Softly Softly: Task Force – Priorities

S03E14 (15th January 1972). Written by Elwyn Jones, directed by Gilchrist Calder

The Task Force are targeting a group of forgers who have set up shop in a dockland warehouse. But their dogged surveillance is complicated by the arrival of John Watt’s wife, Jean, who’s concerned that the creek running round the dock area is dangerously polluted ….

I’m happy to see the return of Gay Hamilton as Jean (now credited as Jean Morrow, rather than Jean Watt, for no specific reason I’m aware of).  The fact that Jean crashes into a Task Force surveillance is pure coincidence – and the potential conflict between her and her husband (she’s interested about potential health issues, he’s concerned about catching villains) is swiftly negated by Watt, who tells her that his officers will continue to take water samples (it’ll give them something to do as they watch the warehouse).

WDC Forest is keenest. Later, when she chats to Jean, Forest’s girlish enthusiasm makes her seem even younger than she is (and is in marked contrast to the more cynical older hands like Snow and Evans).

For the first forty minutes or so, the episode trundles on in a rather low-key way. The printing press doesn’t arrive until we’re about thirty minutes in, so the subplot of the polluted river turns out to be the more engaging story-thread. It’s quickly discovered who’s responsible for dumping chemicals in the water, but Cullen decides to take no further action (a decision that sparks a heated debate between Watt and Jean).

As for the criminals (played by Christopher Burgess, Harry Meacher and Colin Fisher) they don’t do anything terribly exciting and the surveillance (which largely consists of various Task Force personnel reporting that nothing is happening) does rather drag on.

But just when you think that the story’s going to grind to a halt, we’re treated to the slightly hard to swallow spectacle of John Watt rowing over to the warehouse and clambering up a wall in order to break into the warehouse. Although it’s painfully obvious than an (uncredited) stuntman was doing the honours.

Barlow and Watt wants to catch the criminals in possession of the printing plates as without them, they won’t have a case. Quite how this illegal entry and search would have stood up in court is anyone’s guess (presumably they just planned to keep quiet about it). Suddenly the whole tempo of the episode is raised several notches. Watt continues to root about whilst Hawkins – keeping an eye on the front of the warehouse – reports a car approaching. Will Watt be able to get back to the boat and row to safety before the baddies enter?

The answer is yes, but then the creek ignites in a sheet of flame (something that Jean was concerned could happen at any time). Watt (or rather, the uncredited stuntman) becomes a mild human torch whilst Barlow and Evans attempt to douse the flames and look on in concern.

Jean, of course, is rather exasperated that her husband has ended up slightly singed in hospital, but their marriage is clearly built on firm foundations and both seem happy to chalk it down to experience (slightly hard to take, but there you are). That Jean earlier lectured her husband about the dangers, only for him – of all people – to fall victim is something that could happen in real life but tends to occur more often in fiction.

Priorities is an odd one. It takes an awfully long time to get out of second gear but eventually does blaze (sorry) into life. I still find it hard to picture John Watt as a man of action though, even though I’ve seen it with my own eyes.

It’s one of those rare episodes that features all of the main cast, although in the case of PC Drake I’m not entirely sure why they bothered (he appears both in the studio and on film, although in total he’s only given three or four lines).

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