Thursday, 24 July 2014

Allegory in The Prisoner: The Schizoid Man

An episode brim-full of allegory, this one, & perhaps one of the ones with the most intimate, personal themes, by which I mean identity & personhood, as well as issues of power. My one criticism of this episode is that it can become incredibly confusing, but then that has been the age-old intent of any visual medium with two characters who look the same!
It starts in Number 6's cottage, which as a reproduction of his own home can be seen as an allegory for his own space & identity, or else somewhat allegorical for his life before The Village. I want to try to make an allegory of the zener cards. I feel the individual cards could be allegorical (the cube for imprisonment, the wavy lines for changeability, the cross for contradiction, etc) but I feel that would be over-elaborate. Perhaps the cards could be understood as an allegory for humanity, taking the time to play a 'game' of the trendy folk-psychology of the time, in the midst of the barbarism of The Village.
Of course cards - at least in the offices of the time - also referred to keeping records. The zener cards could also be allegorical of the way Number 6/we shuffles reality round to suit ourselves, or if you want to be countercultural, could refer to the way the Powers that Be shuffle people's lives around to suit themselves.
In a show where the protagonist is insistent that he will not be numbered, filed, etc, this is an ironic allegory, made more so by the fact that Number 6 becomes Number 12. In a world where it's a case of 'six of one, half a dozen of another,' it could almost be that the transformation on Number 6 into Number 12 makes him into a round dozen, symbolising a whole man, for the first time. Whether or not the Village is Number 6's own creation or dream refuge, the episode is allegorical for him resisting his own human growth, mediated by his own creation. Number 6 really is in the ultimate position of self-contradiction.
In fact the 'six of one, half a dozen of another,' motif is reflected in the colours of Numbers 6 & 12's blazers - they are plainly never intended actually to be exactly the same. This is perhaps the most obvious allegory in this episode - the black & white theme is also seen in the penny farthing badges. This subject has been discussed at length already in all sorts of fora - I'm forced to conclude that at least as far as the badges are concerned, inconsistency in colouring & placement has prevented anyone coming up with an incontrovertible meaning for them.
As for the blazers - I'm afraid that contrary to most views they represent the most obviously Christian allegory in the whole show. I must also confess to another heresy underlying this opinion, & this one's a real heresy - I believe Christianity to be a dualist religion in denial of its dualism, for example -
'Since the beginning the Christian faith has been challenged by responses to the question of origins that differ from its own. Ancient religions and cultures produced many myths concerning origins. Some philosophers have said that everything is God, that the world is God, or that the development of the world is the development of God (Pantheism). Others have said that the world is a necessary emanation arising from God and returning to him. Still others have affirmed the existence of two eternal principles, Good and Evil, Light and Darkness, locked, in permanent conflict (Dualism, Manichaeism). According to some of these conceptions, the world (at least the physical world) is evil, the product of a fall, and is thus to be rejected or left behind (Gnosticism). Some admit that the world was made by God, but as by a watch-maker who, once he has made a watch, abandons it to itself (Deism). Finally, others reject any transcendent origin for the world, but see it as merely the interplay of matter that has always existed (Materialism). All these attempts bear witness to the permanence and universality of the question of origins. This inquiry is distinctively human.' (Paragraph 285,
And yet I personally can't see how another quotation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church can be interpreted as meaning anything other than dualism:
' "Man, enticed by the Evil One, abused his freedom at the very beginning of history." He succumbed to temptation and did what was evil. He still desires the good, but his nature bears the wound of original sin. He is now inclined to evil and subject to error:
'Man is divided in himself. As a result, the whole life of men, both individual and social, shows itself to be a struggle, and a dramatic one, between good and evil, between light and darkness.
