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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

'Sapphire and Steel:' Absolutely Fabulous Joanna Lumley Brit Scifi


Shout Factory's August 27, 2013 five-disc DVD release of the complete series of the 1979 -1982 British scifi classic "Sapphire and Steel" shows that that awesome purveyor of all things pop culture appreciates the greatness of all television British.

The immediate appeal of "Sapphire" to American audiences relates to the show's stars. David McCallum, classically of  the series "The Man From U.N.C.L.E" and the '70s version of "The Invisible Man" and more recently of "NCIS," and the absolutely fabulous Joanna Lumley, best known as Patsy Stone to Jennifer Saunders' Edina "Eddie" Monsoon, respectively star as the titular characters.

The below clip courtesy of You Tube of "Sapphire's" opening credits excellently explains the concept of the telepathic inter-dimensional troubleshooters that the true masters of the universe periodically (pun intended) assign to defeat an unearthly threat that targets us mere mortals. In at least one case, said masters additionally literally get the lead out.



McCallum does a great job as mostly stoic Steel; he does care about us lesser beings on earth but does not allow sentiment to interfere with his efforts to prevent the destruction of our reality. He also does not suffer fools gladly.

With all due respect to the good job by the truly accomplished McCallum, Lumley steals the show. She simply displays more range and has greater appeal. Further, Sapphire's powers seemer cooler and stronger than Steel's.

Wonderful elements of Patsy that Lumley brings to her character include Sapphire being fairly quick to anger and regularly showing the same haughtiness that makes Patsy so entertaining. Alas, Sapphire does not really sneer and never extinguishes a "fag"( my people call them cigarettes) on the arm of one who earns her hatred.

Sapphire also channels Patsy by reveling in her ability to instantly alter the appearance of her clothes and coiffure at will. Every outfit that she selects is absolutely fabulous, but none of them seem to be from the collection of Christian Lacroix.

Lumley channels Patsy in the second group of episodes by communicating with a supernatural entity that feeds on the resentment of life-impaired humans. A seance in which Sapphire serves as the medium allows Lumley to go full-blown Patsy.

Ala classic "Doctor Who" adventures from the same era, each "Sapphire" escapade is elementally (pun intended) a multi-episode "Assignment" that is labelled "Assignment I" through "Assignment VI." Also ala "Doctor Who," each episode in a storyline ends with a cliffhanger.

An especially nice thing about the three "assignments" discussed in this review and the other three in the series is that Sapphire and Steel typically save the day through brave confrontation and genuine intelligence and cleverness; Sapphire's limited power to manipulate time helps as well.

Assignment I has Sapphire and Steel coming to the rescue when the combination of an antique-filled old house and the reading of certain nursery rhymes based on historic events create enough energy to suck the parents of the family into the corridor of time and threaten to destroy the barrier between that infinite reality and our own.

Handling the early teens son and his younger sister in the family challenge Sapphire and Steel almost as much as preventing a catastrophic collision of realities. The crush that young Rob, who would like our heroes to meet the parents, understandably has on Sapphire helps with that effort.

Great humor from "Assignment I" includes Sapphire telling the children that there are a total of 127 beings like her and Steel, and Steel correcting her by saying that the effective total is 115 because one subset of elements is to unstable to be reliable.

"Assignment II" has a much atmospherically creepy and adult feel than the premiere story. This one has our intrepid heroes working with amateur paranormal investigator Mr. Tully to solve the mystery of the best amorphous "darkness" this side of "Lost's" smoke monster actively attracting the spirits of the not-so-recently departed to the abandoned British railway station where all eight episodes in this story occur.

The most eerie elements in "Assignment II" relate to the shadowy images, the numerous parade o' ghostly apparitions, the regular changes to the time of day and season in and around the train station, and the horrific depictions of the circumstances regarding the gruesome deaths that caused the critical bad feelings.

Moving ahead in time to the sixth (and unfortunately final) assignment, this great finale to a truly awesome series is equal parts "Doctor Who" and "Twilight Zone" with an amusing dash of "Superman II." The tagline to this one could be "this time its personal."

The incident that requires the expertise of Sapphire and Steel relates to a British couple from 1948 literally driving into an early 80s gas station. A older man from 1925 briefly joins the group, and a heavily made-up member of a theatrical group pops in from 1957.

Aside from trying to figure out how and why this odd collection of characters ends up in the otherwise empty station/cafe, Sapphire and Steel must determine why time initially stops at 8:54 p.m. and then rapidly jumps ahead several minutes a few times only to freeze again.

The aforementioned masters of the universe exercise their genuinely infinite wisdom in assigning Silver, who is a technician, to assist the operatives from another dimension. Silver, who is played by quasi-regular classic "Doctor Who" actor David Collings, is largely responsible for the strong "Who" vibe in this set of episodes.

This quirky shaggy haired actor is very reminiscent of Tom Baker's portrayal of The Doctor; Silver additionally has a device that looks and acts very much like The Doctor's sonic screwdriver; alas, Silver does not have a cute and intrepid robot dog.

Silver's abilities  extends beyond providing the comic relief and use of a "miracle tool" described above; his power to quickly reproduce items comes in handy.

An additional "Doctor Who" element comes in the form of a genuinely transient being having a willing and largely dedicated human companion.

The purpose and methodology of the triggering events and the outcome in this assignment greatly surprise both our titular characters and the audience. It also leaves us wanting more and hoping that Lumley and McCallum are game for a painfully belated reunion assignment.

Anyone with questions regarding "Sapphire and Steel" or the (it bears stating again) absolutely fabulous Joanna Lumley is welcome to email me.