Wednesday 29 July 2015

The Prisoner - A Change of Mind

There has been an unplanned extended break at Visual Mutterings. I was rather busy and then I got a new job so I have been even busier. But I was missing Number Six so I finally found the time to get back to the Village via a raft, a boat, a wooden box and a plane.

Episode 12 - A Change of Mind

First ITV broadcast: Friday 15th December, 7.30pm [ATV Midlands/Grampian]
Estimated first run rating: 7.5 million
First CBS broadcast: Saturday 24th August 1968, 7.30pm

Although each episode's opening titles feature the new Number Two, it does not always feature the voice of the new Number Two. This is completely random as it entirely came down to whether or not there was time and the actor was available to record the voice over dialogue for the titles. If not, Robert Rietty's voice was used and it seems his became the 'stock' voice for Number Two. Now most of the time I find this fine and his voice doesn't really stand out too much from whichever Number Two we see. However this week it just instantly felt wrong and my brain couldn't match Robert Rietty's voice to the new Number Two's (John Sharp) face at all. Also, this far into the series the voice has started to become very recognisable and it does seem a shame that they weren't able to record the voice over for more of the actors.

I am posing as the new Number Two

On with the actual episode and Number Six has constructed his own outdoor gym in the woods. A couple of the other villagers aren't happy that he is snubbing the communal gym and decide to pick a fight with Number Six. If you were going to beat someone up, after their exercise routine seems like a good time to do it. But sadly for them this is Number Six who promptly kicks both theirs arses in.

Number Six ends up in trouble for this and obviously that seems a bit unfair but if the Village is anything, unfair seems a good word to describe it. Number Six waits outside a court room for his turn. Over a loud speaker, everyone waiting can hear what is going on inside the court. Next to Number Six, a woman sobs. I was a bit surprised to see that the Village even bothers with the pretense of courts yet clearly they find one useful for some things. In this case, for potential 'Unmutuals'. After his trial Number 93 (Michael Miller) comes out of the court and on the edge of tears he makes a statement, repeating verbatim what the court says over the speakers. "I'm inadequate!" He has been a bad boy and must change his ways. "Believe me! Believe me!"

Number 93 declaring how awful he is

Unsurprisingly when Number Six gets in there we begin to see just how much of a mockery the 'trials' are. Number Six has been asked to fill out a "written questionnaire of  confession". He is told that he will be judged by the assembled "strictly impartial committee". They are so impartial in fact that there isn't a single woman on the committee, which mostly consists of older men. The Committee Chairman (Bartlett Mullins)  tells Number Six "You are not called before this committee to defend yourself" and a voice coming from a tape, adds "All we ask is for your complete confession." Number Six treats it like the farce it plainly is, ripping up the confession sheet and throwing it in the air. It falls to the ground like confetti, adding to the ludicrousness of the occasion. One of my favourite things about this scene is that every member of the committee is wearing one of the Village's now familiar striped jumpers. Some of them are even in black and white ones, meaning that they are almost all decked out in the traditional criminal garb!

There will be hearings to decide Number Six's fate. He finds Number Two at his house and asks if he is above investigation. "No one is above investigation" comes the reply. Thinking over episodes like 'Hammer Into Anvil', this has certainly become clear by now. Number Two goes on to say "If the hearings go against you I am powerless to help you." It is hard by now to decide whether or not Number Two could be making this up. Just what sort of power does Number Two have over the Village. We know by now that a Number Two's power is not infinite but surely he can still overrule many things in the Village?

Number 86 (Angela Browne) encourages Number Six to join a 'social group'. Number Six may be many things but he has never struck me as a 'people person' therefore it is of no great surprise when his meeting with the Social Group does not go well. Interestingly, it seems to mainly consist of fairly young people and one wonders just how it was they got mixed up in something that brought them to the Village. Some of them look like teenagers and I don't recall seeing anyone so young in the Village before. I recognised one of the members of the Social Group: one Joseph Cuby. He features in an early episode of The Saint and also has a credit in To Sir, with Love.

