Old TV Show: Sapphire and Steel

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Old TV Show: Sapphire and Steel

Post by Broomstick » 2018-06-19 04:53pm

Wasn't quite sure where to put this one - it straddles SF, horror, occult, fantasy, and the detective genres from what I've seen of it. Sapphire and Steel is a British TV Show that ran from 1979 to 1982 on first broadcast. I recently discovered it. By that I mean I first heard of it about 2-3 days ago. Mainly because I was digging into a TV show from the mid-1970's staring David McCallum and I wondered "what else besides Man From U.N.C.L.E. did this guy do?".

I learned a bit about the show in general but so far have only watched "Assignment Two". My first impression is that this is Dark Shadows meets Doctor Who, with better acting than Dark Shadows (and much better delivered dialogue with no actor stammers and stutters) and even cheaper effects than Doctor Who (the last of which is sort of an anti-achievement). Don't get me wrong - it's a good show and more importantly they use the effects well.

Anyhow - broadly, Sapphire and Steel are "operators" of some authority that we never really find out about who are sent to fix problems here on Earth. They are not human, although they look very human. Like Doctor Who of that era, stories are broken into shorter segments, so when broadcast you didn't get the whole story at once, you had to tune in over 4-6 weeks. Like many serials of the time, the last few minutes of one show became the first few minutes/recap of the next which no doubt helped folks keep up with everything. Certainly in this story line, the vast, vast majority of the effects are fades in/out and lighting effects. Very, very cheap even by the standards of the day, but VERY effectively used in this story. A lot of it was mood and tone created by the lighting and the dialogue/character interaction. You start off knowing very little, discover things along with way with the characters, then at the end while there is some resolution it's not what I'd call a happy ending. (Yes, I am trying not to spoiler it).

It's SF because Sapphire and Steel are humanoid aliens. It involves some time manipulation and various technologies as well. It has fantastical elements like occult stuff, ghosts, and psychic powers. It has some of the same horror elements that make Doctor Who not always a kid's show, and if anything, this is more adult from what I've seen though the background info indicates that it was originally conceived as appealing to kids (seriously, WTF UK TV? Your "children's TV" is very often the stuff of nightmares and lead to people spending a substantial portion of their childhood hiding behind the couch). There is a puzzle to solve to figure out what the hell is going on in each "assignment".

While I am going to watch the rest of the show on YouTube I'm not entirely certain about owning a copy. Compared to today, the pace is glacially slow, reminding me of the pre-Barnarbas Collins Dark Shadows (yes, Barnabas was a late-comer to that series, it wasn't created as a vehicle for him). I think I'll enjoy watching it once, I'm not certain I'd enjoy watching it again. Partly, I've been a fan of McCallum for over 40 years and I'd probably enjoy watching him read the phone book. Partly I enjoy British TV. Also, there's the whole retro thing - a reel-to-reel tape recorder! I haven't seen one, much less used one, in decades!

I am wondering if anyone else has watched this show.
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Re: Old TV Show: Sapphire and Steel

Post by LadyTevar » 2018-06-19 10:08pm

I've watched four or five "Assignments". They pacing remains slow, but the stories are all atmospheric creepy suspense thrillers. Unfortunately the last Assignment ends on a cliffhanger, and the next ep that would finish the arc was never made as far as I know.

Still well worth watching, because it is a good show that (to me) is textbook Gothic Horror. Yes, the investigators are aliens, but they are still as blind going into the show as any Lovecraft protagonist, and dealing with things that drive humans insane.
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Re: Old TV Show: Sapphire and Steel

Post by SpottedKitty » 2018-06-20 02:08am

I don't remember much about it any more, but I did watch (and enjoy) it when it was first shown. Spooky, atmospheric, and IIRC none of the campy, "gosh-wow, we're in a sci-fi show, let's do something sci-fi-ish!" permeating a lot of TV SF of the period, whether from the US or the UK. The nearest thing to a comparison in modern terms I can think of is Torchwood to Doctor Who.
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Re: Old TV Show: Sapphire and Steel

Post by B5B7 » 2018-06-20 11:02am

I watched Sapphire and Steel back in the 1990s. Brilliant show. As far as I know it was never on Australian TV. I saw it because a friend had videotapes recorded from NZ TV!
Like some other British TV series Spoiler
such as Blake's 7, it has a downbeat ending. Though each assignment is separate they also have a unified theme of the elementals versus living time (ie time is an active opponent).

I think current attitudes of some people towards Doctor Who is due to category error. Because it was labelled a children's show when it first aired (due to educational elements that some early episodes had - Romans, Aztecs, etc) some cling on to that perception despite the evidence of the actual episodes. Recently when a number of episodes were reshown on TV I noticed they were classed as PG15, which makes much more sense.
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Re: Old TV Show: Sapphire and Steel

Post by Broomstick » 2018-06-20 08:41pm

Watched "Assignment 3". What really makes this show work is the acting. There are very minimal effects, very few sets, most of the drama is in the lighting and and mood, and it's really the actors that are carrying the show. A lot of this story involved McCallum and Lumley on an empty roof convincing you there was an invisible time capsule from 1500 years in the future on that roof.

And really, it is refreshing on a certain level to have all this carried by the actors themselves rather than whiz-bang CGI effects. Very old school, but still good.
A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. Leonard Nimoy.

Now I did a job. I got nothing but trouble since I did it, not to mention more than a few unkind words as regard to my character so let me make this abundantly clear. I do the job. And then I get paid.- Malcolm Reynolds, Captain of Serenity, which sums up my feelings regarding the lawsuit discussed here.

If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich. - John F. Kennedy

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Re: Old TV Show: Sapphire and Steel

Post by LadyTevar » 2018-06-21 08:20am

Have you found Assignment One yet?
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Re: Old TV Show: Sapphire and Steel

Post by Broomstick » 2018-06-21 09:42am

Yep. Planning to watch that one next but you know how life interfere's with one's hobbies. And now I may need to take a trip to Ann Arbor, Michigan in the near future for distressing reasons and may want something more upbeat to watch for a bit because there's only so much gloom I can handle at a time. Or maybe I'll be back here sooner than I expect.
A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. Leonard Nimoy.

Now I did a job. I got nothing but trouble since I did it, not to mention more than a few unkind words as regard to my character so let me make this abundantly clear. I do the job. And then I get paid.- Malcolm Reynolds, Captain of Serenity, which sums up my feelings regarding the lawsuit discussed here.

If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich. - John F. Kennedy

Sam Vimes Theory of Economic Injustice

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Re: Old TV Show: Sapphire and Steel

Post by Broomstick » 2018-06-21 07:08pm

And.... I decided to goof off today and watched assignment 1. In some ways, this one actually had more action than the other two, and more effects! Still minimal even by the standards of the day, still mostly carried by the actors. I'm starting to have some additional affection for this show.
A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. Leonard Nimoy.

Now I did a job. I got nothing but trouble since I did it, not to mention more than a few unkind words as regard to my character so let me make this abundantly clear. I do the job. And then I get paid.- Malcolm Reynolds, Captain of Serenity, which sums up my feelings regarding the lawsuit discussed here.

If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich. - John F. Kennedy

Sam Vimes Theory of Economic Injustice

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Re: Old TV Show: Sapphire and Steel

Post by Darth Lucifer » 2018-06-25 11:32am

I found a YouTube downloader and saved Assignment One for future viewing. The first ~25 minutes got me hooked. The acting is very good and while the slower pace compared to today's shows can be off-putting for the modern viewer, I rather liked the pacing and since i'm watching this in chunks it doesn't bother me a bit. Joanna Lumley as always is ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS! :P

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