Dixon of Dock Green Episode Review: Target

This next in our series of reviews on surviving episodes of Dixon of Dock Green airing on Talking Pictures TV focuses on Target.

Target originally aired on 15th February 1975, the first episode in series 21. There are only five more which survive before the format changes in the final series.

The Story…

The episode opens with George Dixon’s rather vague introduction to the idea of a person bringing hope by the mere fact of their existence. A man named Smith, who has apparently lived a hard life but always survives… We then see a local supermarket. A man is browsing. He looks unwell and a young man–whose name we later learn is Winston Dallas (Willie Jonah)–approaches to ask if he’s alright. The man ignores him and leaves the shop but the young man and his wife (Floella Benjamin) follow out of concern. Once in the street, Winston continues trying to help. Eventually the man collapses and Winston searches his pockets for an address or identity, while his wife brings their car around. A passer-by walking a dog sees this and misinterprets things.

Winston finds an address in the man’s pocket. The man has a flashback as he looks up at Winston, half caused by the noise of nearby roadworks. It seems, from this brief flashback shot, to be implied that the man has been involved in a conflict somewhere in Africa. The passer-by phones the police. He tells them a man is being robbed “by this coloured bloke”. A stamp of racism is very firmly placed, especially as he sees what he thinks is Winston and his wife abducting the man in their car. They take him to the address in his pocket and Winston gets him upstairs.

The lady who lives below hears noises from above and grows suspicious. Winston is hot from carrying the man up the stairs so helps himself to a drink of water. As he does so, the man regains consciousness and pulls a gun on him. Winston runs away, causing further concern to the woman downstairs. She eventually goes up to see him. Through their exchange we find out that she is in government employ abroad most of the time. She is also the owner of the house. He has had malaria at some stage which flares up and causes attacks like the one earlier in the day.

We soon see DI Andy Crawford and Sgt Brewer with the passer-by, looking for the supposed robber. They get a report from George that a man has reported being threatened with a gun.

We then see some men in a workmen’s tent. They are watching the house where Smith is, through binoculars. George and Sgt Wills (Nicholas Donnelly) find out that no company or local authority has informed the police of the works in progress, as would normally be done. The “workmen” have a radio inside the tent and begin to seem like either crooks or law enforcement agents of some kind. Andy and his colleagues are suspicious of their apparent interest in Smith’s residence.

Andy approaches them and it transpires that they are officers of another branch of law enforcement. They reluctantly agree to cooperate with the Dock Green police. They all join forces against a known terrorist believed to be on his way to visit Smith.

In order to gain surreptitious entry to the house, Mike Brewer borrows a French onion seller’s bike and clothes. He gains entry to the house and explains the situation to the landlady. The terrorist soon arrives at the house and is spooked by the two other branch officers. He waves a machine gun around, terrifying a group of schoolgirls and their teacher. Once he gains entry to the house, Mike tries to disarm him. Mr Smith has evidently been his commanding officer at some point and tries to calm him. He fires his gun at the ceiling, with the landlady in his grasp. Mike and the two officers cannot overpower him.

George and the Dock Green team have been waiting outside. They are alerted by the gunshots and rush round to the back of the property, just in time for Andy and Sgt Wills to apprehend him.

The wrapping up is a little vague as it hints at the possibility of Mr Smith and the landlady getting married.

My Impressions…

As the credits roll on Target, it feels like I have just watched a bit of a mish-mash. My initial impression is that it doesn’t feel as strong as some other episodes. However, it only takes a moment to realise that there were definitely stand-out scenes and ideas.

The way that Andy, George and Sgt Wills all laugh at the department doing surveillance is delightful. It is also satisfying: they are ridiculing what they consider to be outdated methods. This coming from a show which was probably viewed by some at the time as old-fashioned in itself is pleasingly ironic.

I must touch on that then: is this episode of Dixon old-fashioned? In my opinion, no it is not. It isn’t slow and it doesn’t bungle its way through anything. There is no miraculous luck here or unsatisfying ending. In fact, I’m fairly sure that a similar plot exists in an episode of The Professionals. And, in this case, the Doyle and Bodie roles are taken by Andy Crawford – a copper from the fifties – and Mike Brewer.

The rather brief touch on the potential for racism by the Police is handled a little clunkily. However, using another marginalised character to explain the unfairness of discrimination to Andy works well. The fact that the passer-by also assumed that Winston must be robbing Smith rather than helping him merely illustrates the attitude of a large contingent of people at the time.

There is a moment when the onion seller approaches the police car in which George and Wills are waiting, when he tries to communicate with them in French. I expected George to jump in: after all, in the episode The Hot Seat when the show went to Paris for the Dixon family’s holiday, he spoke fluent French and we learnt that he had lived in France for a time when he was younger. This is, however, the only inconsistency with George’s character and history that I have observed in the previous 20 series. It is a rare error, but understandable since The Hot Seat was broadcast 15 years previously.

I loved the mocking laughter of Andy and his colleagues at the amateurish approach of the department using a workmen’s tent for surveillance. Sgt Wills observes that they used that method to try to catch Jack the Ripper. He, Brewer and Andy have a great laugh about it. It completely fits the mood of the time. Other shows were doing just that: showing the inter-departmental jealousy and disapproval.

In Conclusion…

Once again, Dixon of Dock Green is somehow ahead of its time. Yet again it manages to slip under the radar. How on earth did this show ever get saddled with such a cosy and unflattering image? I look forward with eagerness to seeing the next five surviving instalments of series 21.

In case you missed it, you can catch up with Target on Talking Pictures TV Encore until 1st June 2024. You can also catch it later on in the delayed run being broadcast on Wednesday evenings on Talking Pictures TV. Dixon of Dock Green airs every Saturday evening at 7 pm on Talking Pictures TV.

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