Target was the opening story of Dixon’s twenty first series (originally broadcast on the 15th of February 1975). It’s a slow burner of an episode, as it takes a long while to establish who the target is, but there’s plenty of interest before the plot really kicks into action.
We open in a supermarket and the camera follows a man we later learn is called Smith (Anthony Steel). He’s clearly not a well man as he staggers outside in a barely conscious state. Vere Lorrimer’s camerawork in the early part of the episode quite effectively illustrates Smith’s distressed state (the cameras of this era are too bulky to be used hand-held, but there’s more fluidity in some shots than you’d normally expect).
When Smith exits the supermarket, the sounds of drilling trigger a flashback – and for a split-second Smith believes he hears gunfire and that the young black man, Winston Dallas (Willie Jonah), who’s concerned for his well-being is an enemy. Winston manages to get Smith back to his flat, but Smith then pulls a gun and Winston flees. This is enough to involve the coppers at Dock Green, but when they arrive they find complications – as Smith’s flat is already being watched.
There’s some nice humourous touches in Ben Bassett’s script. When Crawford realises that three Special Branch officers have been staking out the flat (complete with a tent, pretending to be workman) he takes great pleasure in telling them that every criminal worth his salt knows about that particular dodge. Wills later remarks that they tried to catch Jack the Ripper with a tent! Mike Brewer then waylays a French onion seller and offers him a tidy sum of money so he can borrow his bike, onions and beret. Did French onion sellers, especially such cliched ones ever exist? Well they do here.
The Special Branch officers tell Crawford that they’re waiting for the arrival of a man called Kumal (Yashaw Adem), who was responsible for a particularly brutal massacre in Central Africa. Smith is a friend and colleague, so they’re confident he’ll show up.
Once Smith recovers from his bout of malaria, his character’s drawn out thanks to several conversations with the owner of the flat, Joyce Baird (Freda Knorr). Anthony Steel is excellent in these scenes – Smith is a man who’s unrepentant that his profession is killing, but he’s not a mindless thug. Mercenaries like him regularly featured in the news back in the seventies (and in films such as The Wild Geese) and whilst such a character has less resonance today, thanks to Steel’s performance it’s still compelling.
As for Dixon himself, he has little to do, which is rather surprising for a series opener – instead Crawford and Brewer handle most of the action. Although there’s a little gunplay along the way, it’s still far removed from action-orientated series such as The Sweeney. Instead, Target is a decent character piece and a solid start to this series.