Andy's Anachronisms
Time Travel Television Reviews


Sapphire and Steel
Principal Cast
Joanna Lumley
David McCallum

"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"

Sapphire and Steel ran from 1979 to 1982 and featured Joanna Lumley as Sapphire and David McCallum as Steel. This series featured stories spread out over several episodes. During the course of the series a total of 6 stories, spread out over 34 episodes were produced. The stories, while not having any titles per se, have been generally given the titles Adventure One through Adventure Six.

Adventure One helps establish the premise of the series by revealing that time is a corridor and that creatures from the beginning and ends of time are constantly looking for ways to break into the present and cause chaos. The creatures seek weak spots in the fabric of time often using anachronistic elements as triggers to break through. In the case of a the first adventure a centuries old farm house serves as the weak spot and the reciting of nursery rhymes acts as the trigger.

Sapphire and Steel are beings from another dimension assigned to prevent the fabric of time from being compromised. We learn they have special powers that are meant to assist them in their duties. Among Sapphire's abilities she can roll back time to a limited extent, as well as being able to tell the age of objects by touching them. She also demonstrates some telekinetic powers as she unlocks a door with her mind. Sapphire and Steel also appear to have a telepathic link with each other. Whether they possess this power individually or not is not clear in the first adventure.

By comparison, Steel is rather impoverished when it comes to special abilities. Steel is able to freeze objects to near absolute zero and thereby hold the advance of the creatures from the other dimension. He finds it physically exhausting and can only do it for a limited period of time. Steel's other ability, as suggested by his name is his immense strength which he does not display in the first adventure.

Joanna Lumley is perhaps best known for her role as Patsy in the British series Absolutely Fabulous (1992-1996). As Sapphire, Lumely is portrayed as the diplomatic one of the pair, befriending the humans and attempting to explain the situation to them. While recognizing the seriousness of the situation Sapphire is not above using her abilities for her own enjoyment. At one point she changes outfits in the blink of an eye, explaining that she is simply projecting images of clothing she has worn in the past.

Despite his extensive work in other television shows and in film, David McCallum will always be remembered for his role as Illya Kuryakin from the series Man From U.N.C.L.E. (1964-1968). As Steel, McCallum's cold intense performance suits his character's name as he cares little for the humans involved caught up in the situations and takes everything far too seriously.

Getting Around In Time
While not an out-and-out show about Time Travel, Sapphire and Steel incorporate may elements of time travel into the series. The manipulation of time appears to be at the heart of the show and preservation of the present appears to be the ultimate goal for the elements.
While somewhat tedious at times, Sapphire and Steel manages to create and sustain an atmosphere of horror and suspense throughout the 6 or so episodes that make up Adventure One. Many people that had recommended Sapphire and Steel to me, had mentioned how the show had frightened them as young children. Viewing it for the first time as an adult I can easily imagine how frightening this series could be for a child.

In Adventure One the creatures Sapphire and Steel are trying to stop, break into the present and steal the parents of two young children. The children, stunned by the disappearance of their parents are left alone to cope with a seemingly haunted house. When Sapphire and Steel arrive the children are not sure whether to be comforted or frightened by Sapphire and Steel's sudden appearance. Throughout the course of the first story, a variety of "ghosts" are invoked through the reciting of the nursery rhymes, and at one point Sapphire is sucked into a painting by the creatures where she is about to be executed. All in all pretty terrifying stuff for a child to comprehend. During the later episodes of the story the creatures attempt to use the guise of the children's parents to trick the kids into assisting them. At the end of the story when the children are reunited with their parents, everything seems to have a happy ending, but I know as kid I would be freaked out wondering if they were really my parents. [As a complete aside, for a really frightening example of this read Philip K. Dick's short story The Father Thing]

The production budget of Sapphire and Steel leaves a lot to be desired. Sets are minimal and appear as if they were borrowed from other productions being filmed at the same time. The main villains of the story are circles of light seemingly projected by flashlights off camera. To the best of my knowledge even the British series Dr. Who, which was renown for its cheap rubber-suited monsters and villains, never stooped so low as to resort to flashlights for its characters.

There also seemed to be an absence of incidental music in the series. At least until the final couple of episodes of Adventure One. This may have been a contributing factor in my earlier comment that the story seemed tedious at times. Watching the first couple of episodes in the series I was reminded of watching video-taped stage productions of Shakespeare plays in high school. Just something about the production of Sapphire and Steel made it feel too dry to be television.

Despite its under-whelming production values Sapphire and Steel does deliver. The atmosphere of suspense and horror generated in Adventure One would put all but the best X-Files episodes to shame. Also contributing to the unique tone of the show is the fact that much of what occurs during the Adventure is left unexplained. Sapphire and Steel appear content to have halted this particular intrusion in time and the kids and parents are satisfied to have been reunited. The sinister plans of the creatures from the ends of time are left relatively unexplained as does the significance of the origins of the house that are hinted at during one of the abductions.

I understand from talking to fans of Sapphire and Steel that Adventure One is not the crowning jewel of the series by any stretch of the imagination. I'll reserve judgement on the series until I have had the opportunity to view more of the stories. I will admit that I enjoyed the premise of the series despite its obvious flaws, and that the atmosphere generated by the series definitely appealed to me.

Related Links

The Anorak Zone's Guide To Sapphire and Steel

This quirky little fan site has sections devoted to a number of British television series including Sapphire and Steel, Star Cops, Randall & Hopkirk [Deceased] and The Prisoner. The link above is a direct link to the Sapphire and Steel portion of the site.

The Sapphire and Steel section of the site does have an overview of the series, detailed synopsis of each of the adventures and some interesting links to mailing lists and other fan related sites.

Sapphire and Steel Guide
While Steve Philips, the author of this site, acknowledges the site is not being actively maintained, there is a wealth of information here regarding the series. The site includes original air dates, episode titles, credits, ratings, image galleries for each adventure, as well as a list of articles or books featuring Sapphire and Steel between 1979 and 1994.

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Updated: 2003-01-07