Sapphire and Steel – The terror still lives with me


I was four when PJ Hammond’s science-fiction fantasy series was first broadcast, and seven when it ended. What the hell was my mum doing letting me watch such a disturbing TV show? Perhaps, she’d become so used to my demands to watch Doctor Who that it just seemed to be the show the other channel were doing to compete. Perhaps, she had no idea what kind of show it was when we watched it together. Whatever the reason, I’m so grateful that this show formed part of my childhood because it was bloody fantastic.

Sapphire and Steel consisted of thirty-four episodes spread over four series and six adventures. This was a show that had fully embraced the episodic nature of good television and thrived on tremendous cliff-hangers. The main characters were beings from a different realm with supernatural powers. Their objectives although sometimes uncertain, were all about fighting back against the destructive nature of time.

Most people who remember the show will recall the adventure set at the railway station with the whistling soldier, or the story with the faceless character. But with such striking images as these stories evoked, it’s no wonder these stayed with me as well, far beyond childhood and into middle age.

And whilst not a show I’d cite as a main source of my inspiration for writing fiction, many of the show’s qualities have stayed with me and imbue my writing today.
Atmosphere is super important. The slow buildup of tension and suspension of disbelief is what grounded the show in its own world—made it so real despite the paranormal stuff that was happening. I can’t write without finding myself pulled into the shadows and leaving my characters wondering about the strange noises in the attic.
The supernatural abilities of the main characters were an obvious draw for a small child, but with our enduring love for superpowered characters, they are timeless. Steel with all of his aloofness was countered perfectly by the radiant Sapphire. Mysterious characters are a joy to write.

Taking bonkers ideas like face stealing and making it truly threatening has been the mainstay of great shows like The X-Files, Sapphire and Steel, and Doctor Who (especially Stephen Moffat’s version). Twisting reality is what I love most about fiction writing and it’s these shows I must doff a hat to.

With the fabulous Neil Cross penning a TV script we can only hope that the show returns to our screens very soon. I’ll be making sure my own kids are safely snuggled next to me on the sofa when it does.