“Maybe Mommy will read you a nursery rhyme tonight?”
Sapphire & Steel is one of my all-time favorite television series, and our son wasn’t even a day old when I told him that sometime when he’s seven, I was going to scare the bejezus out of him with this thing. People who saw this when they were kids will speak of it in hushed tones. Grownups kind of run hot or cold. The very slow, deliberate, lo-fi pace and presentation will either draw you in and keep you enraptured or it will drive you nuts waiting for something to happen. This isn’t a sci-fi action show. These are ghost stories that unfold very, very slowly.
The show was an insanely popular hit in its day for something so downright weird. The third and fourth stories – there are six – ran in a midweek 8 pm slot in most of Britain’s ITV regions, paired with – of all things – the sitcom George & Mildred. I’ve never seen that program, but I have seen some of its American remake, The Ropers, and can’t imagine a weirder pairing of shows on any network in this country! But people tuned into Sapphire & Steel because – and there might be a bit of fan myth here – most of the show’s budget went into its two very popular stars, David McCallum and Joanna Lumley, and audiences were willing to watch them in anything.
Sapphire and Steel are operatives who are called in when there is a major problem with time. Perhaps they are aliens, or perhaps they are angels. We’re never really told. Their enemies are the beings and forces that exist at the beginning and ending of time and which spend all of “the present” trying to break in and take things… take people from our existence. For some people I’ve met, the lack of a solid “sci-fi” explanation drives them bonkers. I always say it isn’t necessary to know. This is a show to watch and engage with, and a show to enjoy the thrill of either being scared or choosing to be scared out of your wits by it.
My older kids… holy anna, about fifteen years ago, we watched the first 30 episodes one a night right before bed, and they insisted on sleeping with me almost every single evening. The girlchild was in tears more often than not. It was so fun – I mean, so bad – that at any given moment for weeks if everything was quiet, I could whisper-sing “Ring-a-ring-a-roses” and she’d scream bloody murder at me to stop it.
Now that he knows that this rhyme can conjure up some scarred and raggedy plague victim, our son’s not all that happy about it either. He hid, he balled up, he asked whether we had to watch a second episode because that torn-up zombie man might be in it, and he called it “TOO creepy.”
And it is. It’s magical.