Thursday 3 September 2015

The Prisoner - Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darling

Episode 13 - Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darling

First ITV broadcast: Friday 22nd December 1967, 7.30pm [ATV Midlands/Grampian]
Estimated first run ratings: 7.3 million
First CBS broadcast: Saturday 3rd August 1968, 7.30pm

From the very beginning this episode is different as we have a pre-titles sequence, instead of going straight into the usual title sequence. Three men sit around looking at photos on a projector screen and they want to know where Seltzman is. We have no idea who any of these people are, nor who Seltzman is. When we eventually reach the title sequence, it lacks the Number Two/Number Six speech we normally get at the end; "We want information." "Well you won't get it!" etc. Instead of the usual BAM in the music when we see the episode's title, the music is rather gentle.

In the Village a man (Nigel Stock) comes to see Number Two (Clifford Evans) and their conversation reveals that Professor Seltzman has invented a way to transfer minds between bodies. But Seltzman has disappeared and the last person to see him was Number Six. Why would the Village be interested in mind-swapping? Well Number Two says that two enemies often swap prisoners. What if they could send the body of one prisoner back with the mind of one of their own? I don't know if it sounds rather obvious but I thought that was a brilliant idea of how to use body-swapping.

Nigel Stock takes some convincing that mind/body-swapping is possible

Number Six is dragged from his house by four men in green overalls and white helmets. Meanwhile Number Two is showing the other man their brand spanking new mind-swapping equipment. It's becoming increasingly clear why this man is here. Later Number Two watches Number Six on a screen, hooked up to equipment. "Tomorrow you will wake up a new man."

Number Six wakes up in bed. We see everything from his POV and we can hear his internal monologue. He is at home, not in the Village. He looks at the photo of a woman (Zena Walker) by his bed and thinks about getting Janet's birthday present. Soon he catches a look of himself in the mirror and - AH! He has the body of the other man. A woman, Janet, turns up, demanding to know where "he" is. She's the woman in the photo. Number Six wants to try and explain, mentioning a dress fitting for her birthday but then Janet reveals that this was a year ago and she hasn't seen him since. This is, I think, the first time we have had a specific indication of how long Number Six has been in the Village. Previously there have been mentions of a few weeks or months, but nothing specific and it has been increasingly difficult to work out what sort of period the episodes are meant to be spread over.

Number Six isn't wild about going grey overnight.

He has forgotten an entire year. Worst. Hangover. Ever.

Janet goes to see her father (John Wentworth), who is one of the men in the pre-titles sequence. From their conversation, we work out that Number Six works for this man, 'Sir Charles', as Janet asks her father if he sent Number Six away on a mission. He maintains that he didn't. The scene is an interesting one as it begins to seem quite forced on the part of the writer to avoid having to use Number Six's real name. I'm not sure it feels natural to have someone referred to as 'he' for an entire conversation. Though there is one moment where he isn't. When Janet begins to conversation - without naming the person - Sir Charles replies, "I presume you're talking about your fiance?"

WOAH! Hold back there. I could maybe, perhaps, just possibly accept that Number Six had some sort of girl he was seeing, but a fiance? It just doesn't add up. I wouldn't say Number Six is asexual but in the Village he has certainly never let women, nor men, distract him sexually. He really hasn't shown any romantic inclinations whatsoever and actually, if I was in the Village, there is only so much time you can spend playing chess at the Retirement Home. Number Six though is happy to spend his time working out, drinking coffee at the cafe, and chatting to former admirals. He does not flirt with pretty boys and girls. He needs to concentrate any other energies on escaping. Now it could be argued that Number Six has been saving himself for his fiance back home, but personally I really cannot buy that. That means he's gone without any action for a year when he could have shagged his way round half the Village's 'Guardians' in order to find out how to escape.

Although the above is a large part in my doubting the verisimilitude of this plot angle, a greater element is that I do not believe that the people behind the Village wouldn't have exploited Janet. It is the easiest and one of the oldest blackmail plots there is: if you don't care about yourself, tell me all you know or we'll hurt someone you love. The Village have played a lot of dirty tricks over the past year and some have been quite inventive, so I can't for one moment believe they wouldn't have tried to use Number Six's fiance against him. Sadly, no matter how absurd it is, this plot element still exists.

