This is another very welcome BBC Network title – due for release in early October.
Philip Madoc gives a career-best performance as one of Britain’s most revered, inspiring – and controversial – leaders in this celebrated BBC series. Scripted by BAFTA-winning Elaine Morgan with input from leading historian A.J.P. Taylor – and with famously haunting theme music by Ennio Morricone – The Life and Times of David Lloyd George paints a multifaceted portrait of a political icon who steered Britain through the First World War and its aftermath, and whose pioneering reforms laid the foundations of the welfare state.
Brought up in a remote Welsh village, on his way to the top Lloyd George inspires both hysterical adoration and an enmity bordering on bloodlust. A passionate social reformer, his struggle to lift the spectres of poverty and the workhouse provokes the ire of the political establishment, while his indefatigable womanising fills many a gossip column; his political dexterity as the Liberal prime minister of a wartime coalition government, however, raised him to a new level of power and influence.
Hackett and his colleagues have been keeping Ceti (Walter Randall) under close observation as the word is that half a million pounds worth of heroin will shortly be delivered to him by a sailor called Pink (Alan Rebbeck). As soon as Pink is spotted entering the house the team pile in – but they find nothing.
Pink knew that he was under observation, so he passed the drugs over to Sharkey (Ken Hutchinson) for him to deliver. But the police got there first and Sharkey beats a hasty retreat. So he’s at loose in the city – with a fortune in drugs and both sides of the law tracking his every move.
The second of Douglas Camfield’s two Target episodes, Big Elephant was written by Bob Baker and Dave Martin (two more familiar faces from Doctor Who). It’s grim stuff – especially when depicting the squalid reality of drug dependance. This is highlighted by Joanne (Katy Manning) – a hopeless addict. Best known for Doctor Who, this is obviously a major change of pace for her but Manning is convincing as a woman who can’t think any further ahead than her next fix. Increasingly twitchy, pallid and hysterical as the episode wears on, it’s a memorable performance.
Sharkey is such a loose cannon (the pre-credits sequence see him “borrowing” a fork-lift truck and taking it for a ride along the docks, before getting nabbed by the police) it’s impossible to believe anybody would entrust him with such a package. It’s also slightly odd that as Pink knew he was under observation he didn’t change the drop-off point for the drugs.
Ken Hutchinson starts the story as a stereotypical drunken Scot, but gradually more of a character emerges. Sharkey forms an unlikely relationship with Joanne – they seem to be two lost souls clinging together for comfort. He wants to help her kick her habit but Hackett tells him that it’s not worth it – she’s a junkie and she’ll never change. Hackett does later tell him that he’ll arrange treatment, but it’s too late. She overdoses, leaving a scribbled note on the wall which reads “Dear god I’m only little, love Joanne.”
There’s plenty of action in Big Elephant. The initial raid on Ceti’s house is played at a frantic pace and the final confrontation between Hackett and Ceti also packs a punch. Hackett does finally get his man, but the trail of destruction which has led to Ceti’s arrest means that there’s no real cause for celebration. This is confirmed by the final shot of the episode which sees Hackett alone and isolated.
We open with three men attempting to open a safe with an oxyacetylene torch. The man operating the torch, Rocky (Michael McKevitt) is injured, so the others have to take over. Harry Skeats (Maurice Roëves) is clearly the leader of the three and he assumes command.
Later, Harry and Rigby (Tom McCabe) drop off Rocky’s body at the hospital, but it’s too late – Rocky’s already dead. Had they not decided to continue with the job then they probably could have saved his life – but these are career criminals, with little or no conscience.
But Rocky’s body is the first solid evidence that Hackett and his team have concerning the wave of robberies which have swept the area. And since this latest robbery netted the villains a cool eighty seven thousand in uncut diamonds, the pressure is on to find the gang.
Roger Marshall’s list of credits is impressive (co-creator of Public Eye, creator of Travelling Man and a skilled writer on numerous series including The Avengers, The Sweeney, Survivors and The Gentle Touch). This would be his only contribution to Target though, due to his unhappiness with the way it turned out, so much so that he asked for his name to be taken off the credits (the in-house BBC pseudonym David Agnew was used instead).
Douglas Camfield was a highly experienced director who specilised in precisely this sort of material (with episodes of Special Branch, The Sweeney and The Professionals to his credit). He was able to assemble a cracking cast, featuring impressive turns from Maurice Roëves, Christopher Benjamin, Kenneth Colley and Ron Pember.
