Friday 3 April 2015

The Prisoner - Dance of the Dead

Episode 8: Dance of the Dead

First ITV broadcast: Friday 17th November 1967, 7.30pm [ATV Midlands/Grampian]
Estimated first run ratings: 9.1 million
First CBS broadcast: Saturday 27th July 1968, 7.30pm

For the first time, Number Two speaking in the title sequence is a woman. We have had a couple of female Number Two's so far. In 'Free For All' it is revealed that Number Six's maid, Number 58, is the new Number Two and in the previous episode, 'Many Happy Returns', Mrs Butterworth is revealed to be Number Two. Interestingly, both characters appear earlier in each respective episode and both under different names, only being unveiled as Number Two at the end of the episodes. 'Dance of the Dead' is the first time we get a female Number Two for the entire episode. Unlike the previous female Number Twos, who both wore skirts and dresses, this Number Two (Mary Morris) is stereotypically masculine, sporting trousers and a jumper, as well as the striped scarf favoured by several previous Number Twos.

The episode starts with an attempt to 'break' Number Six, which Number Two interrupts and spouts off the familiar dialogue about wanting Six together. We have heard variations on this several times in the series. Leo McKern's Number Two in 'The Chimes of Big Ben' says "I don't want a man of fragments!" It seems unnecessary to repeat this idea so many times and simply wastes time in an episode. However, I am willing to excuse 'Dance of the Dead' because that old point of episode order pops up again...

On number occasions this episode tells us that Number Six has not been in the Village very long. Early on he says "I'm new here." When he meets his friend Roland Walter Dutton (Alan White), Dutton says he has been in the Village a couple of months and Number Six says he got there "Quite recently", which implies to me that he has been there only a matter of weeks. During the trial Number Two says of Number Six "He is new and guilty of folly."  In 'The Chimes of Big Ben' the Colonel says Number Six has been gone for months, so how can it be only a few weeks here? The episode order is really bodged up. As if The Prisoner wasn't confusing enough to watch, they throw curve balls like this in.

The plot of this episode is based around Number Six's discovery of a body washed up on the beach. He finds a wallet and a small radio on the man so decides to insert his photo and a note into the wallet, seal it in a plastic bag, then send it with the man back out to sea, kept afloat by a stolen life ring.
Lesson 1 in reusing a dead body.
At one point listening to the radio, it sounds like Number Six has picked something up but when Number Two spots it, they can only pick up the local Village radio. Nonetheless, she confiscates it.

Number Six meets Dutton, who we can guess is an old friend or colleague. Dutton has been getting tortured in the hospital and claims he has told them all he knows but they don't believe him. They have released him for a bit to think things over. Dutton is sure they are going to break him, saying "Soon Roland Walter Dutton will cease to exist."

There is a carnival, including a party at Town Hall. Earlier in the episode this is announced as "There will be music, dancing, happiness - all at the carnival. By order." Saying that "There will be [...] happiness" seems very odd and makes one think of forced smiles; the smile is there but the eyes show the terror that created it.The last two words emphasise the idea of an imposed joy that I have written about before.

Number Two finds Number Six on the beach early in the evening and I must draw attention to some stunning shots. I have nothing more to say about them other than I think they are absolutely beautiful.

The party is fancy dress and costumes were sent out earlier. Number Six's is his own tuxedo, as seen in 'A. B. and C.' He stands out considerably amongst the colourful costumes of the others and asks Number Two "Why haven't I a costume?" She replies "Perhaps because you don't exist", reminding us of Dutton's prediction that he will soon cease to exist.

Number Six sneaks off, stealing a doctor's white coat and a woman, also in a white coat, hands him a piece of paper. It's a "termination order" and is needed for Number Two urgently. Number Six opens it up and finds Dutton's name on it. Entering a room he finds green cabinets and proceeds to open the drawers to each. We are not shown what is in them but later find out that it is a morgue. Number Two appears with a black cat. Number Six had taken in the cat but Number Two reveals that the cat is hers. Number Two reveals that they will amend the man that Number Six sent out to sea. "So to the outside world-" "Which you only dream about." "I'll be dead." "A small confirmation of a known fact." Number Two is really messing with Number Six's head here. The outside world no longer exists and he is dead. There may as well no longer be any outside world because he is never going to see it again. His life in the outside world is over because he can never reach it again. His life in the outside world now only exists in his dreams.

They head back to the party/cabaret evening. The music, dancing and happiness have stopped. There is silence. Number Six is to be put on trial for possession of the radio. Number Six has had an Observer watching him during this episode, Number 240 (Norma West). Observers were mentioned in 'Arrival' but haven't really been touched on since. Number 240 is to be prosecuting and Number Two, dressed as Peter Pan, is the defence. Three judges have been appointed. They are not named but are dressed as Elizabeth I, Horatio Nelson and a Roman emperor, who I think is supposed to be Julius Caesar. I have to admit I am basing this solely on him being dressed similarly to Kenneth Williams in Carry On Cleo (1964).

The History book judges.

