sovay: (Cho Hakkai: intelligence)
sovay ([personal profile] sovay) wrote2017-06-08 04:18 am
Entry tags:

And there's no machine—past, present, or future—that I cannot handle

I have now seen the first three serials of P.J. Hammond's Sapphire & Steel (1979–82) and while I have not gotten the sleep I wanted, I am tired of not writing about things. Preliminary notes.

Sapphire & Steel is weird stuff. I mean that as both description and taxonomy. I can trace a common lineage with other genre-mixing, time-crossing British TV like Doctor Who (1963–), The Stone Tape (1972), and Children of the Stones (1977), but I can't remember the last anything I ran into that reminded me simultaneously of Robert Aickman, John le Carré, and Diana Wynne Jones. There's not even that much of it. Six serials aired on ITV over a span of four years, irregularly spaced and eventually canceled; all but one were written by Hammond and none of them have official titles, which is why I have been watching them on YouTube under the designations "Assignment 1" and so forth. It is glacially paced and nearly no-budget. And it is so far some of the most haunting, liminal, minimalist TV I have ever encountered in my life. It's full of ghosts and echoes, ambiguities and unanswered questions. Its worldbuilding hangs in implication behind its characters; its characters know each other so well, they don't need to talk about themselves. It gets more out of explaining less than any science fiction until Shane Carruth's Primer (2004). To match the single sets that give each serial the atmosphere of a filmed play,1 most of the show's best effects are practical and theatrical: changes of light, juxtapositions of costume, and suggestive, spooky sound work on a par with the heyday of the Radiophonic Workshop. The plots run on something more patterned than dream logic, but like nightmares they can take perfectly ordinary objects and charge them with unspeakable danger and dread—a child's nursery rhyme, a marching song, a swansdown pillow. Time itself is a source of horror; it cracks, frays, gives way beneath the pressure of aeons and the entities that prowl endlessly outside the "corridor of Time," looking for a way in. History deforms its fabric like gravity. Heirlooms and memory can become a black hole. Ghosts come out, if you're lucky. Other things if you're not. This is classic cosmic horror, but it's not, except in the introductory scenes, played from the viewer's accustomed perspective of humanity. Whatever Joanna Lumley's Sapphire and David McCallum's Steel may be—and I don't ever really expect to find out—human is definitely not it.

There are a lot of reasons for me to love this series, especially its consistent atmosphere of slowly building weirdness and its sense of time as something scarred and permeable, so densely echoing with the past that it's a wonder the present has room to breathe, but the alienness of its protagonists is a big one. They feel less human than many explicit extraterrestrials of the time despite looking like nothing stranger than a short, curt, fairish man who can tie knots in elevator cables and a tall, pleasantly watchful blonde woman whose eyes sometimes turn chroma-key blue. Their powers are a surprisingly small part of it. Sapphire is the sensor of the team, able to perceive people and objects at a distance and tell their age and origins from touching them; it feels in keeping with her affinity for history that she can also "take time back," performing a localized, limited rewind in order to observe or reset events. Steel has more-than-mortal strength and endurance to rely on, but if necessary he too can interfere with time, freezing patches of it at the cost of reducing his own temperature to -273.1°C; it feels both scientifically and folklorically correct that he can slow time nearly to a stop, but cannot halt it altogether, because nothing in the universe can ever achieve absolute zero. They are telepathic with one another, not so far as I've seen with humans. They share the life-risking trust and the physical intimacy of long partnership, although I would not presume to guess its terms since I cannot imagine the relationships of their kind function all that much like their human equivalents, on which more in a moment.

