Softly Softly: Task Force – Resolution

S03E15 (12th January 1972). Written by Arnold Yarrow, directed by Peter Cregeen

An armed smash and grab raid on a jewellers shop nets the villains a substantial haul. This irritates both Barlow and Cullen as DS Kershaw (Bruce Purchase) had received a tip off and was lying in wait …

Given that the Task Force is somewhat limited in terms of plain clothes officers (just Harry Hawkins) it’s understandable that Kershaw hails from the ordinary CID ranks. His presence in the story allows a little bit of tension to be teased out between him and his Task Force colleagues (“the glamour boys” as Barlow ironically calls them).  This has never been developed before, as every episode to date has revolved around the same small pool of regulars.

In terms of the regulars, PC Snow acquits himself well – stumbling across Kershaw’s stake-out (the ambitious DS hadn’t thought to tell any of his superiors about it) Snow reacts swiftly and Radar is able to snag one of the gang.

Meanwhile back at base, there’s some interesting character development going on with PC Drake. In retrospect, when you know Drake’s ultimate fate, it seems a little odd but possibly Yarrow (no longer the script editor, remember) wasn’t privy to how Drake’s story would play out.

Drake has brought an autograph book into work as he’s keen to get Barlow’s signature for his kid brother. And just like his younger sibling, Drake also seems to hero-worship his superior officer – at one point telling Snow that Barlow’s the sort of straight-ahead copper who would never pull a stroke (unlike, as we later learn, Drake). Snow reacts incredulously to this – muttering that he has respect for the Queen Mum (then leaving the obvious “but” unsaid!)

There are four key scenes in this episode – Cullen/Barlow, Barlow/Kershaw, Barlow/Jean and Barlow/Mrs Sheldon (Wendy Gifford).

Cullen is furious about the raid and doesn’t mince his words when speaking to Barlow. Barlow bristles at this (at one point offering his resignation). Cullen responds that “you don’t shoot the General just because one of his sentries fell asleep”. This is a cracking scene for Walter Gotell and if Stratford Johns is required to be somewhat passive, his time to shine will come.

Down the chain of command we go as Barlow then eviscerates Kershaw. Barlow’s at his hardest and most implacable here (so much so that Kershaw later hands in his resignation). After the dust has settled, it’s intriguing to see that Barlow almost seems inclined to give him a second chance, but Cullen is less forgiving and so out he goes (in retrospect, the final words of the episode – “No room for pity” – would have been a better episode title than Resolution, especially since those words could equally apply to Barlow’s later interview with Mrs Sheldon).

Bruce Purchase may possibly be best remembered today for several late seventies SF appearances (in Doctor Who and Blakes 7) where he was called upon to channel his inner Brian Blessed, but there was more to him than that (in Resolution he has a complete lack of bluster).

You wait ages for a Jean Watt/Morrow episode and then two come along one after another. Her screentime time today is limited to a single scene, but it’s another fascinating one. Barlow has attempted (off-screen) to speak to John Watt, who’s still recovering in hospital. Watt’s clearly not able to give Barlow what he needs, so he pays a  visit to his wife instead.

It speaks volumes about Barlow’s professional isolation that – apart from John Watt – there appears to be no-one else in the police force he feels comfortable talking to. Jean – as a dispassionate outsider – is a font of calm common sense as Barlow (convinced that Mrs Sheldon knows more about the robbery than she’s letting on) wonders how hard he should question her.

All of Mrs Sheldon’s scenes take place at her home. It’s an opulent place filled with signifiers of early seventies luxury (a baby grand piano, fishtank, etc) which tells us that Mrs Sheldon and her now absent husband (who had masterminded the raid) don’t conform to the usual criminal stereotype.

Time and time again we’ve seen the hard side of Barlow (even in this episode, when intimidating Kershaw) but he’s deceptively gentle when questioning Mrs Sheldon – which turns out to be exactly the right approach, especially when it’s allied to the remorseless way he produces a raft of damning evidence.

SS:TF was never the sort of series that favoured directorial flourishes (most of the direction was plain and serviceable, although often quite effective). There’s a few nice touches in this one from Peter Cregeen which caught my eye though – for example, the camera zooms in on a mug shot of Sheldon only for the camera to then zoom out from a picture of Sheldon and his family at his house.

Another strong effort from Arnold Yarrow.

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