Kenneth Williams can't believe someone stole his outfit

It's a kangaroo court. They claim Number Six has broken the rules and when he asks "Has anyone ever seen these rules?" he is ignored. Number Six wants a character witness and asks for Dutton. Number Two fetches him and we see he is dressed as a jester. He is the saddest, most miserable looking jester I have ever seen. Number Two sits him down and lifts his chin. The man looks broken. He says nothing. Roland Water Dutton no longer exists.

Unsurprisingly, the judges find Number Six guilty. Caesar reaches for a black cap. "The sentence is death. We sentence in the name of the people, the people carry it out in the name of justice." Number Six gets a few seconds grace to walk through the crowd, then he runs as they run after him. They seem mad and animal-like. Number Six finds a trapdoor in the morgue, runs down, then back up some stairs. He enters a room that was locked before and finds a machine typing away. It is either sending or receiving some sort of information. Number Six wrecks it and the typing stops. He turns and sees the people through a window.

"It's a mirror" Number Two tells him. "Why are they trying to kill me?" "They don't know you're already dead. Locked up in the long box in that little room." Number Six tells her "You'll never win" and she replies "Then how very uncomfortable for you, old chap." Number Two laughs manically as the machine starts typing again.

This episode feels like a filler episode. Not a lot happens to move the plot of the whole series along. It is just another way for a Number Two to show Number Six how much control they have over the Village. The inhabitants are controlled to the extent that when ordered, they will attempt to kill a man because he possessed a radio. That is certainly a little scary. But we have seen this sort of thing before by now and as with the 'breaking him' scene, I feel we have seen enough by now. This episode should definitely have been a lot earlier.

We pick up some more Village Info. Number Six says to his new maid "The maids come and they go" and shortly afterwards says "I'm new here", which seems contradictory at first. How can he know that the maids don't stay very long if he hasn't been there long? But perhaps they really are changing very rapidly, only staying a week at a time say.

There's a force-field around Town Hall at one point that stops Number Six getting in. A passing man tells Number Six "It's fussy about who it lets in." Even for The Prisoner, the idea that the building is sentient seems a bit too far-fetched. Instead, we can surmise that it is being watched from a control room and a force-field can be turned on or off. The idea of a force-field is interesting though and I would be curious as to the extent it can be implemented in the Village. Why don't they simply place a force-field around the whole Village, including the sea? This would have stopped any attempts to escape out to sea and reduce the need for Rover. But perhaps the force-field capabilities are limited and can only be applied to buildings.

Whilst dancing at the party with Number Six, Number 240 says "This place has been going for a long time" but when Six attempts to question her "Since the war? Before the war? Which war?" she only replies "A long time." This tells us, er, precisely nothing. The Village has been there for a long time. How long is a long time?  Three years? Five years? 10 years? 50 years? I have no idea. Make your own minds up how long a long time is. The Village must keep some mysteries.

Be seeing you.

Friday 27 March 2015

The Prisoner - Many Happy Returns

Episode 7: Many Happy Returns

First ITV broadcast: Friday 10th November 1967, 7.30pm [ATV Midlands/Grampian]
Estimated first run ratings: 10.3 million
First CBS broadcast: Saturday 20th July 1968, 7.30pm

This episode goes for over 20 minutes without a single English word being spoken on screen. The episode is over half way through before we get a conversation in English. You would think that this could make some of the episode seem dull but it doesn't at all. The writing (Anthony Skene) and the directing (Patrick McGoohan under the pseudonym Joseph Serf) are both fantastic for keeping the story interesting in a very different sort of episode. The ending is particularly wonderful.

Number Six wakes up to find the Village deserted. There is an eerie silence and the grey weather outside casts a darkness over the Village. This complete silence is very strange for a place where usually the speakers and radios are continually blaring out a happy voice or upbeat music. Number Six takes an abandoned taxi to Number Two's house, where the door is open and no one is home. He drives to the edge of the Village and looks out at miles of mountains. Number Six can leave! But it is going to have to be by sea. He begins preparations for his voyage, which includes photographing the Village and building a boat/raft. There is a boat in the harbour but presumably it is no good for sailing else villagers could have taken off in it at any time.

Number Six - The Sailor!
In previous episodes we have already seen that Number Six can shoot, fence, box, create impressive woodwork, as well as several other things. Here we see his woodwork skills again as he uses trees, rope and empty oil barrels to build his vessel. Once he sets off he uses parts from a radio to make a compass. This guy has survival skills down to a tee and was probably a scout.

During his journey Number Six gets in a fight with some gunrunners before eventually swimming ashore and waking up on a beach. He finds some gypsies who, despite speaking no word of English, manage to point him in the direction of a road. We see a British policeman at the edge of the road and then a roadblock. Number Six climbs in the back of what looks like a horse van and later, upon hearing sirens, leaps up and dives out the back into the middle of a London road. In reality, he would probably have been immediately hit by a black cab. We know it's London because a double decker red bus goes past, with an advert for Typhoo tea on the side. An Odeon cinema can be seen in the background. We also see Wellington Arch. These are rather odd choices to indicate Number Six's arrival in London. I did recognise Wellington Arch, but I had to look up the name. Personally I would have liked a shot of the Clock Tower and Big Ben, a black cab and a telephone box. If they are trying to say he is in London, why not just go all out? Wellington Arch is hardly the most recognisable of landmarks and certainly wouldn't have been for viewers overseas.