'By his Passion, Christ delivered us from Satan and from sin. He merited for us the new life in the Holy Spirit. His grace restores what sin had damaged in us.' (Paragraphs 1707-8,
This dualism is perhaps best seen in the Easter liturgy. This is the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster letting the dualistic meaning of the Easter liturgy slip, without meaning to:
'This Easter Vigil is a celebration of light and life: the triumph of light over darkness and life over death. Nothing could be more stark or more important. As we celebrate these truths, every moment of our life on earth is transformed. We live either in the fear of encroaching darkness and death or we live in the firm hope of the victorious light and resurrection of Christ our Lord.' (
It is exactly this dualistic either/or view that is the subject of this episode. When Number 6 becomes Number 12, he is clothed in a black blazer, indicative of his 'darkness', until he admits he is Number 6, when he will be clothed in white, indicative of his enlightenment. The whole thing is purely a psychological trick to make him say 'I'm Number 6'.
Perhaps the episode is open to a more orthodox Christian interpretation: in fact it almost warns against falling into dualism, since Number 2 makes the mistake of thinking that the man must be either Number 6 or Number 12, & apart from a factual error, the man who gets into the helicopter is, on an allegorical level, both Numbers 6 & 12 at the same time.
I notice when I wrote about this episode before I focused more on the institutionalisation approach - going to such trouble merely to get Number 6 to insist on being Number 6, which is supposedly not what the Village authorities want from him anyway. I think this episode may be better understood in those terms than in allegorical terms, despite the very obvious allegory involved. As an episode of The Prisoner, I'd have to say it's not one of the stronger ones: the plot is chock-full of holes, which become more obvious with repeated viewings, but it's carried through by the excellent visuals. The plot failures would include the pointlessness of the exercise, the easiness of Rover getting one of the clones as a resolution.
Ultimately Rover's little mistake gives Number 6 something to capitalise on. He makes a point of pretending to be Curtis, seeing this as an exit strategy. So perhaps it is ultimately an allegory of the man who insists of being himself against all the odds, & who triumphs as a result.
I just have one question - what is Steed's library doing amongst the other books in Number 12's cottage? - the distinctive spines with a black & a red band together are very apparent. Apart from that, of course, the more conservative furnishings of Number 12's cottage may represent the establishment figure that the Village authorities want Number 6 to become.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

The Avengers: My Take on the Springbok Radio Shows and Other Steed Actors

Image credit:
I was reading a blog post the other day ( by someone who also didn't like Big Finish's releases of the lost Avengers episodes, for some of the same reasons as me, & interestingly because it takes the show out of its native 1960s milieu, but predominantly because of the lack of Patrick Macnee & Ian Hendry. She seemed to feel that the only person who could play Steed is Patrick McNee, a view I have heard often stated. In fact I must be the odd one out because I don't feel Macnee is the only possible Steed. I'm *way* too young to have seen the short-lived stage play, but I have come across three other depictions of Steed, in fact I usually have at least some of the radio shows on my mp3 player.
The radio show ran on Springbok Radio in South Africa on weekday evenings in a fifteen-minute slot from 1971 to 1973. It appeared that they had vanished completely, despite also being broadcast in New Zealand, Australia, & the USA - another victim of the anti-archival mentality of the times ( The existing serials that survive today were recorded on reel-to-reel tapes by a radio fan called John Wright: apart from some copies of his tapes, they are the only sources for the remaining known serials. I downloaded the episodes from the Avengers Declassified, & am sorry to see that 'These serials are not currently available from The Avengers Declassified, but if you drop us a line and ask nicely, we'll see what can be done!' (
The remaining series are many of them Tara King shows rewritten for Mrs Peel. I like them a lot. I certainly don't object to Donald Monat as Steed. They also have an advantage over Big Finish's releases, in that they have a narrator, so at least *work* without visuals.
