"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 (1979-1982) is a British series sitting squarely at the intersection of Science Fantasy and Horror. It was created by ATV, one of ITV's regional franchises, and was probably the best of ITV's several attempts to produce an answer to The BBC's classic-era Doctor Who. The title characters, played by Joanna Lumley and David McCallum, are stoic inter-dimensional agents who protect... um, something. The opening monologue above is really all the explanation we ever get. Their role seems to involve preventing Lovecraftian horrors from slipping in through weak spots in time and snatching things. Exactly what this means — or for that matter, what Sapphire and Steel themselves really are — never quite becomes clear.Sapphire and Steel were, in addition to being irascible and detached, telepathic. Sapphire also had the ability to "take back time", rewinding it a bit over a localized area, and could deduce the age and background of things and people by touching them (or perhaps the information was being transmitted to her by Mission Control; like everything else, it's not clear). This made her eyes glow blue. Steel, on the other hand, was even more detached and irascible, could sustain a temperature of absolute zero (allowing him to freeze, well, time), and was telekinetic. But mostly, they just stood very still and looked directly into the camera. Given the calibre of the actors in question, this is a lot more interesting — and a lot more scary — than it sounds, and McCallum and Lumley somehow manage to hold it together.Sapphire and Steel combat these breaks in time primarily by glowering at them. The show used minimal staging and special effects, with cinematography reminiscent of Ingmar Bergman. For example, Steel emptying a refrigerator is the closest thing to an action sequence in the third episode. This lent to the surreal and detached air about the characters, and also kept production costs in the single digits, but often gave the show the pacing of Star Trek: The Motion Pictureon thorazine.Other "elements" (there were allegedly 127, but the 12 transuranics were "unstable" and could not be used) occasionally assisted them: Lead and Silver both guest-starred, and others, such as Jet, are mentioned.While most other notable British Science Fiction shows were over-ambitious in their special effects, with results ranging from the troubling (Doctor Who) to the disastrous (The Tomorrow People), S&S simply did not try to do anything the budget wouldn't allow. The result called for milking Surreal Horror for all its worth, creating a show that is, while definitely not for everyone, quite capable of reducing so-inclined viewers to quivering little heaps behind the sofa.Sapphire and Steel probably influenced The X-Files and Babylon 5. Its creator, Peter J. Hammond, would go on to write for Midsomer Murders. He would also stand responsible for two of the most bizarre episodes of Torchwood, "Small Worlds" and "From Out of the Rain", which are more likeSapphire and Steel than they are most other Torchwood episodes. He also wrote the unproduced Doctor Who story "Paradise 5".From 2005 to 2008, Big Finish released a series of Sapphire & Steelaudio dramas; unusually for Big Finish's audio ranges, the original cast did not return—bar David Collings as Silver—so Susannah Harker and David Warner were cast in the title roles. (McCallum, a series regular on NCIS, was living in the US; Lumley simply declined. That said, both are on record as still fond of the series and proud of their work on it.)Along with Blake's 7 and Doctor Who, Sapphire and Steel forms the Holy Trinity of British Science Fiction television.
Sapphire and Steel provides examples of the following tropes:
Anchored Ship: Sapphire and Steel clearly care for each other and occasionally make affectionate gestures, but the dynamics of their relationship are complex and never fully explained. The fact that they're not human complicates the issue quite a bit too.
Bottle Episode: All of them. The only location footage in the entire series was filmed on the roof of ATV's own offices, masquerading as an apartment block.
British Brevity: On for 6 "assignments" with a total of 34 episodes. Each assignment has 4-8 episodes.
Charm Person: As opposed to Steel, Sapphire is "the diplomat" and can quickly develop a rapport with humans. She can use this to charm information out of people.
Closed Circle: Happens in Assignments 3, 5, and 6. In Assignment 1 it's Sapphire and Steel who are stopping people from entering or leaving, and in Assignments 2 and 4 Steel (unsuccessfully) tries to get human bystanders to leave before things get too serious.