Wellington Arch. A recognisable London landmark?
Number Six walks to his house, 1 Buckingham Place, as seen in the opening credits. He knocks and a maid (Grace Arnold) answers the door, something I found very odd! She's dressed in an old-fashioned black and white maid's uniform. I am aware that people did, and do, still have housekeepers, but I didn't think any domestic help would still be wearing such an old-style of clothes. Shortly afterwards the house's new owner, Ms Butterworth (Georgina Cookson), arrives in Number Six's old car. She looks Number Six up and down: "Terribly interesting." He is not happy to see someone else driving his Lotus 7 and tells her "I know every nut and bolt and cog; I built it with my own hands." "Then you're just the man I want to see." She says the car has been overheating in traffic and invites him in.

He asks her the date. "Saturday March 18th." "Tomorrow's my birthday." Number Six then proceeds to scoff Ms Butterworth's sandwiches and a fruit cake. He finds nothing to tell him anything at the house and leaves. Ms Butterworth insists he can change into some of her husband's old clothes and lets him borrow the car. "Don't forget to come back!" "I'll be back!" "I might even bake you a birthday cake!"

Rather dapper in his borrowed suit.
Number Six meets with two men who are either his former employers or colleagues. He shows them the photographs he took and a diary he wrote on the back of the Tally Ho during his voyage. "The evidence is there." Thorpe (Patrick Cargill) is not convinced. "A set of photographs from ground level of a holiday resort. And a schoolboy navigational log on the back of what you call the village newspaper." His objections are not unreasonable. He later adds "You resign. You disappear. You return. You spin a yarn that Hans Christian Anderson would reject for a fairy tale." The Colonel (Donald Sinden) feels the same and his comments reflect the political situation at the time. "And we must be sure. People defect. An unhappy thought but a fact of life. They defect from one side to the other." Then Number Six adds his thoughts "I also have a problem; I'm not sure which side runs this village."

I also have a problem. As far as I was concerned, the question of who runs the Village was made more or less clear in 'The Chimes of Big Ben'. If Number Six's superiors do not run the Village then they are at least happy to have him there. So why does he go to them in 'Many Happy Returns'?

Number Six, the Colonel, Thorpe. Can Number Six trust them?
In the rest of the episode, Number Six works with some officials who attempt to locate where the Village is. They conclude it must be south west of Spain and Portugal and north west of Morocco. It is possibly on an island. They get a plane to sweep the area and as Number Six heads out his pilot hangs back. A milkman switches places with the pilot and when the plane reaches the Village, the new pilot says "Be seeing you!" and Number Six is shot out of an ejector seat with a parachute. The Village is still empty and Number Six walks back to his house. Mrs Butterworth enters with a cake. "Many happy returns." She is wearing the Number Two badge. Number Six looks outside and music starts up as the Village is suddenly full of people again.

Happy Birthday Number Six!
It is a magnificent twist. Similarly to 'The Chimes of Big Ben', Number Six thought he had escaped but the Village was really still in control all along. This episode has several similarities to 'The Chimes of Big Ben'. In particular, Number Six's meeting with the Colonel and Thorpe echoes his meeting with the Colonel in episode 2. In both meetings the men question the legitimacy of Number Six's story about the Village. Both remark on him resigning, disappearing, then suddenly reappearing. Both bring up the possibility of defection. In both meetings Number Six gives a description of the Village. ('Many Happy Returns' - "Numbers in a village that is a complete unit of our society. A place to put people who can't be left around; people who know too much or too little. A place with many means of breaking a man.") Number Six meets a colonel who he believed he could trust but who turns out to be on the side of the Village. You could argue that the colonel in 'Many Happy Returns' might not have known about the plan to drop Number Six back in the Village. We don't even see the milkman and pilot swop places, so the milkman may well have knocked out the pilot and taken his place by force. Unlike in 'The Chimes of Big Ben' there is no clear indication that Number Six's colleagues are working with the Village.

If 'The Chimes of Big Ben' came after 'Many Happy Returns' and Number Six believed it might only be the milkman who was working with the Village, then it would make sense for him to contact colleagues again in the future. However, I don't think this works with 'The Chimes of Big Ben' coming first as it seemed pretty clear that his colleagues and therefore presumably Number Six's side were on the side of the Village. The West and/or the British were running the Village.

However there is another way of looking at this. In an interview in 1978, Patrick Cargill (Thorpe) said of the episode "I do not think that this was meant to imply that British security were running the Village, but rather that whoever was behind the Village had contacts everywhere." If we apply this to 'The Chimes of Big Ben' as well and Number Six assumed this, it would make sense that in 'Many Happy Returns' he again gets in touch with his colleagues, but chooses completely different ones to previously.

One final note: Number Six's birthday is the same as Patrick McGoohan's so I wonder how much that tells us about the leading man?

Be seeing you.