Moving on, Number Six jumps in his Lotus and we get a sort of reverse of the opening titles as Number Six returns to his former office building, shoves his way in and demands to see someone. The music over this is the same as when the title sequence normally plays, except a few lower notes have been added in. It's a nice touch and I think it works really well. When someone eventually comes to see Number Six he finds it hard to convince them that he is who he says he is. Despite listing his various code names - including the inventive ZM73 - (another and much better avoidance of his real name!) it is pointed out that anything he tells them could have been extracted from the real person whom he is claiming to be. Nonetheless, he is lead upstairs to meet Sir Charles.

We rather boringly follow them up and out of a lift, then see them head down an office corridor. I never think of The Prisoner as looking dated. The Village is very timeless because it is so confined. Even the shots in London from various episode work very well as the roads are filled with red buses and black cabs. The old buildings were there long before The Prisoner and are still there so the outline of London has not changed much in forty-odd years. I am not very familiar with London so perhaps for those that are some of these shots do look different to modern London. But overall I feel that bar some of the cars on the road, The Prisoner can still look fairly modern. Apart from this corridor.

Crappy corridor

Further crappy corridor

It stands out immensely to me compared to everything else. It looks old-fashioned. That's all it is. But because nothing else does, it's starkly obvious. It certainly doesn't seem to fit in with the grand room that is Sir Charles' office. I imagine the ceilings to be nicotine-stained. It's ugly. I don't like it. Or maybe I'm overreacting a tad...

ZM73 identifies himself to Sir Charles who points out like we heard before, that there is no way to know for sure that he is who he says he is. ZM73 tells how he asked Sir Charles' permission to marry his daughter and goes into great detail about the day. It was at this point that it began to hit me what my problem with this episode was. One of my problems anyway. Nigel Stock is a good actor and he is clearly doing his best to play the lead character for a series that has already filmed most of its episodes. However, he just isn't Patrick McGoohan and I find myself missing him immensely throughout this episode. Nigel Stock's Number Six is nothing like Patrick McGoohan's Number Six to the extent that if it had not been for that internal monologue, I would have presumed that the "body-swapping" had never happened and this was some sort of brain-washing designed to break Number Six. This episode is not like 'The Schizoid Man' where even the audience are supposed to begin to doubt who the real Number Six is. That isn't part of the plot of this episode. Nigel Stock needed to be shown an episode of The Prisoner and the director should have been helping him act more McGoohan-y. Either that or it should have been like Quantum Leap where McGoohan could still have played Number Six but when he looked in a mirror he could see the body everyone else in the episode was seeing.

Unable to convince anyone of his true identity, Number Six heads home where his internal monologue wonders whether his handwriting is still the same (it is) and how he's going to get any money, as he could now potentially be done for fraud for using his own chequebook. I had to go and do a tad bit of internet research on this. The very first cash machine was installed in London in June 1967 and it worked using cheques, not cards, so that's out. I presume the only other option was to physically go into a bank and sign something, so there's still the chance of him getting done for fraud by showing that face around. Number Six decides to check his safe and seems really pleased to find a wadge of money in there. Except, er, it looks like US dollars.

Number Six goes to Janet's birthday party. A waiter who resembles Lurch from The Addam's Family serves him a glass of champagne, whilst some odd music plays and the guests all dance out of time to it. Number Six goes and dances with Janet, telling her he left a slip of paper with her. He needs it. Bring it to him outside. She finds him in the gardens (it seems rather similar to 'A. B. and C.') and hands him a receipt. He still needs to convince her that it's really him. So he kisses her and then they snog and it's horrific. But it would have been worse if McGoohan had done it. Number Six definitely does not snog. If he does, Nigel Stock's snog definitely wouldn't have been anything like McGoohan's so god knows how she recognised him just from that.

Number Six does not snog.

Number Six takes his receipt to a camera shop. Lurch lurks outside. The receipt is for some film and he also wants a passport photograph taken. The shopkeeper (Lockwood West) is only in this one scene but he's unforgettable purely because he acts rather oddly and it made me suspicious of him, though this came to nothing. All this business with the photographer being away but he can certainly take the photo himself, in the back room. Hmm.

