17: Fall Out


The Prisoner Episode by Episode

E17 Fall Out

1 February 1968

Written by Patrick McGoohan

Directed by Patrick McGoohan

Story: Having defeated Number Two, Number Six/Prisoner is brought to meet Number One. There are, however, a few formalities first…

Who is Number Two? Leo McKern

Guest Cast: Kenneth Griffith, Alexis Kanner, Peter Swanwick, Angelo Muscat

Information: So, we come to the final episode of The Prisoner, the one with all the answers. Well, maybe not! Following a recap of an apparently random series of scenes from the preceding Once Upon A Time, the final episode of The Prisoner opens with a caption card thanking Sir Clough Williams-Ellis for the use of the North Wales resort of Portmeirion as a primary filming location on the series—creator and star Patrick McGoohan had an agreement not to reveal the location until the series final episode.

With Lew Grade having pulled the plug on a full second season of another 13 episodes of the show, McGoohan was faced with wrapping up the series in short order. Having repurposed the earlier-shot Once Upon A Time (originally entitled Degree Absolute) as the first part of a two-episode conclusion, McGoohan scripted and shot a new ending which saw Number Six taken by the Controller (Swanwick) to meet Number One following his victory over Number Two.

Fall07According to production paperwork, the shoot on Fall Out took 12 days during November 1967 alongside pick-up filming for another preceding episode, The Girl Who Was Death. Indeed, Fall Out repurposes several sets and actors from that episode, including the rocketship control room and Kenneth Griffith (no longer Number Two, now the Judge or the President). Alexis Kanner, from Living in Harmony and who had briefly appeared in The Girl Who Was Death, was also retained to play Number 48, embodying the 1960s conception of ‘youth’.

Fall05As there was almost a full year between the filming of Once Upon a Time and Fall Out, Leo McKern looks rather different than he appeared then. As the episodes were broadcast one after the other, McKern’s Number Two is not only revived from death but given something of a makeover in the process (McKern’s shorter dyed hair was for a stage role he was then playing). McKern had a difficult time working with McGoohan, yet he appears in three episodes of the series (including The Chimes of Big Ben). According to Robert Fairclough’s The Prisoner Official Companion, he regarded McGoohan as a bully as he was something of a tyrant on set. This supposedly contributed to McKern’s poor health during the filming of Once Upon a Time. However, he seems to have been happy enough to return a year later for the series final episode.

Fall06While the script was written rather quickly for Fall Out, Alex Cox maintains it was not written, filmed, and completed in the two-week period suggested by Fairclough. In I Am (Not) A Number, Cox uses the show’s production paperwork to highlight that shooting took place two months before transmission at the beginning of February 1968. The problem facing McGoohan was that he nor anyone else on the production had actually considered how the series would end or how the identity of Number One would be revealed (if it ever was). Producer David Tomblin recalled there had been various conversations and ideas put forward early in production, but nothing definite had been decided, until circumstances forced McGoohan into a corner. Presumably Fall Out, as it was entirely under McGoohan’s control, reflects some of those earlier ideas, filtered through his experience of producing the series previous 16 instalments.

There was little location work for Fall Out, and none filmed in Portmeirion itself. Much of the location footage involved the journey of the lorry in which the Prisoner, Number Two, the Butler, and Number 48 escape to London in. Central London locations featured, and the show returned to where it began, at No. 1 Buckingham Place, where the door of the Prisoner’s flat closes behind the Butler automatically with a sound any attentive viewer of the series would recognise. The material depicting the evacuation of The Village was put together using material previously filmed but not used in any episodes, as well as shots lifted from earlier instalments, especially Arrival and The General.

Fall01What’s it All Mean? Fall Out is open to any number of interpretations—and has been over the 50 years since it was first transmitted. Many have tried to figure out what the message was, what McGoohan was trying to say (although if they hadn’t got that from the previous episode, they simply hadn’t been paying attention). There is no definitive answer to Fall Out or to The Prisoner as a whole. It relies upon the single thing that McGoohan was championing throughout the series: individuality. Everyone is free to take what they might from the series and put their own spin on the final episode. To that end there have been left wing, right wing, libertarian and other analysis of the final instalment, and all have been equally valid. McGoohan provided a text with no single meaning, no overall answer to the puzzle, except that which each individual viewer him/herself brings to it.

However, there are some obvious topics featured in Fall Out. The ‘establishment’ versus the upcoming generation is a major one, with McGoohan himself falling in between the ‘old guard’ and rising ‘youth’. It is through Kanner’s Number 48 that McGoohan (who has little dialogue himself in the episode) captures the spirit of rebellion that was abroad in the late-1960s. Whether such rebellion can be productive or is simply destructive is a question raised, but never answered. As ever, McGoohan was influenced by the world around him and his own personal reactions to it.

Fall09In an environment that recalls nothing less than one of James Bond’s adversaries hidden lairs, Number Six is given back his identity (although the caption over the character driving away in his Lotus continues to label him ‘Prisoner’), returned to his civilian dress and given the best seat in the house (a literal throne) to watch as The Village bureaucracy attempts to deal with him. There is much obfuscation, but the choice is ultimately a simple one: ‘Lead us… or go.’ Although he is provided with (and takes) money and a passport, this Prisoner has no intention of leaving The Village intact.

Fall12Before the revolution, he has one final bit of outstanding business: the much-vaunted meeting with Number One. Here, McGoohan becomes ever more esoteric in his choices. The white robed figure he unmasks in the rocketship control room is shown to be wearing another mask underneath, that of a monkey. Under that mask, the Prisoner confronts nothing less than his own face—his jailer, Number One, is himself. It is little wonder that audiences expecting a Bond-style finish to the series were thrown by this revelation: how could McGoohan be both Number Six (prisoner) and Number One (jailer) at the same time? No wonder certain members of that dissatisfied audience apparently wanted to lynch the show’s creator/star.

Fall11Of course, McGoohan doesn’t intend the image to be taken literally. He is clearly playing on the idea that man’s greatest enemy is himself—it is humankind’s worst aspects that hold back its finest. Progress is often followed by re-entrenchment by reactionary forces (McGoohan would easily recognise the world of 2018, despite the fact that many would hold it is very different from that of 1968). McGoohan’s message is ultimately simple: there can be no escape from oneself (personally or politically).

That’s Weird! Rover, the large white balloon-like security guard/punishment machine that was last seen occupying Number Two’s distinctive ball-shaped chair in his office, was disposed of in Fall Out. Towards the end of the series, Rover is seen to ‘melt’ away as all hell breaks loose in The Village, presumably returning to a dormant state, or perhaps simply ceasing to exist. The effect was supposedly inspired by Alexis Kanner dropping ice cream into his coffee, only to see it bubble and melt away.

Punch Ups! None, really, although there is one almighty gun battle (McGoohan’s only accommodation of those expecting an all-action finale—all the elements are there from a rocket, military guards, and an evil overlord). The Prisoner does do battle with various Village henchmen, aided by a rebelling Number Two, the Butler, and Number 48. This trio destroy the underground lair, leading to the abandonment of The Village.

Fall10Trivia: At the height of their popularity in the second half of the 1960s, The Beatles were notoriously picky about the use of their music in film and television. While some was licensed, it was often for a single use only. This approach meant that their music had to be removed from a trio of Doctor Who stories when they came to be released on home formats (The Chase and Remembrance of the Daleks on VHS and DVD; the mostly missing Evil of the Daleks on CD). However, The Prisoner’s music editor Eric Mirval was unusually far-sighted, securing the use of The Beatles ‘All You Need is Love’ for Fall Out in perpetuity for the one-off payment of just $60. Was John Lennon a secret fan of The Prisoner, or was a simple error made? Whichever, that is why audiences can enjoy Fall Out today as it was originally transmitted, complete with ‘All You Need is Love’ scoring scenes of mayhem and gunfire!

Verdict: It may not have been the finale that viewers at the time wanted or expected, but Patrick McGoohan’s closing episode of The Prisoner is as oddball and enigmatic as the series had always been and as its creator would continue to be throughout his life. 

Score (Out of Six): Six (could it be anything else?)

16: Once Upon A Time


E16 Once Upon A Time

25 January 1968

Written by Patrick McGoohan

Directed by Patrick McGoohan

Story: In an all-or-nothing final attempt to break the Prisoner, a returning Number Two invokes ‘Degree Absolute’.

Who is Number Two? Leo McKern

Guest Cast: Angelo Muscat, Peter Swanwick, John Cazabon

Information: Now the real weirdness begins—everything up to this point was merely prologue… Faced with a sudden cancellation when Lew Grade decided not to proceed with funding any more episodes of The Prisoner, show creator Patrick McGoohan had the seemingly impossible task of effectively and satisfyingly wrapping up the series. He’d been away from the production for a while to film Ice Station Zebra, and upon returning had a series of pick-ups to shoot to complete several half-finished episodes.

Although Once Upon A Time and the final episode of the series Fall Out work together very well, they were actually shot eight months apart. This episode was scripted and shot much earlier in the run than its penultimate placing in the broadcast order might suggest. The end, however, was revised and reshot to allow the episode to function as a curtain raiser for the all-action finale that McGoohan had in mind for the series. This instalment was shot surprisingly early in the production as the sixth episode (note the return of the script editor credit for George Markstein), immediately following Leo McKern’s first appearance as Number Two in The Chimes of Big Ben. McKern’s contract was extended for a fortnight to accommodate the shooting of this episode. It seems clear, however, that it was intended to fall late in the show’s run, possibly as the final episode of a ‘first season’ of 13 instalments.

Once10McKern’s Number Two has clearly been recalled to service, perhaps against his will, after a series of other potentially temporary stand-in Number Twos have all failed in their varied and variously imaginative attempts to break Number Six and secure from him an admission of his true reason for his resignation. He emerges from beneath the floor of the control room, Windy Miller style, only to take out his anger on the silent figure of the diminutive Butler, and then demand that Rover give up the controller’s seat (so depriving us of an episode in which Rover is Number Two and gets to try and break Number Six in his own unique way!) There is only one way that this Number Two believes will finally force a confession from Number Six—he invokes ‘Degree Absolute’ and demands authorisations from his handler (presumably Number One) at the end of the ominous red phone.

