Sapphire and Steel Assignment 5 Episode 3
Humanly Felicity McDee (McDee's 1980s widow, played by Nan Munro, gives the first hints of being an opposing strong character to Emma Mulreen, going into Miss Marple mode at this point, offering a commentary on who was present while they're trying to get the police. Do I really need to say the phone is dead? - This is the first comment after the murder that the ever-focused Steel pays attention to: he is so little focused on his cover story he has to ask Sapphire his name. I love the way she rolls her eyes as he tells him! In response to 'this is not a damned story, this is real,' Steel replies, 'Is it?' By this he calls to mind the way in which Time has played tricks on people in their previous assignments by rearranging the times at which things have happened to create the unreal. I'm delighted to say that Steel obviously agrees with my verdict that the Christie context story is an obvious distraction from the real issue here!
The door theme is repeated by the fact the front door won't open, again a clearly Christie reference to a completely closed environment, transposed into a more sci-fi venue. Dry ice is used to indicate something outside coming in. Sapphire's commentary is that there is no 'conventional' way out, indicating her deeper understanding while the guests are puzzling over a chair broken in an attempt to break a window to get out.
The 1970s fad for ley lines is brought in as an explanation for why that particular house was chosen for the time disturbance. While this may seem an unnecessarily 'quack' way to explain it, it would probably have worked well at the time as an example of alternative knowledge, grounding Sapphire and Steel's alternative knowledge into the alternative knowledge of the time, and making the story more real. Unfortunately this device has not worn well, and makes it seem unnecessarily dated now.
The alternative knowledge (still unfortunately based in the time) theme is reinforced by Sapphire reading Anthony Purnell's wine glass. She sees him trying to kiss Mulreen's secretary, who knows she is two-timing her, but he says he will get rid of Veronica. This episode is effective because it is clearly distraction into the human emotions of the people rather than the time problem that Steel is focusing on. He looks suspicious, but in fact it is after that it is discovered that he is missing. At this point the other guests challenge Sapphire and Steel's presence there. They have clearly been distracted themselves, because the cover story for Sapphire and Steel was clearly explained in the first episode. Steel somewhat surprisingly attributes their lapse of memory to a 'tear in the fabric of time', of which it is one of the symptoms. This continues the theme of time distracting people from what is really happening, and Sapphire and Steel as the agents of reality. It is plain that Mulreen's memory, and those of the other guests, have been completely transposed to the reality of the 1930s. Steel's interpretation is that this change or loss of memory is to make it impossible to know what is happening outside the house 'assuming there is an outside,' he says. There is now no past or future. Veronica's body has disappeared, the knife that stabbed her lying on the floor under the sheet she was covered with. Steel tried to find the logic to these occurrences, and an explanation is sought in what McDee is working on in his office, a genetic treatment for disease. Sapphire views what he is doing: she sees that his carelessness with the virus he is working on will cause the planet's extinction unless he dies the next day, as he did before Time disturbed the chronology.
Tony Purnell turns up behind the dining room curtains, saying somebody or thing has tried to kill him, and asking for Cavendish/Steel. Significantly he knows who to ask for, rather than treating him suspiciously. The butler makes the mistake of leaving him alone in the dining room and the candles go out. An invisible McDee is invoked into the library by Sapphire and Steel, meanwhile. Steel tried to persuade him to stop his work, but unfortunately Sapphire 'loses' him, he walks out and it is at that moment the butler comes for Steel. Sapphire tells Steel not to go: there is a gunshot. An additionally Christie element is given by the fact that Steel has forgotten something Sapphire told him: it is not entirely clear who is on which side in this story, and this device gives the appearance of Steel being influenced by Time's disturbance as well, despite his steely single-minded focus. This is an interesting position for Steel to be in, and uses well the deception or distraction theme of this story. Despite Steel's disinterest in anything other than their assignment, even he can be distracted by Time. Of course Purnell has been shot.
I like the slightly faster pace of the action in this episode. I also like the fact that at this halfway point through the assignment it is not possible for the viewer really to know what is going on, since Sapphire and Steel don't either. This episode makes a convincing use of detective story plot devices to create the right amount of distraction and deception.