The Mauritius Penny (Episode 2-07, November 1962)
The Mauritius Penny did not start at the top of my favorite Cathy Gale episodes, but has recently worked its way up there. Here’s why.
The episode has Steed and Cathy investigating the seemingly pointless murder of the owner of a stamp shop…and uncovering a fascist conspiracy in the process. As usual with the Cathy Gale episodes, the plot is a little nonsensical, with holes a-plenty. But the actors roll right over the holes by speaking very quickly, exchanging charming banter and a few kickass judo moves.
Cathy Gale often comes in second to Emma Peel in fan favorites. Although the Emma Peel series is better written and more uniform in quality – due largely to a higher budget and the switch from live television to film – I think that Cathy is sometimes underrated. She’s one of the first female badasses to grace television screens. Like Mrs. Peel, Cathy has an almost endless array of talents that include judo, gunplay, anthropology and just about any other scientific endeavor the show demands of her. Cathy cuts through some of Steed’s bullshit, calling him out on his casual misogyny and blatant manipulation of others. She humanizes Steed by declining to idolize him (a problem which pops up in the Tara King era). He, meanwhile, visibly enjoys the verbal and physical sparring.
The Mauritius Penny is a prime example of the pair working together. There are some moments of entertaining exchange between them, and it’s evident that they’re coming to trust and understand one another. Steed does not miss out on a few opportunities to check Cathy out, while Cathy seems a little more amenable to his advances. Steed and Emma Peel achieve a symbiosis in their relationship, while Steed and Cathy are almost perpetually at odds. It means there’s some pretty exciting sexual chemistry at times.
At the beginning of the episode, Steed inexplicably decides to don horn-rimmed glasses as part of his disguise as a philatelist (stamp collector), which makes for some entertaining facial expressions from Patrick Macnee. There are excellent secondary characters moving in and out of the scenes, from the earnest delivery man to Lord Matterley (Richard Vernon, who you may recognize from A Hard Day’s Night). They serve to flesh out a slightly thin script. Then there’s the scene in the dentist’s office, which owes much to Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much. The Avengers is a very cinematically literate show.
The climax of the episode, where Cathy and Steed succeed in infiltrating a fascist organization, makes for some seriously entertaining viewing. It also serves to highlight the position that the pair occupy as heroes, as the camera draws back to reveal two people standing against an entire organization.
The Mauritius Penny stands as one of the better Cathy Gale episodes – tense without being overblown, well-acted and utterly enjoyable from start to finish.