Thursday, 19 February 2015

The Prisoner - A. B. and C.

Episode 3: A. B. and C.


This episode focuses around dream sequences and I really enjoyed it. It certainly feels very different and I think a lot of that is down to the action taking place away from the Village. It gives everything a very different mood.

Throughout this episode we are reminded that Number Two (Colin Gordon) is under pressure to find out why Number Six resigned. At the beginning of the episode Number Two looks apprehensive as he answers a red telephone. He calls the person on the other end of the line "Sir" and says "I know I'm not indispensable", something we don't need reminding of considering this is now the fourth Number Two in the series! This Number Two believes Number Six resigned to "sell up" so wants to know "what he had to sell and to whom he was going to sell it". This is of course something that Visual Mutterings has raised before as it is the most obvious reason for keeping Number Six in the Village.

Number Two rings Number Fourteen (Sheila Allen) and tells her the experiment must be moved forward and we hear her reply that she hasn't even finished testing it on animals. Number Two insists that it will take place that night. A brilliant scene shows a flash of lightning before cutting to two men wearing wet, hooded black macs. They push a trolley through a set of double doors. We can still hear the thunder and the wind from outside. The lightning lights up blue behind them. A black body bag is on the trolley. The whole look and feel of it is amazing and completely different to anything we have seen in the previous two episodes. An 'experiment', a storm, howling winds and creepy-looking men. It's like we have entered a horror movie. This isn't what The Prisoner is supposed to be like and so it takes us by surprise.

Two extras do a sterling job at auditioning for the next Frankenstein film. 


The trolley is wheeled into a lab and it is revealed, unsurprisingly, to be Number Six in the body bag. Wires and all sorts are hooked up to him. Number Two has narrowed it down to three people, A, B and C, who he believes Number Six was going to sell up to. They all attended parties held by a Madam Engadine and having got hold of some film footage from one, Numbers Two and Fourteen are going to induce a dream for Number Six so they can see what would happen if he were to meet each of suspects.

On a large screen in the lab, Numbers Two and Fourteen can observe Number Six's subconscious. It plays a loop of the scene from the title sequence where Number Six hands in his resignation letter. Just before a needle goes in, Number Six's eyes flicker open and he briefly sees Number Fourteen before he's out again.

My first thought when Number Six appears at the party is that he looks very good in a tux. He looks natural and comfortable. He seems to know a lot of people at the party; as the camera follows behind him, he pats some on the back, nods at some and says hello to several. But then, of course he knows them all. The induced dream is still a dream, which means it draws on his own knowledge and subconscious. His mind is simply putting in place the various faces he would expect to find there.

The party is a rather posh one; all the men are in tuxes and the women are in glamorous dresses, adorned with expensive-looking jewellery. The huge house has large gardens and waiters bring drinks around whilst classical music plays from somewhere in the background. It is lavish and formal. The fact that Number Six appears relaxed here gives us a good indication that he is used to moving in these circles.

Number Six meets the party's host, Madam Engadine (Katherine Kath), and tells her that he is starting a holiday, "somewhere different, somewhere quiet, where I can think." Shortly afterwards Number Fourteen inserts the drug that brings suspect A (Peter Bowles) into the dream. A, like B later, has heard about Six's resignation. Number Six tells A that he's going to "go fishing". He will tell B that he doesn't know where he's going, just that's he's going for a long time and needs to think. It's quite hard to say when Number Six's mind believes this party to be taking place. My only conclusion is that he must have told some people that he planned to resign before he actually did. This would make sense as in the title sequence everything is already in place to send him to the Village.

Number Fourteen informs us that A defected about six years ago - remember that the Cold War was on. A tells Number Six "we used to be friends" "we do the same jobs" and Six replies "for different reasons". Then a rather interesting comment from A: "I see you still overrate absolute truth. Whatever way you look at it, we both want to conquer the world." This conversation is reminiscent of Number Six's with Number Two in 'The Chimes of Big Ben' where Number Two argues that "both sides are becoming identical" and are "looking into a mirror". A may have defected but Number Six's objection are to A's motives and the "absolute truth" comment could give us an indication as to why Six resigned. Number Six believes things should be done a certain way. I would take a guess that he believes in freedom, transparency and honesty. Perhaps the organisation he worked for had gone against these ideas for too long and Number Six felt he could no longer be a part of it.

Enemies should always meet over champagne
A believes Number Six must be selling information and offers to buy from him. Number Six tries to walk away from A but ends up bundled into a car. He remarks that "Paris hasn't changed much, has it?" It cannot have of course because the Paris he is seeing in the dream is based on his own memories. Perhaps Number Six expected it to have and this is the first indication that he suspects something isn't right. When they get out the car there's a fight, a proper fight! This is the first time in the series we've been able to see Number Six show off his skills and he does a brilliant job of knocking about A and his assistant. As he walks away, he says "Be seeing you" showing that the Village's phrase has started to become a part of him.

