Sapphire and Steel: Assignment 6 Part 1
This post (or series of posts if I actually complete the assignment) is intended to be pure pleasure. I see I first blogged about Sapphire and Steel in 2014, which rather surprises me, and this is the only assignment I haven't even touched yet. I have been keeping it back because it is my favourite but there isn't really much point in not blogging about things just because I like them, is there? One of the reasons it's my favourite is that I remember watching this with my dad when it was first broadcast and being very much struck by all sorts of things in it. The only other Sapphire and Steel assignment I remember watching when it was first broadcast was the one in the railway station, which has had a similar impact on me.
I am therefore going to blog selectively about the things which take my fancy. If you want a sensible blog post about this assignment I would point you in the direction of the Television Heaven post about it: https://televisionheaven.co.uk/articles/sapphire-and-steel-assignment-six
One of the strongest impressions it made on me was that I have ever since loved stories or mysteries set in enclosed settings. Set a show or book in a country house, a railway train or station, and I'm perfectly happy. Perhaps one of the most extraordinary things about this one is setting it in a garage, surely an unusual choice for an isolated mystery.
I particularly love the way that this isn't merely an enclosed situation contained by walls or, say, snow: it's the way you get to the end of forecourt and there is just darkness with the sound of the traffic repeating itself. This scared me witless as a nine year old and is perhaps the strongest impression I got from this show!
And it's the way it's an utter mystery to everyone concerned. Sapphire and Steel usually seem to have some idea of why they are there, but this one is different. They have no idea what's going on. This assignment is different from the preceding five, and it's a pity that the show wasn't continued beyond this. I wonder whether the premature introduction of Silver and the way it's a complete mystery were intended to take the show in a slightly different direction.
Another wonderful thing is the attention to detail in the set and props. It's interesting that it is so obviously nothing but a set (and not that good a set, frankly), and yet the attention to detail is incredible. The whole setting is set up by the props, and we get to see both Sapphire and Steel examining props at the beginning, setting up the time and place. Surely the scene where Steel goes through the contents of the car is magnificently reminiscent and makes us contrast the quality of the car and its contents with the rather wooden set and props in the garage. Of course you could be contrasting the quality of 1948 with the quality of the late 1970s/early 1908s, or you could be contrasting the real car with the unreal setting of garage.
I love the feeling of a complete mystery here and the way nobody is trying to run away from it. They're all stuck with it and can only try to understand, something they don't achieve by the end of the first part. As escapist viewing, this literally can't be beaten as long as you're not stuck there yourself!
I would identify one criticism of the episode (or rather assignment) which is in the characters of the couple from 1948, who have appeared there for no apparent reason. I disagree with the analysis of the Television Heaven post I link above, which is that the characters are intended to have the same emotionlessness of Sapphire and Steel but that the actors can't pull it off. I think it's a fault in the characters, which is that their appearance and actions aren't consistent with the plot. Suddenly being wrenched from 1948 and plonked down thirty years later, you would expect the normal reaction to be disbelief, but strangely they accept that the garage and they have shot forward in time with no apparent difficulty. It's not that the characters aren't portraying this well enough, it's that they are depicting the intended characters but the characters aren't showing the right reactions. Another example is that the woman doesn't trust where they are so won't eat anything (which is a normal reaction and completely consistent) but will still have a glass of water. Why would you trust the water if you won't trust the food?
My absolutely favourite bit is the part where Steel looks at the pin up calendar to find out the date and doesn't notice or comment at the women on it. No, tell a lie, it's my joint favourite bit with Silver playing the fruit machine and not getting that he's not supposed to win every time.
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