Number Six has a visit to the doctor's. Leaving, he finds two men in the waiting room, smiling rather oddly. Number Six spots a door marked 'aversion therapy' and peering through the window he spots a man being forced to watch a film. One of the men (Thomas Heathcote) sat outside has a scar on the side of his forehead and he seems rather content with life, smiling often. "Relax, fellow! Relax" he tells Number Six. Number Six's stress levels must be constantly through the roof. Relaxing is exactly the right thing to suggest to him. The man tells Number Six "I'm one of the lucky ones, the happy ones. I was..." "Yes?" "I was Unmutual."

"Please - not odd. Just different..."

Back with the committee, Number Six is classed as 'Unumutual'. Any more complaints from the rest of the Village and he will be up for "instant social conversion." We have no idea what that is but it doesn't sounds particularly pleasant. Number Six is his usual self in that he is rather laid back about events, not taking the Village's absurdities seriously. However, we will soon see the reality of being an Unmutual. An announcement is put out over the loudspeakers "any unsocial interaction with Number Six should be reported immediately." The Village has a group mentality. At the Social Group Six was told to "join in with the group spirit!" and now we see how, common in historical dictatorships, villagers are encouraged to turn on their fellow prisoners. They are all encouraged to act the same, join in group activities and eschew any individuality, right down to their clothes. Yet at the same time, the way the Villagers are told to turn each other in would logically encourage some individuality. If you can trust no one but yourself, then you must surely act for your own self interests. In some, possibly many cases, even group social activities may be a form of individuality, with villagers only joining in to avoid the attention of their overseers.

"Let's see how our loner withstands real loneliness." says Number Two, watching on his screens. Number Six wanders alone in the woods. He doesn't look angry; for once he looks a bit sad. It occurs to me that it must be exhausting constantly defying the Village, constantly looking for ways to escape. Back in the main village, he goes to sit outside the cafe and asks for a coffee. The waiter ignores him and everyone sitting nearby stands up and moves away. They all stand together, watching Number Six.

Hard as nails

At home, Number Six is visited by a help group but he does not want their help. He later goes to sit outside but a sudden baying and viscous mob descend and drag Number Six to the hospital where he is injected with something and wheeled away. He is taken to an operating theatre. He is fully conscious but drugged. As the doctor begins to talk through what she plans to do, I remember that Number Two earlier threatened a more permanent conversion. As lotion is applied to Number Six's head, the grinning man outside the doctor's office pops into my mind. Number Six wakes up in a hospital bed, smiling.

When old ladies are beating you with brollies, you know it's gotten bad
Off his face

He seems very relaxed and stress-free, which must be something of a relief for him by this point. A taxi takes him home and the streets are lined with waving people whilst a brass band can be heard. At home, Number 86 tells Number Six to lie down on a chair, but Six watches her making tea in the kitchen and sees her put a tablet in his cup. After she brings it over, he asks her to go his room to fetch a blanket. Whilst she is gone, he pours the tea into a plant pot. Some of the old Number Six is still in there.

Number Two appears and very quickly the topic of Number Six's resignation comes up. It seems like it has actually been quite a while since Number Six was properly asked about why he resigned. This has been good as it has allowed the series to have some different episodes plots, but it is nice to see this continuity and we realise that they haven't completely forgotten why they brought Number Six there in the first place. Number Six claims his memory is a bit foggy at the moment so Number Two leaves him for now.

Numbers Two and 86 watch Number Six on the screens in Number Two's office, where it emerges that there has been no operation at all. Number Six is simply drugged and despite making yet more tea, Number 86 still can't seem to slip it in Number Six's drink. In fact, Number Six swaps the cups and soon Number 86 is off her face instead.

Number Six goes out alone, returning to his makeshift gym. He brings fist back to hit a punchbag but something stops him. Once again the two thugs turn up and a timid Number Six takes a couple of punches before finding himself again and knocking them both to the ground. HE'S BACK.

He finds Number Six still off her face and picking flowers, repeatedly saying she wants to make Number Two happy. "I have to report" she insists. Number Six hypnotises Number 86, making her think she is with Number Two and so gives her report, spilling the beans about the fake operation. He also gives her some new instructions...

