Sapphire & Steel #3: Escape Through a Crack in Time Part 3

"It wants me... to be a part of this room. To be a part of what happened."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jul.17 1979.

IN THIS ONE... Sapphire is trapped inside a painting.

REVIEW: Things get even MORE claustrophobic in Part 3 as Sapphire is trapped into a small room, so small in fact, it fits inside a period cottage in a painting. Amusingly, she's at least comforted Rob and Helen's parents didn't prefer still lifes or she'd be stuck in a bowl of fruit. We're told it's an illusion of sorts, but it might as well be a pocket of time just outside our own - there's also a prominent doll's house that could have served as a trap, and may still - and Sapphire can somehow feel that something horrible happened in the room she's in, something involving the death of a girl. What is the relationship to Helen then? Is this why the trigger is a childish thing like a nursery rhyme? The Enemy, whatever it is, seems able to use emotionally and historically charged things; a child's violent death resonating through time.

With Sapphire under threat of being lost, Steel starts to lose his composure. The two time agents have been smug and confident up until now, but to see them actually feel fear, actually seem vulnerable, does wonders to raise the tension. After two episodes of getting to know Sapphire, Steel gets the lion's share of the development in Part 3, even before his partner is eaten by a painting. I like how, despite his "job", he doesn't know his history. Or really, he only knows HIS OWN history. Sapphire is the one in touch with history, and thus humanity. Steel is detached from it all and sees temporal phenomena in physical/scientific terms. He uses a clock as a coal miner might use a canary, or as a kind of tricorder. It's all so low-tech and surreal. But then, they're fighting an Enemy who manifests as a spot of light on the floor, or a sinister tangle of rope. And I don't think the audience minds. Low production values only make the story more immediate, gives it more of a sense of being creeped out by one's own house. Steven Moffat could never convince me Sapphire & Steel didn't influence his Doctor Who writing.

Sapphire is released at the end of the episode, but it's not clear how Steel frees her. This could be a problem. If it's not revealed at all - and it might not be - it's random magic and that's not satisfying. If the next episode reveals it, it takes away from this episode, which otherwise works as a stand-alone chapter in the Assignment's arc. What we know is that Steel went to his "young room", closed the door, told the kids not to come in, briskly came out and touched the painting with his hands. It looks like his hands are full of dust or ash, but that could be a trick of the light. Did he destroy something "young" and use its raw matter to counteract the Power of Antiques the Enemy is using? Hopefully, we'll find out in the next episode.

People trapped inside paintings and drawings has happened on Doctor Who, notably in Fear Her, The Day  of the Doctor, and Flatline.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - Despite the abrupt resolution, Part 3 nevertheless ramps up the tension with a unique and surreal threat, as the protagonists' armor finally starts to crack.



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