Sapphire and Steel: The Complete Series (DVD)
Shout! Factory / 1979 - 1982 / 14 hours / NR
SAPPHIRE AND STEEL is practically the poster show for a cult television series. It was short lived; despite its three year run there were only 34 episodes that comprised a whopping six stories. Most people outside of its native Great Britain have never heard of it. Many of those who have seen it didn't like it (or "get" it), but those who did (on both counts) were and still remain passionate about it. It was always a low-budget series, even when it started. It was a very cerebral show... and very slowly paced. I've seen it called the precursor to THE X-FILES and a cross between that show and DOCTOR WHO. While it is never as whimsical or adventurous as DOCTOR WHO, the predicaments our heroes frequently find themselves in would not be unfamiliar territory to Mulder or Scully. But who are Sapphire and Steel? Well, don't look to the series or the 15 audio adventures that began in 2005 for answers. The enigma of the characters and quite a bit of this series is part of its charm and allure. But here is what we do know...
Each episode opens with the following voice-over:
"All irregularities will be handled by the forces controlling each dimension. Transuranic, heavy elements may not be used where there is life. Medium atomic weights are available: Gold, Lead, Copper, Jet, Diamond, Radium, Sapphire, Silver and Steel. Sapphire and Steel have been assigned."
That's about all you ever find out about where Sapphire (Joanna Lumley) and Steel (David McCallum) come from. The universe they inhabit has time existing as a corridor and this corridor has weak points. Evil beings from the past or the future can use these weak points to break through to our present and manipulate events or steal things. When this happens, Operatives Sapphire and Steel appear on the scene to solve the mystery of what is happening and try to restore the natural order of things.
As I mentioned above, this is a very slow paced and cerebral show which is a good thing. Most of the mysteries are high in concept, at least for the late 1970's/early 1980's. The slow pace allows you to take in what is happening and try to figure it all out along with our heroes. Although in the breakneck world of the 21st Century, where everything is explained or solved in a matter of minutes before moving on to another problem, the pacing here seems glacial.
SAPPHIRE AND STEEL is certainly not a show for everybody nor is it an acquired taste. You either are into this type of storytelling or you're not. If you rent this, watch the first couple of episodes and are bored out of your skull, there is no real point in continuing on. However if you watch those episodes and are sucked into this mysterious world, you have a half dozen great (ok, one of them isn't so hot, but the other five are excellent) adventures in store.
And now the bad news...
When SAPPHIRE AND STEEL made its Region 1 DVD debut with the now out-of-print 2004 A&E Home Video box set, the only real complaint with the full frame 1.33 picture quality was that the frame rate problem of converting a PAL shot video source to an NTSC product was not corrected. This gives the obviously video look of the picture a weird almost-ghosting effect or semi-film like feel to movement which is slightly distracting (you get used to it.) Sadly, this Shout! Factory release does not correct the problem and it still looks funky. On top of that, this transfer is noticeably darker than the A&E release obliterating detail of anything black or not directly lit.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack is fine though.
To add insult to injury, none of the supplements from the A&E set have been ported over. In fact, there is not a single supplement on this entire set, which is unusual for Shout! Factory and a property with such a cult following as this.
While I do love SAPPHIRE AND STEEL it is a hard sell and the lack of anything new or improved on this edition makes it even harder. For you lot that are new to this show: rent it and watch the first adventure to see if this is your cup of tea. For die-hard fans that already own the A&E set: there is nothing here you need. For fans that don't have the A&E set: you can finally add it to your library!