There’s a lot going on in The Most Suitable Person. Firstly, Des Yardley, a member of the Morocco station, is found murdered in Gibraltar. He’s normally based in Tangier, so his presence in Gibraltar is a mystery – as is the reason for his death. Burnside elects to send Willie Caine to investigate. He knows that Caine isn’t the world’s best investigator, but he’s good at stirring things up – and this should enable him to flush out the murderer.
With Caine in Gibraltar, this makes finding replacements for Landy and Denison ever more pressing. The problem is that Burnside has exacting standards and there doesn’t seem to be any trainees even remotely suitable. Out of the current crop of active SIS agents, Caine knows that Colin Grove (Jonathan Coy) is very keen to join the special section, but Burnside is dismissive – he doesn’t think he’s even remotely suitable. And when Bob Sherman tells him that Grove has been seeing a Hungarian psychiatrist, it raises the possibility that he’s a serious security risk – with both British and American secrets potentially passed over to a hostile power.
In addition to the mysterious death of Yardley and the investigation into Grove’s conduct we also have a third element to the story, the newest recruit to the Sandbaggers – Laura Dickens (Diane Keen). Laura is by far the best of the new recruits, but Caine knows that the boss isn’t going to like it – because she’s a woman.
Burnside reluctantly agrees to see her (and there’s a nice moment when, just before she enters his office, he tidies up his desk and straightens his tie!). He asks her if she’s interested in joining the special section and she tells him no, she’s not. Her cool dismissal of a posting that most people would give almost anything to achieve, clearly intrigues him. Laura explains the reasons why.
I’ve never been very good at playing Cowboys and Indians. You see, I can’t help feeling that special sections exist because they create work for each other. You manipulate yours, so the other side manipulate theirs. It may keep everybody happy but what does it achieve in the long term?
It’s her belief that she’s wrong for the job than convinces Burnside that she’s exactly right. “Volunteers for the special section usually see themselves as James Bond. I’d rather have someone, male or female, who sees the job in perspective. A while ago I tried to change the name, special section, into something less evocative. As far as I’m concerned it’s only special because few people are right for it.”
Laura agrees to join the Sandbaggers on a temporary secondment – until Burnside can find permanent replacements for Sandbaggers Two and Three. He then dispatches her to Tangier in order to discover what Yardley was working on. Before she goes, he gives her his personal phone number and tells her she can use it to contact him anytime. Professional or personal business? The Burnside/Laura relationship begins here, and it’s something that will be a prime focus of the remaining series one episodes.
Meanwhile, Willie’s following up leads in Gibraltar (actually it’s filmed, like most of the foreign locations in the series, around the Manchester area!). He gets to experience a bit of gunplay – although it’s clear that The Sandbaggers isn’t aiming at James Bond-style glamour and action. When Caine returns a borrowed car to Detective Chief Inspector Gomez (Stephen Grief), he offers to clean it first – because he’s been sick in it (following the gun battle). It’s a small character beat that helps to highlight that even the most experienced of agents are subject to normal stresses and strains.
The three plot-threads of this episode does mean that it feels a little fragmented and subsequently it’s not as compelling a drama as say, Is Your Journey Really Necessary?. Laura’s introduction is the obvious highlight and she quickly proves to be a more than capable officer – she uncovers the reason for Yardley’s trip to Gibraltar and this information helps to foil a terrorist attack on a passenger plane.
The truth about Grove is also established, which allows Burnside the satisfaction of getting one up on MI5. He explains this to Peele at the end of the episode, thereby giving Jerome Willis a nice character moment. Willis was absent from the previous episode, and is only on the periphery in this one, which is a shame as he was always a very watchable actor. But the next episode does offer him a little more scope ….