"Sometimes you're supposed to lose. Well, most times you're supposed to lose."
IN THIS ONE... Sapphire and Steel join Silver on an assignment in an empty gas station where a couple from the 40s has just arrived.
REVIEW: Hammond is back and so is Silver! Glad to see that character back, playing kissy kissy with Sapphire while Steel glowers, or fiddling with machines without understanding their purpose. He's a bit of a child; he doesn't enjoy the slot machine because he doesn't understand gambling, and he wants to play with pinball later, and again, there's every chance he doesn't know what it actually is. Unusually, he's been at the breach site a while, long before Sapphire and Steel got there. Normally, the specialist would be called in later to help the operators. So did their Masters take Steel's suggestion to heed and put various elements on breach watch? But Silver doesn't think he got there before the breach, only before people from the past drove through it.
A strange couple, these accidental time travelers, but if they're tight-lipped, it's because they're having an affair. This is completely irrelevant to the time elements, and they already know all about it, but it nevertheless motivates the man and the woman to say as little as possible. What seems more curious is that they somehow know they're in the future and refuse to eat future food (though the water's apparently fine, maybe the expression "don't drink the water" wasn't common in 1948). Sapphire lays a trap for them, tries to tempt them with future tech, but they don't fall for it. They don't want to contaminate the past with knowledge of the future; they won't even show curiosity about it. Raised on time travel stories, I might choose to do the same, but perhaps not to that extreme. I wouldn't bring anything back with me, but I'd at least explore. Not these people.
The setting is another triumph of small but interesting locales, a gas station that looks vintage to us (definitely a 50s-60s vibe), but would still have been out of place in the 40s. I want to keep calling it an "abandoned" gas station, but that would imply intent. It wasn't abandoned. The people simply vanished, leaving their coats and food and cigarettes behind. Only its owner is still there, but as a randomly appearing "ghost", going about his affairs. To add to the mystery, the station exists in a single second in time. The clocks tick over the same moment, radio stations play the same clip, and as we head into the cliffhanger, we skip into a different second some minutes later, heading for... whatever's going to happen. A good tension builder. If Hammond has a weakness, it's for the procedural, and Steel's real time exploration of the station, the couple's car, etc. is part of that. It does allow the viewer's eye to roam and collect its own clues (sawdust?), but it's also too much about visually proving things we would have gladly accepted at face value.
ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE VORTEX: Silver's slots manipulator is undeniably a sonic screwdriver. The light on the end prefigures Eccleston/Tennant's.
REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - Another good set-up, and happy to see Silver again, but Hammond can't resist procedural padding.