George Donkin (Patrick Durkin) is an inept career criminal who’s captured the attention of Melisande Duffy (Anita Carey). Duffy, the bored daughter of a wealthy local businessman, declares that Donkin is a persecuted political prisoner and organises a demonstration outside the station.
Meanwhile Donkin, firmly inside the station, suggests to Joe that he checks the back yard of Szabo’s fish and chip shop. Szabo, a friend of Joe’s, has been resident in Hartley for some time (he fled Hungary decades earlier as a political refugee). And what is Szabo hiding in his shed? Why, a bear ….
Cages has two parallel storylines which eventually converge. At first, it seems that the travails of Donkin will dominate. Patrick Durkin was an actor with one of those faces that you instantly recognise, even if you can’t quite place where you know him from. Donkin is a faintly comic character, whose general lack of criminal ability is later sketched in by Joe (he tells Szabo that the one-eyed Donkin wore a balaclava when robbing a bookies, but only cut one eye-hole in the mask!)
We never quite learn why and how Melisande Duffy latched onto him. That she’s happy to use him in order to further her own political (Marxist) ends is clear, but Duffy never really emerges as a rounded character. She does interact well with Roland though – with him playing the hapless stooge and she the temptress.
Scriptwriter Kenneth Clark is more successful with Szabo (Jon Rumney) who enjoys several lovely scenes with Joe (which are easily the highlight of the episode). When Szabo describes the interrogation he suffered in his own country (a bucket was placed over his head and hammered all night long) it’s done in a very matter of fact way, although Rumney’s skilfully able to imply the horror non-verbally.
If we don’t know why Duffy latched onto Donkin, then neither do we discover how Donkin discovered that Szabo had a bear in his back yard. The reveal is nicely done though – mainly because it’s so unexpected – with a non-plussed Joe looking on. Although the reason for the presence of the bear is another slightly sketchy part of the plot (Szabo’s brother – a circus acrobat – had recently died, so the bear was passed over to him).
Duffy, on learning about the bear from a besotted Roland, decides to free it. This leads to a rather droll line from Joe, after he explains to Jean what happened when Szabo went out to feed it. “When he took the bear his porridge, no bear”. There’s then an attempt to generate a little bit of tension – will the bear, roaming the streets, maul a group of children? – but this part of the story doesn’t really grip.
Better is the byplay between Duffy and Duckworth (David Ryall). Duckworth is a down on his luck newspaper man who senses that the Donkin story might be his ticket back to the big time. Ryall could play this sort of part in his sleep (he’d later appear again as a reporter in another police series – The Chief) but he’s gifted some decent lines as he explains to Duffy that everybody – including both of them – live in cages, just like the unfortunate bear.
Kenneth Clark had experience with a number of police series, such as Dixon of Dock Green and Z Cars, but Cages never really clicks into gear. Save for the character of Szabo (and this is mainly down to Jon Rumney’s performance) there’s not a great deal that’s memorable here. The fifty minutes pass by amiably enough, but overall it all feels a little insubstantial.