Once07Angelo Muscat is finally given an up-front ‘featuring’ credit, following Leo McKern’s ‘guest star’ notice. Born in 1930, Muscat was only 4ft. 3in. tall, despite the rest of his family (parents, brothers) being of regular height. After various mundane jobs, he moved from his native Malta to the UK and joined a touring production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, followed by a move into television. His height meant that only certain roles were suitable, including that of the squat robot ‘Chumbly’ in the Doctor Who serial Galaxy 4 (1967) and a part in the BBC’s 1966 version of Alice in Wonderland by Jonathan Miller (which also featured Leo McKern in drag as the Duchess). McGoohan cast Muscat in 14 of the 17 episodes of The Prisoner, although as the enigmatic mute Butler he has no dialogue (during the original run there was some speculation that he might actually be the all-controlling Number One). McGoohan apparently simply picked the actor from a line up of photographs put forward by the shows casting director. Muscat was quoted at the time as saying: ‘I could hardly believe it when he chose me. I have always been a fan of his and never missed a Danger Man episode.’ Following the series, Muscat appeared in The Beatles’ 1967 movie Magical Mystery Tour and as an Oompa Loompa in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971). He died at the early age of just 47 in 1977.

Following Muscat’s death, The Prisoner’s script editor George Markstein said: ‘I was extremely sad to hear that he had died. He never said a word throughout the series, and yet in a way he was as important, or perhaps even more so, then Number Six himself. Angelo was a genial little man—he always had a smile, even on the set at eight o’clock in the morning he had a marvellous knack of being cheerful. I think one of the nicest things about the whole series was the fact that it gave Angelo a niche and a certain amount of worldwide fame.’

Once11Peter Swanwick was another ‘regular’ whose ‘supervisor’ or ‘controller’ figure was given a showcase in Once Upon A Time, although he only appeared in nine of the 17 episodes. Born in 1922, his career began with a bit part in the Humphrey Bogart-Katharine Hepburn movie The African Queen (1951), whose studio sessions were shot in London. He became a regular face on 1960s British television, guest starring in various shows including The Avengers and two episodes of McGoohan’s Danger Man. In poor health, Swanwick also died young in 1968, aged just 46, just nine moths after the final episode of The Prisoner, Fall Out, aired.

Once08The bulk of this episode takes place on a single set, the so-called Embryo Room, in which Number Two attempts to regress Number Six, taking him back to childhood and working through his life in the hope that something in his fundamental make up can be tapped to reveal the reason for his resignation. ‘Even as a child, there is something in your mind that is a puzzlement,’ says McKern’s Number Two of his subject. ‘When I have found it, I will refine it and tune it and you will play our game.’ All that Number Two discovers, though, is that the self-reliant and stubborn streak that defines Number Six appears to have been present from his earliest school days.

What’s it All Mean? ‘Degree Absolute’ is claimed to be a genuine psychological therapy by Number Two in which patient and doctor engage in a close personal and psychological relationship to get at the root of any problems, and which may involve them swapping roles to a degree in some form of role play. This is, of course, exactly what happens in Once Upon A Time, where Number Six essentially beats Number Two at his own game by resisting all the psychological tricks and scenarios he attempts to play out, turns the tables upon him, and uses his own supposed ‘therapy’ against him. It is a gambit we’ve seen Number Six pull several times before in his battle with the authorities of The Village.

The approach taken by Number Two draws upon Shakespeare’s notion of the seven ages of man expressed in As You Like It, Act 2, Scene 7—both Number Two and Number Six reference the source and are clearly familiar with it. As applied here, it seems to suggest a process whereby a subject is regressed to childhood and is taken through various stages of life as a way of dealing with or coming to terms with various psychological problems.

Once04The design of the Embryo Room, however, only seems to accommodate the earliest years of nursery and schooling, with the subsequent adult years having to be enacted with various theatrical props, including sporting activities, wartime service (although McGoohan’s Number Six would have been too young), and confrontations with authority, be it headmasters, employers, or the figure of a court room judge. None of these scenarios serve to effectively break Number Six, and the nearest he comes to offering a reason for his resignation is the admission that he was seeking ‘peace of mind’.

Once01That’s Weird! For a long time, sections of The Prisoner fandom believed they had found the smoking gun that proved that Number Six was John Drake from Danger Man. This was based upon a line of dialogue from Leo McKern’s Number Two while in his headmaster guise. It was long believed that he said to Number Six, ‘Report to my study in the morning, Drake!’ That would’ve been great, if only it had been true. It’s an easy mistake to make as McKern’s delivery is not all that clear. However, later perusal of the script revealed the line to be the far more mundane (and school-related) ‘Report to my study in the morning break’. No mystery here, unfortunately.

Punch Ups! Apart from in the clips compilation that Number Two watches at the beginning of the episode (most of which seem to include violence of one sort or another), there is next to no physical fighting in this instalment. Number Six and Number Two come close to blows, but their antagonism is contained in sporting endeavours such as boxing and fencing. Number Six does get a punch in at Number Two outwith these games, though.

Once05Trivia: Making this episode took a strain on McKern who reportedly either suffered a mental breakdown or a heart attack as a result (accounts vary). He certainly seems to have taken a break mid-shoot, and the figure he presents in Fall Out, shot almost a year later, is very different physically.

Verdict: A rightly celebrated psychologically focused episode, and the perfect lead in for the final instalment of The Prisoner… All your questions are about to be answered, right?

Score (Out of Six): Five

Brian J. Robb

Want more Prisoner? Like our Facebook Page and check out The Unmutual web site. If you want a great book on the series, start with Robert Fairclough’s The Prisoner: The Official Companion.

15: The Girl Who Was Death


The Prisoner: Episode by Episode

E15 The Girl Who Was Death

18 January 1968

Written by Terence Feely, from an idea by David Tomblin

Directed by David Tomblin

Story: ‘The Prisoner’ finds himself engaged in a battle to prevent Professor Schnipps from destroying London, while the Professor’s daughter attempts to assassinate him.

Who is Number Two? Kenneth Griffith

Guest Cast: Justine Lord, Christopher Benjamin, Max Faulkner, John Drake

Girl04Information: We’re well into David Tomblin’s version of The Prisoner with The Girl Who Was Death, which was the first episode screened in 1968 following a two week break in the new year (and on a new night: Thursday). This was another episode adversely (depending on your viewpoint) affected by Patrick McGoohan’s absence while shooting Ice Station Zebra. Billed as ‘The Prisoner’ rather than the more usual ‘Number Six’, McGoohan’s character spends much of the episode in disguise as a Sherlock Holmes type figure with extravagant facial hair and sunglasses so that stunt man and stand-in Frank Maher could double him (as in The Schizoid Man, also written by Feely). This is most prevalent in the location filming around the Kursaal Fun Fair amusement park in Southend (which closed in 1973).

As in Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darling, this episode exhibits some of the traits of the concept of reconfiguring The Prisoner as a ‘mission of the week’ show, as suggested by exiting script editor George Markstein. ‘The Prisoner’ is already out of The Village when we first encounter him, and he received his instructions from a vinyl record (like the mystery voices that directed the exploits of the Mission: Impossible team or Charlie’s Angels) in a direct lift from the Danger Man episode Koroshi. The character as depicted may as well have been John Drake, and there has been speculation that some of the ideas and concepts in this episode had originally been developed as an unmade instalment of Danger Man.

In fact, what The Girl Who Was Death resembles most closely is an episode of The Avengers, but instead of Steed and Mrs. Peel (for example), we have a Steed figure acting solo, and the romantic tension is between him and the mysterious woman out to eliminate him (actually, most of the sexual interest seems to come from her; as ever, McGoohan seems less than engaged by an attractive woman…).

Girl02Justine Lord all but steals the episode as a Mary Quant assassin out to prevent ‘The Prisoner’ (or ‘Mr. X’, as he is referred to in the episode during the boxing match) from tracking her father, whose insane plan to destroy London with a huge missile is the driver behind the plot. Lord had appeared in The Avengers, as well as episodes of The Saint and Man in a Suitcase for ITC; she’d later to go on to feature in soaps, including Crossroads and Compact. In The Girl Who Was Death, she plays the fabulous title character with all the glam that 1960s fashion, make-up, and hair could offer.

Girl03Number Two is relegated to a bit player in this instalment, so much so that he doesn’t appear in the traditional title sequence (reinstated after being absent for a couple of episodes). Kenneth Griffith is first encountered as Schnipps, the crazed villain with the Napoleon complex. It is only at the climax that he gets a brief moment, alongside Justine Lord’s Village operative, as Number Two. A political filmmaker as well as an actor, Griffith was probably on the same wavelength as McGoohan. He died in 2006, aged 84. Number Two’s plan—to get Number Six to drop his guard around the children he is reading the story to—is almost as ludicrous as the storybook narrative itself.

It’s a ludicrous series of events, rather than a plot, which only makes sense with the ultimate revelation that the whole thing is a children’s story—it is possible that less alert viewers may have missed the significance of the illustrated storybook that bookend the ad breaks. The entire thing is pitched as a spoof of spy shows, including McGoohan’s own Danger Man, as well as the then prevalent adventures of 007 in the James Bond film series (a role that McGoohan was twice offered, and twice refused). In fact, the technique of locking ‘The Prisoner’ in the Turkish bath hot box with a broom pushed through the handles was seen in Thunderball two years before…

Returning in a bigger role in this episode was Christopher Benjamin, playing Potter. He’d previously appeared in the very first episode, Arrival, as the manager of the Labour Exchange, and had then turned up again in The Chimes of Big Ben as Number 23 (who was never established on screen to be the same character from Arrival). Benjamin had also appeared as a character named Potter in the Danger Man episode Koroshi. Benjamin is known to Doctor Who fans for the role of theatrical impresario Henry Gordon Jago in the 1977 Tom Baker serial The Talons of Weng Chiang, a character he has reprised for a long-running series of audio adventures. Another return appearance in this episode features Alexis Kanner as the photographer on the roller coaster—he was The Kid in the previous episode Living in Harmony and would reappear in the series’ final episode Fall Out as Number 48.

