Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Danger Man: The Man Who Wouldn't Talk

I don't usually do plot synopses - one of the reasons I started this blog is that the internet is heavy on description of classic TV shows & short on analysis, but I just feel a synopsis would be helpful here, so here is the one from IMDB:
'In Sophia, Bulgaria, a fellow agent has been picked up for interrogation, and Drake has to go in and get him out before he talks. Meridith (Norman Rosway) can only stand just so much, and upon arrival, Drake must act quickly. He is hampered at every turn by the secret police, as well as the attention of a young female interpreter (Jane Merrow) who has suspicions of her own about Drake's real motives. He manages to get to the roof of the police building and toss a gas cannister into the building's air intake vent, then breaks in, locates a groggy Meredith and hustles him outside to a waiting car. Playing cat-and-mouse wiith the police and his suspicious interpreter, he also has to deal with a delusional Meredith who still suffers from the treatment he's received at the hands of his tormentors. A hair's bredth escape out an upper floor window saves them both.' (http://m.imdb.com/title/tt0553846/synopsis?ref_=m_tt_stry_pl)
It's interesting - one of the reasons I wanted to have a plot synopsis for this Danger Man (& that is a completely fair & even-handed one) was to show that actually what this Danger Man is *supposed* to be about, in fact is about, is so not what really happens. This is a perfect demonstration for me of why the heavily-descriptive approach often taken to these shows, let's them down badly. In fact the Danger Man website (http://www.danger-man.co.uk/turningpoint.asp) gives this as one of the 'turning point' episodes: the turning point here would be Drake taking in the effect being tortured as part of his duties, has on another agent.
For myself, I was trying to think why this show reminds me *so* much of The Prisoner. On re-watching it I'm reaching the conclusion that I first got that impression from the female interpreter. She reminds me of one of the female Villagers put in to 'help'/seduce/compromise Number 6. Drake's response to her is so much like Number 6's - understandably, since she's got 'government chaperone' written all over her. So in fact, it is that Drake reminds me more of Number 6 here - he is clearly placed in a situation that would push anyone into behaving with Number 6's independence & suspicion. The situation also naturally evokes certain well-worn Prisoner themes - the individual against the society, trust, loyalty, the way people behave when they're cornered, whether ends justify means. It will be clear that the synopsis above cannot possibly touch all of these underlying themes.
I am therefore developing a theory. I am still assuming that Drake is *not* Number 6. Clearly at the time Danger Man was made, he was only Drake & nobody else: at the time this show was made Number 6 did not exist. However the two series were influenced to varying degrees by the charismatic & forceful McGoohan. It is therefore to be expected that the *ideas* present in The Prisoner would have at least some pre-existence in Danger Man. It would even be impossible for McGoohan to have acted his way through Danger Man without any ideas sticking in his mind - we are all the product of our experiences. My theory therefore is that The Prisoner drew on themes already appearing in Danger Man. These themes may not only have appeared in the episodes identified as 'turning points' or ones with obvious Prisoner themes, although that is the case here. It is as if The Prisoner took the underlying subjects of this episode & made them the explicit subject. That is the level of influence I'm thinking of.
To draw one example out a bit more, I wrote at length about institutional behaviour in The Prisoner - how people behave in a relatively controlled environment. The Sofia of this episode is clearly an extremely contained environment & it's marvellous how the characters react with a full house of institutional behaviours, featuring all sorts of deceit, sabotage, duplicity - all intended to get what the person wants in the institution. Even at the level of making some allies while rejecting other characters as 'them', this show is really depicting people in an institution.
An interesting parallel with The Prisoner is that Meredith is not himself, as a result of the torture he's experienced. He can't be relied on, in a sense & not all of his behaviour is what you'd expect. The Prisoner parallel is that in both situations we see people broken by the treatment they've received. Why do the longer-term inhabitants of The Village just go along with it? That's the question raised again in The Prisoner, well an experience like Meredith's is the answer.
The interpreter & doctor provide further examples of Village-like behaviour. They work in/for a regime that will happily torture people (of course they may not know this or it may be covered up by talk of the glorious People's this, that, & the other). Is it really possible to remain an agent of that oppressive a regime & not know? What value do we put on other people? It boils back down to - why are those people doing what they're doing?
Mike Pratt makes a welcome appearance. Of course he wasn't Randall when he made this. I have commented on the quality of his acting before, when he appeared in an episode of Spyder's Web: he doesn't distract as Mike Pratt, but comes across as his character. He repeats that quality performance here.
There is a slight difference in the approach to 'abroad' used in filming this episode. Danger Man tends to be very studio-bound with only stock footage of foreign scenes to give the right flavour. Since this one features an escape by road, that wouldn't really have worked - unless back projection was used, which I feel would have been a better idea than the location used. I've never been to Bulgaria, but I'm fairly sure it doesn't look like Maida Avenue, London, W2 (http://avengerland.theavengers.tv/danger.htm)! This is really my one criticism. I like this episode a lot - it's perfectly paced, suspenseful, quite painful at times. It easily makes it into my stonking good television category.
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