Sapphire and Steel’s fourth “Assignment” is a great example of how sometimes a shorter runtime can really help. This is only four episodes, rather than the previous stories being either six or eight, and it rolls along at a great pace. Still retains the spooky atmosphere and keeps you guessing, but doesn’t hang about too much. Let’s take a closer look, shall we?! …. Yes. Yes we shall.
Phantom children with sepia-toned skin play in an almost deserted apartment building. Both the landlord and a tenant have mysteriously disappeared. A man without a face appears on the stairs. Something has emerged from a photograph; something which has appeared in every photograph ever taken anywhere in the world…
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
Cast of Characters:
Wow, she doesn’t seem impressed with her partner’s large… sword.
Sapphire (Joanna Lumley) – One of the mysterious entities sent to help out when time is being abused or is in danger. She can turn back time (she can fiiiind her way!) as well as other handy abilities.
Steel (David McCallum) – Steel is also a mysterious element… thing that has been given a mission to stop a significant threat on Earth. His powers are less obvious, though he is stronger than most, and actually unlocks a door from the outside in this one!
Liz (Alyson Spiro) – A regular girl living peacefully in her apartment, trying her best to ignore the strange things happening around her, and the mysterious disappearance of her landlord and friend…
The Shape (Philip Bird / Bob Hornery) – A mysterious and negative force that has existed inside every photo since the start of human photography. Now he’s free and wants nothing more than revenge…
Plus one or two more!
I’m pretty sure this would be my reaction during all of this…
The show’s main strength, building up a tense and mysterious atmosphere, is on show here. Sapphire and Steel mention to each other some sort of hierarchy in their … “race”, I guess, but otherwise still remain pretty much backstory-less. The way they try and figure out the threat has mention of old items having significant power (a call back to the first episode) and generally nothing is really explained until the last of the four episodes when it comes to the central threat.
Speaking of, “The Shape” is a great villain. It’s a good change of pace for the villain to actually have a physical body to interact with the lead duo, and it works well here. He has that pleasant creepiness about him, and the fact he keeps… “freeing” children from photos and only children also gives him a … unsettling vibe.
Liz is a good one-off character, and builds up the sympathy well. Her friend being burned alive within a photo was actually quite horrifying, credit to… the actress for screaming in pain well enough to properly unsettle the viewer!
The lead child, and the only one that has any kind of speaking role, does a good job… for a TV child actor in the 80s. It’s not distracting, anyway!
I have to get out of the habit of putting the lead villain in the “bad” category, most of the time they’re a good part of the story!
Wasn’t too fond of the ending. He came into this dimension via a kaleidoscope-style thing with mirrors, and ends up being trapped in the same kind of thing. I don’t know, I guess after some of the endings we’ve had previously, this seemed too … easy. I did like Liz being told never to appear in a photo again… that was a good bit to end on.
Just a harmless photograph…. OR?!
Sapphire and Steel’s fourth outing is a hit, it lasts long enough to never get boring, but still tells a good enough story that doesn’t feel rushed. The lead villain is an actual person and ends up playing off against them well, so all round… a good bit to TV, this, it’s just a shame the ending was a bit abrupt and … a little dull. Still, worth a watch, definitely!