I really like that neither of them is exactly the character type they first appear. Steel is brusque, businesslike, and built like a tank for his size; he's not invulnerable. He's as ruthless with his own energies as he is with other people's, but that means he badly wrecks himself in Assignment 1 retrieving Sapphire from the painted reenactment of a seventeenth-century execution and has to spend a protracted, unheroic stretch wrapped stiffly in a bathrobe by a fire he can't feel, seeing and speaking with difficulty, because he pulled his supercooled ghost-shattering stunt without Val Pringle's Lead around to act as his "insulation" and the first thing Lead does when he turns up, a genial, Black, bass-voiced brick shithouse of a man who can lift Steel off his feet as easily as a child, is affectionately yell at his fellow agent for it. "I mean, you can almost guarantee it, can't you? You can guarantee that whenever you wander off and ice yourself up, without me around you're in trouble . . . You tell him, Sapphire. He shouldn't be doing that below-zero stuff without me." Meanwhile, Sapphire's sensory powers and her designation as the team's "diplomat"—along with her gender and her beauty—lead the viewer to expect she'll fill a correspondingly softer, more emotionally expressive role on the show, providing the grace and sensitivity to temper Steel's blunt-force approach, but she's just as cool as her partner, just from a different angle. She's gentler with humans. She seems to find them less impediments to her work, more interesting in their own right. I'm just not sure how much more that means she cares about them. Meeting a man who might be a ghost in Assignment 2, she clasps his hand in hers, smiles graciously, and while her voice speaks light, socially smoothing pleasantries ("I suppose my friend didn't bother to introduce himself . . . He never does—I'm always having to apologize for him"), her thoughts transmit the clear, impersonal data taken from his skin. In the first serial, Sapphire and Steel work together to reunite a family and root out the haunting of their house that is both symptom and accelerant of a worsening hole in Time. Thereafter they will each demonstrate—separately, so the viewer can't mistake it—the willingness to trade human life for the stability of Time. It makes them an intriguingly amoral force for the greater good, assuming that's what they are. More on this in a moment, too.

For reasons not important to this post, my first experience of Sapphire & Steel was actually Assignment 3, which means that along with my initial impressions of Sapphire and Steel I got David Collings right off the bat as charming, cagey, slightly skittish and thoroughly scene-stealing Silver. As with Lead in Assignment 1, he's a valuable addition to the cast because he deepens the world and our oblique understanding of its inhabitants; he is also the kind of character who essentially came with a package label reading hello, here's your series favorite, which considering how much I already liked the protagonists was a lovely surprise. He makes his first appearance leaning against a TV aerial, insouciant as Loki of the Information Age. He is a "technician," which he firmly qualifies as different from an "explorer" before resigning himself—so pointedly that it feels like a callback to an assignment we'll never see—to coming along on the job; he has a jackdaw's eye for small stray shiny things and he turns them into Clarke's Third Law with a conjuror's flair. He likes the razzle-dazzle. "Quite a work of art, isn't it?" he calls to Steel as he coaxes out the sparking gossamer beginnings of the gate (teleporter, time machine, Silver doesn't call it anything because nobody on this show defines terms unless they have to) that will transport all three of them from two different locations across a time field into the same sealed space. He made it out of a binder clip, a bottlecap, and a wood screw; it shines between his hands like a young star. "I suppose you would prefer something a little less decorative, hm? Something more—coldly efficient." When I related this interaction to [personal profile] spatch, he pointed out that the agents are merely living up to their names. Steel is a functional metal. Silver is an ornamental one. You almost expect to find out it's short for quicksilver, Mercury the magician, the alchemical trickster. Something of a dandy, with his sharp tailoring and his Romantic painter's wing of red hair. Amused by Steel's impatience with him, which is why he never misses an opportunity to tweak his serious colleague. He and Sapphire share the same casual physical closeness as Sapphire and Steel, so after the crackle of irritation and playfulness between Silver and Steel, it appears I OT3 everyone in this weird semi-periodic elemental party, which is not my usual style at all.

