Sapphire & Steel #21: The Man Without a Face Part 1

"Seesaw, up and down /Which is the way to London Town? / One foot up and one foot down / This is the way to London Town"
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jan.27 1981. Officially known as Assignment Four, we will use the title chosen by fan lore.

IN THIS ONE... Kids taken out of old photographs by a faceless man. Sapphire and Steel meet the upstairs tenant.

REVIEW: Assignment 4 will initially remind you of Assignment 1, with kids running around singing nursery rhymes like incantations. Instead of an old house, we have a sort of pawn shop with "thousands of triggers", according to Steel. Except the triggers are nothing of the sort, and whatever force is behind the temporal breach, merely uses the store's wares to create confusion - umbrella attacks underscored by the sound of crows, for example. The breach occurred on the second floor as children in old photographs have escaped from those moments in time thanks to a photography expert... without a face (spoiled the cliffhanger!). Photography is used as an overall theme, with Sapphire and Steel getting momentarily frozen in time, as if in a picture, with video effects to support the idea. (And as usual, to make us think one thing is happening before revealing it was something else all along; they are not sent to some photography dimension from which the kids would have exited. The things that go through my head when I'm watching this show. Similarly, the opening scene made me think may the time elements COULD travel in time and this was actually the past. Ah well.)

So an interesting mix of elements, and if there's one to complain about, it's the character of Liz who lives on the third floor. I'm not sure what her deal is (lady of the night?), but through a combination of scriptwriting and acting, her character just isn't believable. She's angry to have Steel barge in, but then is perfectly happy discussing her landlord and even flirting with the gruff time element. The acting is over the top and her reactions none too coherent. The only way I could see Hammond redeeming her is to say she's an escapee from a picture who doesn't know it. But that seems unlikely. If the guest acting lets the episode down, the direction, for its part, is quite strong. The photo-kids seem sepia-colored, and the interplay between shadow and light is striking. Weird warbling on the telepathy though; is that a change? Not one for the better.

We learn a few new things about Sapphire and Steel. I always look forward to this, even if it comes in minute amounts. It seems Steel is frustrated to have to "fix" a temporal breach rather than take more preventative action. But there aren't enough time elements to sit and wait for time breaches to form where triggers might allow them. He'd have the specialists do this kind of work (Lead, Silver), and it's revealed that he and Sapphire are "operators". A sense of the hierarchy, but not much more. Steel also has magnetic power, which he uses to unlock doors.

J.P. Hammond used a very similar premise - with film instead of photography - in Torchwood's Out of the Rain. The Idiot Lantern is a similar story as well, this time with television instead of stills, but also using the concept of facelessness.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Some dodgy acting compromises a good premise and otherwise fine direction.


Anonymous said...

Liz is easy on the eyes, though. At least I thought so.

There's a certain pathos to the character, too, although maybe more of that shows up later.

Assignment 4 is probably the scariest S&S, all around. I don't know about you, but I really wish I had discovered this series around ages 10-12 when it would have delightfully terrified me. Some of it is pretty freaky even at our age.

- Jason

Siskoid said...

I have no idea what my 12-year-old self would have thought.

I remember him being freaked out by X the Man with the X-Ray Eyes, but that's my only relevant 12-year-old memory.

Jasonm25870 said...

This one is my favourite apart from the Railway Station one.
Liz is very easy on the eye though. I quite like Rothwyn from the third one too.





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