Thursday, 16 January 2014

The Prisoner: Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darling

There is loads of meat on the bones of this episode, no wonder it it so extensively chewed over by the fans. In fact there might be more than I can deal with, so I'm forcing myself to stick to my intention in this run through The Prisoner, so shall try to at least cover whether Number 6 can be identified with John Drake in Danger Man. Of course I'll be wanting to talk about anything else that takes my fancy in this episode, but I think I shall try to avoid the substantial changes from the original script. Suffice to say this episode was originally intended to be placed in the aborted second series of The Prisoner, & is said to be a fairly good example of what the series would have been like. Hypothetically Drake/Number 6 would have been sent on missions outside The Village.
I can't make up my mind whether this would make the whole premise of the show fall apart. Whoever he is Number 6 is not kindly disposed towards The Village authorities, & is not open to being intimidated, coerced, or manipulated into working for them. To me this would make an attempt to make the series work outside of the custodial Village, a failure. That said, the premise confirms that Number 6 is Drake. Remember the idea is that The Village was his brainchild? The whole point is that he works for (one of) the organisation(s) that run The Village, is horrified at what he hears of how The Village has turned out, & resigns, knowing that he will be taken there & can find out what it happening for himself. In reality Drake can no more resign than the Queen can. The whole reason for The Village is the *people* kept there, & Drake is definitely one of them. His resignation is staged really, & he will no doubt continue working for the organisation. The real Drake doesn't really have a choice, except to tell them the truth about his resignation, & get back to work, with no doubt heavier security than before, since his card will be marked. Put this way the idea of missions outside The Village fits Drake/Number 6 perfectly.
In fact, I'd go so far as to say that for most of this episode it feels much more like a Danger Man than The Prisoner. It's certainly an odd one out in terms of the prologue. Of course it also makes references to High Noon. You could go so far as to say that it may be the episode over which McGoohan had least control, being recorded in his absence.
When writing the post on the Avengers episode, Who's Who?, I wondered whether the idea of swapping minds was a common thing in the sixties: I'd have to suspect it was. Whether it was or not, it seems The Village finally have a way into Number 6's mind. It is clear that Drake/Number 6 knew about Seltzman's invention. It is as clear that Drake's superiors did not know of this, since nobody accepts the swapped Drake for who he is. For me this confirms the importance of Drake - & the importance of the *people* being the point of The Village. That Sir Charles has Drake followed once again leaves a lack of certainty about who knows what.
I was shocked to discover, when watching the Danger Man episode Fish on the Hook, that I had actually confused it with this episode. Seltzman does bear a passing resemblance to Martin Miller, but - I realise this is a commonplace espionage theme of the cold war era - the photograph theme reminds me inexorably of that Danger Man episode. I also realise that I can't push this too far, but I'm just saying the episodes have some plot similarities. Drake is, after all, an intelligence agent, & photography one of the tools of his trade. Incidentally one of the things that dates this show is that scene in the photography shop. Every element of the technology depicted has been superceded & the scene is replete with the Kodak shade of yellow, an apparently rock-solid business that through its intransigence couples with some bad decisions has also gone down the drain.
The Village authorities frankly don't look very good in this one. This may be seen as a plot weakness in comparison to the other episodes, but surely the information the authorities want from Number 6/Drake is the reason for his resignation. It may be that since this was intended to be a Series 2 episode, it pre-empts a change in plot direction, but the concern with Seltzman's invention is suddenly introduced here, with no mention at all of the previously all-important resignation. The authorities are also of course completely at Seltzman's mercy when it comes to his invention, allowing the switch at the end. Surely they could have found some way of stopping that: Seltzman gets more decades of physical life to build on his intellectual life. Surely anyone could guess that we all can think of another body we would rather have than our own!
I like the visuals of this episode a lot. I love the impression of solid tradition & dependence given by Sir Charles's office. That the journey to this office is in a paternoster lift suggests the forces of British conservatism being hidden under the veneer of modern technology, the technology at its service. The Village puts this the other way round: I know Portmeirion is a different vision, but there it is a whimsy, a dream-like, apparently foreign place, which nonetheless is undergirded by modernity, represented by the surveillance technology. The rooms in The Village where the technology resides are always windowless, implying it is underground, & is not referred to in a building above ground. Additionally the paternoster lift goes up to Sir Charles rather than down. The boss is always relatively higher in a building.
Interestingly the implications of the personality swap are relatively undeveloped. Nigel Stock was a quite different man from McGoohan, in shape & movement. The implications of being yourself in another body are not that much explored - for example at one point Stock jumps into the car in the way McGoohan would, but it looks awkward & forced. I feel this underscores this episode au fond as a bread-&-butter  espionage story with a veneer of weirdness. I suppose this is what it was meant to be, & it's all very well for me at this length of time, criticising what was put together to make up for McGoohan's absence.
All in all I like this episode lots as a TV programme, even as a -somewhat out of the normal run - Prisoner episode. I also feel it can be seen to confirm the identification of Number 6 with John Drake.
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