Sapphire & Steel #7: The Railway Station Part 1

"I suppose my friend didn't bother to introduce himself." "No!" "He never does, I'm always having to apologize for him."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jul.31 1979.

IN THIS ONE... Sapphire and Steel, and coincidentally a ghost investigator, explore a haunted, disused train station.

REVIEW: It fascinates me how Hammond's scripts make Sapphire and Steel (especially Steel) interchangeable with the unknown Enemy they seek to defeat. As The Railway Station opens, a paranormal investigator called Tully comes upon a strange, shadowy figure. Is it the ghost he seeks? No, it's Steel. The first of several examples of blurred identity in the episode. Tully doesn't jump to the conclusion that Steel is the ghost (his presence snuffs out candles, after all, and he's come from "the other side... of the platform"), only that he is stepping on his paranormal territory, but the time elements will soon start to doubt Tully's existence. Could he be the ghost and not even know it? Sapphire "scans" him and says he's human, a scan that ends with a chilling line about his exact life expectancy(!). Real or not, in Tully we have a contrast to Steel. A man in the same job (though "in the Dark Ages" when it comes to understanding such phenomena) who nevertheless has an opposite reaction to the ghost. Tully would help it; Steel would destroy it. Who's the hero of this tale again? One clue (or case of misdirection) to Tully's unreality is that he has the same interest in Sapphire the ghost manifests, part of the romanticism Steel scoffs at. But if the "Enemy" is all flowers and romance, is it really the "Enemy"? Or should Steel and Sapphire start questioning what they believe to be some great evil from the ends of time? It's the hero, Steel, who seems most sinister here, at least in part by virtue of being an outsider. He's rude and tight-lipped, as usual, but also blind and deaf to the ghost's manifestation. It seems this particular being won't let you see or hear it unless it has a particular interest in you. Steel is "other", as every other character - and the audience itself - can hear the ghost.

As an environment, the railway station has more scope to it than the old house from the first Assignment, but is still a small collection of sets plunged in darkness. In fact, the episode is very dark, perhaps to obscure how little production value there is, or perhaps to make the episode as moody as possible, and as different at night to those episodes meant to take place in the day as possible. The direction by David Foster certainly knows what it's doing. Scope, atmosphere and tension are well-served by extreme close-ups, images mixed together, characters shot in pools of light from long distances, and music that isn't always obviously diegetic and non-diegetic (the eerie whistling is eventually revealed to be the former). There are minimal effects, but Sapphire unstuck in time and cross-fading between contemporary and period dress is well done.

Like the characters, we're meant to stand there and take in all that atmosphere. Look and listen, and try to puzzle things out. What happened to make our romantic ghost angry? We know it took place in summer and there was a bad playing. Is that a corsage inviting Sapphire to take it? And was is the meaning of 11 on 11, drawn in the window? Clues to be deciphered, mysteries to be solved. I like Tully's notion that the ghost is carrying heavy luggage, which is another way to say it has metaphorical baggage. Likely male, either a traveler or an employed baggage carrier, but most certainly damaged. And it's that damage that's fueled the Enemy's manifestation.

A moody introduction to another dark and stormy night of ghostly/temporal shenanigans, playfully thematic and artfully directed.



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