Main cast: David Warner (Steel); Susannah Harker (Sapphire); Kim Hartman (Gabrielle); Lena Rae (Jennifer); Stuart Piper (James); Saul Jaffe (Voice); Emma Kilbey (Voice)
The plot: Suburbia, 2004. And it looks like rain. Sapphire and Steel are drawn to a house apparently much like any other on the street, except that this one, and the family living in it, harbour a secret that threatens to destroy them all …
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.
After a traditional opening story in The Passenger, this second installment in the revived Sapphire & Steel series proves to be anything but risk averse. The TV version used isolated settings and limbo sets to make the most of the theatricality inherent in its studio-based set-up. This story bravely moves into the realm of the ordinary, quotidian and mundane, with Sapphire warning Steel in mock horror that they are about to enter … suburbia.
Let’s go play happy families.
The domestic sphere in this series is usually thoroughly dysfunctional, but initially things seem to be pretty normal by the standards of common variety urban living – James has comes home to visit his Mum and his sister Jen. They watch TV, eat pizza, argue and make up – things couldn’t be more banal, ordinary, commonplace even. But there is a presence in the house that seems to communicate through the television and other electrical appliances and it has now started whispering to the family members, who all seem to know, at some basic level, that there is something supernatural going on and yet also seem to have accepted it as part of their lives. James has returned after his first term at university to discover that the ‘house’ is behaving badly, with messages coming through the television and cupboards seemingly opening and closing of their own free will. If this sounds a bit like the 1980s movie Poltergeist, well that’s because it is quite similar, even to the extent of having one of the characters sucked in to another dimension and having to be recovered, all to the strain of a childish theme tune, which in this case is the Brahms lullaby. On the other hand, a happy ending is far from being assured.
You’ve come to fix the electrics, haven’t you?
Our heroes initially get mistaken for the pizza delivery people and then more worryingly for social workers, causing hysterical panic in the mother who eventually gets slapped before becoming unconscious. This situation is soon removed from the style of the daytime soap and chat shows ever-present on the living room TV screen when a time bubble envelopes the family and they start regressing to their youth and Sapphire, after touching a music box on the mantle, is spirited away. Trapped in another dimension, Sapphire meets ‘Joshua’, a shape-shifting entity who seems to be able to take on any form, trying at one stage to pass itself off as Steel:
“Do you love me?” Sapphire asks innocently, to which the ersatz Steel answers, “Of course I do Sapphire, you’re pretty”
‘Joshua’ has some sort of deep-rooted antipathy towards the family and plagues them with his chant, ‘I loved you so why did you kill me?” The play is at its best dramatising feelings of rebellion and disempowerment commonly associated with depictions with hormonal teenagers along with darker themes such as self harm and fears of mental instability – if not always very subtle, their handling here is never the less adroit in the way that it uses such elements without making them feel extraneous or exploitative.
Joseph Lidster’s script offers a number of good scares, especially for those listening on a good sound system as once again we have a villain who tends to work silently in the house, and builds up a decent head of steam as family secrets are revealed and the true nature and identity of the trigger that Time is exploiting to break through into reality is uncovered. The influence of the train station serial from the TV show, probably everybody’s favourite, is once again felt in the climax to the story, which it would be unfair to reveal as it is a particularly nasty and poisonous way to finish, but with Sapphire rather than Steel this time left to do the dirty work. This release also has some postmodern fun with the format with the recaps for episodes 2 and 4 being cut off as if one were switching channels.
This release also includes a nice extra with Nigel Fairs and Steven Foxon discussing their work as music composers on the show and on the relief they felt when late in production they were able to secure the use of the original theme composed by Cyril Ornadel. We also get to listen to Fairs’ own version of the theme had they not been able to clear the rights.
This is another solid release in the series, using an established template but taking our protagonists into a new setting and exploring some extremely dark themes – not for the impressionable.