Other than the radio series there are two depictions of Steed I have seen, & I object to neither of them. Simon Williams played Steed in a spoof of The Avengers by Lily Savage ( I think he actually does a very good job of over-doing Steed somewhat; I certainly don't find his depiction objectionable. I even don't object to Ralph Fiennes's depiction in the much-maligned Avengers film, which I like a lot. I saw it five times when it came out: three in Oxford & two in Birmingham. Oddly the two places seemed to produce a different crowd - the Oxford crowd thought it a jolly jape & laughed uproariously. The Birmingham crowd, though, were obviously die-hard Avengers fans like me, who took the revival of their favourite series with the correct degree of seriousness. One of these days I'm going to post on the film, including all the references to the original series I can identify.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Allegory in The Prisoner: Free for All

This is the point at which I have to stop being creative & have to fall in line with the conventional allegorical reading of The Prisoner, because it's just too obvious to be ignored. In this episode The Village is very clearly allegorical of our world, & comments on various institutions (government, the press) are clearly being made. There's simply no escaping that.
What is frankly shocking, though, is how countercultural the commentary really is. We all know that those who go into politics choose to do so generously, & for the good of the community, don't we? In addition to the frequent criticism that politicians are self-serving time-wasters (& if my local councillor should read this, I still didn't vote for you, even after you finally sorted that problem with the rubbish), this Prisoner depicts those in power much more cynically, as forced into position, & then really being completely powerless. Either way, the allegory is very simple & very powerful: 'democracy' is a sham, a trick, a subterfuge, which covers up what is really happening in the world. The real powers know what is going to happen already - for which the fact that Number 6's election materials were all ready is the allegory.
I am beginning to realise how allegorical the phone & TV in Number 6's cottage are, for the power of intrusion that the Village authorities have over his life. Number 58 is initially allegorical for a further intrusion, that of intruding a person into Number 6's life.
As the episode progresses, her full allegorical standing becomes clear. For a start she talks gibberish; this may be intended to represent Polish but clealy really represents gibberish. This gibberish is understood only by Number 2: a clear allegory for the rubbish that our leaders regularly spout. It is only after Number 6's conversion to the cause of the election, & he begins spouting Village propaganda, that he can suddenly say 'be seeing you' in her language, indicative of an apparent change of allegiance. Of course ultimately she is another allegory for nonsensical, sadistic, self-serving, vacuous leadership: she is the *real* new Number 2.
Number 6's change of allegiance is only apparent, of course, & he tried to escape again. This may represent that his real allegiance haven't changed - certainly he allows himself to be fooled into a completely false bid for illusory power. Yet when Rover catches him he is spouting Village propaganda.
Which brings me nicely to two criticisms I have of the use of allegory in this episode. The main one is that the allegory falls flat on its face - impute whatever motives you like to him, but Number 6 plainly would not have fallen for the trick that is played on him. There is therefore a fault at the heart of the allegory here. My other criticism would be that in terms of allegory this episode is almost too rich - it's a proper episode to be chewed over at length by the fans, since so many things can be interpreted in so many ways. I therefore want to focus on the allegorical use of certain features of the episode.
One is the relatively heavy use of Rover. I commented before that I was having difficulty with Rover as an allegory, but here it is more clearly a power to be reckoned with, even able to summon other Rovers when necessary. The scene where Rover hovers menacingly is particularly effective, while it is often interpreted as a guardian of The Village, I feel it would not be unreasonable to interpret him as an allegory of the presence of Number 1.
The Village council - puppet legislative bodies who are just dummies, & the newspapermen - agents of the authorities who manipulate what becomes published - are both very obvious allegories. The psychiatrist character (not sure if that is actually what he is) is more subtle.
I'm also having difficulty allegorising the heavy use of silhouette in this episode. The outline in the truth test plainly represents a misuse of technology to get into Number 6's head. I suspect that the latest multimedia techniques of the 1960s would have revolved around Letraset & projection & probably to most people, seeing images normally achieved by projection on a TV screen would have represented an impossible-for-the-time technology. Of course the most obvious allegorical interpretation - one often applied to the black & white badges - would be an either/or milieu: you have to be with The Village or against it.
The pub without beer is an obvious allegory for the pretence of everything in The Village. When he has to be taken away by his minder it is like what we would now see as a celebrity being set up to fall by certain glossy magazines. The scene where he sees Number 2, apparently drunk, is a continuing allegory of pretence & deceit.