The show is very clear that its protagonists feel emotions: they are protective of one another, they can be hurt or amused or frightened, Steel especially has a wide and nuanced range of annoyance. They have society—Sapphire claims that there are 127 of their kind, while Steel only counts 115 properly since the transuranics are unstable. We hear some of their gossip: "By the way, Steel, Jet sends her love . . . And Copper's having problems with Silver again." We know they form attachments. Steel speaks of "the Sapphire that I've come to know and love." After the catastrophic disappearance of Silver, Steel diffidently refers to him as "a useful sort of person" and Sapphire replies simply, "I miss him." They have lives. I'm just skeptical that they have life cycles.2 Steel states flatly in Assignment 2 that he doesn't sleep. Silver on being recovered from the embarrassing consequences of confusing a changeling with a robot protests, "I never make mistakes . . . In fact I'm unable to make mistakes. It's built in!" I haven't been able to decide if they really need to eat or if Lead has just cultivated the habit for the fun of it. I don't place bets on anybody's life span when time travel is involved, but I am pretty sure they have all looked mid-thirties to mid-forties for some centuries now. It seems highly likely that human is not their natural form. (On limited evidence, I'd say Sapphire finds it aesthetically and perhaps anthropologically enjoyable, Silver treats it as an opportunity for play, Lead appreciates the experience of the world—anybody who likes food and sea chanteys knows how to have a good time in my book—and Steel mostly just wants to get the job done.) And none of this information points toward a particular origin. They don't seem to be what most people would consider aliens. I have a lot of trouble believing they're angels. If they got back much farther than the twentieth century, I suspect they could be mistaken for fairies: beautiful, inhuman people with goals and rules of their own.3 I can't even tell if Earth is their area of specialty or whether we're just seeing the human-centric assignments because other planets were above ATV's pay grade. "Great Wars, civil wars, holy wars—" Steel fumes in a derelict railway station haunted by a soldier's resentful ghost. "You know, sometimes I wonder why they bother to send us here!" As far as I can tell after three serials, the answer is: because you're not radioactive and otherwise Time will collapse. Any benefit derived by humanity may well be a side effect.

The colorful terminology of John le Carré's Circus—scalphunters, lamplighters, ferrets, inquisitors, the Competition, the Cousins, and the Reptile Fund—covers a very cold world indeed. So does Sapphire & Steel's superficially pulpy premise of interdimensional agents vs. monsters from outside of time. The first concern of every assignment is the integrity of the space-time continuum.4 It's nice work if you can save people in the process, but they're a secondary consideration. When Steel has to choose between the lesser of two evils in Assignment 2, what he's measuring them by is their degree of damage to Time. Left to itself, the "darkness" which breathes like black mold through the empty air of the station will go on gathering ghosts to itself, enwebbing the human dead who believe they got a raw deal and putting them through their paces of death and haunting in order to draw off their anger and their longing and their pain; it will grind time on the site thinner and thinner until finally something tears. In order to make it give up its dead, to buy it off with "enough negative energy, enough resentment to last for five hundred years—maybe even a thousand years," Steel offers it an "original source of resentment" in the form of a human life not due to end for another five known, recorded, historical years. The mortal protests of one man who died before his time are nothing compared to the towering objections of Time cheated of its proper order. The darkness takes the deal. The sacrifice, although I think he guesses something, doesn't get a say. Technically Steel has restored the normal, unhaunted state of time at the station, but he has still damaged the history it is his explicitly stated duty to safeguard and repair and I cannot imagine his superiors will be thrilled when he and Sapphire get back to whatever their pan-dimensional dispatch office looks like; also, he straight-up killed a dude. The decision Sapphire makes at the end of Assignment 3 may be even colder. Here the disruptive force comes from the future, in the form of a 35th-century research team who have unwittingly brought their doom with them to 1980 London. On discovering its nature and realizing that the time-manipulating, illusion-casting, utterly anachronistic entity is trying to break out into the twentieth century where it will wreak who knows what havoc, Sapphire gives the order to return the team to their own era even though that will not lessen the danger they're in: "It is their problem . . . They caused it; let them solve it!" So long as the fireworks don't go off on a roof in London fifteen hundred years ahead of schedule, it really is not her responsibility. But there's a chill on the inside of this agency, too. We get a hint of it from Silver, saying apologetically when Steel asks about the other research teams, "You don't need to worry about them. They don't matter anymore." (Everybody is dead, Dave.) Already suspicious that the technician got better intel on the mission than either himself or Sapphire, Steel is not much reassured when Silver's airy double-talk of "just happen[ing] to be passing" resolves into the quasi-admission that their information was "not wrong . . . incomplete, perhaps, but not wrong." The nice explanation is that their superiors got a better handle on the situation between sending Sapphire and Steel and sending Silver; the Tinker, Tailor one is that someone upstairs is playing games. They never seem to know what they'll have to deal with, only where and when. I know Charles Stross is famous for mixing Lovecraftian horror with espionage in "A Colder War" and the Laundry Files, but I really think Sapphire & Steel got there first and better. No tentacles needed, just the endless reaches of time and the slow turning of questions of trust.

