3.16: The Medicine Men
First broadcast on the same date as that more universally known medicine man (courtesy Joseph Lister), Doctor Who, this Mac Hulke script’s serious tone isn’t entirely justified by an unconvincing fiendish plot, as Steed and Cathy investigate imitation products (patent soap, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics) produced by Willis-Sopwith Pharmaceutical Company. It’s one of those episodes where the jigsaw piece elements don’t really fit with each other, and lacks sufficient sparkle to make you want to tie them all together.
The opening takes place in a Turkish bath, but its only connection to anything is that the victims go there to wash the paint off after a hard day modelling for artist Frank Leeson (Harold Innocent, who played Gilbert M in The Happiness Patrol). Leeson’s a particularly nasty piece of work, who for a while looks like he may be the mastermind (as with The Gilded Cage, this one keeps the fineries of the plot, or more precisely the perpetrators, elusive; it’s an incremental process, with us first thinking it’s Frank, then Miss Dowell, and finally Geoffrey Willis).
The criminals’ rather hopeful scheme is to ferment anti-British sentiment in the country of Karim, where fake products sell like hot cakes of soap, by flooding the market with poisoned stomach powders such that “a few thousand Karims bite the dust and those that are left pull down the Union Jack”. When Fay (Monica Stevenson) protests that children could die, Leeson comments “I shouldn’t worry. In a dump like that, they’re only going to be hungry for the rest of their lives”. What a fiend!
Steed: What a very, very pleasing design. Let’s hope you can keep it a secret.
Everyone here is on top form, with Peter Barkworth (The Ice Warriors) leading the way as over-diligent managing director Geoffrey Willis. Initially, there’s a hint of suspicion going his way when he brushes off Steed’s request for a specimen of the duplicated cardboard also used in the fakes. But we’re continually lobbed not-quite red herrings after this, including Miss Dowell (Joy Wood) listening in on conversations and then requesting her first sick days since joining the firm in order to go and give instructions to Leeson. Also appearing are Newton Blick as old duffer Willis senior, having an affair with Fay and generally showing eyes for all the ladies, and John Crocker (Propellant 23) be-tached as Taylor, looking a touch like David Thewlis.
Steed: Have you come to roll in the oils too, Mrs Dowell?
Of the regulars, this is most noticeable for a horrifically unconvincing attempt by Steed to pass himself as Icelandic (still called Steed) courtesy of a big fur coat, hat and cigar, and an interest in buying art from Leeson, promising “to make you the toast of Reykjavik”. Steed also gets Cathy to pose as a model, pretty risky since Miss Dowell doesn’t take long to show up and reveal all (Cathy has already masqueraded as an efficiency expert at the firm).
Regarding all things bodily, Steed cops a rather inelegant eyeful of the Mrs Gale behind early on, and she subsequently has a shower scene (there’s also a suggestive shot of a model fastening her bra at the start of the first Leeson scene).
Geoffrey Willis: I couldn’t find one with a silencer.
Steed: What a pity. I could (he shoots Willis).
The impersonation of a model is a fairly desperate ploy at that point anyway, since Mrs Gale is sporting an eyepatch, although perhaps he’s counting on Leeson’s leering peccadillos. A nice twist after the villain twist, with Steed having changed the Arabic on Lilt (pre-Lilt the drink) to read “This is an imitation. Danger of instant death”, and some amusing interplay regarding Steed’s golfing deficiencies; Cathy’s handicap is 12 to Steed’s 24, so he thinks he might be in with a chance with her being temporarily monocular. A fine cast, but The Medicine Men lacks that spoonful of sugar.
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