The next morning Number Six opens his front door and sees Number Fourteen outside. He looks at his wrist and sees a needle mark. He realises that something happened to him in the night. He speaks to Number Fourteen later. "How does one talk to someone that one has met in a dream?" and tells her "Last week Number Fourteen was an old lady in a wheelchair. You're new here. And you're one of them." Number Six is catching on to things in the Village. He is being observant and trying to work out when he can trust people. Number Six goes to see Number Two, solely to let on that he knows something, just to rattle him a bit. It works. When Number Six leaves the red phone rings and Number Two says he will have something "within two days". The pressure is on from above.

That night Number Six drinks from a teacup on the bedside table. He drops the cup and slumps to the floor. So now we know how they got Number Six to the lab without waking him! Number Six appears at the party again and it's the same party, indicated by Madam Engadine asking "Where've you been, darling?" He seems confused and when she asks what happened to A, Number Six simply says "Gone." It doesn't make sense because he can't remember how he got back to the party. Yet in a way it does make sense because it's a dream and dreams don't make sense. Does that make sense? In a dream we are not usually aware of having skipped bits. In the course of a dream we might suddenly find ourselves somewhere different but our subconscious tries to make sense of it and we are not allowed to dwell on it long enough to realise what has happened.

The B drugs goes in and a maid brings a letter for Number Six. Throughout all the dreams sequences, the script does a good job of avoiding use of Number Six's real name, being only obvious here. The maid (Bettina La Beau) gestures at Number Six, saying "It's for..." Madam Engadine is keen to know who the letter is from. "She's an old friend" Engadine sees that there is no name signed. "Old friends don't need names." Does that say something about the Village, a place where no one has a name?

Number Six meets B (Annette Caroll) in the gardens, telling her "you are still the most intriguing spy I have ever met." They dance to the music that can still be heard. It's just the two of them and it seems they really are dancing as friends, not lovers. Things aren't moving fast enough for Number Two and so Number Fourteen decides to get into the dream by speaking through B.

Providing the voice for B

 Despite being unconcerned by Number Six's warnings earlier, B now wonders aloud whether she will be killed. She tells Number Six that they want to make a deal with her, they want to know why Number Six resigned. "Are you shocked?" she asks. "I'm surprised. I can't believe it's you." he responds. He genuinely can't and it quickly becomes apparent that this interference in the dream has been a very bad move. "Have you the feeling you're being manipulated?" Number Six asks her. "You are not who you pretend to be." Some men show up and we get to see Six's hand-to-hand combat skills again. A man holds a gun to B's head but still Number Six tells her "I don't believe in you." He decides to test her: "How long has your husband been dead?" The information is in Number Two's files. It's been four years. "How old is your son now?" There is no record of any son in the file. She can't answer and Number Six walks away. It may seem absurd to say it, but our dreams have to credible. There has to be an element of reality in them. Ridiculous and fantastical things can happen in our dreams. Yet if someone in your dream claimed to be your mother and clearly wasn't, you would become very suspicious. You may even realise that you are dreaming. There are some things we remain very certain about, even during our dreams, and for Number Six it is the personality of his old friend.

Number Six is now very suspicious and the next day he follows Number Fourteen. He gets into the building through an air vent, a feature of buildings that I have only ever seen in film and television. I am half convinced that they were invented by the industry in order to provide escape and entry routes for characters that couldn't get through locked doors. Number Six makes his way into the lab where he has been hooked up to monitors and drugs for the past two nights. He examines the equipment and switches on a monitor that shows the film footage of the party. He looks through Number Two's folders on the three suspects, handily labelled 'A', 'B' and 'C'. Finally he finds the one remaining hypodermic needle containing the purple liquid he has been getting injected with. He empties most of it and replaces it with water.

That night he finds a cup of tea left out for him (tea has featured in every episode so far) and pours it down the sink. He has a glass of water instead and smiles to himself, thinking he has got one over on them. He hasn't. He collapses. Clearly all bases had been covered.

On the lab's screen the camera is showing Number Six's point of view. The camera is all over the place. It's like he's drunk or on drugs. Number Six passes by a woman and remarks "Haven't they killed you yet?" The classical music has been replaced by more modern and upbeat 1960s' music. It's quite hippie and would have been very appropriate for a student party whilst someone passed a spliff round. The party has got a lot more raucous and the guests are laughing loudly, whilst some are feeling each other up in the background.

A woman gives Number Six an earring and tells him to bet it on the roulette table (because that is just how posh this party is). Glancing at the numbers, she says "6 - I'm sure it's your lucky number". Number Six wins a key. Clearly everything has become a bit more allegorical.

It turns out the Madame Engadine is C. "It's a one way journey. You have the fare?" The fare is in a plain white envelope that Number Six keeps in his jacket. "If you want to go back you can. Back to the party. Back to your life. Once through this door you can never return." She also has a key and along with Number Six's, it opens a door in the gardens.

