-->
Reviews

Sapphire and Steel: The Complete Series

Nikki Tranter

We don't know their past, we don't know the extent of their connection, but we're in love with these characters.


Sapphire and Steel

Cast: Joanna Lumley, David McCallum, David Collings
Subtitle: The Complete Series
Network: ITC Entertainment
First date: 1979
US Release Date: 2004-12-28
Last date: 1982
Amazon affiliate
Amazon
You're perfectly normal, Peter, and yet you have the most bizarre Invention of anyone I've ever known.
-- Shaun O'Riordan, "Intro to Adventure Six"

It's customary for television pilots to set up protagonists and backgrounds. Sapphire and Steel goes another way. The British sci-fi series, which ran for six seasons over four years (the complete series now available in one DVD set from ITC),, introduces "time investigators" Sapphire (Joanna Lumley) and Steel (David McCallum) without explaining where they're from or who sent them. They travel through our present, saving others from imminent dangers, as the series raises various ideas about the nature of time.

In their pilot, "Escape Through a Crack in Time," Sapphire and Steel enter the old country home of siblings Helen (Tamasin Bridge) and Rob (Stephen O'Shea), to investigate the significance of a nursery rhyme, whose reciting caused the kids' parents to disappear. When they declare their purpose, to recover the missing parents who are trapped in a time shift, Rob wants to call the police. "Your policeman stands no chance of getting [your parents] back for you," Sapphire announces. "But we do."

Series creator P.J. Hammond notes in his commentary that the mystery surrounding Sapphire and Steel was a function of his not wanting to commit to a specific history. While baffling, the sour guy in the suit and his beautiful companion are also intriguing. Not only do they communicate without words, but Sapphire also has other psychic powers, demonstrated as she instantly knows the history of Helen and Rob's house. She can also turn back time for short periods. Steel's power is more regular, namely, his investigative skill, by which he discerns the motivations and thought patterns of victims and perpetrators.

"I decided I'd like to write children's fantasy without the use of men in silver suits and without ray guns," Hammond says. Influenced by the works of H.G. Wells and J.B. Priestley, he is interested in "dark" science fiction tales. Yet Hammond's effort to bring an adult intelligence to children's sci-fi -- Sapphire and Steel is similar in tone and style to some of the great kids' TV of the past, including Chocky, Children of the Stones, and Ace of Wands (co-written by Hammond) -- is evident only in Season One.

The reason for this, revealed by series director Shaun O'Riordan, who participates in the intros and commentaries with Hammond, was the casting of McCallum and Lumley. The network decided these actors warranted a later time slot and older audience, so the show rapidly shifts gear after that first series. By season Three, stories of haunted country houses and cute kids are replaced by intense tales of traumatized families or slaughterhouses, scandal and infidelity in Five, and deadly time invaders in Six. The special effects become rather gruesome as well, and the dialogue gets more adult. In "The Railway Station," a "darkness" feeds on the anger felt by people who have prematurely died. Sapphire and Steel, with the assistance of Tully (Gerald James), a human ghost-buster they discover living at the station, attempt to bargain with the force so that it will return to its own time plane and leave the present day. After a terrific battle in which Sapphire is briefly overtaken by the force, the pair decides to sacrifice Tully's life in order to irritate "Time itself." Sacrificing the old man reveals the lengths to which the pair will go to get their job done.

Along with dramatic situations like this one, Sapphire and Steel's relationship also turns more complicated. Whether they're human, or just the human form of particular elements, is never explored; we do see that they share a strong emotional connection. Sapphire manages to enrage the overly serious Steel when she flirts with other men, which she does repeatedly, to win their trust or simply to lighten the mood. She openly teases her partner with this behavior, getting a little too close to coworker Silver (David Collings).

But Sapphire's connection with Silver never goes any deeper that sly touches or shared jokes. But her love for Steel, much as she hides it, is as strong as his for her. She dedicates herself to assisting others (getting close to the man who's actually a newborn baby in "The Creature's Revenge" or to a lost soldier in "The Railway Station"), yet it's only Steel with whom she shares herself fully. She knows what to say to calm him, and smiles at him with devotion.

We don't know their past, we don't know the extent of their connection, but when, during one mission, Sapphire leans in and kisses Steel with no mention made of it, we're so in love with these characters ourselves that we appreciate such mysteriousness. O'Riordan sums up their appeal perfectly during the episode one commentary: "They're so bloody good-looking, just beautiful."

Music

The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less
Music

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less

It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

Keep reading... Show less
7

Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image