What’s it All Mean? For the first time, this episode depicts the existence of children in The Village—it must be assumed those whom ‘The Prisoner’ is revealed to be reading the story to are the children of some long-term Village residents, and were not shipped in especially as part of the plot to trick Number Six, although we never see any other children in The Village in any other episodes.

The Girl Who Was Death has all the feeling of a holiday special, so it is a shame it didn’t air over the Christmas 1967 holiday rather than well into the new year. It was originally planned as a 90 minute feature length instalment, but apparently Lew Grade refused the additional funding (no surprise, given he was on the verge of cancelling the entire series).

McGoohan’s absence making Ice Station Zebra primarily affected a trio of episodes—Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darling; Living in Harmony; and The Girl Who Was Death. However, out of that adversity came three of the series most unique and innovative instalments. This trio helped classify The Prisoner as one of the most experimental television shows of the 1960s, a need forced on the production through necessity. David Tomblin took advantage of McGoohan’s absence to put his imprint firmly on the show, and these three episodes gave McGoohan ideas of where to take the series for its conclusion in Once Upon A Time and Fall Out when Grade unexpectedly pulled the plug.

As a spoof of the spy genre mixed with a colourful 1960s caper movie (something like Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (1965) or The Great Race (1965), The Girl Who Was Death works a treat. It is, however, rather inconsequential in the bigger picture of The Prisoner, failing to advance the overall plot and telling us little about the character of Number Six or his plight in The Village.

Girl07That’s Weird! During the car chase, Sonia (as the girl is named in the closing credits) is able to manipulate the image of the pursuing car containing ‘The Prisoner’ by swiping her finger back and forward, titling the image of the following vehicle from side to side, and then almost in a full revolution—all this seems to have a physical effect on the occupant of the car. Of course, this is simply a back-projected image being affected, and the act is in the context of a storybook tale, but it does raise interesting ideas of virtual reality (as did preceding episode Living in Harmony) in the way she is able to manipulate the image and the environment with real-world effects. It’s use here, however, simply draws attention to the constant overuse of such back projection in 1960s ITC productions (a prime offender among many), and so features as the overall episode’s deconstruction of the tropes of such spy fiction television.

Punch Ups! There’s little physical action for ‘The Prisoner’ in this one, although he does get to participate in a boxing match, if that counts. He later engages in a slapstick fall about with Schipps’ men in the lighthouse/rocket.

Trivia: An actor with the coincidental name of John Drake (the name of McGoohan’s character in Danger Man, and possible the same character he plays in The Prisoner), played the deadly bowler featured in the cricket matches, early in the episode—a fact that no doubt amused McGoohan.

Verdict: Fanciful and funny, but while enjoyable and weird this episode adds little to the overall story of The Prisoner.

Score (Out of Six): Four

Brian J. Robb

Want more Prisoner? Like our Facebook Page and check out The Unmutual web site. If you want a great book on the series, start with Robert Fairclough’s The Prisoner: The Official Companion.

14: Living in Harmony

Harmony 00

The Prisoner Episode by Episode

E14 Living in Harmony

29 December 1967

Written by David Tomblin (story by David Tomblin and Ian L. Rakoff)

Directed by David Tomblin 

Story: Number Six finds himself in the Old West, in a town called Harmony that is reminiscent of a certain Village…

Who is The Judge? David Bauer (also Number Two)

Guest Cast: Alexis Kanner, Valerie French

Wells Fargo Despatches: As a teenager when The Prisoner was first re-run on British television on Channel Four in 1983-1984, I was astonished when this instalment appeared. My parents were sick of hearing me go on about ‘the one when The Prisoner was a Western!’ It wasn’t that I was particularly a fan of Westerns, it was just that even in the context of The Prisoner, which as it went on had gradually become less like most other television shows of the 1960s, Living in Harmony was something of a further departure. Of course, I’d read as much as I could gather about classic 1960s television (which wasn’t much except library books before I discovered magazines like Primetime), but actually experiencing The Prisoner for myself was something else, especially this offbeat episode.

Harmony 09Completely lacking the usual title sequence, the episode wrong-foots the viewer from the off, with a Old West-set recreation of Number Six’s resignation, this time as a Sheriff turning in his badge and gun. Why? His reasons are his own. It’s a clever re-encapsulation of the basics of the show in a most surprising context. After that, the familiar situations of The Village and Number Two are recreated in the form of the Western town of Harmony (which Number Six cannot leave—his early escape attempt is thwarted and he’s dragged back) and The Judge (David Bauer), the Old West equivalent of Number Two. The Judge runs the town, has his enforcer thugs, and controls the populace—just as Number Two does in The Village.

This was the second episode made in the second production block following the departure of George Markstein as script editor. As far as Markstein was concerned, The Prisoner was a direct follow-on from Danger Man, and Patrick McGoohan was playing a version of John Drake who has resigned, becomes a victim of what we’d now term ‘extraordinary rendition’ and is sent to The Village. When Markstein left, producer—and McGoohan’s partner in Everyman Films—David Tomblin took greater control over the series, especially in McGoohan’s absence during the making of Ice Station Zebra (see Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling). The final batch of episodes are heavily reconfigured through Tomblin’s approach to The Prisoner, resulting in a very different show from the one Markstein thought he was making. Fairy tale and fantasy dominate Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling, Living in Harmony, and The Girl Who Was Death. McGoohan takes firm control once again for the two-part finale, Once Upon a Time and Fall Out, but Tomblin still had huge input.

Harmony 10Patrick McGoohan was a big fan of Westerns, and it was this interest that played into the creation of Living in Harmony. It had become clear that the basics of The Prisoner were well established, and that Number Six could never escape, otherwise that would be the end of the show. Although it came in the second production block, it appears that the ‘mission of the week’ format of Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling may have been Markstein’s approach to extending the life of the series. McGoohan and Tomblin had a more imaginative approach when they realised that in accepting that Number Six can never escape, they could do almost anything they wished within the confines of The Village. Why not, in that case, do an episode that was a Western, or an episode that is presented as a fairy tale (The Girl Who Was Death)? Anything was possible.

With Markstein’s post unfilled, there was a free-for-all in ideas, with assistant editor Ian Rakoff putting together an initial concept that caught McGoohan’s eye. Rather than reproduce a standard Western however, those creating Living in Harmony drew upon the 1960s vogue for deconstructing the Western, as seen in the work of Robert Aldrich, Sam Peckinpah, and Budd Boetticher, that picked apart the archetypes and settings of the classic work of John Ford and others. Also in their mind was the popular genre of ‘spaghetti Westerns’, especially the films of Sergio Leone, whose first instalment in the Dollars trilogy—A Fistful of Dollars (1964)—had been belatedly released in the UK in April 1967. McGoohan’s ‘The Stranger’ version of Number Six could easily fit Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name poncho.

Harmony 02Shot over five weeks, instead of the normal two, this was one of the most elaborate (and the most violent) episodes of The Prisoner. With increased stunt work, a larger cast of physically active extras, and greater pre-production, much of the preparatory work was done while McGoohan was absent filming Ice Station Zebra. A telegram to co-star Alexis Kanner suggested that McGoohan was preparing by taking quick draw lessons from Steve McQueen, resulting in Kanner stepping up his own practise. French-born Kanner—who died in 2003, aged 61—had featured in Softly, Softly and quickly became a favourite of McGoohan’s (hence his swift return to the series, despite Number 8’s demise in Living in Harmony). Valerie French (Kathy) had several real Westerns in her filmography, including Jubal (1956) and two episodes of TV’s Have Gun-Will Travel (in 1959 and 1960). She died in 1990, aged 62. The Number Two substitute, The Judge, was played by American blacklist fugitive David Bauer, who was a regular face in several ITC shows. He’s an interesting choice given that Living in Harmony explicitly riffs on 1952’s High Noon, itself a response to the American McCarthy anti-Communist blacklist.

What’s it All Mean? Living in Harmony is a wonderful deconstruction of the Western genre, although whether it veers into cliché or simply plays with the tropes is very much in the eye of the beholder. The presentation of this episode is entirely suitable to The Prisoner, given that everyone in it (more than usual, even) is playing a role—The Stranger, The Judge, The Kid, The Saloon Girl. Everyone in The Village is trapped in a role not of their own making, and so it is here for Number Six and everyone surrounding him. The deconstruction of the Western genre was all the rage in the late-1950s and into the 1960s as tired old tropes were revitalised through new approaches, often from radical writers. This episode of The Prisoner fits in that vein.

Harmony 07Explicitly, to the extent that it saw the episode initially banned in the US [see Trivia], McGoohan uses Living in Harmony to tackle notions of pacifism. The refusal of The Stranger/Number Six to pick up a gun (even when forced into the role of Harmony Sheriff over his compassion for Kathy) is the backbone of the story; it is what brings him increasingly into conflict with The Judge and with the generally understood rules of the town (The Village). His refusal to conform to type echoes many other episodes of the show and would inform the confrontation with the growing 1960s youth-driven counter-culture in episodes like Once Upon A Time and Fall Out.

The method by which the immersion of Number Six in the Old West environment is achieved is never fully explained. Number Two throws out some stuff about drugs, and the main participants all seem to be wearing headphones/microphones: ‘Fill him with hallucinatory drugs. Put him in a dangerous environment. Talk to him through microphones. Give him love, take it away. Isolate him. Make him kill, then face him with death. He’ll crack. Break him, even in his mind, and the rest will be easy.’

