Sapphire & Steel #2: Escape Through a Crack in Time Part 2

"Imagine a rubber ball... imagine a rubber ball bouncing, and the first time the ball hits the ground, is the incident. And the bouncing that follows is just the echo! Momentum! And I'm able to keep the momentum going for just a little bit longer, that's all."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jul.12 1979.

IN THIS ONE... Steel boards up the little girl's room, but her brother is drawn to it. Sapphire time loops a policeman.

REVIEW: Does Steel have any powers of his own? It seems like Sapphire is the only one showing her stuff, including the ability to create localized time loops and determine the exact age of something by touching it. Her ability to manipulate time, in particular create recursion, seems to link her to the "beings" from the ends of time who are trying to pierce the barrier into local time. What's the connection? Is there a great Time War between similar beings, angels and demons, being waged on our turf? Or are the heroes and their agency simply just time aware enough to know what's going on and have the means to fight it? Are temporally active beings in this time (the middle of the universe) fighting their ancestors and descendents at opposite ends? I'm sure there's some grand mythology at work, if only in fandom's collective mind. It's not important to this story, but the mystery behind the premise is certainly compelling.

Powers or not, Steel is still a fierce presence, the brains of the operation without Sapphire having to play the cabbage head (companion) role. That's what the kids are for anyway. Now, one could object to starting the series off with child actors as co-stars, and certainly, the little girl isn't great, especially if she needs to speak dialog. The boy is up to snuff however, and in any case, it gives the production the perfect excuse to explain things without what would sound like condescending exposition. Robert can both ask questions and accept answers without appearing stupid or naive. He's actually pretty quick and open-minded, in a way that adults in this context are rarely allowed to be (look at what's expected of the policeman, for example, though he hardly has the chance to confound expectations). There are moments, early on, where Helen gets too much screen time and you start to cringe, but it doesn't last too long. The policeman's role, while brief, isn't as strong as it needs to be either. He knows the kids, and so the family, and it's perfectly all right with him if an unknown "family friend" opens the door the morning after the aforementioned kids called the police for help.

Ultimately, the episode (and the series?) are more about atmosphere than plot. Shot in a small number of rooms, one of which is being boarded up, makes it a particularly claustrophobic experience, and everything pulls in that direction. The mother's voice beyond the door. The over-loud sound effects. The montage of ticking clocks. Steel freeing up the "youngest room", creating more space to escape the oppressiveness of the rest. Even the policeman comically "trapped" in a time loop. What this story does is compress all of time, which is immense, in one room, one house. The characters are trapped in a confined space, potentially with the whole of history. The move from night to day doesn't actually alleviate that claustrophobia. And if the solution to the duo's naval assignment was to sink the ship, then they may have to sink this house. In other words, Sapphire and Steel don't always succeed in a way we'd call a victory. And that too raises the tension and oppressive feeling of the overall story.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - The sing-song nursery rhymes and mumbly child almost cross into irritation early on, but the mystery proceeds apace and the atmospherics work quite well.


LondonKdS said...

According to various sources, the original plan was for Sapphire and Steel to be a pure children's fantasy show, but when Hammond's scripts came in much too scary, the producer decided to aim it at an older audience rather than have the scripts rewritten. This story does show definite signs of the original intended child audience, though. I don't know if you've watched the later stories before, so I won't get spoilery, but this is quite uncharacteristic in some ways.

Siskoid said...

Yes, I'd read that, which gives us children as POV characters, etc.

As far as the baggage I'm starting with, I've only ever seen this first series, earlier this year. The rest is a complete mystery.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Assignment 2 is very different in tone, indeed. Looking forward to your thoughts on that one as it's my favorite. It's the length of 'The Invasion', but it's like a wicked page-turner you just can't put down. And the payoff does not disappoint.

- Jason


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