Monday, 7 May 2007

And Speaking of Aliens...

Doncha just love science fiction? Especially when there’s an element of time travel. And it’s got Joanna Lumley in it.

Back around 1980, that’s exactly what we had with the once broadcast and never repeated TV series, Sapphire and Steel. The thing about Sapphire and Steel was that it never really felt like it had to explain itself, so no spoon fed back story, no real explanation of the plots, just great mystery scripts brilliantly acted by the main protagonists, Steel, played by David McCallum and Sapphire, played by Joanna Lumley.

As with most UK TV productions the budget was paper-thin and most of the action took place on a single set, a bit like a stage play. But it was sensational and it was sensational for two reasons.

1) The writing (by P J Hammond) was exceptional, creating tense and in many ways coldly callous drama using minimal effects (this is sci-fi remember). Few happy endings and many unexplained happenings only added to the appeal of this show.
2) The acting of David McCallum as the logical, impatient and thoroughly ruthless Steel and Joanna Lumley as the more empathetic but still alien Sapphire.

This, in my view was Joanna’s finest hour. Forget the irritating Patsy from Ad-Fab and Purdy from the New Avengers, Joanna was born to play the alien, but outwardly human Sapphire. She uses her model catwalk training to glide around the set, straight backed and head held high in an almost otherworldly way. Her diction and staring blue eyes add to the strangeness she manages to invoke. Make no mistake, McCallum is equally good as the petulant Steel but Lumley was an inspirational bit of casting.

Luckily the entire series (only 6 ‘assignments’ ever made) are out on DVD. I recommend assignment 2 as the must watch story, you’ll never look at railway stations in the same way again.


TR1-Guy said...

Wow, never heard of this show oddly enough. But to have "Man from U.N.C.L.E."'s Illya Kuryakin and Patsy from "Ab Fab" in a sci-fi show is mind blowing! But it was 1970 after all...

I have never gotten use to British TV that series of six episodes per season (Fawlty Towers for example) but this show has 34 episodes in 6 "adventures." Interesting programming for sure! (As a former TV news director, I'm of course inundated with the USA's TV schedules of 20 to 24 episodes in a series' season.)
Nice start to your blog! Keep on sharing these wonderful bits of information.

musicobsessive said...

Yeah, I know. UK TV series are a bit of a mystery! Certainly in the past, TV shows were written by single writers rather than teams which puts a bit of a strain on the production of 24 episodes per season. Most of these type of shows (Dr Who etc) were broadcast as 6 weekly parts per story with a cliffhanger at the end of each installment. Ah! The old days - no one would have the patience for that sort of thing today.

Jayne Ferst said...

Hello - nice write up! I agree, Joanna Lumley was great as Sapphire, she managed to make her character remote and yet at the same time empathetic for us silly humans. But I have only seen one episode so far, will take your recommendation for the railway station as the next one to catch up with, when Time allows, of course!

musicobsessive said...

Hi J, thanks for stopping by. You'll probably need quite alot of Time as story 2 is 8xhalf hours long! nevertheless, it's still worth the watch and is easily the best of the lot. Enjoy!