Softly Softly: Task Force – Moving On

S03E05 (3rd November 1971). Written by Arnold Yarrow, directed by Keith Williams

It’s possible to argue that by this point SS:TF had settled into rather a cosy rut (although the series was still producing high quality stories on a regular basis). If you accept this, then Arnold Yarrow’s Moving On is certainly a shock to the system …

The episode begins quietly enough, with some more character development for PC Drake. His somewhat lackadaisical approach to paperwork and a lack of respect for his superiors irritates the more strait-laced PC Snow and there’s a nice feeling of tension teased out between them. Although later, when assigned together on the night patrol, they work together well.

With Barlow absent entirely and Watt away from the district (chasing up a subplot on a cross-channel ferry) it falls to Sergeant Evans to marshal the troops. We’ve seen flashes of Evans’ hard side before, but he’s never been quite as remorseless as this.

He kicks off by dismissing a sticker campaign that offers help with “drugs, landlords, contraception, abortion”. These aims are laudable enough, but Evans doesn’t like the people offering advice (which will become a key theme of the episode). Evans then informs the squad that their targets tonight will be “layabouts, hippies, whatever they like to call themselves”.

Evans and WDC Forest pay a visit to Ernie’s café. It’s an unappealing greasy spoon sort of place which quickly clears – leaving just a handful of people behind, the two of interest being David Greenwold (Stephen Leigh) and Mark Dean (Peter Marinker). David is a young lad of 15, nicely spoken and clearly a fish out of water (bafflingly, Evans at one point declares that Greenwold isn’t an English name). Dean is a different proposition altogether – older, also well spoken and educated but by no means cowed by Evans’ intimidating persona.

Evans spells out just why the café should be a no-go area for any respectable types – not only Ernie’s sexual proclivities (young boys) but also the way that the place is used as a drugs haunt.

Later, Snow and Drake visit the café and are equally as hectoring, especially Snow. Now present is Marion Greenwold (Shelley Harris), who’s come to seek help from Dean (the architect of the sticker campaign). Marion is only seen briefly, so when Evans discovers a woman in the railway station toilets with both wrists slashed, it’s not immediately apparent that it’s her.

Being a pre-watershed series, we obviously don’t linger on the blood (although there’s an establishing shot which makes it plain just how much there is). Evans’ bloody hands help to serve as a reminder for the rest of the episode though.

This sort of graphic violence, even when handled sensitively, is unusual for the series. Marion’s death spins the episode off into a different direction as a shocked Evans goes rogue – leaving Forest behind, he has only one thought (to track down Dean – who Marion asked for help he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, supply).

At this point, the subtext of the episode becomes especially interesting. How culpable is Dean? In Evans’ eyes wholly – which explains why he teeters on the edge of violence (eventually deciding that Dean deserves a little bit of roughing up). But before he can do any serious damage Snow stops him, memorably saying that “I’m not against bumping him one. I’d bump him one myself if he tried to be funny with me. But there’s no score in doing it for its own sake – it’s like kicking shit, you just get your own boots dirty”.

By a remarkable coincidence, the villain hunted by Watt is hiding out in the same squat as Dean. Earlier, when learning that Evans had planned to visit the squat as part of a routine sweep, Watt ordered him to stand down. Seeing red after Marion’s suicide, Evans of course went blundering in – with the inevitable result that Watt’s prey escaped. Fair to say that Watt’s not a happy man.

Moving On is an excellent vehicle for David Lloyd Meredith (who in total would clock up an impressive 107 SS:TF appearances). It certainly offers him something a little different – Evans is usually called upon to be the avuncular comic relief, but not today. Peter Marinker played well opposite him, although Mark Dean is a character I’d have like to have seen developed a little more (but with only 50 minutes to play with, there wasn’t the time).

With Arnold Yarrow having now relinquished the role of script editor to Gerry Davis, you can’t fault Davis for approaching him to pen this script, as he knew exactly what made the characters tick. Yarrow would continue to contribute scripts for the rest of SS:TF‘s run, and if they’re all as good as this one I won’t be complaining.

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