Posing as a drink-sodden desert rat, Drake visits a small town on the Arabian coast. There he meets the autocratic ruler, the Moukta (Ferdy Maine), a man allegedly implicated in the local slave trade ….
When I cued up this episode on Network’s DVD, my first thought was that I’d played the previous episode (The Nurse) by accident again, as both open with a shot of a helicopter hovering over what’s supposed to be a stretch of desert. But no, this is a different story even though the setting is pretty much the same.
The Blue Veil takes pains to establish that we’re in a society which would be totally alien to many of those in the West – it’s a land still firmly fixed in the Middle Ages, where justice is brutal and women are very much secondary citizens. The episode doesn’t really explore the problems of the locals though as most of Drake’s time is spent interacting with two Europeans – Spooner (Laurence Naismith) and Clare Nichols (Lisa Gastoni).
Spooner, an Englishman, has totally assimilated himself into the local culture and views the arrival of Drake with extreme disfavour. Naismith is excellent – managing to radiate a calm malevolence that’s very effective. Clare is today’s damsel in distress, desperate to return to civilisation and hopeful that Drake will help her.
Drake’s reluctant to break cover, so he has to be cool with her for a while. There’s a fascinating scene where she seems to see right through him – declaring that even though his outward appearance is disheveled, there’s goodness within. Either she has a sixth sense or Drake’s play-acting isn’t as good as he’d hoped.
Another small, but telling, moment comes after she learns of Drake’s apparent links with the slave trade. Her disgust seems to cause him a spasm of pain.
Rounding out the small guest cast is Joseph Cuby as Hassan, a young lad who befriends, betrays and then comes to serve Drake. Cuby offers an appealing turn, although the moment when Drake threatens Hassan with a knife does feel a little disquieting. We know that Drake would never use it, but even so.
There’s some Secret Agent gadgets used today. Drake has a miniature camera (which of course doesn’t look all that small today, but back in 1960 would have been more impressive). And for safety’s sake, he keeps the film in a hollow compartment in his shoe.
Drake uses the camera when he visits the Moukta (it’s hidden in his water bottle, so when he takes a swig of water he’s able to snap a few shots). I’m not sure why he does this and it slightly beggars belief that the Moukta didn’t notice anything. Let’s be generous and assume he was distracted by Clare.
The bulk of the episode is set in the town, but this turns out to be just preamble as Drake concludes his mission when he travels to the Moukta’s diamond mine and photographs the unhappy slaves kept prisoner. This is the main flaw in the episode – it seems that Drake already knew about the mine, so there seems no reason why he didn’t ask the helicopter to drop him there in the first place (which would have saved all that faffing about in town).
I like the way Drake pole-vaults over the electric fence which is keeping the slaves in captivity. Although it’s amazing that that guard who passed by a few seconds earlier seems totally oblivious.
Summing up The Blue Veil, you can’t fault the performances (Naismith especially) but the plotting somewhat lets it down. Apart from Drake’s runaround interlude in the town, it’s hard to believe that the United Nations (even with Drake’s photographic evidence) will be able to do anything. Drake might confidently assert that the Moukta and Spooner are now in deep trouble, but who will bring them to justice is never made clear.