Monday, 4 July 2011

Sapphire and Steel: Assigment 6 (1981)

Has there ever been another show which brilliantly turned the mundane creepy? Top floor flats, old railway stations and, as here, a deserted motorway service station - PJ Hammond has the quite useful knack of making the everyday spooky and claustrophobic, even if the actual story makes almost no sense.

It's thirty years since I saw this, the final story in the original run of Sapphire and Steel, but memory didn't cheat. It's slight to the point of emaciation, short (only four episodes and each one contains a lengthy recap) and the ending comes from nowhere, but it's not something you're likely to forget.

Even for British television of the 70s and early 80s, it's a bleak, bleak ending to a never exactly chirpy show - it may, in fact, be the very pinnacle of that strand of seventies miserablism that killed off Jack Ford, Greg Preston and Lord Hazlemere, amongst others, and left Avon standing in a crowd of his dead crew-mates. If I shut my eyes I can remember clearly watching the last five minutes in a sort of awe-struck shock, confused by the sudden springing of the trap (no wonder - the 'trap' makes sod all sense), and - even at 11 years old - faintly terrified of the horror it contained. Nowhere...forever is a scary thought for a young boy, and to be honest it's not got any more comforting in the three decades since.

There's almost no plot to this particular story - not even the mad, disjointed plotting which suffices in other parts of the series - though, as if make up for that, there are specific references to the nature of Sapphire, Steel and Silver. And brilliantly, those references make the time agents sound like nothing so much as talented middle managers and their eventual destruction a consequence of their refusing a job offer from a rival firm of accountants.

Which is a nice way to remember them, I think. Not the equivalent of Doctor Who's Guardians, not demi-gods or elemental forces of nature, but civil servants working in a minor but vital government department, constantly short of budget (a fact Sapphire comments on) and prey to the bully-boys of the private sector.

No wonder they disappeared just as the Tories got into their Thatcherite stride...

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