40 years of Sapphire & Steel

Sapphire & Steel DVDs
Sapphire & Steel DVDs

On July 10, 1979 the TV show “Sapphire & Steel” made its debut in the UK.

“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.”. These words accompanied episode’s opening theme and offered a good part of the limited explanations about the show’s protagonists.

Sapphire (Joanna Lumley) and Steel (David McCallum) are two operative agents who have some superhuman powers charged with maintaining the time flow in order. In this show, time is portrayed as an entity that is far from benevolent, which in certain conditions can generate anomalies. Another danger is represented by creatures that can penetrate a certain times.

In many ways “Sapphire & Steel” is a typical show of 1970s / 1980s British television with a very limited budget, a few sets and very basic special effects for a production that seems in many ways a stage play. These limits were used by the show’s creator Peter J. Hammond, who wrote the scripts for five of the six assignments, to create a very tense atmosphere in which there’s a constant sense of menace. This helped keep the audience’s attention in stories divided into various episodes where the pace tended to be slow.

The lack of information about the protagonists and the other entities that sometimes appear in the episodes is part of the charme of “Sapphire and Steel”. This is a bit paradoxical in a show in which the protagonists are crucial also with their presence and their personality, yet the audience can understand very little about them and the details of their missions. The assignments have no official titles and are identified only by a number but over time unofficial titles have become common:

  1. Escape Through a Crack in Time (6 episodes)
  2. The Railway Station (8 episodes)
  3. The Creature’s Revenge (6 episodes)
  4. The Man Without a Face (4 episodes)
  5. Dr. McDee Must Die (6 episodes)
  6. The Trap (4 episodes)

Joanna Lumley and David McCallum were already high-profile actors when “Sapphire and Steel” began so they also had other work commitments and therefore it was possible to produce only one or two assignments of this show every year. Despite good ratings, rising costs were a crucial factor in the decision to cancel the show after the sixth assignment.

“Sapphire & Steel” has become a cult show whose memory has been kept thanks to the publications on VHS first and on DVD later. Between 2005 and 2008 Big Finish published a number of audio adventures sequels of the television ones with Susannah Harker and David Warner in the two protagonists’ roles.

Sapphire & Steel DVDs
Sapphire & Steel DVDs

For several years there have been various rumors of remakes of the TV show but for one reason or another no project has ever reached the production stage. Today’s television products are very different from the ones of the 1970s / 1980s so it may be better this way since there would be a strong risk of altering in a negative way a product with certain characteristics that made it a very special show.

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