They drive off to meet her boss and stop at a set of stone double doors. She leaves Number Six there and when he goes through the doors the wind can be heard blowing and church bells ring out. Number Six meets a man whose face is covered with a thick black stocking. You can just about make out that the man wears glasses.
The man with the mystery voice
Number Six won't hand over the papers. "I want to know who I'm selling out to. We must all know" he says, smiling. Number Six is very happy through this whole scene. The man refuses to reveal his identity but Number Six is in charge of the dream now. He turns the man away from the camera, rips off his hat and stocking. "I knew of course. Now show them" and Number Six spins the man back round to face the camera. It is Number Two. "Your drug failed!" Number Two tells Number Fourteen. "No. He succeeded" she says.

In the dream, Number Six walks into the lab. Instinctively Numbers Two and Fourteen look at the real doors but Number Six isn't there - only on the screen. In the dream, Number Six gives Number Two the white envelope. He quickly tears it open only to find it's full of travel brochures for Greece and Italy. "I wasn't selling out. That wasn't the reason I resigned." In the real lab, the red phone rings ominously.

Having failed to trick Number Six in real life into telling them why he resigned, this Number Two decided to try a mind trick. This episode is an interesting look at Number Six's life outside of the Village. The party is in Paris so we know he gets to travel. He meets several spies so if we weren't already certain before, I think we can say for definite now that Number Six was a spy before he came to the Village. We also know that he didn't resign in order to sell information. His subconscious would have betrayed him if he had been planning to.

One point I would like to raise about this episode is a problem of continuity. The party takes place at night. It is dark in the gardens. When Number Six gets in A's car it is clearly dark outside. When he gets out of A's car it is suddenly daylight! The same thing happens when Number Six goes in Madame Engaldine's car. When they arrive at the double doors it changes to daylight. She even talks about getting back to the party. Are we supposed to believe that they drove all through the night? She says she "can't be gone too long". When Number Six pushes the doors open, the other side is in darkness. When we cut back for his reaction shot, it is still daylight behind him. I am willing to give some of this the benefit of the doubt, due to it all being part of a dream. Dreams do sometimes get things mixed up.

However, in my heart of hearts I know that this is down to the difficulties of filming in the 1960s. Filming at night was hard and the alternative did not produce great results. This can be seen clearly in episodes of The Saint from the same period where scenes set at night would be filmed in daylight but a dark filter would be put onto the film, in order to give the impression that it was nighttime or dusk. This effect is also used in the James Bond film On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969). In The Saint, the easiest way of spotting this effect it that the supposed nighttime scenes would have shadows in them created by the sun.

I am not particularly sure how this effect was created so if anyone has information on it please get in touch.

Finally, the voice of the man with his face covered that is revealed to be Number Two sounds nothing like Colin Gordon. There is no credit for the voice at all. He has a foreign accent and his voice reminds me slightly of that of Emilio Largo in the Bond film Thunderball. A bit of research reveals that the voice for Largo was provided by Robert Rietty, who was Italian. He provided various bits of voice over for The Prisoner but I can find no credit or reference to him working on 'A. B. and C.'

If anyone has evidence that proves he did provide the voice, please get in touch.

Be seeing you.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

The Prisoner - The Chimes of Big Ben

Episode 2: The Chimes of Big Ben


Looking back at it there was a lot that the script had to do in ‘Arrival’. It sets up the whole premise of the show, takes us round the Village, shows us how it works, and then manages to squeeze in a plotline as well. In comparison the pace of ‘The Chimes of Big Ben’ feels a little slower and this episode’s story can be more complex. But first things first...

The opening sequence is a little different from 'Arrival' and this is the sequence that will be used for the rest of the series. There are a few shots cut, including the doors marked 'WAY OUT', but the main difference is the end of the sequence where we see some shots of Number Two's Observation Room and Number Six running on the beach. We hear a short conversation between Number Two and Number Six that ends with the series' most famous quote "I am not a number! I am a free man!" In the conversation Number Six asks "Whose side are you on?" and the reply is "That would be telling." Now at the start of every episode, there is an emphasis on secrecy and keeping Number Six in the dark. Perhaps the Village is a test? It is being run by his own side who are testing him to see if, given enough pressure, he would give up their secrets?

At the start of the episode we have no idea how long Number Six has been in the Village. This could be his 7th or his 57th. The speakers in the Village crackle into life and the woman's cheery voice urges everyone to wake up. Number Six rolls over, pulling the bed covers over him before giving up as the radio in his room continues to loudly carry the woman's voice in. He gets out of bed and picks up his dressing gown. Number Two (Leo McKern) is watching on a screen and remarks to his assistant "He can make even the act of putting on his dressing gown appear as an act of defiance." This Number Two (another new one) comes across quite moody and annoyed. I get the impression that he has been in the Village some time and is frustrated with Number Six's refusal to cooperate in any way. His assistant (Christopher Benjamin) tries to reassure him that Six will "crack" eventually but Number Two exasperatedly replies "I don't want a man of fragments!" My interpretation of this is that whatever information they want from Number Six, they need him to still be mentally intact in order to give it to them. They don't want him to become a wreck with his mind destroyed by torture. Meanwhile, Number Six continues with his small acts of defiance, 'little victories', by putting the radio in the fridge. Prisoners having little victories over the guards and the prison system is best explored in the BBC series Porridge (1974-1977), set in HM Slade Prison. It's all about getting one over in order to keep their sanity, or at least a little bit of themselves. Here it is Number Six's way of saying he will not be made to keep to all the small rules and aspects of the Village that he totally despises. The message is individualism.