Cosmic Horror Story: The universe as humans perceive it is a small patch of light surrounded by dark and nameless horrors that are always trying to break in. Sapphire and Steel and their colleagues fight them, but battles are not always won, and there's no prospect of an end to the war.
Distress Ball: Sapphire needs to be rescued an awful lot. According to Word of God, this was deliberate and meant to be justified in the context of their roles: Sapphire was conceived as the member of the duo who investigated and sensed what was going on, and Steel as the one who did things about it. Because her powers were more about detecting danger than getting out of it, this meant that hers was actually the more dangerous role of the two.
Late-Arrival Spoiler: The unofficial but widely-used episode titles, having been created by fans more concerned with having unambiguous referents to episodes they'd all seen already. For example, if you've seen it, you know exactly which Assignment matches the title "Doctor McDee Must Die", but if you haven't, the title gives away something major that's not revealed until over halfway through the story.
My Significance Sense Is Tingling: The primary way Sapphire and Steel determine how time operates in any given assignment. They are able to sense time breaks and villainous presences using their otherworldly talents.
Psychic Link: Sapphire and Steel can communicate telepathically and are very in tune to each others thoughts and feelings. Presumably, all agents can communicate this way because Silver and Lead also have this ability.
Reality Bleed: A common problem, particularly in the form of different time zones bleeding into the present.
Unresolved Sexual Tension: Sapphire & Steel, of course; Sapphire & Silver, of whom Steel gets adorably jealous in Assignment 3. Fanon also assumes UST between Steel & Jet based on Jet "sending her love" in Assignment 1.
Video Inside, Film Outside: In Assignment 3, the establishing shots of the apartment building and the scenes on the roof are filmed. Every other story was studio-bound and video-only, even for scenes set outdoors.
(Please note that even the name of a trope may be a major spoiler for the episode it appears in.)
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Two children are left alone in an isolated house when their parents vanish into thin air, and their only hope appears to be an enigmatic woman and man calling themselves "Sapphire" and "Steel".
Decoy Protagonist: This story is made largely from the point-of-view of the boy Rob. Later stories, the characters being established, would follow Sapphire and Steel themselves more closely.
Steel: It's locked. [Lead thumps the door, which falls off its hinges.] Lead: It isn't now.
Phantom Zone Picture: Sapphire is trapped inside a painting, and almost killed by Roundhead soldiers before she is rescued.
Reset Button: At the end, after the source of the trouble has been dealt with, Sapphire takes time back and the story ends with a repeat of the events that began the first episode (but this time without devolving into spooky goings-on).
Fainting Seer: Sapphire spends a good deal of time unconscious after a seance goes wrong.
Good Is Not Nice: In perhaps the crowning example from the series, Steel makes poor old Mr. Tully a sacrificial offering to the Darkness, without Tully's permission, so that the ghosts can be freed, although he does inquire whether Tully has any dependents, and seems relieved that Tully's cat will be looked after by the neighbors.
Ironic Nursery Tune: Though not technically a nursery rhyme, the usually upbeat "Pack up your Troubles in your Old Kit Bag" is used to much the same effect, with a vengeful soldier's ghost whistling it constantly.
Shoot the Dog: Steel makes a deal with Time by giving it a perfectly innocent man (who he does not bother to consult first on the matter) in exchange for releasing its hold on an abandoned railway station.
Sound-Only Death: The last we hear of Tully is an awful scream before the Darkness devours him.
Spooky Seance: Sapphire and Steel agree to give Tully's methods a chance by holding a seance. With Sapphire as a medium, Steel and Tully communicate with several ghosts that have gathered at the railway station.
Teacher/Student Romance: The dead soldier had a relationship with a woman who used to be his teacher, after he was out of school.
Whispering Ghosts: When the Darkness moves around the railway station, creepy whispering voices always follow it.
A time-travel experiment by historians from the far future goes horribly wrong, and Sapphire, Steel, and their technical assistant Silver have to pick up the pieces.
