January 31, 2004



"There are things - creatures, if you like - from the very beginnings of Time, and the very end of Time. And these creatures have access to the corridor. They're forever... moving along it. Searching... looking... trying to find a way in. They're always searching, aways looking."

"For the hole in the fabric?"

"Yes. But they must never be allowed in, never ever!"

At the risk of annoying the likes of Luka who aren't so keen on my 'seventies nostalgia' posts, here's another one on Sapphire and Steel.

A little background.

Sapphire and Steel was produced by ATV (ITV midlands region) between 1979 and 1982. It was the brainchild of author P J Hammond, who had previously worked as a writer on police dramas such as The Gentle Touch and Hunter's Walk and on children's fantasy shows like Ace of Wands and Dramarama.

Hammond explains the concept as follows:

"The basis of `Sapphire and Steel' came from my desire to write a detective
story, into which I wanted to incorporate Time. I've always been interested in
Time, particularly the ideas of J B Priestley and H G Wells, but I wanted to
take a different approach to the subject. So instead of having them go
backwards and forwards in Time, it was about Time breaking in, and having set
the precedent I realized the potential that it offered with two people whose
job it was to stop the break-ins."

I've just rewatched Adventure One and is really is an astonishing piece of work. In Adventure One, Sapphire and Steel arrive at a house in a remote coastal area. They find two children alone; their parents have unaccountably vanished, and all the clocks in the house have stopped.

What follows is an exemplary exploration of the uncanny. The uncanny, the unheimlich, the unhomely. Freud's original analysis of the term, you will recall, drew upon the ambivalence of the word: the fact that the unhomely includes the homely. The 'un' is a token not of negation (there is no negation in the unconscious) but of repression.

Adventure One is set entirely within a family home, and Sapphire and Steel treat the familiar objects of the house - the children's story books, the paintings, all the 'old things' - as if they are dangerous weapons. Such objects, it emerges, can be 'triggers' for the temporal breakdowns the two time detectives are duty-bound to rectify. For Sapphire and Steel, the house becomes an intensive space in which every slight movement, every posture and word, potentially has a ritual significance.

If the series is remarkable for its cryptic refusal to pander to the audience's demand for explanation, that is partly because it is attuned to the unconscious, to the submerged knowledges that children still possess but which adults have forgotten. On the level of the unconscious, no explanation is necessary. Everyone knows there is something disturbing about clocks. Everyone knows that nursery rhymes are sinister incantations. Everyone knows that paintings contain worlds you can fall into. Everyone knows there are realities a hair's breadth away from our own into which you can step.

Episode transcripts
P. J. Hammond interviews

Posted by mark at January 31, 2004 09:36 PM | TrackBack

it sounds fuckin' brilliant, I wonder how come I never watched it. Was Kinght RIder on the other side or something?

Posted by: undercurrent at January 31, 2004 10:57 PM

Yeh, you'd love it Robin. And one of the best features about it is its total, unwavering seriousness. Not even a whiff of PoMo irony or self-consciousness!

Posted by: mark k-punk at January 31, 2004 11:15 PM