After last week’s schtumer, I was a bit fearful of what we’d get next from Tales of the Gold Monkey, but the show was pleasingly back on track with its deliberate box of Saturday morning Cinema cliches.
The Queen of the title is indeed British but she bears no relation to our own dear Queen. She is the Queen Victoria, a luxury cruise-liner, holder of the Blue Riband (fastest crossing of the Atlantic) and the biggest thing in boats. And Jake and Corky are tailing it in the Goose, delivering an aristocratic passenger to join the liner en route to Sydney, Australia.
Just before they arrive, a bomb goes off on the Queen Victoria, bringing it to a halt in mid-ocean, killing one crew-member. Strangely enough, no sooner is he piped aboard than Lord Hedriks (a nicely judged, underplayed performance by Roy Dotrice, all British reserve and conviction) displays complete knowledge of an incident that literally happened only a few minutes ago. But then, why shouldn’t he? He planted the bomb. And two more: one set to go off in a few minutes, as a second demonstration, the other in six hours, which will destroy the ship. Unless, that is, he is given $18,000,000.00 in Royal Jewels…
You see, there’s a passenger on board, one Edward, Duke of Windsor, abdicated King and Emperor. And Lord Hedriks is a cashiered, disgraced ex-Army Officer who has only retained his title because, in 1938, there was no way of removing it. And he’s bitter enough to want to sink the ship, it’s Royal Passenger and all his aristocratic hangers-on anyway.
Where does that leave Jake, Corky and Jack? Well, they’re initially held under suspicion of being henchmen, until their bona fides are established via Louie, back on Bora Gora, but after that they become the vigorous American refusal to bend to a crook, in the face of effete British capitulation. Or, as Captain Townsend puts it, refusal to risk the lives of the 3,000 souls on the ship.
Of course, it’s all veddy British calm, stiff upper lips all over the place, though it’s done with an air of decency, and almost affection, none of the maliciousness we’ve seen since Alan Rickman turned up in Die Hard. It also means the American idea of British accents turning up everywhere, in which the only lower class accent is grating Cockney (sometimes you can long for a bit of Lancy, though none of the native audience would ever understand it).
In order to stretch the episode out and run through the six hours deadline, even though the Home Office in Britain capitulates faster than you could get a radio wire to the Home Country, Jake and Corky go on the run round the ship. After all, Hedriks’ escape plan is for Jake to fly him out of there in the Goose, and nobody imagines Jake is going to fly back…
Corky winds up in the engine room, mistaken for a stowaway by a pair of black grease monkeys with outrageous Jamaican accents and a decent line in sarcastic patter (grease monkey, for the younger among you who may no longer be familiar with such terms, is nautical slang for the engine room crew, and has nothing to do with race at all). He’s been led there by Jack because, you know, that’s where the bomb is and small, one-eyed terrier dogs can sniff these things out…
Jake, meanwhile, runs around a lot on deck, among the generally toney passengers. At one point, he strips down to a mere towel (but he keeps his socks and boots on: why do they always keep their socks on?). Grabbing a handful of suits off a trolley, he invades a cabin only to find a young, single, female passenger (but of course) who, after throwing a flower vase at him (we are milking the cliches today), takes heed of his manly hairy chest and his dropped towel (he has still got his jodhpurs on beneath) and melts into his arms for the kind of kiss that Sarah would kill to get).
After Jake spills the beans about the bomb, Melodie agrees to get him an introduction to the Duke of Windsor or, as she calls him at the last moment, Uncle Eddie: well, she is the Duchess of Fitzhugh, eh, what? It’s a fun, buoyant performance by Kathryn Leigh Scott, better known for her association with the vampiric soap opera, Dark Shadows.
We’re now running towards the end. Corky is captured, Hedriks threatens to make him fly the plane and Jake comes in out of the cold. It’s at this point that our savvy pilot gloms that Hedriks has no intention of handing over the bomb, he wants revenge rather that $18,000,000.00 in jewellery (maybe he should be taken on one side whilst the idea of priorities is discussed rapidly?).
Jake, sussing out that the bomb’s in the engine room, belts Hedriks on the chops, scuffles a bit, and then tells the Captain to tell Hedriks Jake’s getting the bomb. As expected, His Lordship turns up in the engine room to tell our hero exactly where the bomb is because it’s now too late to escape. Everyone will die. Except that, after all his banging on about precision, military timing, being British, etc., thee bomb doesn’t go off when it should do.
Hedriks is flapping somewhat but intends to trigger the bomb by hand. He gets Jake to remove it from its casing (although its being in its casing is where it’s been most precisely calculated to set off the chain reactions that will destroy an 18 deck, thousand feet long liner), which enables Jake to throw the bomb at him, knock him out and then throw the bomb overboard, all in the nick of time. Phew!
Then, at the Victory Cocktail Party, when Captain Townsend is toasting Jake for being unable to hear a slur against the Royal Family without poking Hedriks one in the face, our boy gives the big reveal: he only did it to snatch Hedriks’ pocket-watch and set it forward a few minutes, to make him think the bomb hadn’t gone off on time and rattle him…
Look, I’m well aware it’s hokum, and if I wanted to be inveterately British about it, I could list a dozen or more instances where the show gets things wrong about us, the Monarchy, the Army, etc., but this isn’t the point. The show deliberately plays fast and loose with veracity. It doesn’t go as far into spoof as it easily could, preferring to lay the comedy and the very gently mockery very lightly upon a dramatic structure, but it likes its source material. It is free from contempt about it.
Which is why I give it a pass. Of course it’s a nonsense, but it’s a nonsense that never tries to pretend it’s anything more than a nonsense, and the fun is rollicking if rather unreal.
Where I would criticise is in things like the treatment of Sarah Stickney White, who is laughed at all the time, and worse, in this episode allowed only a token appearance, back on Bora Gora, carrying shopping parcels and talking to Bon Chance Louie. She’s once again wasted, especially when all this scene does is to serve up a punchline about yet another aspect of Louie’s past history. An egregiously missed opportunity, I keep calling it.
But I am reassured that the rest of the series won’t necessarily be a decline into poorly-thought-out stories. At least until next week.