TO­TAL RE­CALL

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Contents - Nick Setch­field, Fea­tures Ed­i­tor

Nick Setch­field’s spine tin­gles as he re­calls Sap­phire And Steel’s ti­tles se­quence.

Tele­vi­sion ti­tle se­quences tended to make sense in the ’70s. Im­ported cop shows reeled you in with rapid­fire mon­tages of rough jus­tice and burn­ing tyre rub­ber. Quiz shows tempted you with as­pi­ra­tionally span­gly graph­ics and the soul-stir­ring words “From Nor­wich, it’s the Sale of the Cen­tury!” Coro­na­tion Street’s eter­nal north­ern ter­races were re­as­sur­ingly free of that for­eign art muck. So imag­ine the na­tional brain-melt that met episode one of Sap­phire And Steel when it de­buted in July 1979, an im­prob­a­ble squat­ter in the 7pm Emmerdale Farm slot. Even now, nearly four decades on, its ti­tle se­quence re­mains a mas­ter­class of wil­ful weird­ness.

It be­gins with an in­sis­tent shim­mer of notes, like a sig­nal reach­ing you from some re­mote, un­know­able realm (HTV Wales, in my case). A pale blue walk­way un­folds against a prim­i­tive an­i­mated starfield. A grid forms. Is it a spi­der’s web? Or a tar­get­ing dis­play? A green squig­gle races across it, puls­ing like a hospi­tal mon­i­tor. In the corner of the screen a car­toon star ig­nites.

Then comes the voice. “Any ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties will be han­dled by the forces con­trol­ling each di­men­sion,” it de­clares, and it sounds as if God’s in no mood for ex­pla­na­tions. The grid fizzes like a sparkler, ex­plodes, de­cays. “Transuranic heavy el­e­ments may not be used where there is life.” You hear the words but you need a par­ti­cle col­lider to de­code them. An omi­nous, half-glimpsed shape hov­ers on the screen (Dr Fate’s hel­met? The Great Lord Cthulhu?). “Medium atomic weights are avail­able,” the voice as­sures us, and that’s a good thing, right? Ket­tle drums pound. Sparkling pin­balls race out of the dark­ness. “Gold, lead, cop­per, jet, di­a­mond, ra­dium, sap­phire, sil­ver and steel…” It’s the pe­ri­odic ta­ble as po­etry. “Sap­phire and Steel have been as­signed!” God, the thrill of that pay-off, ev­ery time. As a kid I mem­o­rised ev­ery word of that cryptic, elec­tri­fy­ing in­tro­duc­tion (I had to ask my dad what transuranic meant – he didn’t know, which made it ex­tra-cool). I liked that it left space for an­swers. As in­scrutable, as in­trigu­ing, as its he­roes and their ad­ven­tures, this isn’t just a ti­tle se­quence – it’s pure imag­i­na­tion fuel.

Just like Sap­phire, Nick is good at turn­ing back time.

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