Softly Softly: Task Force – Aberration

S03E04 (27th October 1971). Written by Elwyn Jones, directed by Leonard Lewis

Aberration opens with a lovely scene between Barlow and Watt. Watt’s home alone (his wife, a GP, is away for the week) and he’s invited Barlow round for a slap up meal (prepared before she left by Mrs Watt – this was the 1970’s after all). Barlow then invites him over for a meal (Mrs Barlow will be doing the cooking of course).

There’s some nice character building here (we see Watt’s vulnerable side for a fleeting moment) but the scene does have a plot purpose – a locum doctor calls round asking for the surgery keys. Watt hands them over, but the next day we learn that the man wasn’t a doctor after all …

We can put this terrible lapse down to the fact that both had clearly imbibed a substantial amount of alcohol. In the cold light of day Barlow is forced to eat humble pie in front of Dr Mancroft (Raymond Huntley). Johns and Huntley share several excellent scenes – there’s nothing more enjoyable than watching two old timers squaring off against each other.

Aberration is the first episode to feature a major role for DC Forest (Julie Hallam). Forest is remarkably cheeky (talking back to both Barlow and Watt) and I have to say that I found Hallam’s performance to be quite broad. Because the other regulars are all pretty naturalistic, Hallam’s overexuberance is more noticeable. But since this was her first (and indeed last) television role, it’s worth cutting her some slack – possibly over time she’ll settle down a little.

Apart from some stolen prescription pads, the villain – James (Gary Waldhorn) – has also pinched several patient’s files. That we’re in different times is demonstrated when homosexuality is classed alongside child molesting as the sort of aberration which would be ideal fodder for a blackmailer. Later, the inoffensive-looking Norman Bird (as Tomkins) is wheeled on as a bondage fetishist (he’s one of the unlucky people being blackmailed by James).

As I’ve slowly made my way through the series, I’ve received the odd comment (very odd, in fact) complaining that I’m pursuing some agenda by highlighting moments like this. That’s not my intention – I simply find it interesting to touch upon the way attitudes and values have changed over time (ignoring them would be strange).

I’ve always accepted archive television for what it is – a window into a different world (other people can argue whether it’s a better or worse one, but I’d sooner they take their arguments away from this blog).

Tonally, Aberration is a strange one. At times Elwyn Jones portrays Barlow and Watt as a bumbling comic pair (especially when interacting with the sassy WDC Forest) but the fate of the wretched Tomkins moves the story into darker waters. It almost has the feel of a script written by someone unfamiliar with the series, but Jones was hardly that. Something of a curio then.

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