In 'Arrival' it was an ex-Admiral playing chess and in this episode it is a General (Finlay Currie). Number Six plays with him whilst talking about the Village. The General tells Number Six that "You'll be here for as long as you live", "no point in being uncooperative" and there is "no point in fighting battles you can't win". In response Number Six quizzes the General; "Perhaps you came here of your own free will?" and when the General brings up his military past Number Six asks "Which regiment was that? Which army?" The General does not answer. It is clear from his questions that Number Six is highly suspicious of everyone in the Village and after the events of the previous episode we know that he has good reason to be. The General could just be an old man who has been in the Village for a long time and knows that it cannot be beaten. He could be genuinely seeking to help Number Six. But he could also be a plant intended to persuade Number Six to give up his information. It really is impossible to tell. Everyone looks alike in the Village. They all look like prisoners. Number Six knows that not all of them are.

Leo McKern is this episode's Number Two
Number Six goes with Number Two to the green domed building and once again they drink tea together. Number Two checks Number Six's file, which tells him that he does not take sugar. I like how civilised this all is and it is a contrast to Number Two's snarky and sinister remarks. Six tells him "But I don't run on clockwork" and Two replies "You will my dear chap, you will." Number Two is determined that Number Six will be made to conform to Village life. He will fit in and his defiance will disappear. However, Number Six still has confidence in his ability to overcome whatever the Village may throw at him. As he sips his tea Six tells Two that he intends to escape, come back, and "wipe this place off the face of the Earth, obliterate it, and you with it." He then reaches for the sugar bowl and puts three lumps into his tea. Obviously this last gesture is solely to rile Number Two, who must now decide whether to amend Number Six's file, and it is another nice inclusion of Number Six's small acts of defiance.

We are introduced to the 'new Number Eight' (Nadia Gray). We never met the old one but it is made clear that he or she disappeared. Number Six remarks that "There was no funeral" and Number Two replies "It's not always possible; you need a body". This really could mean anything. What on earth happened to the previous Number Eight? Drowned? Burnt? What happens to those absorbed by Rover, like the man we saw in 'Arrival'? Dissolved? Blown into atoms? Who knows. This can be as disturbing as your imagination allows.

Number Eight, Nadia, apparently from Estonia
The new Number Eight will ultimately be revealed to be working for Number Two but it is debatable how soon this starts. Is she a plant from the start? Looking around she asks Number Six "Who are these people? Why are they here?" and he replies "Why are you here?" This can either imply that they are all there for the same reason, or, more likely in my opinion, given Number Six's now suspicious nature, he is genuinely curious. He may pose the question rhetorically, but he is undoubtedly wondering whether she is a real prisoner or simply posing as one. She tells him "All I did was resign" so she is apparently just like him. Number Eight goes for lunch with Number Two and is with him for quite a long time. This is what brings me to question her position. Did she arrive as a prisoner who is then offered the chance to leave providing she sets up Number Six? Or did she come voluntarily in the first place and her lengthy meeting with Number Two is merely a further detailed briefing on her task? She goes for a drink at Number Six's house and says "I didn't expect it to be like this". She claims she saw a file on the Village. Is that what she's referring to? Either way, from this point on she is definitely working for Number Two. She's a former Olympic swimmer and swims out to sea from the beach. Number Two sends Rover after her. Rover emerges from beneath the sea and rather beautifully glides across, pressing down on her, appearing to drown her. Rover and two mini-Rovers bring her back to the beach, unconscious. This must be planned in some way. She agreed with Number Two to try and escape somehow, in order to make a show in front of Number Six and convince him that she really is a prisoner. It works. When she's in hospital Number Six demands that she be released. He trusts that she is a prisoner now and knows she has information about where the Village is. He promises Number Two that he'll "join in. Try to settle down".

Number Six makes a piece for the Arts and Crafts Fair that is really parts for a boat. At sunset he and Number Eight (real name Nadia, from Estonia) head off from the beach in the boat. At sunrise they are spotted and Rover is sent after them but they make it to the shore just in time. A man on the shore shoots at Rover and although holes appear in it, it does not deflate as you might expect for a balloon-like object. Rover chasing them must just be for show. Perhaps they thought Number Six would be suspicious if the escape was too easy. So far Rover has never failed to catch someone before.
Number Six just about escapes Rover for the first time
The Village is said to be in the Baltic, thirty miles from the Polish border. Six gives the man a coded note and Nadia translates what to do with it. Six and Nadia get into a wooden crate, but not before Six has taken the man's watch, his own having been water-damaged. We see them on the back of a truck, being loaded onto a ship and finally a plane. They arrive in the office of a man called Fotheringay (Richard Wattis). There is the sound of traffic from outside. Number Six recognises the Colonel (Kevin Stoney) and Fotheringay and shakes both their hands. Big Ben chimes. Number Six and the Colonel are left alone to talk.