Number Six wears a Tissot watch fact fans

Number Six goes to see Number Six "to continue that little chat". He wants to speak in front of a crowd so he can "inspire" others. On the now-familiar balcony overlooking the village square, Number Six begins to make his speech. He pauses as the clock strikes four o'clock a voice calls out "Number Two is unmutual!" It is Number 86. She keeps shouting. "Social conversion for Number Two!" Number Six changes the tone of his speech; "You still have a choice! You can still salvage your right to be individuals!" "Reject this false world of Number Two! Reject it, now!" The crowd have joined in with Number 86, chanting "Unmutual!" and Number Two is chased from the town square, leaving Number Six the opportunity to quietly slip away.

I found this episode's ending a tad weak but otherwise I enjoyed this episode. It didn't feel particularly revolutionary in that it bears similar ideas to several episodes that have come before. Right back to 'A, B, and C' The Prisoner has looked at mind-control through drugs. There is barely an episode that has gone by that does not focus on Number Six defying the system and the stamping out of individuality in the Village. I forever bear in mind the problem of episode order in The Prisoner but despite my enjoyment of much of 'A Change of Mind', it did feel a bit 'samey'. Here's hoping for something a bit different as we start to approach the end of the series.

Tuesday 19 May 2015

The Prisoner - It's Your Funeral

Episode 11 - It's Your Funeral

First ITV broadcast: Friday 8th December 1967, 7.30pm [ATV Midlands/Grampian]
Estimated first run ratings: 9.3 million
First CBS broadcast: Saturday 10th August 1968, 7.30pm

The new Number Two looks like a Thunderbirds' character. He doesn't look like a real person. I spent the entire episode doubting his ability to actually exist. He's Alan Tracy. A slightly blonder Alan Tracy. He also has absolutely terrible teeth. Despite his resemblance to a puppet and teeth the colour of sandpaper, I liked this Number Two (Derren Nesbitt) a lot. He's a stark change to last week's fearful and paranoid Number Two. When he has a phone call with the mysterious 'Sir' he is clearly nervous but regains his composure quickly afterwards. He is confident and cheerful, certain that his plan will succeed.

But which one is the real puppet?
A young woman, Number 50 (Annette Andre), enters Number Six's house and wakes him, anxious to speak with him. "I'm a number, just like you. Does it matter which?" she says. Number Six is certain she is one of "them" and tells her to go back and report he wasn't interested. "What's the point? They know already." he adds and from then on mockingly raises his voice to make sure the microphones pick him up. Just as Number Six is going to chuck her out, she collapses and Number Two, watching the action from the Control Room, says she was given a drug yesterday. Number 50 comes round and tells Number Six that there is to be an assassination, but he doesn't take her seriously.

Number Six likes his beauty sleep undisturbed
Number Two requests an "activity prognosis" on Number Six. This is interesting as it gives us a chance to see a typical day for Number Six when he's not trying to escape or annoy Number Two. It is rather nicely dull; he goes for a walk, exercises, plays chess, and goes to the cafe. If you like a quiet life, the Village looks pleasant enough but on the other hand, you can see how someone like Number Six would get bored and remain keen to escape.

Number Six sits for a portrait and the painter tells him about 'Jammers', a term Number 50 mentioned. Jammers talk about fake plots to confuse the Observers. However the Observers keep a list of known Jammers so they don't pay attention to their fake discussions. This is supposedly why Number 50 has been ignored about the assassination plot and it is all about to go a bit Boy Who Cried Wolf. She claims everyone in the Village would be punished. The idea of the Jammers is fantastic because it's evidence of an ongoing rebellion against the Village from numerous people. Up until now it has seemed that Number Six was the only person to repeatedly act out. For me this gives the series more verisimilitude as it always seemed odd that every single one of the other prisoners could be so docile.

