Sapphire & Steel #25: Doctor McDee Must Die Part 1

"What's the point of a door if you can't open it?"
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Aug.11 1981. Officially known as Assignment Five, we will use the title chosen by fan lore.

Sapphire and Steel show up at a 1930s party thrown by a rich eccentric in 1980.

REVIEW: The first and only televised Sapphire and Steel story not written by P.J. Hammond, Assignment 5 seems to lack the elliptical poetics of previous stories. For once, there's a large cast of characters, and the house where it's all going down appears larger than even the Railway Station. Lots of aristocratic business types talking about stocks and such, a subject I find particularly tedious, but trapped in a locked room mystery (with an unopenable door) even if they don't know it. Sapphire and Steel just as atypically arrive with cover identities (Steel deals in "futures" haha), which they've never done before. It's less about talking cryptically to befuddled normals, and more about using their powers covertly to figure out what's going on, including an amusing round of psycho-analysis from Sapphire, some rather fun quick changes, and an out-of-body experience to try and get through a door with a flaming aura. Some of their oddness remains, of course, like Steel not knowing what "chin chin" means, his refusal to drink, and his awkwardness at having to choose a side of the bed (this is the most repressed romance in the history of fiction).

Lord Mullrine's 50th anniversary party, taking everyone back to 1930 with strict adherence to period detail has accidentally the house back to that era - even the church tower out back has been restored - and the characters are starting to lose their temporal bearings as well, having a hard time thinking anachronistic thoughts. But the anachronisms are probably what's keeping the house from sliding into the 30s entirely. A door that wasn't there. People who weren't yet born. And Mullrine's not-so-posh accent, though that's likely a problem with casting Dany Kaye in the role. (No really, what's up with that? Did the director just want to put the diminutive figure next to really tall people? Mullrine is dwarfed by his super-tall secretary, Sapphire, and the two younger businessmen - who might as well be brothers, I couldn't tell them apart.)

As to what's causing all this, signs point to Mullrine's creepy sister Emma, but she isn't the only one obsessed with the past. The late Dr. George McDee, Mullrine's original partner, looms over everyone in a painting, and his ghost could be responsible as well. Did Mullrine cheat him? Should we understand the younger McDee's wife having a possible affair with a business partner to be history repeating itself somehow? We'll just have to wait and see. Our understanding of the plot evolving from episode to episode, that appears to have survived the change of scriptwriters.

One of the co-writers is Anthony Read, best known as the script editor who succeeded Robert Holmes on Doctor Who, and who was responsible for the Key to Time season. The other is Don Houghton, who wrote two third Doctor adventures, the iconic Inferno and The Mind of Evil. Peter Laird (Greville) played Chang in The Wheel in Space.

- Tedious guest characters, but an intriguing premise.


LondonKdS said...

I think it's established as early as this episode that Lord Mullrine isn't aristocratic by birth, but was enobled because of his business success. So the accent is deliberate.

Siskoid said...

Having just watched episode 2, that's now clear. But you can blame it on my low, non-British birth. I don't really know anything about nobility.


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