It turns out the film was slides and Number Six sets up his projector screen in order to see them. He uses the name Seltzman and the letters' position in the alphabet to work out which slides to use. For any readers unfamiliar with slides, photographs could be put onto them, then placed into a projector so you could project a larger version of them and even make little 'slide shows'. They were ideal for boring friends and family with holiday photos long before Facebook. As a child I remember us having a projector screen and I thought seeing ourselves projected enormously was tremendous.

Slides! A great source of excitement.
Number Six layers his slides on top of one another then puts on some special glasses and a secret message is revealed: 'KANDERSFELD, AUSTRIA'. Don't bother opening up your atlases as there's no such place. Number Six consented to being followed so he has been ever since he left Sir Charles Portland's office all the way until he now reaches Dover port. He is followed all the way to Austria and we get some terrible but probably unavoidable back projection. Yet it wasn't this that pushed the boundaries of my suspension of disbelief so much as the fact that I am supposed to believe that Number Six would drive from London to Austria in an open-top Lotus Seven. I'm not even sure it has a boot.

A nice little touch is that when Number Six reaches Kandersfeld, he is greeted by a cafe waiter (Gertan Klauber) who says, "Welcome to the village."

He finds Professor Seltzman (Hugo Schuster), who is going by the name Herr Helland, hiding out as a barber. Things are beginning to feel a bit repetitive as it is again said that any attempt to prove his identity could have been extracted from the real person. Number Six asks whether Seltzman regards handwriting as as unique as a fingerprint. Seltzman believes it is so compares some fresh writing with an old envelope that Number Six had previously sent him. Seltzman is apparently a brilliant scientist but quite clearly does not have even the most basic grasp of fraudulent techniques. Never mind. The handwriting matches. Number Six's followers have caught up with him though and we finally see some action his episode as there is a bit of a scuffle with Patrick Jordan before Lurch (dressed as a bus conductor for some inexplicable reason) appears with a sort of ray gun and they're gassed.

Probably the most poorly directed fight in history.

Lurch came straight from the set of On the Buses

Number Six and Seltzman are taken back to the Village where Number Two needs Seltzman to reverse the mind-swap. Oddly, although the Village have worked out how to swap minds, they do not know how to swap them back. Seltzman says he will do it but insists on doing it alone and apparently needs a third person. The process appears to work but something goes wrong and the Professor dies. The Colonel (Nigel Stock) is taken to his waiting helicopter to leave the Village. Only when he is safely away does Number Six - back in his own body - tell Number Two what the Professor really did. If you haven't guessed it then Number Six spells out that the Professor did a three-swap and transferred his mind into the Colonel's body.

As I have made clear I have a number of problems with this episode. Overall it just isn't very good. There has been so much brainwashing in the series by this point that this episode feels utterly unnecessary. The plot has some large holes too in that we are never shown when Number Six got his memories of the Village back. It's very unclear. Also, Number Six's conversation with Janet indicates that his memory has gone back to the day he resigned, so why didn't he wake up still intending to resign? Why could he only think about Janet's bloody birthday present? Even if we could find various solutions and explanations to the plot holes, 'Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darling' is still obscenely dull. McGoohan's absence is a contribution to that as Nigel Stock just cannot lead this series as well, but the writing is also quite tedious. Things happen, there is a plot (sort of) but at the same time nothing really happens. We have to wait until the final act for this week's fight and it's too little too late. McGoohan's Number Six, bar voice-overs, only has one set of lines in this episode and when we hear them right at the end it feels like a thumping reminder of what we've been missing this week.

Having heard bad things I tried to go into this episode with an open mind but the reputation is well-deserved. Curiously, the ratings have dropped off. 'The Schizoid Man' was top with 11.7 million and the series had leveled off comfortably at around the 9 million mark. However 'A Change of Mind' has slumped to 7.5 million and dropped still further this week down to 7.3 million. Maybe (hopefully) everyone was off at Christmas parties on Friday nights through December because after trawling through BBC Genome it looks like there was little worth watching on the other channels.

Next time I believe we have cowboys coming so let's hope things pick up as we head towards the finale.

Be seeing you.

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.