Harmony 03The town of Harmony resembles a Western back lot because that is exactly what it is, seemingly an adjunct to The Village itself. The mix of drugs, VR simulation, and real world theme park is ahead of its time (but not unique). The use of cardboard cutouts (perhaps we’d term them ‘avatars’ today?) for the main characters after Number Six exits the simulation is inspired (Tomblin’s idea, apparently). The use of VR as a method of extracting information (the reason for Number Six’s resignation, as always) is interesting. Of course, in a modern television context it is hard to avoid the echoes of Living in Harmony in the HBO series Westworld, in which participants holiday in a fully-immersive Old West theme park (drawn from Michael Crichton’s 1973 movie—maybe he saw Living in Harmony in the US in 1968?). In the context of Living in Harmony, the after effects of VR immersion on both Number 8/The Kid and Number 22/Kathy are interesting—more than Number Six they find it difficult to escape the ‘make believe’ of the VR simulation and recapitulate their fake roles in real life. Number Six gets his vicarious revenge for Kathy’s death through Number 8’s suicide—after all, look at the lengths he went to in avenging the death of a woman he didn’t even know in Hammer Into Anvil

Oddly, the conceit of Number Six’s immersion in the simulation is rather broken when the viewer is witness to scenes involving townsfolk for which Number Six is not present—they serve no purpose in terms of the simulation. If made today, the production would no doubt have gone to greater lengths to structure things as seen entirely through the participation of Number Six. Maybe McGoohan and co. simply didn’t want to tip their hat too early to any more than usually attentive 1960s viewers who could guess what they were up to?

That’s Weird! Well, the whole episode is weird in the context of the regular show, but beyond that the non-speaking character of The Kid is an odd one. He’s the archetypal young gunman, but he’s depicted as seemingly mute (echoing the diminutive figure of the silent butler, absent from this episode), perhaps lacking in education, and physically and sexually aggressive—that doesn’t seem to follow any particular Western archetype (although I’m not as well-versed in Westerns to be sure). Perhaps oddest of all, following one of the streets confrontations, there’s a random kid (an actual child, not another young gunman!) in the shot—was it ‘bring your kid to work day’ or what? [Apparently, according to Robert Fairclough, this was in fact the young son of assistant director Gino Marotta, who seems to have been caught in the frame in all his 1960s finery by accident.] BTW, who is The Bishop and when exactly is he coming and for what reason? Enquiring minds need to know…

Harmony 06Duels in the Sun: Almost immediately, the Old West version of Number Six finds himself in a fist fight, first with a seemingly lone opponent, before the rest of his gang turn up to whisk him off to Harmony—it’s the equivalent of the Hearse and the gas from the usual title sequence. Arriving in the Saloon, Number Six almost immediately lands a punch on The Kid (he did shoot his whisky, so that’s justified). Later, still refusing to arm himself, Number Six’s reluctant Sheriff gets into a rumble with Zeke and his gang of misfits in the Harmony’s main (only?) street.

Harmony 01Trivia: This episode was originally dropped from the US transmission of the series in 1968 due to its perceived pacifist message at a time when the on-going conflict in Vietnam was proving ever more controversial, especially in the conscription of America’s youth into the Army. The official reason given for not screening the episode, however, was its focus on the use of ‘mind-altering drugs’, which is less than valid as there had been a more overt focus on drugs in earlier episodes that were screened in the US. Maybe, as Alex Cox speculates, this episode was simply too ‘out there’ for the US and French broadcasters who failed to screen it as it broke with the spy genre conventions that (barely) signified an episode of The Prisoner.

Verdict: Top marks for chutzpah, but despite the innovative approach, Living in Harmony can be rather slow at times as it simply replays many of the dilemmas that Number Six has previously faced albeit in a fresh, unique context. Top marks for anticipating VR/theme parks, too…

Score (Out of Six): Four

Brian J. Robb

Want more Prisoner? Like our Facebook Page and check out The Unmutual web site. If you want a great book on the series, start with Robert Fairclough’s The Prisoner: The Official Companion.

13: Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling


The Prisoner Episode by Episode

E13 Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling

22 December 1967

Written by Vincent Tilsley

Directed by Pat Jackson

Story: Thanks to Professor Seltzman’s process, Number Six awakes to find his mind in the body of the Colonel (Nigel Stock).

Who is Number Two? Clifford Evans

Guest Cast: Nigel Stock, Zena Walker, Hugo Schuster

Information: So we come to the episode (unlucky 13) without Patrick McGoohan (well, virtually). It’s unusual for a show to appear without (or with very little) of its leading man. In the early days of Doctor Who various members of the ensemble cast (including lead William Hartnell) would disappear for an episode or two, or be clumsily replaced with a stand-in, while they took a holiday—that was excusable as the show was on the air virtually all the year round.

McGoohan was unavailable for this episode of The Prisoner due to a clash with his filming commitments on Cold War thriller Ice Station Zebra (1968)—a job he’d taken on partly to raise funds for his Everyman Films outfit to finance the final four episodes of The Prisoner (or so he claimed). Taking advantage of the show’s fairly flexible format, the decision was made to continue in production by simply replacing Number Six with a different actor, but through a mind transference process maintaining that he is the same character.

A similar thing happened on the 1968 Doctor Who serial The Mind Robber when Jamie companion actor Frazer Hines fell ill, and was replaced by Hamish Wilson (famously, Hines’ cousin). The gambit here was to have the Doctor wrongly reassemble Jamie’s face in the weird Land of Fiction, so allowing the temporary substitution. Of course, Doctor Who had come up with a much longer lasting solution to the need to replace the leading character through regeneration, ensuring the series is still going strong today.

Forsake01The replacement is an effective ploy and works fine in the context of the series, it’s just that an episode of The Prisoner without Patrick McGoohan is a strange beast indeed. He is featured in some stock footage of him pacing his cottage on Number Two’s screen, and in a series of ‘greatest hits’ clips as Number Two discovers his new face is that of Nigel Stock’s ‘Colonel’. He finally pops up in person for a brief scene at the climax.

Forsake07However, the entire episode feels much more like a typical ITC show, especially given the copious use of cheesy stock footage and appalling music as Stock’s Number Six goes on a magical mystery tour of European capitals in search of the episode’s McGuffin, Professor Seltzman, inventor of the mind swap technology. There is also the by now extremely careless use of inappropriate doubles in long shots who look nothing like the characters they are meant to be standing in for. This show really fell apart without McGoohan on hand to impose his will on it.

Forsake06Vincent Tilsley’s script (written with the absence of McGoohan in mind, and a direction to set no scenes in The Village, other than interior studio sets) also changes some of the basics of what we know about Number Six. Put back into the field and unaware of his time in The Village, the Nigel Stock (Peter Cushing’s Dr. Watson) Number Six is returned home to his Buckingham Place apartment in London. As he was the last agent to have contact with Seltzman, it is hoped that he can find out his current whereabouts. Of course, Number Six has been back home before, but on previous occasions he didn’t worry about his apparent fiancée Janet Portland (Zena Walker), of his boss (and prospective father-in-law) Sir Charles Portland (John Wentworth). Are these people simply inventions to allow Number Six to feel comfortable in his new skin, and so allow him to proceed with his quest?

Despite being the first episode in the second filming block for the series, Do Not Forsake Me (and what a clunky title; the previous episode’s title A Change of Mind would have suited this one better) was delayed in transmission thanks to an extended post-production process, probably exacerbated by McGoohan’s unavailability. With script editor George Markstein having quit over one conflict too many with McGoohan (and note his replacement by someone else in the underground office where Number Six first resigned), David Tomblin took a larger hand in the creation of the next few episodes (significantly upping the weirdness factor in the process).

What’s it All Mean? The ‘mind swap’ plot is an old stand-by of many science fiction TV shows and films, and was something of a specialty of screenwriter Curt Siodmak, who wrote the oft-filmed novel Donovan’s Brain as well as the screenplay for the Boris Karloff/Bela Lugosi Universal horror film Black Friday (1940), in which part of a gangster’s brain is implanted in a mild mannered professor, resulting in a Jekyll and Hyde style change of personality. On television, The Avengers had used the same hook as recently as the May 1967 episode ‘Who’s Who???’.

The clumsy scripting between Zena Walker’s Janet and Nigel Stock’s stand-in Number Six in which they both strive to avoid saying his name (as anyone would normally do in such a conversation) is painfully obvious—this is when a confirmation that Number Six was indeed Danger Man’s John Drake might have been useful, and like all the other previously unmentioned continuity in this episode, it could easily have been ignored by those that follow (which all take their own idiosyncratic path anyway). The set-up as outlined here would have us believe that Number Six has been missing (on a mission or in The Village, or both?) for a year, is engaged to the boss’s daughter, and perhaps didn’t so much resign as retire.

Forsake04The mind swap plot does bring up intriguing questions of identity. Stock’s Number Six alludes a couple of times to the fact that no matter how many intimate details or private stories he can recall, to those he is communicating with it may simply appear to be information obtained from the ‘real’ Number Six, by torture, drugs, or some combination of techniques. ‘Everything I tell you can be countered by you,’ admits the frustrated Stock Number Six to Seltzman, ‘by saying I’ve extracted the information by fair means or foul.’ There is no way for Number Six in a different body to ever actually prove to anyone else who he really is, which raises the question of what makes the individual—mind or body, or some combination thereof? Are we just an accumulation of stories that could easily be faked by an impostor or even an artificial intelligence (this episode treads ever so lightly on the kind of subject that Philip K. Dick was making his own in a series of novels around the same time this aired in the late-1960s) . It makes identify theft look like the least of our worries.

Forsake05With the ultimate escape of Seltzman—who engineers a three-way transfer returning Number Six’s mind to his body but putting Seltzman’s mind in the body of the Colonel—Number Six can claim another victory over the authorities of The Village, even if he ultimately had little to do with it other than leading them to Seltzman. It’s an oddly passive role for Number Six, no matter whose body he was in at the time, and was perhaps indicative of McGoohan’s waning interest in the series—just about all the escape-and-recapture scenarios had been played out, and for the final four episodes (Lew Grade having pulled the plug on the show) The Prisoner would go somewhere completely different, thanks to a productive collaboration between a frustrated McGoohan and an opportunistic (in a positive way) David Tomblin.