And despite everything I have said just now about cold equations and earlier about dread, I don't find it at all a depressing or an upsetting show to watch, because it is so beautifully and strangely put together and so unlike anything else I've seen from TV that even if I weren't actively fond of the characters, it would be a pleasure. (I can't imagine it being made or remade today; if nothing else, I worry modern audiences would balk at the pacing and it's crucial. You couldn't speed it up and get the same effect because so much of its unheimlich comes directly from the unhurried real time in which the wrongness accumulates. Nothing jumps out and scares you. You wish it would and get it over with. Maybe the people currently watching the revival of Twin Peaks would sit still for Sapphire & Steel, but I feel the two are fundamentally different kinds of weird.) The oddest thing about discovering this series now, honestly, is that I can see its echoes in my own work. Or I can see things in it that look like direct ancestors of things in my own work, a lot of ways I think about time and hauntings and the dead, and I can't tell if that means I got its influence secondhand or if I just read widely in the traditions it was drawing from; I expect the answer is both, but it's still a little eerie, like reading the poetry of Owen Sheers. On the bright side, it probably guaranteed that no matter what age I found this series at, I'd love it. Sapphire follows the hollow drip of water through a ghost's glass-blue eye into the shattered monochrome of no man's land. A lightbulb glows in Silver's hand and when he's done with it, he tosses it to Steel and it dissolves mid-air into a glittering chime of silver water. This is the house that Jack built, all the way back to the foundation stone new-cut under the winter stars of an eighteenth-century sky.

That was a lot of notes for a preliminary. In conclusion, the following dialogue just took place between me and Rob—

"Hey, I think the worst possible thing happened that could happen while a person is talking about Sapphire & Steel."

"Did they go off of YouTube?"

"No, my watch stopped."

—so I think I should perhaps get out of here before something comes out of the music I'm listening to. It was Belbury Poly for a while, which is very much in the same hauntological tradition. Maybe an album drawn from recordings of Ganzeld experiments was not the best alternative. So long, it's been good to know you. I'm not sure I can count half a TV series for Patreon.

1. The third serial includes some cutaway scenes on a roof which [personal profile] ashlyme tells me belonged to the ATV offices themselves.

2. The subject is slightly lampshaded in Assignment 3, when Steel gives a rare laugh at the thought of "Silver having any kind of beginning, any kind of childhood" and Sapphire responds that she was just thinking the same about Steel. He's indignant: "I have very positive origins! Inexpressible, maybe, but positive." A scene or two later, he's still mentally muttering, "I have impeccable origins."

3. At this point in the process my brain completely jumped its tracks and I thought of Silver in the role of Puck, Steel as Oberon, and Sapphire as Titania, and Ashlyme didn't help by calling the thought of a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream possessed by Time "mouthwatering." I just don't want to have to write it.

4. You know what I'm genuinely surprised doesn't exist? Crossover fic for this series with A Tale of Time City (1987). Otherwise the ways in which it reminds me of Diana Wynne Jones are more tonal and thematic: ordinary-looking people of strange domains and powers, magic-like science (or science-like magic) that works sideways in ripples and allusions, not explaining things. I find myself thinking of the luminaries of Dogsbody (1975), the Reigners of Hexwood (1983), the families of Archer's Goon (1984) and The Game (2007). So far there is slightly less of a tendency in Sapphire & Steel for people not to know who they are, but I'm willing to wait.
cyphomandra: fluffy snowy mountains (painting) (snowcone)

[personal profile] cyphomandra 2017-06-08 09:11 am (UTC)(link)
I still think about Tully. I hadn't seen anything quite like that on TV before, the characters, the situation or the performances.

This is a fascinating read and I am torn between waiting for you to continue (the next assignment, at least) and going on my own rewatch. Sapphire and Steel was the series I became obsessed with after Twin Peaks, by coincidence; as with Twin Peaks, it was screened late at night, and I used to surreptitiously watch the episodes by myself with the sound turned down to avoid disturbing my parents, and I would then equally quietly sneak off to the phone in the spare room and call one particular friend (the fifth of sixth children; her parents had no concerns about calls after eleven as at least it meant that particular child was at home) to analyse it in glorious detail.