Having said that I wanted to interpret this one in the more conventional allegorical way, I feel it is possible to interpret it in the light of my hobby horse, where The Village represents Number 6's dream escape from his life. Often the end of an allegory is the key to its interpretation, & in this case the show must be interpreted as Number 6 seeking himself, since he is Number 1. Seen in the light of that the show becomes an allegory for Number 6's repeated attempts to seek his own power or actualisation, despite competition from society. In this case society even tells him it wants him to self-actualise. Where it gets really twisted is the fact that he himself therefore is the person who appoints The Village, including Number 2. He is therefore the main obstacle to what he is seeking, & the actual cause of all the problems he experiences. That said, I still want to do a series of posts reading the butler as Number 1!
In summary, a richly-detailed, if at times overly complicated from an allegorical point of view episode, if marred somewhat by a plot with a basically flawed premise.
My favourite lines:
Number 2: 'Are you going to run?'
Number 6: 'Like blazes, the first chance I get.'

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Doctor Who: The Talons of Weng-Chiang, Episode 5

In which things started to fall into place. Actually that would probably be my one criticism of this Doctor Who adventure: for four out of the six episodes it's been something of a mass of conflicting plot threads & divergent possibilities. In fact, in common with many of these multi-part series, I would think it could be a four-parter as a maximum. I'm aware that I also tend to say this about Sapphire & Steel, so it's possible that it's me reacting to the pace of 1970s TV by wanting it to speed up a bit.
Of course, this being Doctor Who, the answer to what's going on is weird. Of course the Peking Homoncurus has to be a 'dashed queer story': I like the way Litefoot easily falls into the Watson role. The other caricatures - steam laundries & what have you - come thick & fast. Jago envisages the situation as a business opportunity; while I love the way his showmanship comes to the forefront when he meets Litefoot. I haven't heard any of Big Finish's adventures of these pair - & am frankly wary of Big Finish on account of The Avengers - but can see that they would be a perfect amateur sleuthing partnership.
Despite a somewhat standard detective story plot - stooges get caught by the baddies, our hero has no idea where they are but we know he'll rescue them in the final episode - there is a genuine sense of suspense when Jago & Litefoot are imprisoned.
Isn't it fortunate for the Doctor when he chances to find the trionic lattice, the necessary key to the cabinet, absentmindedly left lying around? Lucky break, that.
My favourite line:
'"Eureka"'s Greek for "This bath is too hot".'

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Allegory in The Prisoner: A. B. And C.

I always get the impression that this one isn't a favourite with the fans - presumably because of the inserted non-Village scenes that can make it feel less 'Prisonery'. I gather that there were several different titles mooted for this episode, but of course the final titles is apposite given Number 6's preoccupation with not being a number. He's a number, his associates are letters - personally I can't see a great deal of difference. The irony is, of course, that it isn't A, B, or C whom Number 2 is looking for but ironically himself: if there was any episode that was ever a morality play, this is the one.
I am reminded of McGoohan's reference to Number 6 as an 'Everyman', & this episode reminds me strongly of the eponymous mediaeval play:
'The premise is that the good and evil deeds of one's life will be tallied by God after death, as in a ledger book. The play is the allegorical accounting of the life of Everyman, who represents all mankind. In the course of the action, Everyman tries to convince other characters to accompany him in the hope of improving his account. All the characters are also allegorical, each personifying an abstract idea such as Fellowship, (material) Goods, and Knowledge. The conflict between good and evil is dramatised by the interactions between characters. Everyman is being singled out because it is difficult for him to find characters to accompany him on his pilgrimage. Everyman eventually realizes through this pilgrimage that he is essentially alone, despite all the personified characters that were supposed necessities and friends to him. Everyman learns that when you are brought to death and placed before God all you are left with is your own good deeds.' (
The theme is inverted here, of course, because while Number 6 is apparently the subject, actually Number 2 is the real object he (Number 2 himself) is seeking. The moral therefore is really that the 'virtuous man' will triumph, & the man who has something to hide - from The Village, himself possibly, & certainly his boss, in Number 2's case - will fall. Now you may object that this is not actually what happens, since the plot really hinges on an apparent trick - but remember the whole point of allegory is that one thing stands for another. What if Number 6's 'trick' is to keep silent about knowing that Number 2 is a double agent? In that case there is a clear allegory about keeping silent.
