of sympathy for Tully, by all accounts a nice individual, an ordinary man who is ultimately consumed by darkness. Steel watches and listens emotionless as Tully gives a final wave, and screams. Probably the most memorable scene (that and Sapphire's mind being taken over by Darkness - in Assignment Two)in the entire series. Generally speaking every story is memorable, thought provoking incredibly complex and intelligent, and therefore deserves a huge amount of respect. The writing, the excellent direction (often the supremely talented Shaun O'Riordan) and acting is top notch. From a modern day perspective the series is admittedly very slow in its pacing, but this is part of the overall style, the laboured realisation of ideas adds to the suspense and intrigue of the story lines. This is also not a series to watch if you want answers (much is left to the imagination) - the lead characters are an enigma themselves, and to this extent the series can be likened to the equally excellent 'The Prisoner' or 'Children of the Stones'. But if you want intelligent, memorable and thought provoking drama, with wonderful elements of science fiction and fantasy, Sapphire and Steel is the one for you. Essential watching includes Assignments Two, Three, Four and Six, but all are excellent. Assignment One suffers from its toned down nature (a response to what was thought to be its original time-slot - 5:30) to appeal more to a younger audience and Assignment Five is a more generic fare, but all beat the hideously generic, repetitive and self obsessed drama that is modern day television. P.J Hammond has recently written for Torchwood (which is a fine showcasing of all of those negative qualities). Because of its very nature many of the episodes stand up better now than some Doctor Who stories (which always tried to be more ambitious with a similar budget) in production value terms and equally well in the script writing quality as say Doctor Who or Blakes 7. Like the latter series Sapphire and Steel had a poignant downbeat ending. A remarkable, well acted series - a fine example of television of its era - an era we may sadly never see again.
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