Agatha Christie famously wrote the final Hercule Poirot novel, Curtain, in the mid-forties, but didn’t have it published until shortly before her death. She kept writing Poirot adventures, of course, but she had the manuscript where her popular character dies locked away in a bank vault for three decades.
I mention this because back in 1972, P.J. Hammond wrote the final Ace of Wands story and it ends with a very clumsy and ultimately disappointing climax which, they say, was meant to be resolved in the following season. Since Thames never ordered any more episodes, the last story has to stand as a series finale while not actually finishing. It’s not like many modern TV examples where programs end on never-resolved cliffhangers. “The Beautiful People” does actually end, but there was so much more we didn’t learn about that last weird situation that the audience can’t help but feel cheated because something was missing.
So with Sapphire & Steel, Hammond had to write a finale that would stand as a finale in case the new network, Central, didn’t pick it up. If they did, then he had a story in mind to continue the situation. But if Central didn’t, he needed the series to have an unforgettable, amazing end.
In a perfect world, though… in a perfect world, Sapphire & Steel should have been renewed for two or three more series of fourteen episodes each, but this story should have stayed on the shelf just like Curtain did, until the very end. By all means, let’s go back in time and alter reality and create some parallel universes. Let’s make sure the BBC never wipes any of their old tapes, and let’s make sure they actually finish “Shada” in 1979. Let’s have a third series of The New Avengers with Linda Thorson as Mother, and a second season of Bret Maverick with Jack Kelly as Bart. Let’s make sure that a series of fatal combine harvester accidents in 1980 befall every politician and media magnate who are making our lives miserable today. And by God, let’s have another 28 or 42 episodes of Sapphire & Steel, but show them first, and leave this finale alone and untouched.
Our poor kid. Tonight, for the very first time, he expressed actual happiness and excitement about watching the show. He was really looking forward to it. Then it storms its way through the cliffhanger ending to part three, which is one of television’s all-time greatest cliffhangers, into part four. He punched the air as one obstacle was overcome, and then a second… and then it doesn’t end like anybody expected.
He wouldn’t admit to being unhappy, even though his eyes were quite red, and he was numbed with surprise. I asked him to try and explain how he felt, and he said “Like this…” and he socked me gently on the shoulder and then gave me a hug. I asked “So it hurt, but it felt good, too?” And he said yes, and I said that was kind of how it made me feel, too.
The very best television, after all, breaks your heart at least a little.