Actors who would later make an impression in other series also pop up, such as Geoffrey Leesley (later to be a regular on Bergerac) sporting a very impressive moustache and Sandy Ratcliff (one of the original series regulars on Eastenders).
Given the long-standing disagreement that existed between Camfield and Dudley Simpson (which dated back to an incident at a party in the mid sixties) it comes as no surprise that Simpson didn’t provide the music for this episode. With no credit on the closing titles, it’s probable that the sparse incidentals were drawn from library cues.
Ex-jailbird Tom Farlow (Ron Pember) is somebody that Hackett attempts to use to infiltrate the gang. But instead of keeping the meet, Farlow, recently released from prison, has gone to find his wife – who’s left him for another man. This leads into the most memorable scene of the episode as Farlow methodically fills a large pan full of scalding water and walks upstairs to confront his wife and her lover.
After advising the man to leave, he throws the water over his wife. Despite the fact that don’t actually see anything (we only hear her screams) it’s still very disturbing. It’s a good example of how a poweful effect can be created purely in the mind of the viewer. Tate is far from impressed with the way things have turned out and tells Hackett that “you get a phoney tip-off, she gets a face-full of scalding water. That’s one hell of a day’s work.”
The episode ends with another action-series cliche (Hackett rugby-tackles Harry Skeats into a swimming-pool).
Blow Out isn’t a particularly good example of Hackett’s detective skills as he tends to flounder from one situation to the next (and even though he catches Skeats, the story ends with the news of another robbery. So the squad seem to be back at square one).
It’s fairly light on action, but Camfield and the excellent cast keeps things moving at a very decent pace.
If Target is remembered today, then it’s usually because of its reputation as a cheap Sweeney knock-off or possibly due to its Doctor Who connection (incoming Doctor Who producer Graham Williams created Target, outgoing Doctor Who producer Phillip Hinchcliffe would become Target’s producer).
The lack of a DVD release or recent screenings (series one aired on BSB in 1990, whilst series two hasn’t been seen since selected repeats back in 1980) have no doubt added to the series’ mystique. It’s not a classic by any means, but there’s plenty to enjoy (although Patrick Mower’s performance is an acquired taste, it must be said).
Mower had starred in the Euston Films revival of Special Branch (generally regarded as a dry-run for The Sweeney) as well as two episodes of The Sweeney itself, so was ideal casting as Det Supt Steve Hackett. Mower is never less than totally unsubtle, rampaging through the series like a bull in a china shop. I can’t decide whether he’s playing it tongue-in-cheek or if he’s being serious – either way you can’t take your eyes off him (although not always for the right reasons).
One of Hackett’s snouts gives him a tip-off that an incoming ship (containing a supply of silver) will be robbed. Hackett and his men organise a stake-out but no attempt is made. The infuriated Hackett runs back to his car to remonstrate with his snout, only to find him murdered.
It’s a very decent pre-credits hook scene, even if it makes no sense. Who would be stupid enough to kill a police informant when there are so many police nearby?
Naturally, Hackett is out for vengeance and he’s convinced that he knows who’s responsible – Maynard (Jon Laurimore). The quality of actors is one of Target’s main strengths (we also see Bernard Kay as a forensic officer and Jack May as the ship’s Chief Officer in this episode).
Another actor it’s always a pleasure to see is Philip Madoc as Hackett’s boss, Det Chief Supt Tate. Sadly he’s got very little to do, so on the basis of this episode it seems odd to cast an actor as good as Madoc in such an unrewarding role.
It may come as no surprise that the episode ends in a punch up. David Wickes’ direction is suitably muscular (he also co-wrote the episode with Hinchcliffe) and the lessons he must have learnt earlier on The Sweeney are put to good effect here (it’s also not surprising that he directed several episodes of The Professionals the following year).
Given his work on Doctor Who, it seemed an obvious choice for Hinchcliffe to draft in Dudley Simpson to compose the theme tune and incidental music, but it’s a little distracting. Dudley always had a distinctive style, shall we say, so hearing music not dissimilar to his Doctor Who scores on Target is rather disorientating. It’s also worth pondering how he had the time to work on Doctor Who, Target and shortly afterwards Blakes’ 7 all at the same time. It’s no wonder that occasionally all his music does sound rather similar!