Actually I'm quite happy to admit that I've probably stretched this episode as far as it will go in allegorical terms, alhough the three 'films' do make convincing scenes in an allegorical 'journey'.
In fact the allegory comes out better when the story is told from Number 2's perspective rather than Number 6's. I'm perfectly happy to see Number 6 as an incidental figure here. The allegory sounds something like this. Number 2 has been appointed to his role & tasked with finding out about a particular person. His dread at the phone ringing is palpable, & it is a task that gives him no pleasure. Under pressure he enlists the help of Medicine (in the form of number 14), who despite her better judgement agrees to help. Number 2 is prepared to risk, well, pretty much everything to find out the required information, & the experimental procedure begins immediately. The night-time setting & heavy rain are allegorical of Number 2's blindness, fumbling about in the dark, in a storm. The first images of Number 6's thoughts already suggest they are not going to find out what they want - he is thinking obsessively about the act of his resignation rather than the reason for it or the people he has been in contact with Number 2 ignores this suggestion that he is going to be on a fruitless errand. Number 2 wants to find out the nature of his relationship with A, B, or C, & footage of these people is fed into his thoughts.
A is allegorical for changeability, defection (literally), the expectation that anything can be purchased. Number 2 in this sequence is allegorical for solidity & reliability. I love the Citroen DS that he is abducted in, by the way: it is an allegory for sexy French motor cars. Number 2 does not notice the playful way in which Number 6 ends the sequence with 'Be seeing you,' indicating his independence of mind & preparedness to mock The Village, even under the influence of drugs.
Number 2 values life poorly, & regretfully accedes to Number 14's insistence that 24 hours must pass before Number 6 has the next dose of the dangerous drug. Number 2 is sufficiently naïve to try a softly-softly approach with Number 6 when he goes to confront him: Number 6 brings up the subject of having things to hide, but Number 2 ignores that. With greater dread he answers the phone & tells his boss he'll have the answers in two days.
The next night's suspect, B, is allegorical for seduction, all that is wily. While being 'a good spy, from a long line of spies', she represents the seductive arts, as opposed to the commercial or aggressive arts, which A represented. Unfortunately her wiles don't work, & when Number 2 manipulates the dream (here B is allegorical for Pity) Number 6 is of course not taken in.
Number 2 fails to keep an eye on the room in which the experiments are carried on, thus missing Number 6 diluting the drug, which will allow him to manipulate the procedure. This omission is allegorical for Number 2's belief that he is invulnerable. In fact Number 2 is becoming more vulnerable to being wound up by Number 6's civil disobedience.
C represents the unknown, & also represents Number 2's desperation. C is representative of the unknown elements of the known: the moral here is clearly not to think you've got everything sussed. Ultimately, of course, it back-fires, & 'D' turns out to be Number 2 himself! Surely the moral is about as obvious as it can get here?
I find it interesting the contrast between action in The Village, & outside of it in Number 6's 'dreams'. This reinforces the idea I've been mooting of The Village as representative of Number 6's dream escape, compared with the reality of the life he had been wanting to escape. Perhaps the truth should be sought in The Village, rather than the outside. I absolutely love the bit where he dreams about talking to Number 2 in The Village!
