Gideon’s Way – The Nightlifers

nightlifers

Peter Sloane (Anton Rodgers) is the leader of a group of rich and bored young people who turn to crime in order to relieve their ennui.  Sloane becomes addicted to random acts of violence, but whilst he appears to have no conscience, others, such as Tim Coles (Derek Fowlds), aren’t so cold-blooded.  And as they begin to squabble amongst themselves, Gideon and the others start to close in ….

Whilst it’s true that the first sight we have of Sloane is likely to elicit more of a smile than terror (with his Beatle wig and dark glasses) his instability is quickly demonstrated after he and Sue Young (Annette Andre) rob a greasy spoon cafe.  The owners are a friendly-looking couple in their fifties, which gives Sloane’s attack on the man and woman even more of an impact.  It’s no surprise that we don’t see the blows delivered to the woman, but director John Llewellyn Moxey still ensures the scene carries a punch by cutting away to Sue’s face.  She watches Sloane’s attack with a degree of amusement, which also serves as shorthand to indicate she’s on a similar wavelength to him.

The subsequent scene, as Sloane and Sue make their getaway in a car with Coles and Tony King (James Hunter), sets up the character dynamics of the four very clearly.  Coles finds Sloane’s violence both repugnant and unnecessary, whilst King says nothing.  Later, Sloane explains his philosophy to all of them .  “This nation is soft, flabby. A mass of gutless wonders led by a handful of little grey people in power. The only time Britain accomplishes anything is when we’re at war. War brings out the best in people, they develop virility of spirit.”

When Keen looks in on the crime scene on his way home (with, naturally, a beautiful young woman in tow) he reacts with a degree of bitter humour after Det. Insp. Caldwell (Roddy McMillan) suggests that the attack could be the work of teenagers, doing it for kicks.   If it is, then Keen indicates that even if they’re caught they’ll face no particular punishment.  Caldwell agrees as he ironically tells Keen to “remember, teenage crime is an environmental problem.”  It’s a rare example of cynicism in the series, since it suggests that sometimes crime does pay.

Anton Rodgers might have been pushing it a bit by attempting to play a young tearaway (he was in his early thirties at the time) but though he’s a tad long in the tooth he’s still very compelling.  Sloane’s arrogance and unswerving belief in his own invulnerability are captured well by Rodgers and this makes his eventual downfall even more satisfying.  Derek Fowlds has a good role as Coles, the only member of the gang with a conscience, whilst James Hunter (star of an excellent episode of Out of the UnknownThirteen to Centaurus) has less to do but still has a few key scenes, especially when Sloane suggests they rob King’s aunt and uncle.

The generation gap (“kids these days” says Gideon) is debated.  Gideon regards the youth of today with a jaundiced eye, whilst his wife Kate is more forgiving and sees many parallels with her own youth.  “In our day it was fast sports cars, parties on the river, Duke Ellington, chianti out of those wicker-basketed bottles.”  When Gideon counters that nowadays kids go around beating people up she responds that only a few do, but it’s not enough to convince him.  “Kate, they’re violent, restless. Sometimes I think they’re even half crazy.”

The long arm of coincidence sees Keen’s latest girlfriend Elspeth McRae (Jean Marsh) invited to the next party aboard Sloane’s houseboat by Sue (both are models).  When Keen learns about it he also goes along, as by now the police have got an interest in Sloane.  Keen and Elspeth share a similar discussion about young people to George and Kate Gideon  – and with similar results, Keen is pessimistic whilst Elspeth is optimistic.

Gideon’s Way was never a social-realism series, so the theme of youth crime (violence, drink, drugs) does end up being handled a little uneasily.  But whilst no-one could mistake this for an episode of 1970’s crime dramas like The Sweeney or Target, it does possess an undeniable period charm, helped by the first-rate guest cast.  And thanks to the likes of Rodgers and Fowlds this is one of the strongest episodes out of the twenty six made.

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