A certain nursery rhyme – ring a ring of roses – was the trigger that allowed time to break through and steal Rob and Helen’s parents. After Steel ripped the page out of the book he seemed to have assumed the danger was over, but hadn’t reckoned on Helen reciting the rhyme from memory.
This is a good indicator that Steel lacks any understanding of basic human behaviour. As he later says to Sapphire, that’s why she’s here – he doesn’t see himself as a diplomat or as someone who needs to have any more interaction with people than is strictly necessary, it’s Sapphire’s job to reassure people like Rob.
She’s not doing very well though, as Rob now doesn’t entirely trust either of them. He decides to tell the whole story to the police, who in the form of the local constable (played by Charles Pemberton) is due to arrive shortly. As Rob unlocks the door to wait for his arrival, Sapphire and Steel appear at the top of the stairs.
They cast a sinister air, immobile and silent. They make no direct attempt to stop him, but it’s plain that they hold the upper hand. This feeling is strengthened when Sapphire innocently asks him if he speaks for both himself and Helen. He says he does, but Sapphire is easily able to induce the girl to join her, which fractures their unity. And when Sapphire puts the policeman into a time loop, Rob has to admit defeat.
Sapphire asks him to “please stop fighting us, and try to believe in us for once. We’re all you’ve got on your side! First a wall, then a room. What then? The house? A road… a village… a town. What next?” This seems to do the trick and even Steel – a flicker of a smile crosses his face when he enters the room – seems to be impressed by her powers of oratory.
We’ve already learnt that time can be destructive and capricious, but now we learn that it can also be intelligent and cunning. It speaks to Rob, using the voice of his mother, pleading with him to open the barricaded door at the top of the house. He’s persuaded by his “mother” to recite another nursery rhyme – goosey goosey gander. This rhyme has long been linked to the English Civil War and the sight of Cromwellian-era soldiers, who suddenly appear on the stairs from nowhere, confirms that S&S is using this familiar interpretation.