Having gone through this episode thinking about the allegory & rephrasing it from Number 2's point of view, I'm unfortunately forced to the conclusion that I may have pushed it further than it can go. It could certainly bear an allegorical interpretation, but the trouble is that the interpretation has to be forced onto an episode which essentially fails, in my opinion. It fails because it is a straightforward spy-fi interrogation story, already over-complicated by the frankly incredible means of interrogation. It would have been better if A, B, & C were merely referred to by people in the Village, perhaps even Mdme Angadine (remember she's not known to be C) could have been introduced to The Village, as Number 14 suggests.
However, the figure of Number 2 remains, as an allegory for the pressurised man in the middle, who resorts to endangering other people to get what he needs. Perhaps the final allegory here is cruelty & over-complication, leaving the good man free to walk The Village at the end.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Doctor Who: The Talons of Weng Chiang, Episode 4

Since my last blog post I've been continuing to watch The Prisoner & thinking about allegory. I've also been watching Minder. I'm not minded to blog about it. I think this may be because it is *so* seventies - the trousers are stay-prest, the shirts are nylon, the interiors are revolting, the chest hair is luxuriant, & I glimpsed a medallion or two - all of this is painful because I remember the seventies & think those years can only be looked back on favourably by those who don't remember them. Now the seventies looking back at the sixties are a different matter. Another different matter is Doctor Who, & even though this one was broadcast in the seventies, it always had the good sense to be not-too-seventies, even when contemporary.
Of course the whole point of Doctor Who is the unusual approach to time. In this case I find I keep thinking of the Series 6 Avengers episode, Fog, which is set in a very sixties reconstruction of the London of Jack the Ripper. Here the inspiration is obviously Sherlock Holmes, but while this is a more accurate Victorian reconstruction, it also messes with time in a much more radical way. That happens at the moment Tom Baker starts talking about the molecular structure of the Chinese box, to my mind.
So the approach to time in this Who adventure is an interesting one: the other really strange thing from a completely personal point of view is that is also extremely seventies, but not in a Minder sort of way. I don't mean that Who is walking round in flares, but I found previously that it made me think of Sapphire & Steel, for me one of the archetypally seventies shows. The music hall scenes make me think of a seventies show that my mother used to sit my grandmother in front of, which was a reconstruction of Victorian music hall acts - I'm afraid I've forgotten its name. So while this show is a not-bad Victorian scene, it is also firmly seventies (to me), with the Doctor wandering in to send the time all anyhow. This is not a complaint, it is a statement of the inspirations I personally detect here.
A further inspiration is clearly the classic music hall tradition - the vanishing cabinet scene gives a real sense of how terrifying it could be. Perhaps it is because it is the villain in a Doctor Who with the swords. Visually you can't really go wrong with that act. It is rightly against a black background so that the colours of the Doctor's & Chang's clothes appear stark against the background. In fact the whole episode is visually superb, it is exactly right to give the feeling of brooding doom. In fact I had been thinking that I may not continue blogging about this series, but it was this episode that made me wake up & pay attention. 'Theatre' in all its aspects is the real subject of it - about pretence, appearances, escape from reality, & deceit.
Of course it was a mistake to show the rat, how could it be anything else? It looks like a teddy bear eating Chang. And of course I would just repeat my previous objections about the images of Chinese people & that creepy dolls can only really be done by Agatha Christie. But on the whole an excellent Who that really made me pay attention when I was losing interest.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Allegory in The Prisoner: The Chimes of Big Ben

I always think the reference to Big Ben in the title of this episode is interesting. Number 6 never actually gets as far as Big Ben, in fact it is not what he is looking for in this episode.
