Mann returns an AWOL soldier to a regiment who are back in the UK following a stint of active service. When Mann’s prisoner is struck in his absence, he’s determined to find the culprit. This leads onto a strange tale of ghosts and the regiment’s final, disastrous mission in Borneo ….
Making his television debut as Brown (the AWOL soldier) was Hywel Bennett. It’s a very eye-catching turn, although it couldn’t have been that easy to play (Brown’s handful of scenes see him in a highly hysterical state, still heavily traumatised by their Borneo mission).
Brian Wilde was cast against type as Graham, a sergeant busted down to private due to his drinking and insubordinate nature. It seems odd that Graham is imprisoned in a cell inside the barracks room – this means not only can he see his former charges, but he’s also able to chivvy them along when they start to fall into slack habits. And that’s certainly the case – the platoon is in complete disarray, lacking any clear direction or authority. Corporal Scowler (nice performance by Tim Preece) is completely ineffectual on this score.
Mann wonders why the platoon is still intact – given the Borneo misadventure and the aftermath it would have been logical for them to have been split up. But the CO (Joseph O’Conor) has a different view – he can see there’s poison amongst the men, but has decided that keeping them together will bring matters to a head. For once, Mann comes across a CO who isn’t totally obstructive, although he certainly knows his own mind. Allan Cuthbertson was born to play the role of Major Stokely – he a!ways looked perfect in a uniform and Stokely’s character – dogmatic and not too imaginative – was the sort of part that played to Cuthbertson’s strengths.
The platoon are all deftly sketched in, especially Molt (Griffith Davies) and Metcalfe (Graham Rouse). Somebody seems to be spreading stories that the ghosts of their dead comrades are haunting the barracks (good of the spooks to have hopped back on the plane from Borneo with them) and bizarre as this may seem, more and more of the soldiers are beginning to believe it.
Given the lingering PTSD some must be suffering that’s understandable, although this doesn’t explain why several new recruits, only recently signed on, are also spooked (refusing to patrol the parts of the camp which appear to be favoured by the ghost). Nightwatch has, unsurprisingly, a night-time setting, which allows for plenty of shadows and the possibility that something might be out there. Bill Bain’s direction is pretty workmanlike, although there’s the odd interesting flourish along the way.
John Thaw continues to smoulder away to good effect. After Brown is struck, you know that Mann will be implacable in his mission to find the culprit. He – unlike Scowler – has no fear in facing down a barrack room of insubordinate soldiers. Mann’s brief shouting match with Graham is another highlight.
Not the best episode of the run so far, but it does have an unsettling air, especially the final scene which sees Mann confronting the cackling, unrepentant trouble-maker.