Forsake08That’s Weird! As well as the pre-titles clip [See Trivia], this episode has a different opening, omitting the usual dialogue between the ‘new’ Number Two and Number Six, presumably so as not to draw even more attention to McGoohan’s absence. Additionally, many of the scenes that supposedly depict Nigel Stock’s mind swapped Number Six driving around London in his Lotus is clearly footage of Patrick McGoohan, presumably shot when capturing material for the eventual series title sequence and re-purposed here. It probably didn’t stand out as much on 1960s era televisions, but it is pretty clear on the blu-ray transfers! Also of note is the in-joke on the envelope that Number Six addressed to Professor Seltzman: ’20, Portmeirion Road’.

Punch Ups! The ‘greatest hits’ montage that replays some key footage of McGoohan’s Number Six in action includes brief snippets of previous punch ups, but Nigel Stock gets his very own fight with an agent who has followed him to Switzerland where he has located the mysteriously missing Professor Seltzman.

Forsake03Trivia: This is the only episode of the show to open with a pre-credits scene in which various characters we’ve never seen before discuss a series of mysterious photographs that are supposedly connected to the missing Seltzman. Originally intended as the first episode of a second season of The Prisoner, this presentation was an attempt at finding a new format that would allow Number Six to be sent out from The Village on a ‘mission of the week’, which would have brought the wayward series much more in line with the standard output of Lew Grade’s ITC. Thankfully, Patrick McGoohan had other ideas…

Verdict: It’s a decent enough episode, if rather ordinary for The Prisoner, and suffers for the absence of McGoohan, both on screen and as a guiding force for the series in production terms.

Score (Out of Six): Two

Brian J. Robb

Want more Prisoner? Like our Facebook Page and check out The Unmutual web site. If you want a great book on the series, start with Robert Fairclough’s The Prisoner: The Official Companion.

12: A Change of Mind


The Prisoner Episode by Episode

E12 A Change of Mind

15 December 1967

Written by Roger Parkes

Directed by ‘Joseph Serf’ (Patrick McGoohan)

Story: Number Six is ostracised from society when The Committee of The Village declare his disharmonious conduct has made him ‘unmutual’.

Who is Number Two? John Sharpe

Guest Cast: Angela Browne, George Pravda, Kathleen Breck

Information: ‘Joseph Serf’ returns as Patrick McGoohan seizes control of another episode of The Prisoner, sacking director Roy Rossotti following one day of work on A Change of Mind. Shot ninth in production order, this episode sits quite nicely two thirds of the way through the series. Although possessing an oily charm, the latest Number Two (John Sharpe) seems intent on using more aggressive means to force a confession from Number Six as to why he resigned (it also serves as a handy reminder at this stage what those who run The Village want from Number Six after a couple of episodes that didn’t focus on that).

Mind04The problem here is that Number Two’s scheme is another fake out, the kind of thing that Number Six should be all too aware of at this point. Number 86 (Angela Browne) uses a new sonic surgical technique to impose instant social conversion, effectively a kind of futuristic lobotomy. What’s not clear is whether Number Six knows from the beginning that the procedure has not been carried out and his scar is fake. McGoohan is great at acting angry and self-righteous, but playing dopey was never his strong point. It’s hard to tell if, in his post-operative state, he’s simply playing along or slowly comes to realise that nothing has in fact happened.

Mind02John Sharpe’s Number Two appears to be something of a misogynist, repeatedly blaming Number 48 for the failure of the experiment while doing little himself to advance his quest to discover Number Six’s secret. He’s oleaginous, and it is clear that Number Six takes an instant dislike to him no matter how many ‘little chats’ and cups of tea they share. Sharpe (actually John Sharp—he later dropped the ‘e’) was a regular on British television, seen in 1960s shows like The Avengers and Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), as a regular in Coronation Street and All Creatures Great and Small, and in various movies through the 1970s and 1980s, including The Wicker Man (1973). He died in 1992, aged 72.

Angela Browne was a similar television face, having appeared with McGoohan in an episode of Danger Man (The Girl in the Pink Pyjamas), as well as The Saint, The Avengers, and Upstairs, Downstairs. She was married to Francis Matthews, the voice of Captain Scarlet in Gerry Anderson’s Captain Scarlet and the Mysterions. In the mid-1970s she appeared in the fondly-remembered travellers drama Kizzy (1976, an adaptation of Rumer Godden’s novel The Diddakoi). She died in 2001, aged 63.

Naturally, with the director dumped on the first day, production on A Change of Mind was a fraught affair. There’s a lot of studio work in this one, and the use of some obvious doubles in both the fight scenes and in the sequences shot in Portmeirion—the people standing on the balcony in the Village Square during the address to the populace are clearly not Sharpe and McGoohan (they look nothing like them). It’s a rare slip on quality control on The Prisoner. ITC shows were always cavalier in their use of doubles, especially in fight scenes, but certainly early on in the production of The Prisoner, McGoohan seemed to take particular care to make the doubling more convincing. That’s not so in this episode, unfortunately.

Mind01This was Roger Parkes first script—he was in his late-20s at the time and working as a trainee story editor for the BBC assigned to soap Compact. He’d previously been a journalist specialising in crime reporting. Following his contribution to The Prisoner, Parkes went on to write for many shows in the ITC stable, as well as publishing a series of novels. As a new writer on The Prisoner, the ‘no romance’ edict from McGoohan didn’t seem to have reached him. According to Robert Fairclough in The Prisoner: The Official Companion, Parkes’ first draft had Number 86 falling hard for Number Six and aggressively pursuing him. McGoohan had those pages cut in short order.

What’s it All Mean? Roger Parkes goes all out in A Change of Mind to mount a criticism of the kind of collective societies that were widely represented during the Cold War by the likes of Soviet Russia, China, Cuba, and North Korea. From the notions of a citizen being declared by the state (and his fellow citizens, apparently without obvious coercion) to be ‘disharmonious’ and ‘unmutual’, through to forced false confessions and willing self-criticism, to the various organisations of social control (the Citizens’ Welfare Committee, the Social Progress Group, the Appeals Sub-Committee), reflect both the practices of Soviet Russia and the hysteria in the 1940s and 1950s in American in its McCarthyite anti-Communist reaction. This is another form of brainwashing, socially implemented this time, in which the citizens of The Village become willing participants in their own oppression.

Mind03A Change of Mind goes one step further, by introducing medical alteration as an answer to the problem of social disharmony. If a subject cannot or will not alter his behaviour (that’s what the Social Progress Group tries to do) then they are declared a reactionary and a rebel and referred to the hospital for the euphemistic instant social conversion, a kind of high tech lobotomy. Of course, such procedures were used to control dissidents in both East and West, and may still be in some territories. As a medical treatment, however, the respectable medical establishment long ago discarded lobotomy as effective, somewhat dating this episode. It’s use here, however, might suggest that The Village is run by Soviet Russia or some satellite interest, as speculated by Alex Cox in his recent book, I Am Not a Number: Decoding The Prisoner.

Mind06In addition to instant social conversion, Number Six also witnesses aversion therapy being carried out in the hospital. Subjects are strapped into a chair and show film of both Rover and Number Two, presumably to make them fear the first and love the second, echoing George Orwell’s Big Brother in 1984. The reconditioning of dissident Villagers, as is attempted on Number Six and may have been carried out for real on others, also recalls the Ludovico Technique of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange. The Stanley Kubrick movie ends with Alex (Malcolm McDowell) virtually rehabilitated following such aversion therapy treatment. As with Number Six at the climax of A Change of Mind, Alex is to be used in a publicity offensive as a ‘reformed character’. Of course, Number Six has a surprise up his sleeve, and his manipulation of Number 86 results in the apparently mindless Villagers following his lead in declaring Number Two to be ‘unmutual’. In keeping with a string of recent episodes, Number Six wins another victory (of a kind, he’s still trapped in The Village) in seeing off yet another in the long line of Number Twos.

Mind05That’s Weird! Number Six’s hypnosis skills seems to come out of nowhere, and his ability to completely control Number 86 is a convenient deux ex machina on behalf of screenwriter Roger Parkes. If he has this ability to control people merely with his watch, why hasn’t he used it before (and why doesn’t he use it again)? Presumably, the fact that Number 86 was dosed up on ‘Mytol’ helps explain her susceptibility.

Punch Ups! There’s no messing around in A Change of Mind as Number Six’s private workout in the woods is interrupted by a couple of Village toughs. That fight instigates the complaint to the Committee of his disharmonious behaviour by maintaining a ‘private gym’. Later, Number Six is assaulted by the ladies of the Appeals Sub-Committee and seemingly the rest of The Village inhabitants, before a rematch with the same two thugs from the opening scene sees him return to his usual disharmonious self.

Trivia: There’s some debate about John Sharpe’s actual name. Sources differ on his billing as ‘Sharpe’ on this episode of The Prisoner. Fairclough suggests he dropped the ‘e’ following his work on this show, while Rich Davy in The Prisoner: The Essential Guide claims that a production office error led to the mistaken credit of ‘John Sharpe’ being used. For what it’s worth, both Wikipedia and IMDb credit the actor as simply ‘John Sharp’, so whatever the reason his billing on A Change of Mind is an anomaly.

Verdict: An excellent episode tackling some key criticisms of collective societies, such as that supposedly implemented by Soviet Russia, perhaps marred by its reliance on a widely discredited medical procedure as lobotomy (no matter how dressed up in science fiction jargon it is).

Score (Out of Six): Four

Brian J. Robb

Want more Prisoner? Like our Facebook Page and check out The Unmutual web site. If you want a great book on the series, start with Robert Fairclough’s The Prisoner: The Official Companion.


11: It’s Your Funeral


The Prisoner Episode by Episode

E11 It’s Your Funeral

8 December 1967

Written by Michael Cramoy

Directed by Robert Asher

Story: Number Six uncovers an assassination plot against Number Two, but who is playing who?

