Dixon of Dock Green Episode Review: Sounds

Continuing in our series reviewing the surviving episodes of Dixon of Dock Green currently airing on Talking Pictures TV, this week I will discuss 1974’s Sounds.

Originally broadcast by the BBC on the 13th April 1974, Sounds is only two months on from the previous surviving episode Harry’s Back. Thus it is similar in mood and offers a greater sense of continuity than some of the longer time gaps between previously broadcast episodes. This is the third of four surviving episodes from series 20, then we will move onto a run of six from series 21.

The story…

The opening of this episode is as understated and lightly intriguing as ever. We see a woman and a little girl enter a flat above a shop. The woman looks nervous. When she finds the flat door ajar at the top of the stairs, she sends the girl outside to play. The woman makes a telephone call.

We cut to Dock Green police station and WPC Hawkins answers the phone at the front desk. The woman stops talking abruptly. Meanwhile, DI Andy Crawford has approached the front desk, quickly deciding to get onto tracing the phone call. Sgt George Dixon takes over the phone call, while WPC Hawkins sets up the tape recorder to make a record of any noises they may later be able to distinguish. A little girl comes on the line. George asks where she is and if Mummy can come to the phone. The little girl says mummy has fallen and is “asleep”. George asks what her name is, but she can’t tell him her surname. The line soon goes dead.

The investigation…

Then the hunt is on. The call was not long enough for the location to be traced. Andy takes the tape into his office and they try to pinpoint some of the sounds in order to narrow the search area.

They employ a series of techniques to track down the woman and child. A local sound expert is brought in to work on the tape, rather than taking the extra time required to take it to the Police experts. Constables are deployed for door-to-door enquiries. They organise a mobile public address asking for information. They even rope in a Swedish sea captain to measure the locations where his ship’s horn–heard on the tape–can be heard at the same volume as on the recording. Eventually, the area is narrowed down and by a lucky break they pinpoint the exact location to a printing shop.

Andy goes round with his Detective Sergeant. By the time they arrive, there is no one there. But they continue to investigate. After finding that she had Dock Green station’s direct phone number on the wall, they realise that she must have needed help: after all, she could have just dialled 999.

They find out her name, Mrs Anne Turner, from the landlord and something of her circumstances from the local benefits office. Andy is still determined to track her down. Another of the phone numbers she has on the wall is of a security firm. One of their officers, Davis, comes round to the station in answer to the police inquiry as to the connection. When he then takes it upon himself to meet Andy at the flat, alarm bells begin to ring. He is ingratiatingly helpful, “suddenly remembering” on his way round that they had someone by the name of Turner working for them.

Davis then sets about trying to discredit her. He insinuates that she is trouble, that she went out with several of the firm’s employees, and always came to work late. Half-willing to believe him, Andy returns to the Police station. Meanwhile we see the man phone Anne from a call box. He instructs her to phone the police and tell them she is fine. He threatens her if she doesn’t follow through. We see the call received at the station, but they aren’t convinced.

The wrapping up…

A constable in a patrol car sees Anne and little Janey on the street and takes them back to the station. She has bad bruising to her face. Jack Warner really comes into his own during this exchange between George and Anne. He wants her to give a statement, but she won’t admit that it was her husband who assaulted her.

In the meantime, Davis returns to the station at Andy’s invitation. Andy confronts him, when Davis reveals himself as Anne’s husband. In one particularly chilling and enraging line, he lets Andy know that he is aware they can’t prosecute him without Anne’s testimony. Peter Byrne brings understated loathing to this scene. He reflects the feeling of the audience, a powerlessness.

At the same time, George is trying to persuade Anne to make a statement accusing her husband. But she won’t. George’s monologue at the end informs us that she wouldn’t give any evidence against him and so the police were unable to charge Davis with any crime.

My impressions…

Sounds is quite possibly one of the strongest episodes in the run of survivors so far. It is a kind of hybrid between the station-bound episodes of the early years and the location-based action episodes of later years.

The first third of the episode is about 90% police procedural. It is fascinating to watch the logical chain of reasoning and process which Andy, George and all their colleagues follow. Every action and decision is made with economy to ensure they get to Anne as soon as possible.

Then, once they know that there is domestic abuse going on, they shift gears. There is a remarkable level of quite modern thinking within George’s dialogue. To point that the physical abuse going on in a home can mentally affect a child seems very ahead of its time.

George seems upset and frustrated, understanding that Anne is being coerced. This is a comparably modern idea. It has taken until the last few years to properly cover this type of abuse in soaps and the like. To acknowledge the long-standing consequences of such behaviour is still fairly new and in some corners not yet universally accepted.

Sounds is another example of how deeply Dixon of Dock Green went into the human experience. The subtlety with which tough issues like this are dealt is both impressive and imperative. They keep from being explicit: we don’t see any physical attack happening, everything is implied. We see bruises later, we see the fear, the surrender in Anne’s eyes and her delusion that she should put up with the bad because there is sometimes good too. This means that we are able to get so close to the emotion, the bleakness, the truth of it.

Other shows of the time might have used sensationalized scenes of violence and shouting. This can create a certain amount of distance between us and the characters. Because Dixon refrains from this and instead uses suggestion and the emotional result of the violence only, we are able to surrender to being drawn completely in. It is safe, and safe is not always a bad thing. In fact, Dixon is not sheltering us from anything. We know exactly what has happened to Anne. We know that her husband emotionally manipulates her and blames her for his control of and attacks on her. It allows us to get right to the heart of things without reeling to a safe distance from a disturbing physical display. It is incredibly clever and effective. Once again, bravo Dixon of Dock Green.

In conclusion…

Dixon of Dock Green proves once again, with Sounds, to be anything but cosy. The acting is as always superb. These characters feel so real. The only clanger here might be the use of a non-Swedish actor to play Captain Erickson. The writing for this character seemed designed mainly to highlight his Swedishness, rather than much narrative function. However, everyone else was great. Peter Byrne and Jack Warner just are DI Crawford and Sgt Dixon. Michael Graham Cox was creepy and intimidating as the abuser Davis. Marion Lines was strong and very believable as the resigned Anne Turner.

Jack Warner somehow manages to be the calmest policeman with the strongest sense of justice. His calm threat to have Davis thrown out of the station tells us exactly how contemptible he believes him to be.

Dixon of Dock Green is discussing abuse and its consequences in 1974. To my awareness, this conversation has only just begun in earnest on a large scale in the last four or five years. They were so ahead of their time. They point out that this abuse is so often allowed to continue because of coercive control, convincing the victim that they are at fault and they aren’t worthy of better treatment. This show had so much integrity and I feel privileged to have the opportunity of highlighting it.

In case you missed it, you can catch up onĀ Sounds on Talking Pictures TV Encore until 18th May 2024. Dixon of Dock Green airs every Saturday evening on Talking Pictures TV at 7 pm.

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