Number Six is asked about Nadia. "In the Village-" "The Village?" "She was known as Number Eight. Don't you know about the Village?" Number Six is suspicious of everyone now, even those he used to know. The Colonel replies "I'm here to ask the questions, old boy." Both of them want answers. Both are suspicious. The Colonel continues to plead ignorance about the Village. "What village?" "Oh yes. Forgot you don't know, do you?" Number Six replies, sounding decidedly unconvinced. Number Six then gives a marvellous summary of the Village:
"The Village is a place where people turn up. People who have resigned from a certain sort of job, have defected, or have been extracted. The specialised knowledge in their heads is of great value to one side or the other. Are you sure you haven't got a Village here?"
Number Six really is not sure which side operates the Village. The Colonel gives us a timescale, saying that Number Six has been gone months. He resigned, disappeared, then reappeared from the other side of the Iron Curtain. Naturally 'they' are suspicious. This does tell us for the first time for certain that Number Six worked for the West. Although we know he was in London before he went to the Village, we had no actual evidence of who he was working for at all.

The Colonel (Kevin Stoney). A very posh British man

Big Ben chimes. "Why did you resign?" "It was a matter of conscience." Number Six agrees to give up his information on the condition of his own safety as well as political asylum for Nadia. As Big Ben's gongs finish Number Six glances at his watch. "I resigned, because for a very long time - just a minute...eight o'clock." The Colonel tells him that the night is young. Number Six's mind is whirring. "My watch says eight" until he finally hits on it. He had worked out how long it would take them to get from Poland to London. "Would you care to explain to me how a man in Poland came to have a watch showing English time when there's an hour's difference?!" It's a very clever way of having Number Six realise he has been hoaxed. For the rest of us, there's also the fact that he has heard the chimes of Big Ben twice within a few minutes. Number Six pulls a plug out and the noise of the traffic ends. Opening up a wardrobe he finds a tape player. The music here is very effective. As Number Six walks out there are soft chimes and mounting tension in the music. He opens the final set of doors to reveal the Village and begins to walk away. He looks back to see Nadia at the doors with Number Two. He gives her a rather defiant "Be seeing you" and walks off. Later in the observation room, the dialogue between Nadia and Number Two firmly establishes that Nadia was a plant. Finally, she tells Number Two "Don't worry. It was a good idea and you did your best. I'll stress it in my report." Who does she report to? Clearly someone higher than Number Two and one whom has authority over him.
The reel-to-reel tape recorder is discovered!
The Village

We find out a few other things about the nature of the Village in 'The Chimes of Big Ben'. Number Six offers Nadia a drink at his house; all of them are non-alcoholic. Whisky costs 24 work units and vodka is 16. How horrific. So why doesn't the Village have alcohol? In the last post I talked about the Village having an 'enforced happiness'. This can be seen as a way of keeping the population docile. When Number Eight arrives Number Two tells Number Six that her house in the Village is an exact replica of her own home. If you were eagle-eyed enough you would have spotted that this is also the case with Number Six's. It is a lot of effort to go to but it is important for the Village. It makes the prisoners more relaxed, makes it feel more like their home and gives them one less reason to act up. They have all sorts of amenities to keep them content and occupied. The Village dislikes dissent and rebellion. They wants order and conformity. As revealed by Number Six's conversation with Number Two, they want the inhabitants to run like clockwork. This is why they can't have alcohol. The Village can't risk the prisoners becoming unpredictable or even violent. The must all be one and the same. Personally, I would find it just another deprivation of freedom.

Number Six has an interesting conversation with Number Two. Six asks Two "Has is ever occurred to you that you're just as much a prisoner as I am?" "Of course" Two replies nonchalantly "I know too much. We're both lifers." This is an interesting revelation about Number Two. It may or may not apply to all the Number Twos. It shows that you can run the Village, you can be in charge of everything and still be a prisoner. It does make me wonder what would happen if Number Two chose to escape. But perhaps he doesn't want to. Even if he is a prisoner, perhaps he would be in too much danger if he were to leave the Village because of what he knows.

