Callan – Rules of the Game

rules of the game

Written by Ray Jenkins. Directed by Voytek

Bishop orders the Section to harass a Russian cultural attache called Medov (Mike Pratt).  Callan is told that a British diplomat was recently expelled from Moscow, so this is in the nature of a tit-for-tat exercise.  Cross is assigned to wage psychological warfare on him and ultimately engineer a situation that will force him to be recalled.  But Bishop hasn’t been entirely honest with Callan and when Cross decides to involve Medov’s family it has dire consequences …..

Rules of the Game could be seen as the first of a two-parter which concludes the story of James Cross (the repercussions from the events here are a major factor in the following episode).  Ever since Cross was introduced at the start of series three – Where Else Could I Go? – he’s been something of a loose cannon.  But since the Section is such a dehumanising place it’s not surprising that it breeds a certain type of very dysfunctional person.

Rules of the Game offers us a close examination of exactly how he operates.  Medov seems to be a blameless figure, but that’s of little concern to Cross since he’s got his orders and is happy to carry them out.  He therefore stands in complete contrast to Callan – a man who never stops questioning.  As Callan later tells Bishop.  “I was trained never to take anyone or anything on trust. You start off with one simple premise – everything smells. Yourself, the job you’re doing and the man who tells you to do it. You’re told something, you test the opposite.”

Any available resource is fair game for Cross, so Medov’s wife Alevtina (Virginia Stride) and daughter Danera (Verna Harvey) are simply there to be used (Callan tells him at the start that they aren’t his concern, but he reluctantly agrees later they can be used as leverage).  Nuisance phone calls help to ramp up the pressure, but it’s not enough to force Medov’s hand – so more extreme measures have to be taken.

As might be expected, it’s a messy ending.  Medov’s daughter is critically injured by Cross and Medov surprises Callan by asking to defect.  The brief meeting between Callan and Medov is a powerful ending to the story.  Medov’s life has been destroyed – but who was ultimately to blame?  Was it Cross for lashing out at Danera or was Bishop, the man who gave the orders, more culpable?

Patrick Mower is excellent in this episode.  It’s a pity that he didn’t stay on for the remainder of series four as the Callan/Cross/Meres triangle would have been an interesting one.  Presumably it was felt that now Anthony Valentine had returned the character of Cross was somewhat surplus to requirements.

But it’s also just as much Mike Pratt’s episode as it is Patrick Mower’s.  Although Pratt will always be best known for Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) he packed a great deal into a relatively short career (he died in 1976, aged just 45).  Apart from many other film and television credits, he also was a skilled musician and turned his hand to script-writing, penning episodes for several television series, including Randall and Hopkirk.

With the battle of wills between Medov and Cross taking centre stage, it does mean that Callan is rather pushed to the sidelines.  But on the plus side Woodward shares some nice scenes with James Cossins (who plays the effete spy Neville Dennis).  Cossins was always such a reliable supporting actor (and if you don’t know the name, you’re certain to recognise his face and voice).  His byplay with Woodward provides some light relief in an otherwise dark episode.

One slight script flaw is that Bishop tells Callan this will be his first job as Hunter (which rather ignores the previous episode).  But on the plus side this scene gives us a chance to see Bishop’s office – which is very large and very sparsely furnished (it certainly impresses Callan).

A character-heavy piece with little action, Rules of the Game is another quality installment of a very consistent series.

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