Instead I think this episode is actually an allegory for our aspirations, our weaknesses, & how our aspirations become weaknesses if we let them. Looked at this way Big Ben is a symbol of what Number 6 wants - supposedly his freedom - but even that becomes such a preoccupation to him that it becomes a way in for the Village authorities to find a weakness. The imagery of course is a symbol of London, hence representative of apparent safety from The Village, but I feel can actually represent much more, since of course when we think of Big Ben we don't picture the actual bell but we picture the tower that contains it. The tower is actually the point here, always symbolic of aspirations, divorce from reality, protection, escape. Apart from the Tower of Babel & academics' towers of ivory it is also accessibly found in the Tower card of the tarot:
'Early printed decks that preserve all their cards do feature The Tower. In these decks the card bears a number of different names and designs. In the Minchiate deck, the image usually shown is of two nude or scantily clad people fleeing the open door of what appears to be a burning building. In some Belgian tarots and the 17th century tarot of Jacques Viéville, the card is called La Foudre or La Fouldre, ("The Lightning") and depicts a tree being struck by lightning. In the Tarot of Paris (17th century), the image shown is of the Devil beating his drums, before what appears to be the mouth of Hell; the card still is called La Fouldre. The Tarot of Marseilles merges these two concepts, and depicts a burning tower being struck by lightning or fire from the sky, its top section dislodged and crumbling. Two men are depicted in mid-fall, against a field of multicolored balls. A. E. Waite's version is based on the Marseilles image, with small tongues of fire in the shape of Hebrew yod letters replacing the balls.
'A variety of explanations for the images on the card have been attempted. For example, it may be a reference to the biblical story of the Tower of Babel, where God destroys a tower built by mankind to reach Heaven. Alternatively, the Harrowing of Hell was a frequent subject in late medieval liturgical drama, and Hell could be depicted as a great gate knocked asunder by Jesus Christ, with accompanying pyrotechnics. The Minchiate version of the deck may represent Adam and Eve's expulsion from the Garden of Eden.' (
This is Ouspensky's interpretation of that the Tower card (& hence, for the purpose of my argument here, the symbolism of towers as such in Europe - I'm not implying that the fiercely Catholic McGoohan had an interest in the occult):
'I saw a lofty tower extending from earth to heaven; its golden crowned summit reached beyond the clouds. All round it black night reigned and thunder rumbled.
'Suddenly the heavens opened, a thunder-clap shook the whole earth, and lightning struck the summit of the tower and felled the golden crown. A tongue of fire shot from heaven and the whole tower became filled with fire and smoke. Then I beheld the builders of the tower fall headlong to the ground.
'And the voice said:--
'"The building of the tower was begun by the disciples of the great Master in order to have a constant reminder of the Master's teaching that the true tower must be built in one's own soul, that in the tower built by hands there can be no mysteries, that no one can ascend to Heaven by treading stone steps.
'"The tower should warn the people not to believe in it. It should serve as a reminder of the inner Temple and as a protection against the outer; it should be as a lighthouse, in a dangerous place where men have often been wrecked and where ships should not go.
'"But by and by the disciples forgot the true covenant of the Master and what the tower symbolized, and began to believe in the tower of stone, they had built, and to teach others to so believe. They began to say that in this tower there is power, mystery and the spirit of the Master, that the tower itself is holy and that it is built for the coming Master according to His covenant and His will. And so they waited in the tower for the Master. Others did not believe this, or interpreted it differently. Then began disputes about the rights of the summit. Quarrels started, 'Our Master, your Master,' was said; 'our tower, your tower.' And the disciples ceased to understand each other. Their tongues had become confused.
'"You understand the meaning here? They had begun to think that this is the tower of the Master, that He builds it through them, and that it must and, indeed, can be built right up to Heaven.
'"And you see how Heaven responded?"' (
These are exactly the sort of things that this episode is really about. In fact I'm impressed that I've managed to get so far into a blog post without once mentioning anything that actually appears in the episode under discussion! But the very title of Big Ben indicates that this episode is about looking for things we don't get. Number 6 is not looking for the right thing - or rather his desire to escape from the Village has exposed his vulnerability to deceit.
The vulnerability theme is continued in the fact that Number 6 actually winds up with a female partner in this episode. In fact she seems to fall for him & calls him (after correcting herself) Big Ben: Number 6 himself becomes the image of the unattainable aspiration & escape.
I posited in my post about Arrival that The Village could represent Number 6's desired escape from his existing life - an escape which turns sour. If he them tried to escape from his escape, he actually becomes a serial escaper, & the entire series becomes an allegory for not trying to escape from a situation you yourself have created, to a dream which will not be what you want it to be.
