Lomax’s continuing search for his son has brought him to an isolated Welsh village. The welcome he receives in the hillside is a somewhat lukewarm one, which doesn’t improve after a young girl goes missing and suspicion inevitably falls on the stranger in their midst ….
There’s something of a telefantansy feel about the opening of The Watcher as Lomax wanders through the deserted village. The puzzle deepens after he enters the primary school which is also devoid of people (and a list of drug terms on the blackboard is a jarring thing to find in such surroundings).
The mystery is quickly dissipated though – everyone is at the chapel, listening to the fire and brimstone proclamations of Morgan Rees (Freddie Jones). As Rees employs virtually the whole community they clearly feel an obligation (however unwilling some may be) to hear him expound at length on the evils of modern society.
As the episode continues, you can’t help but wonder what the Welsh viewers watching at home made of this one. We’re told that the village is something of a throwback, a tightly knit community where strangers are far from welcome. Although Lomax does encounter the odd friendly face, a general air of hostility is the order of the day – which hardly paints a very flattering picture of the country.
Although relatively few members of the village are given speaking roles, at times they seem to operate en masse in a hostile way towards Lomax (especially at the end, which we’ll come to later). Rees’ financial hold over them helps to partly explain their actions though.
Although the cast was, as you’d expect, peppered with Welsh actors, the main guest role fell to an Englishman, Freddie Jones. He tackles a Welsh accent with aplomb and has considerable presence as the florid and autocratic Rees, whose grip on his people becomes more and more tenuous as time creeps on.
Meg Wynn Owen (possibly best known for playing Hazel in Upstairs Downstairs) has a decent part as Gwen Owen, a schoolteacher who initially befriends Lomax but – due to pressure applied – is later persuaded to lay false claims of assault against him.
Hubert Rees made a good career out of playing ineffectual authority figures, so Geoff Watkins (the village’s police representative) was a role well within his comfort zone. Watkins, a man totally under Rees’ thumb, makes a half-hearted attempt to move Lomax on. But Lomax isn’t someone to take fright easily and certainly not when pressure is applied from the likes of Watkins.
Other familiar Welsh actors – Davyd Harries and Aubrey Richards – help to fill out the cast. Alan (Harries) is one of those convinced of Lomax’s guilt (although whether this is due to a desire to please Rees, a genuine belief of wrongdoing or simply a dislike for the English is never made clear).
Richards has a memorable cameo as a draughts player who delights in beating Lomax in what appears to be a friendly pub game. Once he’s celebrated victory, the mood darkens when he refuses to take a drink with Lomax. It’s a brief but telling moment and clearly comes as a jolt to the visitor.
Norman Jones (another non-Welsh actor) is the episode’s other major guest star. He plays DCI Jenkin, brought in to coordinate investigations after the girl’s dead body is discovered. Like Rees, Jones is playing a familiar part today (Coronation Street and Inspector Morse are just two other series where he can be found in detective mode).
Jones gives an excellent performance and the relationship between Jenkin and Lomax helps to propel the second half of the episode to its conclusion. Unlike some of the policeman we’ve met so far in the series, Jenkin (although he wearily regards Lomax’s presence as a distraction) doesn’t actively despise him and, indeed, they work together in order to uncover the truth.
The episode isn’t a whodunnit. The audience is told who fairly early on and the reason why isn’t too much of a mystery. Other writers may have attempted to put a twist into the story or placed Lomax in more active trouble with the police (although he’s accused of murder, his innocence is quickly established) but Marshall seems to content to let things play out as they are.
After the matter is finally settled, Lomax prepares to leave in his narrowboat – but is startled to see a large portion of the village assemble on the hilltop to watch him go. Apart from Gwen, friendly faces are scarce, and the effect is decidedly unsettling, although you have to wonder just how realistic it would be for so many people to act in a gestalt fashion like this.
Mind you, as the identity of the murderer has brought about a seismic change in the village and the outsider Lomax is probably seen by many as the man to blame, I suppose it’s not entirely impossible. And of course it’s a memorable way to conclude the episode ….