Whilst Number Six plays Kosho (the fighting sport on the trampolines we have seen previously), Number 100 (Mark Eden) goes into Six's locker and swops his watch for an identical one. When Number Six comes to put it on later he finds it has stopped so heads to the Watchmaker's shop. Number Six finds a small device there that the Watchmaker (Martin Miller) claims is "Just a toy." When Number Six leaves, Number 100 appears from the back of the shop. "Why is it necessary to expose our method?" the Watchmaker asks. He doesn't see what they gain from it. "We add to their confusion." Number 100 tells him.

Number Six examines the radio

Number 100, in a magnificently coloured jacket, with the Watchmaker
Number Six meets Number 50 outside, who reveals that the Watchmaker is her father. Number Six is now interested, especially as he recognised the device as one for detonating explosives. Number 50 tells him the victim is to be Number Two and they go back to see the Watchmaker, who says he is doing it out of principle; "We are prisoners here for life, all of us, and I have met no one here who has committed a crime." He feels he needs to "protest in a manner they cannot ignore." To kill Number Two does at first seem rather a futile gesture as Number Two is anything but irreplaceable. However I can understand the Watchmaker's feeling that it would be a suitable protest on a matter of principle. It would tell those that run the Village that they can be touched and are not as all-powerful as they believe. Sadly, the fact that Number Two is in on it is proof that they remain all-seeing and all-knowing.

Number Six tells Number Two of the assassination plan but Number Two says he doesn't believe him. Perhaps if Number Six could find out where and when it will happen as "the laugh would do me an awful lot of good." So Number Six heads to the shop that night with Number 50 and discovers a replica of the Great Seal of Office with explosives inside. Interestingly, we see Number Two's billed as 'Chief Administrator' on the seal, finally giving us some hint as to what his authority in the Village actually is. Although really, Chief Administrator is a pretty open ended job title!

Number Six goes to warn Number Two again but finds a different Number Two (AndrĂ© Van Gyseghem) who doesn't believe him either.  "Every interim Number Two who has served here whilst I've been on leave has been cautioned by you about some improbable conspiracy to murder him." We then see a video of Number Six warning different people, with Number Six's bits all taken from the one warning he gave before. Number Two sees no reason why anyone who fake the footage. "Tomorrow I hand over to my successor. I retire." "Perhaps they're trying to save a pension." Number Six adds, hitting the nail on the head.

The retiring Number Two
It's Appreciation Day. The loudspeaker announcer (Fenella Fielding) describes it's purpose as being to "Honour those who govern us!" This is mad. Utterly absurd. It's taking the piss actually. A day for the prisoners to honour their captors. It's a fantastic idea.

Chatting with Number 50 outside the cafe, Number Six says that the reason for the fake video was "to discredit me" because "I was the only one he might have believed."

The retiring Number Two is having doubts and has started to believe Number Six. Number Six goes to see him again and encouragingly tells Number Two that the assassination could be prevented. Number Two looks despondent and responds "You never understood us, Number Six - we never fail!" This seems a bold statement to make! A. B. and C., The General and Hammer Into Anvil all show Number Twos' plans failing and/or Number Six getting one over them.

Between scenes we have seen new blonde Number Two on the phone to 'Sir', positive that all is going to plan. He and the retiring Number Two appear on a balcony together for the handing-over ceremony. Number Six has told the retiring Number Two where the explosives are and as the Great Seal will feature in the ceremony, he is looking understandably glum.

Throughout the episode, blonde Number Two has never been quite sure whether or not he wants to keep his glasses on. He has had them with him all the time, whipping them on and off but whether he's short or long sighted is anyone's guess. Now we see that they contain a radio and he uses it to communicate with Number 100, just to make sure that everything is going to plan.

Number Six spots the Watchmaker in a tower and rushes over. Meanwhile the seal has been placed on the retiring Number Two, who is clearly absolutely bricking it. As he makes his departing speech, Number Six gets hold of the remote but when he leaves the tower is confronted by Number 100. They have a fight and Number Six tries to talk to blonde Number Two, who has just had the seal placed on his shoulders. He starts to rush through his speech, knowing that Number Six could and might blow him up any moment. Behind him the outgoing Number Two has been visibly sweating and still looks very worried, not daring to believe he may have escaped.

