The White Rat is one of a number of episodes which uses the American opening titles rather than the more familiar British ones. The major difference is that there’s a lengthy voice-over by John Gregson, which spells out very clearly what the programme is about.
This is my city, London. Eight hundred square miles. Vast, sprawling, restless. Over eight million people live and work, love and play, hate and die. On the fringe, hidden in the shadows, those who prey on the innocent. Steal, destroy, attack and kill. When they do, it’s a job for me and the Criminal Investigation Department.
Once we get past the credits we open with a robbery taking place at a fur warehouse, which is led by Mickey Keston (Ray McAnally). It’s not long before we have several examples of Mickey’s violent and unpredictable streak. Firstly, when he notices the night-watchman attempting to reach the phone he viciously clubs him down (the man later dies in hospital).
He then reacts sharply when one of his underlings casually mentions a conversation he had with Mickey’s girlfriend Rose (Virginia Maskell). Mickey’s jealousy at even the most innocuous comment is plain, but this isn’t the only character flaw he has. Mickey is an albino and it’s given him a massive inferiority complex. Maybe this isn’t surprising when you hear how Sergeant Syd Taylor (David Davies) describes his appearance. “Makes him look almost like a cretin, but he’s not. He’s tough, hard and ruthless.”
There’s several occasions when Mickey mentions how he loathes himself. “Nobody could be in love with a freak and that’s what I am. Ever since I was five years old people have pointed at me.”
A visit to Mickey’s house by Taylor, Keen and Keen’s girlfriend Mary Henderson (Sue Lloyd) only serves to stoke up Mickey’s paranoia even more and it seems clear that he’s simply a powder-keg waiting to explode.
One possible flaw with The White Rat is that Mickey doesn’t really look too unusual. Yes he has white hair, but that’s not very uncommon. But a possible interpretation is that (Sergeant Taylor’s comment notwithstanding) very few people have ever looked twice at Mickey and his belief that the whole world is laughing at him is simply a delusion on his part.
As might be expected, Ray McAnally gives a nuanced performance. This was pretty earlier on in his career – he’d appeared in a number of small-scale films but Gideon’s Way was his first major television part. In the late 1960’s he’d appear in the memorable series Spindoe and towards the end of his life he’d play several roles for which he’ll probably be best remembered. These include Rick Pym in John LeCarre’s A Perfect Spy (1987), Harry Perkins in A Very British Coup (1988) and Mr Brown in My Left Foot (1989). Ray McAnally died in 1989, aged 63.
There’s a nice sense of tension between the veteran officer Syd Taylor and Gideon. When Gideon joined the force it was Taylor who showed him the ropes, but now Gideon’s a commander and Taylor’s still a lowly sergeant. Gideon is keen to re-establish their friendship, but there’s a reluctance on Taylor’s part (it seems the gulf in their rank is a major concern for him). After Taylor is shot by Mickey, it gives Gideon a personal stake in the outcome of the manhunt and allows Gregson a few decent scenes, especially at the end when Gideon confronts Mickey (who’s armed with several sticks of dynamite).
Thanks to McAnally’s magnetic performance, The White Rat is another very decent episode.