Sunday, 22 June 2014

Danger Man: To Our Best Friend

I was planning a post on the Rik Mayall series Bottom. On balance I'm not sure I would call it cult TV, but nonetheless would recommend it as a jolly good view. I remain to decide on whether to post on Filthy, Rich & Catflap, which nonetheless I would highly recommend as a memorial to Rik Mayall.
Meanwhile, back to Danger Man. Oh *how* I love this episode: it is a proper Cold War spy intrigue piece. The plot is relatively simple on the surface: Drake goes on a mission, finds the spy for the Other Side, job done. But it is plainly not that simple on any level. For a start it is evident that not only are spies from Russia present in London, but have even infiltrated into government! That opening scene reminds me of a sscene in The Professionals where Cowley is meeting with Russian agents, playing a gme of intelligence chess with them, to the great annoyance of Bodie & Doyle. It is very plain that the two sides are not completely divided, or even differentiated. I'm quite sure this isn't the impression the opening scene is intended to give, but it all just seems too cosy not to be institutionalised sharing of information. I may perhaps be reading the situation of The Prisoner into this, though, since there it isn't at all clear which side is which.
I started off this run off posts on Danger Man, by thinking about a comment on Mitchell Hadley's blog, that Drake's resignation was on the cards through the final season of Danger Man. I've already commented that in one episode it was almost as if he was being set up to resign, in the way that employers do make unwanted employees' lives a living hell so that they will leave. Actually, I've just reached a conclusion about whether or not Drake is Number 6: if he is, M9 is being run by complete incompetents. The *only* thing sought by the authorities in the Village is his reason for his resignation. Given that that is the case, it's slightly pointless to try to find the reason for a resignation, if it has been cleverly engineered by cunning management techniques - assuming he is John Drake. Similarly if John Drake is perceived to be a threat to the organisation, I feel the more classic way bureaucracy would deal with his ilk is to sideline him into a small corner abroad or a desk job. The only desired goal would be to keep hold of him so that an eye can be kept on him. If he then resigned, pressure would have to be brought to make him retract the resignation or else simple surveillance would have to be set up. The rigmarole of The Village does not make sense in this scenario. The only way in which it does make sense is if the authorities are so incompetent that they have *no* idea what one of their operatives is up to. Clearly the incompetence & bureaucracy of the organisation is one of the things that drove Number 6 to resignation, & I'm sure I'll change my mind about this, but right now, I am convinced that Number 6 is *not* Drake. Radical stuff, eh?
However this episode is one of several identified (on the webpage referenced below) as turning points in the career of John Drake, the ones that turned him off M9. This seems to be true whether or not he is identified with Number 6. On the principle of Occam's Razor, the simple, obvious reason for the winding up of Danger Man given in this quote holds the ring of truth: despite much smoke & mirrors, it is likely the ever-temperamental McGoohan had had enough:
'[...] What is known is that Patrick McGoohan was beginning to tire of being John Drake. He has stated that the show was beginning to repeat itself and he had already made various attempts at getting a film version of "The Prisoner" unsuccessfully off the ground.
'This must have represented a major concern for ITC. Danger Man had become the company's most successful production, out selling "The Saint" and making McGoohan the biggest name on the ITC pay role at the time. With McGoohan's contract for the series due to expire shortly, Lew Grade, always a keen business man had to keep the star happy. This explains why, eventually McGoohan was able to sell ITC "The Prisoner", but for the time being at least ITC were keen to keep the adventures of John Drake a float.' (http://www.danger-man.co.uk/turningpoint.asp)
This webpage also gives a suggested viewing order for the half-a-dozen 'turning-point' episodes, before watching The Prisoner, to make the events leading up to Drake/Number 6's resignation absolutely clear.
As for this episode, I am in two minds - anything with McGoohan in it tends to have this effect on my existing rare & special INFJ tendency to try to see all sides. The bottom line for me about this episode is that Drake should plainly not have been sent on this assignment: this is so plain that it is almost a weakness in the plot, since this simple fact makes the piece so unreal. On the other hand it brings up all sorts of possibilities & implications for Drake's situation.
Firstly he is plainly not an agent suspected of being 'double'. Had he been, he would not have been sent on a mission so obviously difficult, which would leave the agent open to opportunities to betray M9. It is not inconceivable that they could have wanted to test Drake's loyalty, but this would be an overly-sensitive case to do it on. There is clearly something the organisation doesn't know about Number 6, but they obviously have confidence in Drake, suggesting he is not the same man.
Secondly if he is being pushed out of the organisation they couldn't find a better way to do it. Incredibly likely to blow up in their faces, though, if Drake was even slightly unstable.
Thirdly, the theme of the incompetence of Drake's bosses comes to the fore here: it is rank incompetence to send him on this mission. To me this suggests that if Drake resigned it was through irritation at being managed by nincompoops. I mean, seriously, in any field of work, let alone intelligence, if the operative has any involvement with the subjects of any investigation, let alone a sensitive one, you'd change the operative. No. No. No. Just wrong.
The slight problem with the plot aside, I can't really fault this one much. It's marred by familiar faces among the actors. However as an abroad Danger Man, scenes are well set with establishing stock footage. Visually it's superb, using many of the stock scenes of sixties espionage films: panelled board room meeting, scene in a lift, I particularly like the radio revealed when the vodka bottle is picked up, & the scene with the gas canister in the car. All in all, stonking good television.
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