Skip to main content

If I was you guv, I’d change dentist.

The Avengers
2.10: The Mauritius Penny

As the title suggests, The Mauritius Penny ostensibly revolves around stamp collecting, but revealed beneath its philatelic trappings is a particularly diabolical plot to wrest power in England and Europe. As such, it’s very much looking to the way the series will go. It’s also blessed with a fine cast including Richard "Slartibartfast" Vernon and Alfred "Public Eye" Burke.


This was Terrance Dicks and Malcolm Hulke’s first work on the series, preceding their most celebrated ‘70s contributions to Doctor Who; either together or solo they would contribute nine scripts. Perhaps unsurprisingly from Hulke, England is depicted as a land with a propensity for totalitarianism behind its polite façade. The costumes of those planning a “new Britain” are pretty much those of the Nazi party, but for insignia, and their leader Lord Matterley (Vernon; his involvement is structured as a revelation, but there was never much doubt it would be him) professes a desire to “return to the traditions that made this country great”, a nostalgia for an age that never was frequently found among the extreme right leaning.


Matterley is most amusingly allowed to sign off his climactic meeting before being led away, opining that, owing to unforeseen elements, the greatest day in British history, the day of the new rule, must be postponed. Coming over almost metatextually, Cathy comments “You didn’t really think you could take over this country with a few fanatics in fancy dress, did you?” It isn’t so far from the Doctor’s comment in Terror of the Zygons regarding “just about” six Zygons plans to take over the planet.


Lord Matterley: Someone’s fainted.
Steed: I’m not surprised at these prices.

All this stamp collecting is merely a cover for nefarious activities, of course, unbeknownst to stamp shop owner Percy Peckham (Harry Shacklock), who is shot by his assistant Goodchild (Philip Guard) in the first scene when he happens across a list referencing “The Mauritius Penny” (the code name of Matterley). Among Cathy’s many skills, “Philately is one of your subjects isn’t it?” and she advises Steed that discovering a Mauritius Penny this way is “like seeing a Leonard da Vinci advertised at your local news agency”.


She’s less adept at going undercover here, though, sniffed out almost immediately by Burke’s Brown, who gives her the job as it’s “the best way to keep an eye on her”. He proceeds to get judo chopped, but Burke is superb in the capable henchman role, instinctively suspicious of both Steed and Mrs Gale and using the stamp auction to kill the troublesome Goodchild at the fall of the auctioneer’s gavel.


Cathy might not do too well undercover, but she gets the last laugh on Steed, winding him up that the batch of dusty old stamp books he has bought contains a priceless item. There’s much humour in this episode, most of it revolving around Steed (“Oh Freckles, I’ll never understand your sex” he confesses to his pooch after Cathy doesn’t take kindly to his comments about her capacity for subtlety). His cleaning lady Elsie (Grace Arnold), doing the hovering with Steed out cold on the floor, assumes he’s had “another of your all night parties, Mr Steed” and later he suggests that her little boy might collect stamps (“You know perfectly well, I’m not married” she admonishes).


The scene in which Steed arrives on the floor sees him visited by two individuals purporting to be officers of the law, intent on getting hold of the wallet he swiped from the fallen Goodyear (“Membership of three strip clubs and a ticket to a Turkish bath. Obviously a clean-living young man” Steed notes, to the amusement of Cathy). Steed is rather worried by investigations of his wine cupboard, moving a delicate vintage gingerly back to its spot, before casually noting of the PC that “it’s the first time I’ve seen a London bobby wearing shoes with steel toecaps”.


Lorry Driver: If I was you guv, I’d change dentist.

Later, he poses as Goodchild to keep what turns out to be a dentist’s appointment, in a scenario that prefigures Marathon Man by a decade and a half as Steed gets gassed (“Now, if you want to go on breathing, open your mouth now”) by Miss Power (Delia Corrie) and awakes under the influence of Shelley (David Langton), before be rescued by Edwin Brown’s earthily witty lorry driver. Then there’s the reveal of Steed, disarmingly relaxed, feet up on a desk, when Cathy is ushered in to a room to be interrogated by Brown (lying unconscious on the floor). Also of note is Steed’s rather distracting alarm/timer, which sounds like he’s setting off a whoopee cushion.


Dicks and Hulke have fashioned a particularly satisfying concoction in The Mauritius Penny, one that makes slightly suspect the activity of stamp collecting (much too English to be wholly benign, really) while delivering an engaging and slippery structure, transitioning from stamp shop to auction house, to dentist surgery, then fascist lair.









Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Maybe the dingo ate your baby.

Seinfeld 2.9: The Stranded The Premise George and Elaine are stranded at a party in Long Island, with a disgruntled hostess.

Nanobots aren’t just for Christmas.

No Time to Die (2021) (SPOILERS) You know a Bond movie is in trouble when it resorts to wholesale appropriation of lines and even the theme song from another in order to “boost” its emotional heft. That No Time to Die – which previewed its own title song a year and a half before its release to resoundingly underwhelmed response, Grammys aside – goes there is a damning indictment of its ability to eke out such audience investment in Daniel Craig’s final outing as James (less so as 007). As with Spectre , the first half of No Time to Die is, on the whole, more than decent Bond fare, before it once again gets bogged down in the quest for substance and depth from a character who, regardless of how dapper his gear is, resolutely resists such outfitting.

Big things have small beginnings.

Prometheus (2012) Post- Gladiator , Ridley Scott opted for an “All work and no pondering” approach to film making. The result has been the completion of as many movies since the turn of the Millennium as he directed in the previous twenty years. Now well into his seventies, he has experienced the most sustained period of success of his career.  For me, it’s also been easily the least-interesting period. All of them entirely competently made, but all displaying the machine-tooled approach that was previously more associated with his brother.

Isn’t sugar better than vinegar?

Femme Fatale (2002) (SPOILERS) Some have attempted to rescue Femme Fatale from the dumpster of critical rejection and audience indifference with the claim that it’s De Palma’s last great movie. It isn’t that by a long shot, but it might rank as the last truly unfettered display of his obsessions and sensibilities, complete with a ludicrous twist – so ludicrous, it’s either a stroke of genius or mile-long pile up.

Beer is for breakfast around here. Drink or begone.

Cocktail (1988) (SPOILERS) When Tarantino claims the 1980s (and 1950s) as the worst movie decade, I’m inclined to invite him to shut his butt down. But should he then flourish Cocktail as Exhibit A, I’d be forced to admit he has a point. Cocktail is a horrifying, malignant piece of dreck, a testament to the efficacy of persuasive star power on a blithely rapt and undiscerning audience. Not only is it morally vacuous, it’s dramatically inert. And it relies on Tom’s toothy charms to a degree that would have any sensitive soul rushed to the A&E suffering from toxic shock (Tom’s most recently displayed toothy charms will likely have even his staunchest devotees less than sure of themselves, however, as he metamorphoses into your favourite grandma). And it was a huge box office hit.

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991) (SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) (SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek , but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan . That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

James Bond. You appear with the tedious inevitability of an unloved season.

Moonraker (1979) Depending upon your disposition, and quite possibly age, Moonraker is either the Bond film that finally jumped the shark or the one that is most gloriously redolent of Roger Moore’s knowing take on the character. Many Bond aficionados will no doubt utter its name with thinly disguised contempt, just as they will extol with gravity how Timothy Dalton represented a masterful return to the core values of the series. If you regard For Your Eyes Only as a refreshing return to basics after the excesses of the previous two entries, and particularly the space opera grandstanding of this one, it’s probably fair to say you don’t much like Roger Moore’s take on Bond.

It's something trying to get out.

The Owl Service (1969-70) I may have caught a glimpse of Channel 4’s repeat of  The Owl Service  in 1987, but not enough to stick in the mind. My formative experience was Alan Garner’s novel, which was read several years earlier during English lessons. Garner’s tapestry of magical-mythical storytelling had an impact, with its possession theme and blending of legend with the here and now. Garner depicts a Britain where past and present are mutable, and where there is no safety net of objective reality; life becomes a strange waking dream. His fantasy landscapes are both attractive and disturbing; the uncanny reaching out from the corners of the attic.  But I have to admit that the themes of class and discrimination went virtually unnoticed in the wake of such high weirdness. The other Garner books I read saw young protagonists transported to fantasy realms. The resonance of  The Owl Service  came from the fragmenting of the rural normal. When the author notes that he neve

These are not soda cans you asked me to get for you.

The Devil’s Own (1997) (SPOILERS) Naturally, a Hollywood movie taking the Troubles as a backdrop is sure to encounter difficulties. It’s the push-pull of wanting to make a big meaningful statement about something weighty, sobering and significant in the real world and bottling it when it comes to the messy intricacies of the same. So inevitably, the results invariably tend to the facile and trite. I’m entirely sure The Devil’s Own would have floundered even if Harrison Ford hadn’t come on board and demanded rewrites, but as it is, the finished movie packs a lot of talent to largely redundant end.