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).
The 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.
John 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.
This 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.
A 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.
In 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.
That’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