Number Two goes on "I am definitely an optimist. That's why it doesn't matter who Number One is. It doesn't matter which side runs the Village." "It's run be one side or the other?" "Certainly. But both are becoming identical." The way they talk about 'sides' here convinces me that the sides involved are those of the Cold War, i.e. East and West. The Prisoner is not really about the Cold War. Number Six is not fighting Communism - he's fighting the Village. That is why, as Number Two says, it doesn't matter which side runs the Village. Either way, Number Six would still be fighting them. As for the comment about both sides being identical, a fantastic fictional example of this is John le CarrĂ©'s The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (1963). In le CarrĂ©'s novel the East German agent Fiedler tells the British agent Leamas "All our work – yours and mine – is rooted in the theory that the whole is more important than the individual." It is a very interesting concept to explore but I digress. Number Two explains what he believes the purpose of the Village to be. One side "created an international community, a perfect blueprint for world order. When the sides facing each other suddenly realise that they're looking into a mirror they will see that this is the pattern for the future." Number Six seems somewhat amused by the idea. "The whole Earth, as the Village?" "That is my hope. What's yours?" He instantly responds "I'd like to be the first man on the moon." When this episode first aired in 1967 of course, man had not yet made it to the moon. Maybe it is meant as an absurd remark but Number Six's reply to this is so quick and said without thinking that I like to think it is his genuine fantasy. Thus we have a little more revealed to us about Number Six.

Who is Number Six?

Whilst they are travelling in the crate, Nadia asks Number Six if he has a wife and he answers simply "No." A while later she asks him if he's engaged and he does not answer. She could be trying to find out more about him for the Village or could simply be making conversation. So Number Six may or may not be engaged. It would explain why he isn't taken in by the advances of any of the women in the Village and it could even be an explanation for why he resigned. Secret work and family life don't exactly go hand in hand. However, personally I just don't see it. Before Number Six was kidnapped he was about to go away somewhere sunny and if there had been someone in his life, he would probably have met up with her. Also, some mention of her would surely have come up during the series so in my mind Number Six is a single man.

A couple of times this episode Number Two updates Number Six's file. As revealed in 'Arrival', the Village has a file on Number Six that goes into great detail. However, this episode reveals that not all of the file is strictly objective. This episode Number Two adds "persecution complex amounting to mania, paranoid delusion of grandeur" and "over-weaning sense of self-importance. While here, his egomania has, if anything, increased." These additions are all based on Number Two's own encounters with Number Six and are rather exaggerated. Not everything in the file can be trusted. But we do find out that age 15 he was top of his class in Woodwork!

A portrait of Number Two is clearly visible through the middle
Having agreed to submit an entry to the Arts and Crafts Fair, Number Six puts his woodwork skills to use by spending a day in the woods carving "a series of abstracts". When he enters the fair we see a mixture of paintings, drawings, sculptures - all sorts. Every single one of them is of Number Two. The General has made a chess set. He proudly shows Number Six the king, who has Number Two's face. The fair is an example of submission. Number Two might be a prisoner himself but he is the symbol of power and authority in the Village. It is basically the Village's prisoners kissing Number Two's arse. Number Six is asked to explain his piece, called 'Escape', to the judges. When he is finished, one of them (Lucy Griffiths) says to him "The only thing I really don't understand..." "Yes?" "Where is Number Two?" That is some serious arse kissing. Actually, although Number Six's piece is the only one not to feature Number Two, the camera angle means that when the piece is shown there is a gap in it, meaning that a portrait of Number Two in the background can be seen in the dead centre of Number Six's piece. So what is the symbolism of this? Unintentional as it may be, his piece still ends up having Number Two in the middle of it, just like everyone else's. Perhaps no matter how much Number Six tries to escape or beat the Village, he is ultimately doomed to become a part of its collective, just like everyone else.

This episode shows us Number Six settled into the Village after a few months and his determination to retain his individualism. It also demonstrates that there are those who are happy to join the flow of the crowd and how difficult it is to avoid it. This episode’s Number Two sees the Village as a blueprint for the whole world. Perhaps it is a reflection of how challenging it is to retain one’s own sense of self when we are surrounded by rules and customs that could have us all act one and the same. Once again this episode Number Six has been tricked and given false hope of escape, although this time the purpose seems to have been to trick him into giving up information. Finally, we now know that even if Number Six’s side do not run the Village, they certainly know about it and are happy to leave him there.

Be seeing you.

Monday, 2 February 2015

The Prisoner - Arrival



In 2005 as part of its 50th anniversary celebrations ITV made a programme counting down its 50 greatest shows. One of the shows featured was The Prisoner. It caught my attention because it looked exciting and the phrase “I am not a number. I am a free man” was imprinted upon my young mind forevermore. DVD box sets were a bit more expensive then, especially if you were 12. I never forgot about that series though and a few years ago I eventually got round to watching every episode. I was gripped throughout but at the end of each episode and indeed at the end of the series I was left feeling confused. It felt as though each episode left me with more questions than it had answered.

I have decided to re-watch The Prisoner in the hope that a second viewing might help to piece things together. Some may see this as foolish. Maybe the whole point of The Prisoner is to leave the viewer confused, to leave them still thinking about what it all means? But it has been nearly ten years since a few clips made this show intrigue me and I think it deserves my attention.