You mentioned the radio play continuations in an earlier comment; I do actually have these, somewhere, having collected them during a phase in my life when I was rewatching all of the fifth Doctor episodes of Dr Who and collecting the relevant audios. I only listened to one of the S&S ones, and the story was okay but it wasn't the same - I think it did have David Collings, but not the main two.

rydra_wong: Silver is smug; Sapphire has her hands on his shoulders. (sapphire and steel -- smug)

[personal profile] rydra_wong 2017-06-08 10:40 am (UTC)(link)
I am under-caffeinated and mentally fried and trying to brace myself for today, but I just wanted to say that I am so so so delighted to see you posting about the show, and that you appreciate it so much. It also gives me the idea of occupying some of today with some Sapphire and Steel rewatching.

Six serials aired on ITV over a span of four years, irregularly spaced and eventually canceled

It always entertains me that they had McCallum fresh off Man From Uncle and Lumley fresh off New Avengers -- they must have thought they were getting a guaranteed blockbuster. Instead they got ... this.

The colorful terminology of John le Carré's Circus—scalphunters, lamplighters, ferrets, inquisitors, the Competition, the Cousins, and the Reptile Fund—covers a very cold world indeed.

I can't remember whether you're familiar with The Sandbaggers, another series which operates at similar levels of dry-ice coldness.

"No, my watch stopped."

—so I think I should perhaps get out of here before something comes out of the music I'm listening to.


GOOD PLAN. What with that and finding that it's been influencing your work years before you watched it ... *g*
movingfinger: (Default)

[personal profile] movingfinger 2017-06-08 07:25 pm (UTC)(link)
McCallum did the American Invisible Man thing between Uncle and this (1975-76). It was meh.

There was a whole slew of superhero and superhero-adjacent TV in the 1970's that have been kind of forgotten.

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much_of_a: Teacup and biscuit jigsaw puzzle (Default)

[personal profile] much_of_a 2017-06-08 12:03 pm (UTC)(link)
This is a lovely review of the series, and I think you've captured what makes/made it special.

I watched the show when it was broadcast, and remember being terrified at several points. But it has stuck in my memory as an important show, something that helped set the shape of my mind.

As you say, by today's standards it is glacially paced, as I found out when I finally managed to get DVDs and rewatch some of it. I had assumed that would make it hard to view for the first time today, and am glad it's not too great an impediment.

(and for what it's worth, this is definitely suitable for counting towards the Patreon)

When it first came out, it felt important that the two main characters were
Purdey from The New Avengers and Illya Kuryakin from The Man From UNCLE - two "heart throb" characters (surely everyone agrees Kuryakin was the sexy one in The Man from UNCLE?). Elizabeth Bear plays beautifully on that same thing in One Eyed Jack.

I hadn't thought of the Diana Wynne Jones comparison - I shall need to mull that over.

I seem to remember once having a copy of the spin-off novel, but it's left no memories. And I've heard a couple of the audio works, but they're just not the same without Lumley and McCallum.
Edited 2017-06-08 12:05 (UTC)
moon_custafer: (Default)

[personal profile] moon_custafer 2017-06-08 09:29 pm (UTC)(link)
Just remembered -- Falls the Shadow, one of the Dr. Who New Adventure novels written during the hiatus, features villains named Gabriel and Tanith who are basically evil versions of Steel and Sapphire, beautiful siblings/lovers who feed off entropy and destroy realities for fun.

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lost_spook: (s&s - silver)

[personal profile] lost_spook 2017-06-08 12:04 pm (UTC)(link)
It's so lovely to see someone getting drawn into this amazing and mysterious fandom, and to see you express it and the fascination and weirdness of it so beautifully. I'm not sure I'm quite able to process properly but:

* I had not really thought about the line between S&S and DWJ before, because it's so weird it's not an obvious link, but tonally you are right (and also throwing in The Time of the Ghost which is probably the most S&S-like in story. You can imagine that the other way around as an assignment...)