Who is Number Two? Derren Nesbitt, Andre Van Gyseghem, and two others.

Guest Cast: Annette Andre, Mark Eden, Wanda Ventham, Charles Lloyd Pack

Funeral01Information: It’s the one where Joe 90 masquerades as Number Two, Jeannie Hopkirk plants the seeds of an assassination, and Benedict Cumberbatch’s mum helps track Number Six! Also, with Derren Nesbitt, Martin Miller, and Mark Eden there’s also half the cast of lost Doctor Who story Marco Polo (1964) here.

Funeral04Seriously, what’s going on with Derren Nesbitt’s blonde do and NHS specs combo—it’s pure Joe 90, but this was made a year before that Gerry Anderson puppet series first appeared. Did Anderson take inspiration from this episode of The Prisoner for the look of his teen hero?

It’s Your Funeral is essentially an extension or reversal of Hammer Into Anvil, with misinformation (‘fake news!’) being used to manipulate Number Six into preventing the assassination of Number Two. His motivation is clear: he fears that if Number Two is assassinated, then the many residents of The Village will be made to suffer in retribution. Although he’d like to overthrow those who run The Village, in this case he is the one out to protect the figurehead of authority in order to save everyone else. What is not so clear is the motivation of the acting Number Two (Joe 90 lookalike Derren Nesbitt) in setting up the subterfuge (via Number 100, played by Mark Eden) in the first place.

Funeral05Number Six is alerted to the plot by mystery blonde Number 50 (referred to in the credits only as ‘Watchmaker’s Daughter’). She’s been drugged and manipulated by Number Two to sow the seeds of the assassination plot with a clearly disbelieving Number Six (McGoohan’s performance is particularly spiky in this opening scene: it appears he’s like a bear with a sore head in the morning, especially when been woken by an intruding mystery blonde!).

Annette Andre plays Number 50 with a mix of vulnerability and steel, attributes she would later display in spades as Mrs. Hopkirk in Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) (1969, or My Partner the Ghost—as it was retitled for America). Andre had just before appeared in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966), and was a frequent guest star in The Saint between 1964 and 1968. She later starred in the Colin Baker and Kate O’Mara big business drama The Brothers (1972-76).

Funeral03Her intervention leads Number Six to the watchmaker, who is apparently building a bomb aimed at killing the retiring Number Two (Andre Van Gyseghem) during the hand-over to his successor (apparently Joe 90). This raises all sorts of questions about the role of Number Two and the succession of seemingly temporary stand-ins we’ve seen in the series so far. The retiring Number Two makes a claim to be the ‘permanent’ figurehead who has been on vacation all the time Number Six has been in The Village. During the sequence where Number Six is shown warning a series of Number Twos about assassination plots we see two other occupants of the post we’ve never seen before (or will ever see again).

Is the suggestion that all the previous ‘new’ Number Twos we’ve seen have been stand-ins for this ‘permanent’ one? Were they all being tested as possible replacements by being put up against Number Six? Maybe their qualification for the ‘permanent’ job is to break Number Six, a task that none of them have ever managed. Is that what drives the acting Number Two to such a dangerous plot, involving Number Six in the assassination threat, knowing that his very involvement might blow the whole thing (as it actually does).

Funeral08Shooting on this one took place in January 1967, and according to Robert Faircloughs’ The Prisoner: The Official Companion book, the shoot was a fraught one. This was the first episode that saw Patrick McGoohan step in for a director, in this case Robert Asher, whom he felt was not actually up to the task of making the episode in the way in which McGoohan wanted it done. Eighth in production order, It’s Your Funeral was the first episode where McGoohan began to take overall control of the series, something evident in some of the episodes broadcast before this one.

Interestingly, writer Michael Cramoy was an American who worked on The Saint on radio and had written for the US police procedural television series Dragnet. He’d come to the UK to work on ITC’s The Invisible Man in the 1950s and also later contributed episodes to their version of The Saint. His task here was to write an episode using some location footage already shot at Portmeirion combined with the standing sets at the Borehamwood MGM studio, supplemented by a later Portmeirion location shoot in March 1967 using stand-ins for both McGoohan and Andre.

Funeral02What’s it All Mean? As in Hammer Into Anvil (to which this episode seems something of a companion piece, especially given its position in the running order), Number Six is seen to use some of the techniques of surrealism to confuse and confound Patrick Cargill’s Number Two, eventually driving him made. In It’s Your Funeral reference is made to the practice of ‘jamming’ which was also used by those resisting totalitarianism in Europe in the 1960s. It refers to creating and disseminating the details of false plots or hoaxes, usually in a political context, and served to confuse or occupy those spying upon supposed ‘revolutionaries’ or ‘threats to the state’. Those carrying out such activity were referred to as ‘jammers’. Surrealists the Situationists used the term ‘radio jamming’ to refer to the practice, while it evolved in the 1980s to take in the alteration of public billboard advertising to change the meaning under the title ‘culture jamming’, as used by the satirical band Negativland.

As well as picking up on political and cultural resistance practices of the 1960s, It’s Your Funeral directly plays off the spate of political assassinations or prominent political figures that took place in that decade, including US President John F. Kennedy and civil rights activist Martin Luther King. The plot put in place by the incoming Number Two appears to be intended to violently remove the outgoing Number Two (who is retiring anyway) as some kind of ‘false flag’ incident, in order that a more repressive regime might be enacted over The Village in response. The question comes as why risk it all by involving Number Six, unless (as speculated above) that’s a test that any prospective Number Two must engage in?

The final plot appears aimed at co-opting Number Six as a defender of The Village authorities, both bringing him onside to warn Number Two of the assassination and possibly to discredit him in the eyes of the other Villagers—after all he is ‘top of the list’ of malcontents. What better way to deal with him than make it appear that he is acting in defence of those who run The Village?

Funeral10That’s Weird! That nutty kosho martial arts nonsense with the trampolines and a small pool of water is back. If it was out of place in Hammer Into Anvil, disrupting the flow of the plot, it is interminable here, used seemingly as padding to fill out the plot. It offers the opportunity for Number 100 to switch the watches, but the actual scene of rather obvious stunt doubles bouncing around in crash helmets on trampolines like a couple of kids doesn’t half drag. Additionally, the stunt doubles are painfully obvious in Number Six’s exercise montage and in his punch up with Number 100. Were standards slipping, or was McGoohan previous work as a director just more attuned to such things? Having said previously that the doubling was better than the usual slapdash ITC standard, this episode sinks to that level, unfortunately.

Punch Ups! Just the one, with Mark Eden’s Number 100 on a rather obvious fake hill, shot in the studio as a stand-in for the real Portmeirion. At a stretch, their previous bout of weird martial arts (kosho) might also count, where Number Six beats Number 100 for the first time.

Funeral07Trivia: Much of the plot of It’s Your Funeral appears (wittingly or not) to mirror Richard Condon’s novel The Manchurian Candidate, as Robert Fairclough points out. He writes: ‘The structural similarities between It’s Your Funeral and The Machurian Candidate are very striking … the two stories both end as a political rally unfolds, with the architects of the schemes present at the ceremony and outwitted in the final scenes.’ Perhaps Cramoy was a fan of Condon’s work, or did the idea come from McGoohan?

Verdict: An enjoyable expansion of some of the ideas in Hammer Into Anvil, that perhaps lacks a final extra twist that might have made it a true classic…

Score (Out of Six): Four

Brian J. Robb

Want more Prisoner? Like our Facebook Page and check out The Unmutual web site. If you want a great book on the series, start with Robert Fairclough’s The Prisoner: The Official Companion.

10: Hammer Into Anvil


The Prisoner Episode by Episode

E10 Hammer Into Anvil

1 December 1967

Written by Roger Woddis

Directed by Pat Jackson

Story: Following the suicide of Number 73, a young woman, Number Six launches a psychological war against the new ‘hard man’ Number Two.

Who is Number Two? Patrick Cargill

Guest Cast: Victor Maddern, Basil Hoskins, Victor Woolf, Hilary Dwyer

Information: After a couple of arguably slightly lesser episodes, The Prisoner came back firing on all cylinders with Hammer Into Anvil, one of the series’ all-time greats. When he witnesses the suicide of Number 73, seemingly induced by the harsh approach of the new Number Two to interrogation, Number Six quietly resolves to take on this new ‘hard man’ figure at his own game.

Hammer06Number Six enacts a series of seemingly random scenarios, inducing in Number Two a crisis of confidence. He begins by listening to six identical copies of a Bizet recording, seemingly timing them and apparently noting down some information in code. Meaningless messages and random actions follow, all of which Number Two ascribes some kind of hidden purpose—Number Six would never do anything to no end, after all…

It’s a brilliant scenario by writer Roger Woddis that effectively turns the tables at last, with Number Six going on the offensive against those who run The Village. He’s not trying to escape, he’s simply trying to frustrate his authoritarian controllers by using their own paranoid nature against them. This is also one of the few episodes across the series run where the main character self-identifies as Number Six (once more part of a ruse to upset Number Two), something he usually steadfastly refuses to do as a matter of principle.

In their early meeting, Number Two explains to Number Six that their relationship is like the hammer and the anvil, with Number Six asking if he is seen as the anvil in this scenario. Patrick Cargill’s new Number Two takes a different approach to running The Village. He increases the surveillance and sense of paranoia among the residents (‘New Number Two Calls For Increased Vigilance’ reads the headline in The Village newspaper, the Tally Ho), while representing himself as a new ‘strong man’ on the scene, a dictator essentially running a totalitarian regime.

Hammer03It is this that spurs Number Six into his campaign of subtle resistance and overt confusion. By sowing the seeds of doubt and conspiracy in the mind of Number Two he sets out to overthrow the regime (albeit of one man, nothing fundamentally changes) without violence (except of the psychological kind). It’s an inspired plot line, and McGoohan rises to the challenge giving an especially cheeky and edgy performance as this newly motivated Number Six. Overall, he must know that his actions will not really change much, but causing the collapse of this particular Number Two serves as effective revenge for the untimely death of Number 73.