Episode 1: Arrival

The opening titles of The Prisoner are outstanding and arguably the greatest of any television programme. Lightning is heard but we see a cloudy sky before we move to an airstrip. The music starts very quiet, gradually getting louder and we wait whilst a small object comes towards us. I already care what it is and I want to see it. It zooms past. Even if you know nothing about cars, that is a cool car. Our driver (Patrick McGoohan) looks calm and confident as he races through London. He enters a car park before walking in through a set of double doors that say ‘WAY OUT’ and striding down a darkened corridor. He’s not happy; in fact it’s clear he’s quite angry as we see him shout some words at a man, slam a letter on the desk, then bang his fist down before storming out. He drives off in the sunshine, seemingly unaware that he is being followed by a black hearse. Somewhere, big ‘X’s are being typed across a photograph of his face and it is filed in a cabinet drawer marked ‘RESIGNED’. The man pulls up outside his house and heads inside just as the black hearse pulls up outside. He grabs a suitcase and passport. An undertaker walks towards his front door. The man puts a picture of a beach complete with palm tree inside his suitcase. We see gas coming in through a keyhole just as the suitcase is slammed shut. The man becomes disorientated and falls onto the bed, unconscious. Fade to black and the music stops. When he awakes the music is gentler and the man goes to pull up the blind. It isn’t London. A village green greets him instead.


One thing I really like about these opening titles is that you could watch almost any episode and the titles set up the story. After the first episode they are changed slightly but remain broadly similar. There’s no dialogue, just this exciting music, but still these titles tell us everything we need to know; a man has resigned from his job, is kidnapped and has awoken somewhere else.

As the man leaves his house the place is eerily quiet and empty. The first people our central character encounters are a waitress (Patsy Smart) and a taxi driver (Barbara Yu Ling), both of whom avoid answering questions about where they are. No one ever answers with “I can’t tell you” or “I don’t know”. They either answer with simply “the Village” or move on to something else, completely ignoring the question. When the taxi driver drops the man off he has no ‘credit units’ to pay her and she replies “oh well pay me next time”. It’s telling that she knows there will be a next time and she knows she will see him again because the Village is such a small place.

The man visits the village shop and looks at a map entitled ‘your village’. When he returns to his house there is a note that reads ‘welcome to your home from home’. It serves to reinforce that he lives there now and it is his new home.

The doll is a bit creepy too
We know very little about our main character, who we will come to know as Number Six, and it really is a struggle to try and piece anything together. We discover that he resigned on a matter of principle and that he was born at 4:31am on 19th March 1928. He volunteers the latter information to Number Two (Guy Doleman), probably because he knows it is useless. Number Six is very suspicious and also quite angry. His anger is perfectly understandable; he has been taken somewhere against his will and is not allowed to leave. He has been made a prisoner despite not having done anything wrong. At the Labour Exchange he is asked several questions and after ‘politics’ is mentioned, Number Six knocks over a wooden contraption and leaves. When he returns to his house, he looks around every room. He opens every cupboard and drawer. He shakes the tins in the kitchen cupboard – is he checking they are full? Is he trying to work out how real this whole set-up is? Is it all an illusion? He finishes off by smashing the radio. A maid (Stephanie Randall) arrives and this shows an aspect of Number Six’s character that I really like. As Number Six shouts she begins to cry and confesses she has been sent to try and get information out of him. She is in floods of tears and he stands there completely unmoved. That is what I like about Number Six; he is a professional. He does not give in or offer sympathy just because a pretty woman has turned on the waterworks. He isn’t going to fall for a daft trick like that. Number Six is better than that.

The Prisoner bites his tongue
I really like the oddities in the Village. It is clear that someone somewhere has thought about them and they really do fit in. They make the Village seem very realistic. I have seen many ‘Keep off the grass’ signs but the Village has a ‘walk on the grass’ sign instead. The signs inside the Labour Exchange are undoubtedly Orwellian-inspired: ‘a still tongue makes a happy life’; ‘questions are a burden to others, answers a prison for oneself’; ‘humour is the very essence of a democratic society’. The last one particularly intrigues me. The Village is a very happy place considering everyone there is a prisoner. There are the bright colours, the upbeat music, the parades, and lots of smiling, laughing faces. The village is happy but it is an enforced happiness; you cannot turn off the radio in each house and when it is broken, someone immediately comes to fix it, lest you be too long without the incessant trumpets. When you leave the house the music and announcements blast from outdoor speakers too. After awaking in the hospital Number Six asks for his clothes only to be told “They’ve been burnt.” “Why?” “I’ll take you back to your ward.” Once again awkward questions simply are not answered. When he comes to leave the hospital Number Six has been given new clothes and in future these will be all he finds in his wardrobe. He immediately takes off the straw boater and removes his number badge. But nonetheless, his new clothes make him part of the village now. The humour in the enforced jollity is anything but democratic. A darker humour comes into play when the new Number Two (George Baker) ensures a joke is played on Number Six.