A decent opener, then. Low on subtlety but high on action, with the character of Hackett clearly defined.
Marker is hired to find Jenny Graham (Carole Ann Ford) a twenty-year-old runaway from Hull. The chances of tracking her down in London are slim, to say the least, but he takes the case. Jenny is working for a small-time pimp called Peter Mason (Roland Curram), who haunts the cafes at Kings Cross Railway Station, spotting unattached young girls who’ve run away from home.
Jenny is no innocent though – this is a lifestyle she’s chosen, and she plans to make it to the top. Mason is invited to a meeting with Dannon (Philip Madoc). Dannon describes himself as an agent, somebody who provides items for collectors – and the item in question is Jenny.
The Morning Wasn’t So Hot is a bleak little tale. Philip Madoc is suitably sinister as Dannon, polite and cultured on the surface (and surrounded by valuable antiques) but also quite capable of viewing Jenny as just another item for sale, as he explains to Mason. “Three, six months, that’s the life expectancy of one of your girls. Ten to one she’s in court by the end of the month or she’s got pneumonia hanging about shop doorways or you’ve done a little crude rolling”.
Mason agrees to sell her for three hundred pounds, but unfortunately for him she’s already gone. Marker questions Mason and he breaks the bad news to him. “You sold her. Now she’s welched on you and you’re piggy in the middle. They’re going to be fitting you for an apple in the mush”.
And that’s the last we see of Mason. When Marker and Dannon meet, Dannon tells him that Mason’s retired and there’s no doubt that it’s a permanent retirement with no plans to return. Marker agrees to tell Dannon first if he finds Jenny, but it’s obvious that he won’t (and this will spell trouble for Frank).
Marker eventually tracks Jenny down, but she’s not prepared to listen to him or return home to her mother.
MARKER: Look, your friend Mason did a deal with one of the retail flesh merchants. Now according to the agreement you should be working for them.
JENNY: Really? First I heard of it.
MARKER: Well you ran off on the day he made the deal.
MARKER: Look, these people are not to be fooled about with, you know.
JENNY: I’ll bear it in mind.
MARKER: You’ve heard of the girls who end up in the river, naked and dead? Well it wasn’t Jack the Ripper, it was girls just like you, girls who stepped out of line, who wouldn’t do what they were told.
JENNY: Which was?
MARKER: A girl has a certain lifespan, did you know that? Every now and again they like to juggle the faces.
Dannon obviously had somebody following Marker, as after he left Jenny some of his associates picked her up – and dumped Frank into the river. Marker then considers the case closed – he tried to persuade Jenny to return home, she refused and he regards his dip in the river as a clear warning. If he interferes again, they’ll kill him like they did Mason.
So sadly, Jenny has to be written off. And her meeting with Dannon is a chilling moment. She tells him that he can’t force her. “Oh my dear, it’s the easiest thing in the world. I shouldn’t be saying this of course, because I’m only an agent in the transaction, but these people they have their ways. They have, ah, what do they call it? A battery farm. Even the most rebellious become totally compliant”.
If Jenny is now beyond Frank’s assistance, then the episode does end on a hopeful note since he’s able to help another young runaway, Sue Forbes (Susan Burnet). Which causes him to remark that “the morning wasn’t so hot, maybe the afternoon will be a bit better”.
An uncompromising story, Alfred Burke continues to impress (soaking his feet after a hard day pounding the streets is a nice, realistic touch!). Philip Madoc is always worth watching, especially when he’s playing menacing (which he did an awful lot). It’s hard to warm to Jenny, but Carole Ann Ford does manage to express a certain vulnerability in the last few minutes when she realises she’s in too deep. It’s certainly a change of role following her year on Doctor Who, and was exactly the sort of part she wanted – a chance to do something different.
Straker is intrigued when a UFO targets a Naval vessel in the Atlantic. But when he presses for further details from the Admiralty he gets stonewalled, so he has to find out what he needs to know another way.
Although he has the latest cutting-edge technology at his disposal, he decides to obtain the information in the old-fashioned way – with a mole. He asks Paul Foster to seduce the Admiral’s secretary and find out everything that he can. And even more eye-opening than this, Straker asks Foster to do it after he’s taken him out for a round of golf. I never pictured Straker as a golfer, I have to say.