Woddis was a writer new to The Prisoner who had no experience working for any other ITC/Lew Grade shows, unlike several of the regular writers on the series. He was a leftist political writer and one time member of the Communist Party of Great Britain who was later known to audiences as the poet-in-residence for the listings magazine Radio Times and in Punch magazine. Before tackling The Prisoner, Woddis co-wrote an episode of now missing 1967 ABC paranormal series Haunted, as well as for Armchair Theatre (1968) and Churchill’s People (1975).

His most influential work was his poem ‘Ethics for Everyman’ (note the name of McGoohan’s production company, Everyman Films), that bears some relation to what McGoohan was trying to achieve with The Prisoner. Significant lines that no doubt resonated with the creator of the series include: ‘Terror, no need to add/Depends on who’s wearing the hood’ and ‘Social morality/Has a duality/One for each side of the tracks’. Of particular importance to the episode Hammer Into Anvil is the line: ‘Discipline by the strong/Is fair, if your collar is white’. Another of his political poems was entitled ‘Down With Fanatics’, a sentiment that no doubt had McGoohan nodding in agreement. Woddis died in 1993, aged 76.

Hammer05Number Six weaves an imaginary conspiracy, in a mirror of his efforts to organise a mass breakout in the preceding episode Checkmate, by co-opting Number Two’s lieutenants—including Number 14 and the Controller—in apparent organised opposition to Number Two. They are unwilling ‘conspirators’, implicated by Number Six’s suspicious contacts with them or put in a position by Number Six’s actions to become functionaries that Number Two begins to suspect are acting against him.

Hammer Into Anvil is a great episode in its depiction of Number Six’s campaign against Number Two, driven by two great performances by McGoohan and Cargill, but it is also a highly amusing episode (especially the repeated ‘cuckoo’ motif as Number Six enters the shop!) as we watch Number Two unravelling, becoming ever more bamboozled by Number Six’s bizarre machinations.

Hammer02It’s a fine performance by Cargill, later better known for comedy, like other past The Prisoner guest stars (some of them fellow Number Twos) such as Peter Bowles, Paul Eddington, Christopher Benjamin, Anton Rogers, and, arguably, Peter Wingarde. Cargill had previously appeared as Thorpe, one of Number Six’s real-world contacts in Many Happy Returns. Does his casting here confirm that the people who Number Six worked with in the outside world in whatever espionage he was involved with are the same people running The Village?

What’s it All Mean? In one way, Number Six is drawing upon history by attacking Totalitarianism with Surrealism. Throughout history, repressive regimes have faced resistance from writers and artists who adopted the modes of expression of surrealism to encode their opposition to the ruling hegemony. The movement has its roots in 1920s Europe, but in terms of The Prisoner was perhaps more relevant to Patrick McGoohan and his interests through events in Czechoslovakia in the 1960s. Emerging filmmakers in particular (including Milos Foreman, Jiri Menzel, and, later, Jan Svankmajer) expressed their resistance to Soviet ideas through their films, using metaphor and nonsense to escape the attention of the state censor.

Hammer07Each of Number Six’s moves is designed to sow confusion, from the Bizet recordings to hiding blank sheets of paper in the stone boat (as if dead-dropping a message), and so implicating the scientist who studies them, to the cuckoo clock ‘bomb’, the nonsense numerical message he sends out via pigeon, and the morse code transmitted from the beach to a non-existent recipient at sea. Convinced his own people are plotting against him, Number Two also comes to believe that Number Six may be a plant operating on behalf of those above him (Number One?), sent to evaluate his performance. McGoohan, in the form of one of The Prisoner’s most downright entertaining episodes, easily makes the point that those who build worlds based upon paranoia will live or die by their own paranoid natures. The final scene makes the theme clear: it was Number Two’s own fears that brought about his mental collapse.

Hammer04That’s Weird! About two-thirds into the episode, Number Six takes on Number 14 in a bizarre Rollerball-style imaginary sport that seems to involve participants bouncing on trampolines over a pool of water while wearing red robes and motorcycles helmets. Called ‘kosho’, it was invented by Patrick McGoohan, and it will turn up again before the end of the series. Here, it’s a short scene, intended to show Number Six’s mastery over Number 14, but it disrupts the mood of the episode where the psychological pressure is relentlessly built up on a fractious Number Two. The scene is unnecessary, but very weird in the middle of the other, more psychological, action.

Punch-Ups! Almost immediately, Number Six gets into a tussle with three goons sent out to ensure his attendance for an audience with the latest Number Two. Towards the end of the episode, Number Six gets into a knockdown, drag-out fight with Number 14 in his own cottage, wrecking the place in the process.

Trivia: This was perhaps the most literary-minded or ‘high culture’ episode of The Prisoner, largely thanks to writer Roger Woddis. His script, from the title on through, incorporated references drawn from Goethe, Bizet, Cervantes, and Vivaldi. They are used to structure the story and to propel Number Six’s campaign of psychological warfare against Number Two. A planned closing scene, in which an exiting Number Six meets the new incoming Number Two (replacing the disgraced Cargill), would have reinforced the point that despite his efforts (and his victory), nothing about the bigger picture of The Village will really change. By cutting the scene, the episode leaves it to the viewers to draw that conclusion for themselves.

Verdict: A fantastic episode, and a fine example of McGoohan’s show at its very best, from the writing, the location filming and the performances right through to the inevitable conclusion.

Score (Out of Six): Six

Brian J. Robb

Want more Prisoner? Like our Facebook Page and check out The Unmutual web site. If you want a great book on the series, start with Robert Fairclough’s The Prisoner: The Official Companion.

9: Checkmate


The Prisoner Episode by Episode

E09 Checkmate

24 November 1967

Written by Gerald Kelsey

Directed by Don Chaffey

Story: A life-size human chess game inspires Number Six to pursue a group effort to escape The Village…

Who is Number Two? Peter Wyngarde

Guest Cast: Ronald Radd, George Coulouris, Rosalie Crutchley

Information: Unwillingly roped in to a life-size human chess game (played on a board built over the lawns by the Gothic Pavillion at Portmeirion), Number Six begins to explore the possibilities of utilizing others in an effort to effect a group escape from The Village. The game of chess functions as a metaphor throughout for the battle between Number Six and the new Number Two (the charismatic Peter Wyngarde), with many involved functioning as mere pawns in their ‘game’. The only thing Number Six needs to do successfully is to be able to tell the jailers from the prisoners.


The third episode filmed, back-to-back with the previous week’s Dance of the Dead, Checkmate makes for an intriguing examination of the character of Number Six and the wider question of who can be trusted. ‘Everybody wants to help me,’ says McGoohan’s prisoner, faced with the solicitations of the Queen (Rosalie Crutchley) on the chessboard. The episode, as with so many others, would seem to fit better earlier in transmission, as Number Six still seems to be sizing up his fellow prisoners as to who are warders and who are captives, while the notion of recruiting a group to attempt an escape would seem an obvious early gambit (especially after the failure of his solo escape attempts in either The Chimes of Big Ben or Many Happy Returns).

Check09There are recurring elements in Checkmate we have seen before, such as a female operative of The Village tasked with getting in with Number Six, an escape that features a fight on a boat (almost inevitable, really, given the apparent geographical aspects of The Village), and an apparent ally who eventually turns on Number Six. Frequent television guest star Roland Radd makes an effective ‘Rook’, whose nervous manner gives way to a determined professionalism as he helps Number Six prepare his escape. That he sides with the captive Number Two at the end due to Number Six’s confident manner (which he believes implies he is, in fact, a jailer not a prisoner) is laden with irony.

Check03Checkmate scriptwriter Gerald Kelsey (an ITC regular) had planned to write something featuring life-size human chess long before he was aware of the chessboard at The Prisoner’s location of Portmeiron. He’d seen another one while on holiday with friends at a castle in Germany and had felt it had potential as the underlying element in a drama. Of course, the other best known life-size chess game from literature is that in Lewis Carroll’s Alice Through the Looking-Glass (1871), which given the surreal directions that The Prisoner was increasingly to head in may have been at the back of McGoohan or Markstein’s mind when they commissioned this episode. Indeed, Markstein’s wider experience of the world of espionage in the wake of the Second World War probably played as much into the machinations of Number Six and his co-conspirators as anything else. The script was written and produced early enough that many of the plans for the series had not been fully developed. Between the mid-1950s and the mid-1970s Kelsey contributed many episodes to the BBC police series Dixon of Dock Green.

Check05The latest Number Two was a well-known ITC face. As well as guest-starring in a variety of television shows (including The Saint and The Avengers), the eccentric Peter Wyngarde won fame as Jason King, the debonair spy in Department S (1969), before playing the lead in his own eponymously titled series in the early-1970s. He later played General Klytus, henchman to Ming the Merciless, in the 1980 Flash Gordon movie, as well as appearing in the Peter Davison Doctor Who serial Planet of Fire in 1984.

Check07There is some mystery about Wyngarde’s biography, with his birth date (anywhere between 1924 and 1933 is suggested!) and accounts of his early years disputed, not least by Wyngarde who claims not to know what age he actually is (best guesses puts him in his 80s). In 1975, Wyngarde had a spot of bother with the law at a Bus Station and later admitted to battling alcoholism during his most productive period as an actor. Wyngarde once claimed that Patrick McGoohan was planning on having a more permanent Number Two and that he was selected for the role, before McGoohan decided that changing the Number Two actor would add ‘an extra air of mystery’ to the series. Wyngarde was a guest at the recent celebration of the 50th anniversary of the broadcast of The Prisoner that took place at Portmeirion at the end of September.