To quote Gene Hunt: As nervous as a very small nun in a penguin shooting contest.

The sexual tension here is immense.
Number Six runs there with the remote and whilst the new Number Two is shaking hands with various people, hands it to the retiring Number Two, telling him "It's your passport." There's a helicopter waiting. "They'll get me eventually." "Fly now, pay later." "They'll find me, wherever I go." "So long as it's not here." The new Number Two notices them and his face falls. The retiring Two goes to leave and the new Two takes a couple of steps towards him, but retiring Two's finger hovers over the remote and the new Two stops. A huge smile fills the retiring Two's face and he runs. The new Two goes to remove the Great Seal but Number Six steps in, grabs his hand and shakes it, saying how well the day went; "Better than planned." Finally, he adds "and now you can look forward to your own retirement and I'm sure they'll plan something equally suitable for you when the day comes." They look up and see the helicopter flying away. "Be seeing you...won't I?"

I love those final lines of Number Six's. He gleefully points out to the new Number Two that his own time will come and he will be treated just as badly as the man he plotted to have killed. The "...won't I?" at the end is also magnificent. Number Two has failed before he has even properly begun. Whilst "we never fail" wasn't quite true, they certainly don't accept failure. For me this episode implies that no Number Two ever gets to leave the Village in a good way. This one has made it to retirement but like any other he knows too much.  This harks back to a conversation in The Chimes of Big Ben. Number Six asks Number Two "Has it ever occurred to you that you're just as much a prisoner as I am?" "Of course," Two calmly replies. "I know too much. We're both lifers." It seems not all the Number Twos have accepted this.

My big issue with this episode is that I have a problem with Number Two's (or Sir's or whoever's) plan. I find it hard to justify Number Six's involvement in the plan. Why does Number Two bother making the effort to include Number Six? With the help of Number 100 , Number Two ensures that Number Six knows exactly what is going to happen on Appreciation Day. He knows where the bomb is and he knows about the remote. All Number Six has to do is find out where the Watchmaker is on the day and he is able to stop the plan. The only reason for Number Six's involvement is so that he warns Nesbitt's Number Two, who can then make the fake video to pass on to André Van Gyseghem's retiring Number Two. This ensures that when Number Six visits again to insist Number Two is going to be assassinated, Van Gyseghem's Number Two doesn't believe him. The one reason I can deduce for all this is if they had not involved Number Six, there was the chance of him discovering the plan himself and coming forward at an unpredictable time. Yet I feel I am stretching this. It is doubtful that Number Six would have found out about the plan. It was Number Two who sent the Watchmaker's daughter, Number 50, to see Number Six. Number 100's switching of the watches prompted Number Six's visit to the Watchmaker's, ensuring he saw the bomb remote. Number Two asked Number Six to find out exactly how they planned to kill him, meaning Six and Number 50 went to the Watchmaker's shop and found the replica of the Great Seal of Office.

Number Two's plan fails completely. The retiring Number Two begins to believe Number Six about the assassination and even if he hadn't, Number Six just about knows enough to be able to stop the bomb going off.

To turn to some more positive aspects... I very much enjoyed Mark Eden as Number 100 and would have liked the part to have been a bit bigger. There are a couple of scenes with Number Two's various assistants that probably could have been replaced with Number 100. Also, his pink jacket is awesome.

I tend to overlook the technical aspects of the series most of the time, being far too busy looking at the plot. I was impressed with the lighting in Number Two's office. The screens are filled with what look like close ups of lava lamps, so when Number Six visits he is either in a green or purple light and I think it looks great.

We have had a couple of excellent episodes and Number Six hasn't tried to escape in either of them! After A. B. and C., The General and Hammer Into Anvil this marks the fourth episode in which Number Six can be said to have gained a "little victory" against a Number Two. There are only six episodes of Number Six left. My memory of the whole series was quite hazy before this re-watch, more hazy than I thought actually. I know one of the upcoming episodes has a Western setting but apart from that, I remember very little from now on. It's exciting.

Be seeing you.