Cut Apart: Used when Sapphire and Steel enter the flat on the top floor of the block, leading to the revelation that the time travellers are not in that flat, but in a replica of the flat located in an invisible capsule on the roof of the building.
Future Imperfect: The time travellers have nearly every detail correct — but they're about a thousand years out in the matter of common English names.
Magical Security Cam: Almost averted, as the capsules' surveillance cameras produce fixed-angle images with no zooms or other dramatic trickery — except in one sequence, which cuts between Sapphire in Capsule 3 and Sapphire's image on a monitor screen; the monitor screen image is clearly the same footage with a video effect on it, and includes a dramatic zoom.
No Ontological Inertia: When Steel restores the changeling to his proper form, everything the changeling had touched is also restored.
Organic Technology: Used by the time travellers. It turns out to be very unhappy about being used for that purpose.
Psychopathic Manchild: The changeling, as he's a baby raised to adulthood and mind-controlled by an insane piece of biotech.
Veganopia: Subverted. In the future, all humans are vegan, not because of any sense of immorality about eating meat, but because they find animals disgusting and unclean and have exterminated all of them.
Wrong Genre Savvy: Silver is convinced that the changeling is a robot, and tries to dismantle it with disastrous results.
Sapphire and Steel investigate a junk shop plagued by mysterious disappearances, and the appearance of sinister sepia-tinged children.
And I Must Scream: The Shape's fate when trapped in a kaleidoscope. He is briefly seen literally screaming.
Super Empowering: Sapphire temporarily grants Felix telepathy so that he can help.
Taking the Bullet: In the "correct" timeline Dr. McDee died this way when his lover Emma Mullrine attempted to shoot his wife.
Ten Little Murder Victims: The story plays as a variation on the classic versions of this plot. The apparent murders are really Time disposing of the people who weren't involved in the original events, in order from the youngest to the oldest.
Sapphire, Steel and Silver find themselves in a deserted roadhouse with a timeslipped couple from the 1940s, but what exactly is wrong and what they are supposed to do about it remains stubbornly mysterious.
The Bad Guy Wins/Downer Ending: The whole situation was a trap all along and everyone in the diner except Silver was in on it. The last scene of the show has Sapphire and Steel trapped in the café, destined to drift out in space for eternity.
Cover Drop: The nothingness outside the diner at the end is the starfield from the show's opening and closing credits.
Did You Just Scam Cthulhu?: Silver uses his reputation for being the most practical one when it comes to knowing when he's up against something he can't handle and suggesting or undertaking a tactical retreat (aka a coward) and the fact that he is physically one of the weakest Elements, to stall the Transient Beings (to whom even Steel is a weakling in comparison) into listening to him bargain for his own safety with a copy of an artifact they were after to give Steel time to get it away from them.
Everybody Did It: All four of the characters at the diner are part of the plot to trap Sapphire and Steel.
Special Effects Evolution: If you know much about 1980s post-production effects, it's obvious that the effects people got a new toy to play with for Assignment 6, resulting in some effects that actually impress. And then the series was cancelled.
Faking the Dead: In "Zero" Gold tries to kill Silver by sending him drifting off into space when Silver goes out suited up to try to fix something, but Silver had suspected Gold and fakes it and even sends out a goodbye psychic soliloquy
Humans Are Morons: A view held in varying degrees by all the Elements because of how often it is humanity through whose meddling and inventiveness that creates ways for Time to start escaping and wreaking havoc. Steel sees humans as stupid, but will fight to his last breath to save them, though if what they do threatens the stability of the rest of the universe, he would not hesitate to sacrifice them as an acceptible loss; Sapphire more thinks humanity has more a charming, if troublesome, flaw of being very imaginative and ambitious and thinks the universe would be a much poorer place without them; Gold thinks humans are straight up morons who should be wiped from the universe to save the Elements and the rest of the universe the trouble they cause; and Silver sees humans as morons for getting into and creating things of which they do not fully count the consequences, but he admires their ingenuity and inventiveness and does not particularly begrudge them the amout of work they cause him.