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Book Review

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Assigned! The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to Sapphire & Steel


Author: Richard Callaghan
Telos Publishing
RRP: £12.99
ISBN: 978 1 84583 032 8
Available 31 March 2010

The ATV series Sapphire & Steel charted the efforts of two mysterious “agents” as they attend a number of “assignments”, featuring everything from a faceless man and a vengeful soldier to living nursery rhymes and a time-trapped motorway cafe. The series was innovative, intelligent and terrifying, and it has stayed in the memories of all who saw it. In this guide, Richard Callaghan delves into the six televised “assignments” and finds out what made them tick. He explores the continuity and background to the show, and gives all the facts and figures as well as a critical commentary. The show’s spin-off books and audio adventures are also discussed and reviewed...

At just over 150 pages, this book is quite short by episode guide standards, but then only six Sapphire & Steel adventures (34 x 25-minute episodes) were produced before a combination of circumstances (including the demise of the ATV franchise and the lack of availability of stars Joanna Lumley and David McCallum) brought the television series to an end.

Nevertheless, author Richard Callaghan has plenty to write about. His coverage of each serial includes all the data you would expect in an episode guide, including airdates, episode durations, cast and crew listings, and cliffhanger endings. He also explores the recurring themes of the show, such as what we discover about Sapphire and Steel’s personalities and powers in each story, their developing relationship, the unfolding mythology of the series, references made to previous assignments and foreshadowing of future assignments. Cast biographies and production trivia are followed by an in-depth (several pages long) critical analysis of each adventure.

The author is clearly enthusiastic about the show and its unique qualities, stating and restating the assertion that it is far more than “ITV’s answer to Doctor Who”, though he doesn’t shy away from its shortcomings. His analyses also acknowledge the less successful aspects of the productions, while separate “Goofs” sections list the more tangible on-screen blunders. The book confirms what many have long suspected, that writer / creator P J Hammond made it up as he went along (preferring to write on an episode-by-episode basis, rather than prepare a complete story breakdown beforehand) and it reveals the often chaotic nature of the production and broadcast schedules (stories were often rushed into production, only for there then to follow a lengthy delay before the finished episodes were actually transmitted).

The book also contains appendices describing and assessing the show’s various DVD releases, Hammond’s novelisation of the first serial, the comic strips and short stories that appeared in the 1981 Sapphire & Steel Annual and Look-In magazine, and the Big Finish audio productions starring David Warner and Susannah Harker.

Callaghan could have gone into considerably more detail about the audio dramas, which, as full-length episodes, would bear analysis along the lines of that devoted to the television stories. Rather than summing up each adventure in just a page and a half, with details including production and release dates, episode durations, “Trivia” and “Overview”, more information could have been included on cliffhangers, characterisation, series mythology, etc.

As an analysis of the television series, however, Assigned! cannot be faulted. I usually dip in and out of episode guides, but this one compelled me to read it from cover to cover. It has left me with an urge to dig out my DVDs and CDs, and experience the episodes all over again, which is surely no bad thing. Reading this book, I was truly in my element!


Richard McGinlay

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