Sapphire & Steel #4: Escape Through a Crack in Time Part 4

"There are a hundred and fifteen of us. You must never rely on the transuranics." "Why not?" "They're unstable."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jul.19 1979.

IN THIS ONE... Lead shows up to help Sapphire and Steel. Mother Goose escapes the flames and starts a storm.

REVIEW: What I thought were ashes of some kind on Steel's hands was actually frost. He's cold as steel, or colder still. He has powers after all, but they take a lot of out of him. He freezes the picture, and then the ghostly soldiers, at temperatures close to absolute zero, but then has to spend the night trying to warm himself back to normal levels. Do we buy that as a way to stop GHOSTS? They seem to say those temperatures can freeze time itself, and we later see that "light fragment" sitting still in a freezer. It's a strange idea, but no stranger than the notion Sapphire or Steel (or Diamond, or Jet) are "elements" the same way Lead, Copper or "unstable" transuranics are. We're dealing with an alchemical or metaphorical world view where "elements" have the properties they are known for. A sapphire is beautiful and entrancing, steel is hard and cold, and lead is soft, malleable and a good insulator.

Ah yes, Lead. He's introduced in this episode, a surprise for what is still S&S's first outing. Didn't think we'd see any other element (there are 127 in all, which is more than on the periodic table, 113 up to an including Uranium), so that's cool. Lead is a big man - the kids call him a giant - with a gravely voice, a heavy step, a warm laugh and super-strength. He laughs almost too much, which plainly irritates Steel, even though they must work together often. The case of the ship they keep talking about is revealed to be the Mary Celeste - promising adventures through history, does that ever happen on screen? - and Lead was needed there too. He's a great presence, played by Val Pringle. I almost wish the voice from beyond (the credits) would "assign" these spare agents before they should up. That's be amusing, though I guess it would break the atmosphere so carefully sustained. Steel can channel his power through the insulating presence of Lead and protect himself from his own abilities, but they don't get very far before all hell breaks loose. Remember last episode when I said the show managed to make a spot of light or a tangle of rope seem sinister? Well, the production is at it again with a book of nursery rhymes that keeps falling off the stack of volumes Sapphire is throwing into the fire, and moving a few inches each time we see it. Then it starts moving before our very eyes, and one of its pages flies around the room rather than let itself be touched by flames.

That's all very good, but the episode ends on a bit of a mess. They're creating chaos on purpose, but the voices all on top of one another, and the way everyone tumbles in less than hurricane winds, just comes off as badly choreographed and cluttered. It lacks the focus and clarity of so much of the action to date. A single manifestation of the Enemy is terrifying, all of them at once feels limp and confused. The episode's other weakness is its slow pace. It's not that nothing happens here in Part 4, but there's too much air in between incidents. We see people move from room to room, or Lead laugh at things for too long, and we get impatient. The previous three episodes were quiet and deliberate, but never felt sluggish like this.

- Lead is a nice surprise, but Part 4 nevertheless feels padded and too relaxed.


Eric TF Bat said...

This will keep you going for a while, of course, but if you're casting around for something else to review (in your copious free time!) then I thought I'd mention that I just got hold of the original five seasons of The Twilight Zone and thought it might benefit from your keen eye. the stories are relentlessly square-jawed white shirt and tie tales, with a budget to make Patrick Troughton's Doctor look lavish, but they're worth a look.

By the way, did you mention why you're not reviewing the modern Battlestar Galactica? After B5 it would have seemed the obvious next step, unless you were hoping to avoid the appalling decline through the worse excesses of X-Files/Lost plots culminating in the dreadful Golgafrinchan finale. Now I think of it, I don't blame you.

Siskoid said...

I'm a huge fan of modern BSG, but while it's been a couple years since I watched it all (Caprica included), and I even liked the finale, it still feels too recent in my mind. Plus, Battlestar 1980 still eludes me (maybe I WANT it to elude me), but the project would have to be as complete as that.

So it will happen at some point. No later than the middle of 2016 from my estimation.

Anonymous said...

Siskoid, if your thinking about your next set of reviews I was wondering how far afield you might be thinking? I was just gifted the box set of The West Wing and as I've been watching (with added bonus of trying to explain the American political system to my wife at the same time) I was kind of itching to hear your take on them. I think you'd do a really interesting series of reviews if it tickled your fancy.
But then Sorkin fans are our own special brand of geek and it's not very geeky to most people, so it might not fit with your mission statement on this blog. Still I'd love to read your take on Sorkins masterpiece.
Sorry for any typos I did this on my phone

Siskoid said...

I'm a Sorkin fan, but you're right, it's not quite in the geekery column, or at least, not on the level required for daily reviews.

I don't know how many times I've seen Seasons 1-4 of West Wing at this point. In a nutshell, I love the Sorkin seasons, then it falls flat after his departure for the next two, and then the final season, with the election, is back on track for me and could have spawned a "series 2" with either candidate in the White House.


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