* Elements (or whatever it is they are) are so fascinating. I watched this when I was first ill and disappeared into it for about 18 months and there just never ceases to be stuff to wonder and think about them. I think you're very right to point to their identities (or are they actually anthropomorphised literal elements in some form? who knows?) is what they're called: the nature of steel (and that it shares the same expansion/contraction rates with lead, which is an insultor), that sapphire and steel are often used in combination to make expensive clocks, that sapphire and silver are often used to combination for ornaments and silver and steel in machinery, because steel has the strength that silver lacks while coating steel in silver prevents friction. (Or in short: my God they are the most perfect and weird and inhuman OT3 ever. or possibly it's just Elements/Elements in an endless utilitarian-but-not-entirely dance). (Jet & Steel are another common combination; it's small wonder Copper might have trouble with Silver - silver and copper share much of the same uses, only silver is better at them; copper's more often used because it's easier and cheaper).

* The subject is slightly lampshaded in Assignment 3, when Steel gives a rare laugh at the thought of "Silver having any kind of beginning, any kind of childhood" and Sapphire responds that she was just thinking the same about Steel. He's indignant: "I have very positive origins! Inexpressible, maybe, but positive." A scene or two later, he's still mentally muttering, "I have impeccable origins." I think this was the exact point at which the dawning fascination and love altered into love and obsession and also shipping the OT3. (I was very gen before S&S! And then discovered that everyone else seemed to be very gen in it, instead of working out what the hell Elements do in each other's heads.)

* He makes his first appearance leaning against a TV aerial, insouciant as Loki of the Information Age

It is a marvellous entrance. As I watched S&S firstly for Mr Collings, I'd been waiting for it for 16 episodes, but even so it exceeded expections by 110%

But anyway, this is lovely & I hope you continue to enjoy it (although I am sure that you will - A4 is also chilling and A6 is hair-raising and weird and wonderful for the OT3).

(I have a feeling some of my fellow S&S fans on my flist would enjoy reading this, one or two of them in particular - would you have any objection to me linking to it?)

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moon_custafer: (Default)

[personal profile] moon_custafer 2017-06-08 12:08 pm (UTC)(link)
Assignment 2 struck me as something that could be adapted as an opera.

Charles Williams' The Place of the Lion might also be somewhere in this show's DNA.

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davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)

[personal profile] davidgillon 2017-06-08 12:34 pm (UTC)(link)
Another essential precursor, possibly not so much thematically as expectation wise, was The Tomorrow People (1973 to 1979) as Sapphire and Steel (IIRC) replaced it in the 5PM-6PM children's drama slot. That was Thames, rather than ATV, but they were all regional sub-parts of ITV feeding into a national broadcast network, and both shows have to be looked at as ITV looking for a Dr Who challenger. I personally think they succeeded much more with Sapphire and Steel than with The Tomorrow People.

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nineweaving: (Default)

[personal profile] nineweaving 2017-06-08 05:33 pm (UTC)(link)
This sounds amazing. But now I'm wondering—what's Jet doing in among the elements? Surely s/he's fossilized wood? Crossover from The Petrified Forest?

I am delighted to discover that Whitby jet is from Jurassic monkey puzzle wood.

Nine
movingfinger: (Default)

[personal profile] movingfinger 2017-06-08 05:48 pm (UTC)(link)
I wonder the same; perhaps Jet is a standin for Carbon? Assuming that we're assuming Homer never nods.

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movingfinger: (Default)

[personal profile] movingfinger 2017-06-08 07:18 pm (UTC)(link)
Watching the first episode set now, I'm remembering much of it, but I had conflated it with Twilight Zone in my memory. They are certainly neighbors.

Has David McCallum ever been filmed with any other hairstyle?

Another neighbor, lying much closer to this storyline, is Time Bandits (1981), but the Criterion essay doesn't notice it, and Gilliam claims not to have read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe which lies behind them both. However, at the very least, the corridor of time opening in the bedroom is extremely similarly handled, possibly because that's how people did those things in those days.* I want crossover fic with Kevin and Robert.


*None of this zapping through portals that just plop you anywhere, you had a proper English corridor you went along and you had a chance to get your clothes straightened out and check that the ID in your wallet said the right thing before you landed. It was a marked improvement on the puddles-in-a-forest method used by the Edwardians as it gave the traveler some idea of where he was going.

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alexxkay: (Default)

[personal profile] alexxkay 2017-06-08 10:01 pm (UTC)(link)
I'm not sure I can count half a TV series for Patreon.

This (very small) patron thinks so. It's a lot of interesting words about some interesting-sounding media. Gonna have to check it out meself!
ravenskyewalker: (Default)

[personal profile] ravenskyewalker 2017-06-08 11:45 pm (UTC)(link)
Here because of lost_spook. Ahh, I like this write-up.