In fact all parts of the episode become an allegory for seeking the 'right' thing, rather than the relentless pursuit of the unattainable. I don't personally buy a Christian interpretation of the boat & mast, myself, but this episode could definitely be interpreted as being about seeking first the kingdom of God, then everything else will follow.
The craft competition is an allegory of a person crafting something he values. The General is an allegory for the man who has sensibly decided to stop fruitlessly seeking. Nadia is an allegory for a pawn who unfortunately falls for the subject she has been assigned to, losing the all-important focus that the show is about.
Numbers 2 & 6 do a roundabout dance in this allegory. When Number 6 takes sugar in his tea he is an allegory for the flexibility necessary to adapt to changing circumstances in ones pursuit of the desired goal. It looks as if Nadia is going to be his weakness at one point, but it is apparent that this is a trick. Number 2 tricks him, Number 6 seems not to fall for it, only to fall for the 'mirage' of escape to London. The chimes of Big Ben are an allegory of our 'idol' - a desire for the 'wrong' thing, & become an allegory for the elusiveness of the mirage. Incidentally, Nadia, as the only character - the only one apparently resident in the Village that is - in this one with a name, represents the real world. The characters from outside have names. The fact that Fotheringay asks Number 2 what his next assignment is indicates that The Village (whether or not it is Number 6's desired escape) & the 'real' world are not actually different. The fact that The Village is run apparently by multiple countries indicates that there is *no* escape. No escape & no point trying to craft an escape. Similarly Rover is round because the world is round, Rover is everywhere. In the alternate version of this episode, right at the end of the closing titles the wheels of the penny farthing become two worlds & fuse into one. It's just plain naff when it goes 'pop' & the word appears on the screen like 'pow' in a Batman episode, but the message is plain. The penny farthing (on people's number badges) indicates the supremacy of The Village, the wheels are round indicating the world. The Village is the world, Rover is the world. The Village & Rover are all in all.
Incidentally I had forgotten about the way the doors in The Village open themselves as you approach - not that remarkable in these days of a proliferation of automatic doors. Here they could indicate the level of surveillance under which The Village has its inhabitants - the machine has truly triumphed & we are part of it.
Number 6 is seen at his most human in Chimes of Big Ben, in my opinion, at least so far as Nadia is concerned. After Number 2 'gives' (& that idea should strike fear into the heart of all men & women) Nadia to Number 6, the domestic scene which follows feels almost as if he is in a sexual relationship with her. He is plainly not, but she falls for him. This is the nearest to intimacy that I think we see Number 6 or John Drake: I know nothing 'happens' but it feels as if they are a couple.
Finally, this episode is an allegory for how our aspiration, desires, even addictions, play tricks on us. When Number 6 is explaining the significance of his boat, & offering to buy Number 38's tapestry of Number 2 for his own home, he is plainly taking the piss. He actually tells the judges that his boat is an escape vessel (all but, I mean), strokes the ego of Number 38, who has not been on his radar before, then uses his prize to creep to Number 2. This should be an alarm bell in the paranoid Village, & is allowed to pass presumably, to allow his foiled escape attempt, which functions as an interrogation for the authorities. Deceit, trickery, duplicity, across the board. The main message remains not to be distracted from the important thing. It is not said what it is, but clearly for Number 6 it should have been keeping his mouth shut, because he *almost* let's the reason for his resignation slip.
The final trick in this episode is on the viewer: right from the start we are not let into the secret that the whole escape attempt is engineered by The Village, in fact the impression it is a real attempt is reinforced when we see Fotheringay on the phone saying he has received the message. Deceit within deceit within deceit. *We* could be excused for falling for it if we are seeing this as the second episode, & haven't yet grown a healthy suspicion of The Village. This makes it all the more shocking when Number 6 walks back out into The Village.
I thought it would be different. It is different, isn't it?