The Admiral’s secretary, Sarah Bosanquet (Stephanie Beacham), is rather gorgeous so this isn’t Foster’s most demanding mission. But things get more complicated when he realises Sarah is passing information to the aliens. And eventually the full story comes out – the Navy are dumping barrels of highly toxic nerve gas, which for some reason the aliens have decided to destroy. If they succeed, then the gas is capable of wiping out all life on the planet!
Dennis Spooner was a new writer to UFO, and it’s possible that he hadn’t studied the programme format too closely, as it’s totally out of character for the aliens to want to destroy all life on Earth. Up until know, all the evidence has pointed to the fact that they need to harvest humans for body parts in order to survive, so why the drastic change?
As so often, there’s no answer given, but notwithstanding this, Destruction is a very decent episode with a strong guest cast. Apart from Stephanie Beacham, there’s also Edwin Richfield as Admiral Sheringham and Philip Madoc as Captain Steven. There’s possibly a little too much stock footage of naval vessels, but that’s only a minor niggle.
This story is also notable for being the second in this production block to feature Wanda Ventham as Colonel Virginia Lake. She had appeared in the first story, Identified, and after George Sewell was unavailable for the second recording block it seems his lines were ported directly over to Colonel Lake.
No mention is made of Freeman’s absence or Lake’s sudden appearance, because these episodes were dropped into the whole run of 26 at various points. This must have been somewhat confusing for viewers at the time, as characters would appear and disappear at regular intervals.
The somewhat haphazard transmission order has meant that over the years many fans have debated the best order to watch the series in. I’ve followed the order on the Carlton DVDs, which was suggested by Fanderson and is generally held to be as good as any other. For anyone who wants to look into this thorny issue further, then this is a good place to start.
A Question of Priorities is a key Straker episode. Ed Bishop always had a difficult role to play in UFO, since Straker is usually such a single-minded, humourless man. A Question of Priorities is one of two episodes (Confetti Check A-Ok is the other) which helps to shine a light on his personal life.
After returning his son, Johnny, home to his ex-wife Mary after a day out, the boy is hit by a car. He’s in a critical condition and requires a special anti-allergenic antibiotic that is still on the experimental list. Straker orders that a supply of the drug be flown on a SHADO craft from the USA.
However, news of a crashed UFO in Ireland causes Freeman to divert the craft. Mary is understandably distraught when she learns that something has delayed the arrival of the drugs. So what is the top priority for Straker? Capturing the alien or the life of his son?
This is one of the best stories in the whole run and manages to juggle both plot threads – the rush to save Johnny’s life as well as the mystery of the alien – very well.
As mentioned previously, it brings the human side of Straker into sharp relief. His ex-wife Mary (an excellent performance by Suzanne Neve) clearly has many resentments still lingering (which will be explained in a later episode) and expresses some of this frustration when Straker tells her that something important has delayed the delivery of the antibiotics: “Important!? What can be more important than your own son’s life!?”
The ever-dependable Philip Madoc hasn’t much to do as Mary’s new partner except glower (although he’ll have a better role as a different character in a forthcoming episode).
After visiting his son in the hospital, Straker returns to SHADO HQ. He hasn’t told anyone, not even Freeman, about his son’s accident although Freeman senses that something is amiss. This is another sign of the rigid compartmentalisation of Straker’s life – when he’s at SHADO then nothing else, not even the fact his son is fighting for his life, is allowed to interfere with the job.
The Ireland sub-plot is interesting, we see the alien set up a transmitter in the house of an elderly blind woman (Mary Merrell). The alien apparently wanted SHADO to pick up his transmissions as it seems he wished to defect, an interesting story development.
The ending of the story is bleak beyond belief. The alien is killed by another UFO and Johnny dies as well. Straker’s juggling of priorities couldn’t have turned out worse, SHADO failed to get any information from the alien and he has also lost his son.
If A Question of Priorites tells us anything, it’s that whilst Straker has ordinary, human feelings, his devotion to duty and to SHADO would appear to be his overriding motivation. And it cost him his marriage and now the life of his son.
Whilst the modelwork and the bright day-glo nature of the settings have caused many to bracket UFO along with Anderson’s 1960’s Supermarionation series, there are often much more adult themes running through the series than anything he previously produced. Some of the episodes are fine kids fare, but others, like this one, do certainly pack an emotional punch.