I had heard about S&S since the 1980s, but it took me many years to finally track it down on DVD, and then years more to settle down to watch it. Finally saw it last year!

I read a description of it last year as "It’s Doctor Who if the Doctor was two people and they really, REALLY weren’t here to save you." Which is kind of true. In a way, they're what Time Lords should actually be, alien and indescribable and inexpressible.

What startled me was how much McCallum's Steel's voice sounded like Kerr Avon in "Blake's 7" (which ran 1978-81), and there's a lot of Avon's attitude in him, so maybe a combination of Avon and the Doctor at his most alien and difficult. But very much ineffable.
pedanther: (Default)

[personal profile] pedanther 2017-06-09 12:26 am (UTC)(link)
I find this write-up pleasing in both form and content, and I look forward to seeing what you have to say about the back half of the series.
17catherines: Amor Vincit Omnia (Default)

[personal profile] 17catherines 2017-06-09 07:08 am (UTC)(link)
Oh, I so need to re-watch this.

Also, when you said that your watch had stopped while you were talking about Sapphire and Steel, I actually gasped aloud. This, after not seeing the show in at least fifteen years. It really has quite an atmosphere.
arnie1967: (Redflower)

[personal profile] arnie1967 2017-06-09 01:20 pm (UTC)(link)
I'm here by way of Lost_Spook.

This...this is why people watch Sapphire and Steel. This is a beautiful post - it's almost as dazzling as one of Silver's knickknacks.

Thank you for sharing it.
liadtbunny: (Silver bright)

[personal profile] liadtbunny 2017-06-09 02:55 pm (UTC)(link)
Here by way of lost_spook. That was a wonderful review.

'Orphee' by Cocteau made me think of S&S and how Elements would stage a trial of their own. P.J Hammond did a couple of sub-S&S stories for 'Ace of Wands' a kid's TV show about a mysterious magician which are worth watching.
radiotelescope: Crude sketch of a radio telescope pointing up (Default)

[personal profile] radiotelescope 2017-06-09 08:04 pm (UTC)(link)
Oooh, Sapphire and Steel. I only found DVDs of this a few years ago, but I would certainly have loved it as a kid.

Randomly, I enjoy that the opening "high-tech" credits are clearly the direct predecessor to the Hitchhiker's Guide TV graphics (1981).

Could it be remade today? Sneakily I hope so. It would be someone's very strange passion project, but a lot of those are getting filmed these days. True Detective season 1, for example -- that was a show that would nearly have been S&S if it had been willing to take two more steps into the paranormal.

I listened to the first set of (Big Finish) audio dramas. I agree they're not as good, but the problem isn't changing the actors. I mean, that's *a* problem, but I'd say that the audio dramas follow the TV shows too neatly. The original shows are much more fluid! The characters are the only fixed point; "Time" as an antagonist doesn't really play by knowable rules. I've only been through the TV series once, but my sense was that Time doesn't behave the same from one assignment to the next. That would be hard to sustain in a modern remake. It would have been hard to sustain in the 80s, if more than six stories had ever gotten made.

Sarah Monette did a nice writeup on her LJ a few years ago... yes, it got imported into Dreamwidth. (http://truepenny.dreamwidth.org/465406.html) "No they're not human; Steel mostly can't even be bothered to pass."

radiotelescope: Crude sketch of a radio telescope pointing up (Default)

[personal profile] radiotelescope 2017-06-10 03:49 am (UTC)(link)
And, I clunkily forgot to say, thank you for reminding me of the show. I enjoyed your appreciation of it.

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ashlyme: (Default)

[personal profile] ashlyme 2017-06-10 04:41 pm (UTC)(link)
It's been a joy to see you discover this series and to talk about it with you. And I love this post. I rewatched Assignment One as a result. I think Hammond had to put an upbeat ending and kids in the first story to get the really good stuff through. It's only been lately that I think Tully overheard *everything*. Now I'm considering the ramifications of the five years Steel cheated Time of, the repercussions for the agents, whether tthe superiors have taken countermeasures in later stories - the fact Silver has more intelligence than Steel. I can't wait to hear your thoughts on the second half!

Did you get the watch working?