Thursday, 7 November 2013

Sapphire and Steel Assignment 5 Episode 2

One of the criticisms often levelled at Sapphire and Steel is that the episodes move at a significantly slower pace than we would expect nowadays. Of course that was partly the fashion of the time: I also think Sapphire and Steel do not work viewed in the back-to-back way that boxsets encourage, but benefit from being seen an episode at a time. For that reason, this episode's recap of the previous episode is refreshingly (and surprisingly) short, merely of Sapphire going on a psychic or out-of-body journey through the door of Lord Mulreen's office, and Steel fruitlessly calling for her to come back. If you come in to the assignment here, that actually recaps the previous episode really well: the door is of great significance and there is something terribly strange going on!
Sapphire re-enters her body while Steel is successfully distracting everyone's attention from her motionless body. She tells Steel that 'it' is in there, where something wonderful happened, a sense of euphoria.
At this point Tony Purnell and his girlfriend arrive: they have not gone along with the retro approach to the evening, but turned up in modern clothes. They seem to be immune to the power of whatever 'it' is in the house, they are completely modern people and totally mystified by the strange antics of everyone else, even to the extreme of the outdated telephone exchange he has to use. This reinforces the house as the location of the time disturbance, those coming in from outside are initially unaffected, but after some time in the house Parnell begins to try to remember his father's old exchange. He is also puzzled by the fact that his electric shaver has become an old-fashioned razor. Parnell, though puts it down to all being part of the evening, assuming that everything has been swapped once they were in the house.
At this stage Mulreen's secretary finds the door from the office to the house has become completely impassible. Sapphire comments to Steel that the feel of 'it' has changed, it is now all around them, instead of just in the office. After the guests drink a tea to the dead George McDee, Mulreen's former business partner, he walks into the drawing room. Strangely the reaction among the people present varies, from acceptance that he has just walked in, to astonishment. The strangeness is increased by the fact that McDee does not recognise his own wife: Sapphire comments that he is actually alive and that he is actually due to die the next day. It becomes plain the McDee is straight out of 1930, and treats the guests with a mixture of astonishment and confusion about what generation they belong to. Steel urges Sapphire that they must do nothing until they know which one is being used. McDee enters the now-changed door of the office with no difficulty and the guests applaud, as if it is an act. This is much more in the classic Sapphire and Steel vein: the guests have no understanding that anything strange is happening with time, which is the normal state of the people who normally provide a background to Sapphire and Steel's understanding.
Emma Mulreen announces a game of Sardines, which is used as a device to separate the characters all over the house 'except the servant's quarters'. Patience Collier manages to look frankly deranged from here through the rest of the assignment. She has an absolutely magnificent theatrical presence. Steel, of course, uses the game as a chance to look around, while Sapphire thinks it might be fun if they don't cheat. She finds him in the library: he thinks the book on local history he's found might be useful. While they are in the library the creepy music crescendos and Sapphire has what I can only describe as a spasm: presumably she can feel the activity of 'it' rising and going through her.
It is at this point the first dead body is found: Tony Purnell's girlfriend in a cupboard in the hall, and this is the cliffhanger at the end of this episode.
In many ways this episode does perpetuate the feel of an Agatha Christie novel: the situation has been stated in the first episode, and it is mostly amplified by continuing and growing strangeness in this episode. Another frequent criticism of this assignment is that it could do with fewer episodes. This story could certainly be done effectively with four episodes without greatly altering the story, but I feel what it would miss is the relatively long-drawn-out build up that this episode allows. Sapphire and Steel is all about time, and so the time taken for and by the episodes must be part of the plot. the message here is: Time has caused a disturbance here, possibly caused by an existing fault line of some sort, but because of that Time is in no hurry to do anything about it. Personally I feel that this slower pace actually suits the plot better as well, merging with the 1930s Agatha Christie ethos of the piece.

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