Number Six has a watch that stops Rover attacking
Cobb (Paul Eddington) is the only person in the episode with an actual name and we don’t even find out what his number was in the Village. Number Six recognises Cobb when he wakes up in the hospital. Cobb says he was in Germany when he was taken. He says he has been in the village 3-4 weeks but then says it might be months. He says they want to know all about him. We think we are finding out more about the purpose of the Village but actually none of it matters because we later find out that Cobb has been working with Number Two. Anything he tells Number Six could have been made up. Number Six meets a woman, Number Nine (Virginia Maskell), who knew Cobb in the Village and the escape plan meant for Cobb is now for Number Six. He manages to get on a helicopter but Number Two is watching all the time, grinning. Number Six is allowed to get so far before the controls are electronically taken over and the helicopter returns to the Village. Number Nine watches, having been playing chess with the ex-Admiral (Frederick Piper), who tells her “We’re all pawns, m’dear.” When we cut back to Number Two we see Cobb, who is still alive and now smartly dressed in a suit. It was all a big set up. Cobb got close to someone and used her to provide Number Six with a way out that Cobb knew would never work. It begs the question; what was the point of it all? I see it as giving Number Six false hope. It shows Number Six that he is always being watched, that Number Two knows everything, and that there is no possibility of escape. The purpose was to demoralise him and to push him a step further towards breaking point so that he might eventually tell them everything they want to know.

Cobb turns to leave, telling Number Two “Musn’t keep my new masters waiting.” This one line throws up many questions, the first of which is: who are Cobb’s new masters?

Cobb and Number Six know each other and we presume that this is through their work, else Number Six would have called Cobb by his forename. So if they both work for the government and it is the government who run the Village, why would Cobb say he is going to ‘new’ masters? Surely they would not allow him to leave if he was going to work for someone else? So maybe the Village is not run by the government. It is run by some other organisation and Cobb has decided to switch sides in order to get his freedom. They are interested in Number Six because now he is no longer a government agent they wish to recruit him themselves. Or it is the other way round; Cobb and Number Six do not work for the government. They government has brought Number Six to the Village because whilst they were willing to leave him alone before, they are not happy with the idea of him going abroad and possibly taking his knowledge to a foreign power. Number Two tells Number Six “We have to find out where your sympathies lie.

This leads me to ponder on another aspect of the Village: do they ever intend to let Number Six leave? The Village has a retirement home, implying that some people will never get to leave. When Number Six first meets Number Two he is told that if he tells them what they want to know, he could be given a position of authority and Number Two says “This can be a very nice place.” For me this implies that Number Six will not be allowed to leave. Even if he does give up any information, the best that can come of it will be having some power in the Village. From this we now know that not everyone in the Village is the same as Number Six as there are some with more power and control than others. It is impossible to know who these people are so Number Six cannot trust anyone.

We find out in this episode that there are no safe places in the Village because you are always being watched. When the radio repairman (Oliver MacGreevy) arrives Number Six remarks that he fancies a walk and the front door automatically opens. As he walk through woodland there are statues and busts and we see that their eyes follow him. If the prisoners still have not caught on then there is Rover, a large white balloon. Personally I find Rover quite a frightening aspect of the Village. Upon Rover’s first appearance on the village green the music stops and everyone freezes. Everything is still and there is complete silence Number Six looks round to see what is happening. A man panics and screams. He begins to run but Rover quickly catches up with him. It presses down on him and we see his distorted screaming features through the white rubber. The balloon envelopes him and he disappears, presumably inside it, before Rover bounds away. The music picks up where it left off and everyone continues as before, completely normally, as though nothing had happened. Rover cannot be defeated. It cannot be outrun. This, coupled with the face pushed against the rubber, looking as though the person is being suffocated, is what makes Rover rather disturbing for me. When it comes for Number Six later, he tries to shove it away, punch it even, but to no avail. It gets the better of him and he is dragged away.

Suffocation by Rover


There are a few other little things...

Number Two changes mid-way through the episode. Number Two is played by a different person every episode. Why? Sometimes due to failing in a task related to Number Six, yet other times, if memory serves me right, there is no explanation at all. Maybe it is general practice in the Village to change the Number Two on a regular basis, maybe it is only supposed to be a temporary role. A more important question is...

Who is Number One? It is a question that Number Six asks throughout the series. In ‘Arrival’ he tells Number Two “Get me Number One” and the reply is “As far as you’re concerned, I’m in charge.” Is he really though? If he is, what exactly is he in charge of? Just the Village or something more? Further episodes will give us more to ponder on.

After he leaves the hospital and is given new clothes, Number Six wears the same clothes as Number Two. Does this mean anything? Or was the wardrobe department being lazy? “Yeah just get two of each of them. I’m sure no one will mind.”

Finally, both the maid and the ex-Admiral wear the Number Sixty-Six badge. Is this significant? Or just a continuity cock-up?

There’s a lot to say about The Prisoner. Am I taking it all far too seriously? Am I looking at it completely wrong and missing something even deeper? Can you tell me what episode order the series should be watched in? Well I’m looking forward to the rest of the series and blogging it along the way.

One last note: I have never seen Danger Man, the series Patrick McGoohan starred in prior to The Prisoner. I am aware of the John Drake/Number Six theory. I plan to watch Danger Man after completing The Prisoner and will consider blogging about it.

Be seeing you.