S03E01 (6th October 1971). Written by Elwyn Jones, directed by Simon Langton
As ever, the dynamic between Barlow and Watt is fascinating. Barlow, having been away for a while, returns to find that Watt’s been efficiently minding the shop in his absence (although Watt hasn’t been averse to rifling through Barlow’s mail). Has Barlow really been romantically involved with a female informer young enough to be his daughter? The evidence of his mail suggests so but he’s not letting on.
Barlow’s keen to keep the others on their toes, intending to come down hard on any tawdry response times. But Watt rather spoils this plan by tipping the others off ….
It’s impossible not to notice that Barlow has returned to Thamesford a lovely shade of orange. This is because he’s been starring in a three-part spin off (Barlow at Large) which aired in September 1971, just before the start of SS:TF series 3. Eventually Stratford Johns would depart SS:TF for this series, so we should make the most of him here whilst we can.
WDC Donald has sadly departed and WDC Forest (Julie Hallam) has been swiftly slotted in as her replacement. Watt seems to be keen on her (“a cracker”). First impressions are that she’s a jolly sort as well as being practical (diving without hesitation into the canal to rescue one of the villains who’s suddenly realised he can’t swim).
The fact that Forest has been in place for a few months means she’s already on good terms with the regulars (accepting the offer of a pint with Evans and bantering affably with Harry Hawkins).
A hairy Tom Chadbon (playing Andrews, one of three textile warehouse robbers) and a cravat wearing Michael Sheard (as Dickenson, the keyholder of the warehouse) are the most familiar faces guesting.
Andrews’ main skill is handling dogs (a canine whisperer, he’s easily able to deal with the rather vicious guard dogs on site). A tense dog-related stand off then develops when the Task Force turn up. Andrews and the others are trapped inside the warehouse, the dogs have been released and are roaming the yard with Hawkins the only one brave enough to chance his arm.
He loses his trousers and his dignity to the vicious canines, but I suppose it could have been worse.
A low-key sort of crime then, but Chadbon’s excellent value and the byplay between the regulars (a nice scene between Snow and Evans, for example) is typically solid. Elwyn Jones’ script is a slow burn (we open with Watt pottering around Barlow’s office) but you have to remember that we’re in an era when series openers felt under no pressure to be spectacular. And that’s fine by me.