Dixon of Dock Green Episode Review: Domino

We now begin the final leg of our reviews covering the surviving episodes of Dixon of Dock Green. This review concerns the first episode of the final series of the police procedural, Domino. Domino first aired on BBC One on 13th March 1976.

The Story…

Domino concerns the disappearance of a rich young girl, Annabelle Sturmer. She brings her father’s boat–taken without permission–into a boatyard in Dock Green. Ron Mason (Alan Lake) helps her to moor up and spends some time with her. We gather from his colleagues that he is a habitual womaniser.

Meanwhile, PC Dunne (Stephen Marsh) returns from a spot of plain-clothes work with expectations that he might graduate to CID. Sgt Johnny Wills (Nicholas Donnelly) informs him he is to train as the new Collator. It turns out that George Dixon (Jack Warner) has taken the role and will give Dunne all the training he needs.

Meanwhile, Ron’s colleagues suspect him of harming Annabelle when they hear the sound of a gunshot at the boatyard and see him throw something overboard from her boat. They don’t let on when Dock Green Police begin looking for her. Her father has been in touch and wants his boat found.

DS Bruton and DC Clayton, the new members of CID stationed at Dock Green, try to find out her whereabouts. George, Wills and Dunne contribute to the team effort trying to find out what happened to her. They become convinced that Ron has done away with her. His wife, played by frequent guest artist Gwyneth Powell, surmises he must have been unfaithful to her again when the Police ask questions. She leaves, adding to Ron’s desperation. Then the boatyard owner sacks him, believing he has been pocketing the mooring fees when he can get away with it.

Clayton then locates him at the boatyard. Ron flees, realising he is accused of theft and feeling desperate. A chase results in his accidental demise. Clayton feels remorseful at the outcome of his handling of the situation.

To conclude the plot, Annabelle turns up at the end, safe and well. She had just taken herself away without letting anyone know.

The episode closes with a short monologue to camera from George, in which he wraps up the case, as usual.

My Impressions…

Domino feels like a very different programme to the one we left at the end of series 21. There is no opening monologue from George Dixon. The title sequence is different again, with a strange combination of the old and new: flashing-lights-style lettering for the title of the show and a sort of dusty-looking file underneath. We still got a closing piece-to-camera from Jack Warner at the end, but then the credits roll over an indifferent piece of footage of the river. It feels ill-fitting and made with less love than all the previous years, somehow.

I had referred many times to Dixon remaining contemporary in each of its eras. This led to comparisons between it and shows which receive far more praise in hindsight, such as The Sweeney from Thames Television. Usually, my point was that Dixon managed to sit alongside this type of programme, without compromising its integrity, subtlety and intention.

Unfortunately, it now feels as if those compliments I paid that giant of a series are no longer true. Whenever a major change happened in previous times, it worked because of the unwavering characterisations of the regular cast. Peter Byrne and Jack Warner carried that show through all its eras by making sure that we felt safe with these very real people they had created.

The changes made for the final series are sadly too great for Jack Warner to counter on his own, I think. The reassurance of having George Dixon there is not enough to mitigate the differences.

I liked the explanation of Andy Crawford’s exit. I think it was a fitting next stage for the character, especially considering the subject matter in his last episode, Conspiracy. Everything surrounding the existing characters was, for me, well handled. I also liked the general plot. It was in-keeping with the type of story generally covered in Dixon of Dock Green – and the only compelling element of Domino.

Even the idea that George Dixon is filling this new role–which suddenly seems the most important in the police force, despite never having been mentioned before–makes some sense. After all, he has always been the central character tying everything else together. Sgt Flint (Arthur Rigby) used to fill that role as the Desk Sergeant, then George when he took over that position. The importance of The Collator is just about believable, and more fitting for a man of Jack Warner’s advancing years than standing around in uniform.

Where it felt incongruous was in the characterisation of the two new CID officers, DC Len Clayton (Ben Howard) and DS Alan Bruton (Richard Heffer). I can only speak for my own impression of things. But to me those characters felt like lazy stereotypes. The plot allowed us to understand Clayton’s character by the end. He regrets what happened and this shows us that he has a conscience.

But, from the beginning, it almost felt as if Heffer and Howard had both been given the brief “act it as if you’re auditioning for The Sweeney“. There is even a line when Clayton tells Mason to get his shoes on so that he can come down to the station. For me this couldn’t help but feel like a direct response to the much-quoted Jack Regan (John Thaw) line “Get your trousers on, you’re nicked!”.

This is so unsatisfying. Dixon always felt measured and real in its dialogue. They never sensationalized things, but kept it real. Where there was grit, it belonged and was done sparingly. There was the natural humour which exists between longtime colleagues. There was a genuine feeling of duty and desire to protect and help people. And all of the long-running police characters helped to promote faith in the police as a whole because it showed the human side.

With throwaway lines and an attitude of “this is all too much bother” portrayed by the CID personnel, this no longer exists. They don’t make the audience feel like they would help you if you approached them. I fear that it is this final series which means the entirety of the show is regarded with such contempt in hindsight.

In Conclusion…

I am very willing to keep an open mind and see whether the rest of the series grows on me. I’m certainly not going to give up watching when I know there are only seven more episodes to go. Though I can say with almost certainty that I would likely have stopped watching after that episode when it was originally broadcast.

I maintain that they should have given Dixon and Andy that amazing ending some years earlier and continued the series simply as Dock Green, with Peter Byrne as DI Crawford at the helm. This show misses him. I expect many people would have expected Jack Warner to be enough to keep viewers. But Peter Byrne had also been there since the very beginning. He appeared in every episode until this last series. He was bound to leave a very sizeable hole. And the characters they have written to replace him just don’t have the time to develop to the point where we feel comfortable enough to trust them to fill his shoes.

I shall be back next week to discuss The Job, episode two in series 22.

If you missed Domino, you can still catch up with it on Talking Pictures TV Encore until 13th July 2024. It will also be broadcast in a few weeks’ time in the delayed-run of episodes which air on Wednesday evenings.

Dixon of Dock Green airs every Saturday evening on Talking Pictures TV at 7 pm.

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