Sapphire and Steel: Assignment 3 Episodes 4 and 5
Episode 4: In which nobody knows what's going on
My sense of dissatisfaction with this assignment has rather grown with this episode.
Surely nobody was in any illusion that the three experimental pods and also the top flat of the block all having the same layout was as a cost-cutting exercise? It's also bizarre, because if you're doing an experiment in the past and take the layout of an actual flat as one experimental pod do you then repeat it for all the others? Are they really that cheap in the future, when they can power things with jolly old Time? It's used a device for Sapphire to guide Steel around the rural research project where she is, but probably wasn't really necessary for that because she would just have described it while we watched Steel looking soulful.
Sapphire gets all smiley when she finds out that Silver has turned up, but of course that may simply be to make Steel jealous, and I'm going to have to say that this assignment is, I think, alone in attributing human emotions to Steel. This is a difficulty with the way it is never actually explained what Sapphire and Steel are, nor who they answer to, and so on. As far as I can tell everyone agrees that they are not human, and while Sapphire has an understanding of human emotions, it is repeatedly stressed in the other adventures how little insight into human emotions Steel has. However in this assignment he is shown experiencing emotions, first his sense of loss amd fear when Sapphire disappears, and them jealousy of Steel. This jars somewhat because it's a divergence from his normal character, and I think reflects the way the series doesn't have a regimented story arc and character development, as well as the way PJ Hammond likes to let the viewers think about things. This aspect, however, is I think conversely one of the things which has made this show legendary.
Again, everything that is inexplicable in this episode is explicable by time being out of sync, including the way the holes in the doors have never achieved their molecular structure, glass has returned to being sand, and even the way the family have disappeared.
The fact of the 'changeling' (who hasn't been changed with anyone so isn't really a changeling) is quite inexplicable. In the rather unlikely scenario that you suddenly grow from being a mewling and puking baby to an adult at the speed he has, you wouldn't actually learn all the things we do on the way. You wouldn't have time. So why can he talk, and how did he know how to put a suit on. Steel is rightly wary of him, because he's distinctly freaky, as well as being made up in a deathly shade of pale, and Steel is of course sure he's a machine.
I'm not completely sure why Steel is (rightly) so wary of the changeling. In fact this is making me wonder why, when the whole point of what they do all day is Time, Time is usually seen as the enemy in this show, and treated as if it's something that will create complete chaos if you let it. The explanation I've come up with for so much of this episode, that the problem is that time is out of synch, would suggest that it isn't really time that is the problem. There is a clear past, present and future, and it's only meddling with this that seems to create the problem. However the nature or even existence of an enemy who interferes with time and whether it has a purpose is never made clear, perhaps deliberately, and I wonder how this show would have developed further if it had comtinued beyond the six assignments.
Because Sapphire, Silver and Steel are confused I would say the inexplicable nature of the episode is deliberate and so if you wonder what's going on you've got the right idea, although I would have to say that I think it's being overdone. No explanation is given in this episode for why the family have suddenly disappeared and really this is all just trying a bit hard with the mystery.
Episode 5: In which Steel wishes us to know about his positive origins
In line with the progression of time, of course the question of origins comes up. Steel wonders about Silver and Sapphire wonders about Steel, and thus offends him. His pride in his origins is another human emotion which he doesn't have in other assignments.
This episode is the one which really does screw up this assignment, in my humble opinion, with the introduction of the idea of animals as being the cause of what is going on here. Of course it has already been said that in the future there aren't any animals any more, and frankly that is where I think that idea should have been parked, as a hint of the world these people come from. Bringing the animal thing into the plot makes it unneecessarily complicated and it would have been better as a straightforward, if rather confusing, time adventure. The bit where Sapphire goes to cut herself, but before she can, puts blood from her hand on the patch on the wall, which is where she got it fron, which makes the baby return to being a baby and stop attacking Steel, and brings back the couple and makes everything else return to the present... well, you just know I'm going to say it's too much. The story could have been resolved by Silver doing something to the power source in the wall.
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