Check11Also featuring in the episode (as the ‘man with a stick’) is British actor George Coulouris, once part of Orson Welles’ Mercury Theatre troupe who featured in Citizen Kane (1941) as Kane’s guardian, Thatcher. Coulouris also appeared in various American movies, including For Whom the Bells Toll (1943), Mr. Skeffington (1944), and Joan of Arc (1948) with Ingrid Bergman as the title character. Returning to the UK in the 1950s Coulouris appeared in a host of movies and in ABC television’s Pathfinders series, as well as in the first episode of the 1964 Doctor Who serial The Keys of Marinus. He died in 1989, aged 85.

Location work on this episode took place at Portmeirion in September 1966, with cast members later reporting that the shooting of the chessboard sequence was especially challenging thanks to difficulties in maintaining adequate continuity between shots. Studio filming began at the end of October, with work taking place on a recreation of the boat for the fight scenes. Many sets were repurposed from other episodes, with the one major addition being the bell tower, where another fight scene takes place. Patrick McGoohan substituted for director Don Chaffey for the studio filming, with Chaffey having only completed the location footage.

What’s it All Mean? Perhaps building upon the chess scene between Number Six and the Admiral in Arrival, Checkmate takes chess and the strategies it employs as its central metaphor for an attempt at a mass breakout from The Village. Believing he can tell the prisoners from the guards, Number Six goes against what we have seen as his natural solitary nature in recruiting a gang to facilitate his most co-ordinated breakout attempt yet.

Check04Just as pawns are willingly sacrificed in the interest of winning the overall game, both Number Six and Number Two prove ruthless in their ability to use others in order to achieve their opposing aims. Number Six, in particular, is needlessly cruel to the Queen. When she is brainwashed to be ‘in love’ with him, he rejects her advances but finds a way to use the technology contained in her tracker locket to his own advantage.

One of McGoohan’s favourite themes is the ability of the individual to battle against the overall diktats of society. Again, chess proves a great stand in for this theme, where the game needs all the constituent parts (the pawns, the Bishops, the Knights, and so on) to play their unique parts in order that the whole may succeed. McGoohan temporarily abandons his ‘one man band’ approach to put together a team made up of unique contributors who all must play their part to facilitate the escape attempt.

In many ways this episode encapsulates much that is classic about The Prisoner as a whole. The entire series is played out as a series of games, much like chess, usually between Number Six and Number Two, but a variety of other players get drawn in and used up along the way, including Leo McKern’s Number Two. The final shot of this episode, where the silent butler (Angelo Muscat, who features in just about every episode), positions a pawn representing Number Six back on the board effectively captures the entire escape-recapture narrative of the show in one shorthand image.

Check10That’s Weird! At one point, Peter Wyngarde’s Number Two is seen to be meditating in his office, which then turns into an unexpected karate session as he suddenly chops some wood planks in two. Oddly, Number Two makes no attempted use of these evident martial arts skills during his capture by Number Six and his gang of escapees. Was there more to this depiction of karate than simple anticipation of the 1970s fad for all things Bruce Lee and kung fu…?

Punch Ups! Another dramatic pair of fisticuffs for Number Six as he tackles miscreants in the tower to extinguish the searchlight, and later (once more) on the boat when his escape plan falls apart.

Trivia: One of the most common badge numbers to pop up throughout the run of The Prisoner is Number 23—in this episode it is the nurse who treats Number 53/the Rook. There are two different people with the Number 23 identifier in first episode Arrival and Free For All, both managers of the Labour Exchange (suggesting that number identification may go with the role, rather than the individual?). Number 23 is also used (again for different individuals) in The Chimes of Big Ben and Free For All. Of course, 23 is itself considered to be an ‘occult’ number. Author William Burroughs kept a scrapbook recounting the frequent appearances of the number 23 in his life, while Robert Anton Wilson (possibly inspired by Burroughs) uses the number throughout his Illuminatus! trilogy. Occultist Aleister Crowley was convinced of the mystical significance of the number 23, and it formed the basis of the 2007 Jim Carey movie The Number 23, Joel Schumacher’s 23rd film as director. The DVD is divided into 23 chapters, naturally…

Verdict: A straight-forward but enjoyable episode, offering the irresistible metaphor of the chess game as a symbol of the series as a whole…

Score (Out of Six): Four

Brian J. Robb

Want more Prisoner? Like our Facebook Page and check out The Unmutual web site. If you want a great book on the series, start with Robert Fairclough’s The Prisoner: The Official Companion.


8: Dance of the Dead

Dance 00

The Prisoner Episode by Episode

E08 Dance of the Dead

17 November 1967

Written by Anthony Skene

Directed by Don Chaffey

Story: Number Six is induced to take part in The Village’s annual carnival, but uses the opportunity to investigate the Town Hall.

Who is Number Two? Mary Morris

Guest Cast: Duncan MacRae, Norma West, Aubrey Morris, Alan White

Information: Dance of the Dead, disappointingly, seems to be lacking in any single overall theme (as in education, media, or drugs) other than total surveillance, something already established in many of the proceeding episodes almost as a background truth. For that reason, several alternative viewing orders for The Prisoner suggest that Dance of the Dead should fall much earlier in the run than eighth. There is, however, a certain elegance of following Many Happy Returns where a female Number One is introduced as a surprise. Here, it is simply accepted that Number One is Mary Morris.

Dance 09It’s a disappointing episode, enlivened largely by the presence of Morris. She’s a pixie-like Number Two (even more so when dressed as Peter Pan for the carnival), who brings a steely authority to her role, but also an affability that might lull Number Six into a false sense of security. She is, in reality, just as ruthless and determined as any other Number One to successfully discover why Number Six resigned (while not harming him in the process).

Dance 05It is the fear of harm that causes Number Two to interrupt the Doctor’s latest attempt to manipulate Number Six into revealing his motivations. Wired up to a machine, he is connected via phone to a former colleague, Dutton, who is being told what to say. Number Six is clearly resisting offering up any information, but the Doctor believes he was just on the verge of cracking when Number Two calls the whole thing off. Dutton is the latest in a handful of former colleagues who have appeared in The Village, or are contacted following his escape attempts, who seem to be part of the plot against him.

Dance 06Number Six becomes aware of The Village’s ‘observers’ who carefully watch certain residents; his is Number 240 (Norma West), a young woman he attempts to connect with. Attempting to explore the Town Hall, Number Six finds an invisible barrier prevents him, and a passer-by tells him the Hall itself is choosy about who it allows to enter. It’s a weird fantasy or science fiction touch in an otherwise straight forward episode. By the end, when he thinks he’s uncovering Number One, Number Six discovers a Telex machine that simply relays Number One’s instructions. A sub-plot sees a body washed up on the beach sent back out into the world reshaped to represent Number Six, with Number Two suggesting that as a result he will be perceived as dead by the wider world.

Shot fourth in production, Dance of the Dead was another Portmeirion light episode, not relying upon location filming. As a result, Number Six describes himself as being relatively new to The Village (even though we’ve seen two significant escape attempts). His attempts to evade induced sleep, which leads him to spend the night on the beach and so discover the washed up body, also suggest this takes place early in Number Six’s residency in The Village. He’s still aggressively resisting the attempts by those who run The Village to ‘normalise’ life for him there. Anthony Skene wrote the screenplay for this instalment before the previous episode, Many Happy Returns. He claimed to have been offered a blank slate to develop his own story, which might explain why this seemed somewhat divorced from the other episodes in the series run.

Dance 07Brief Portmeirion filming took place at the end of September 1966 for this episode, with actor Trevor Howard supposedly originally cast as Number Two (which was written as a default male character, and not altered for Mary Morris). Some reports suggest that Howard was actually intended for a different role, but he ended up playing neither part. Morris had form as Peter Pan having played the role in a radical interpretation of the text 20 years before in 1946.

What’s it All Mean? Not much, really. The surveillance in The Village is not simply electronic, via cameras and microphones, but involves human intelligence in the form of the anonymous ‘observers’ who are attached to a single subject to keep tabs on. The theme appears to be that simple: Number Six is being watched. We already know this from almost each of the previous episodes, so to build an entire episode around that idea is a little redundant at this stage (almost the halfway point) in the life of the series.

Dance 03Despite claims by Anthony Skene to have been inspired by Jean Cocteau and Franz Kafka, little of this really comes across in the episode. The masquerade during the carnival is interesting in offering the inhabitants of The Village a chance to adopt different identities. While Number Six’s quest to discover the secrets of the Town Hall and to uncover what he thinks is the location of Number Two is a bit of a runaround in the style of Kafka, that could apply to almost any episode of the series.

Dance 08The Cocteau elements largely seem to be incorporated in Number Six’s discovery of a working radio on the body of the man washed ashore. It only seems to receive static or incoherent voices, much as depicted in Cocteau’s Orphée. It’s a nice touch, but in terms of resonance or symbolism, it doesn’t really seem to add up to much or add anything really to the wider world of The Prisoner. We shouldn’t expect every narrative experiment carried out by a show that was trying to figure out what it was during production to work perfectly. Even The Prisoner, with just 17 episodes, was going to produce the odd instalment that—relatively speaking—can be judged to be somewhat of a failure.

That’s Weird! The mental coercion of Number Six is more or less thrown away as a gag during the opening sequence, when something like this could stand up as almost an episode in itself (as in A. B. and C.). It might have been interesting for the show to have explored this kind of mental manipulation in conjunction with the use and abuse of Number Six’s former colleagues (as in Dutton) to help force a confession from him.

Punch Ups! Amazingly enough, none! Although Number Six is chased by a Village mob towards the end following his mock trial…

Trivia: The episode was likely delayed in transmission order as Patrick McGoohan appears to have fallen out of love with it by its completion. It was under-running, and a scripted finale in which Number Six destroys the Telex machine was not shot. It was film editor John S. Smith who reconstructed the episode with the available filmed material to achieve the proper running time. The end result is somewhat dream-like, with Smith claiming ‘That atmosphere was the essence of the series’.

Verdict: One of the most slight episodes in the entire 17 episode run; this is only scored lower in comparison to the great episodes that surround it.

Score (Out of Six): Two

Brian J. Robb

Want more Prisoner? Like our Facebook Page and check out The Unmutual web site.