The Prisoner Episodes Paired as Films: The Chimes of Big Ben and The General

The introduction to this series of posts can be found here.

This post is about the two Prisoner episodes The Chimes of Big Ben and The General as they were released as one single film called The General in October 1983 by Precision Video.

David Fakrikian, whose work I am hugely indebted to for these posts, makes the point that naturally there is an obvious connection between these two episodes because they both reference the general, in Chimes as a character in the Village and in The General as a computer. There is a further connection because bothe episodes make reference to the arts or education. He makes the fascinating point that when you go from the end of Chimes to the beginning of The General (without the 'Where am I' dialogue) it looks as if Number 2 is watching Nadia leave the Village by helicopter, which indeed it does. Although this is only apparent because it soon becomes clear in The General that the helicopter is looking for the runaway professor.

A Chess game with the General
Number 2 meets Number 8.
Conversations about the sides being the same.
B Number 8 attempts to escape.
C Scene with the electrified floor in hospital and Number 6 makes a deal with Number 2 to play along.
D Carving in the wood.
Number 6 makes an escape plot with Nnumber 8.
E The art exhibition.
F Escape attempt - journey in crates.
Questioned in 'London'. 
G Back in the Village which he never left.
A Introduction about speedlearn and the General.
B The professor attempts to escape.
C Number 6 experiences speedlearn and regurgitates the information.
D Meets Number 12 on the beach who gives him the professor's tape recorder.
The scene about art with Number 6 and the professor's wife.
We see Number 2 telling Number 12 to keep his opinions to himself.
E The scene in the professor's house with the busts where we see the 'professor' in bed is a waxwork.
Carnival scene
Number 6 and Number 12 plot to broadcast the professor's real thoughts.
F Number 6's attempt to sabotage Speedlearn.
The scene where Number 6 sabotages The General.
G We see Number 6 approaching the professor's wife in the garden.

There are some interesting comparisons here, where The General has parallel events to those in The Chimes of Big Ben but changes them slightly. For a start both the professor and Number 12 at various times take the plot roles played by Number 8 in Chimes; Number 8 is of course one of 'them' but the professor is a prisoner and Number is a rebel. I have chosen to equate the two C sections because the hospital scene and Number 6's experience of Speedlearn both show what the Village could do to you and its horrifying effect. I have chosen to make the art exhibition in Chimes match with the scene in the professor's house because what they both really describe is the completely self-referential working of the village (and society?) where only characters in the Village appear in the art. Additionally in The General we have the detail that not everything in the Village is real!

Generally, once again we have the structure where the second half repeats (possibly with variations) elements of the first, which again suggests to me that these episodes were written as separate episodes and joined together. We also have the structure I have identified before that the first half is an episode which emphasises the key story development of the series (here that you can't escape from the Village anywhere) and the ssecond half emphasises warnings about aspects of our world (here education, spoofing the art world, and the frequent sixties worries about technology).

Beyond the general themes of rebellion, control, and comment on aspects of our society I would be hesitant to try to identify a single overarching theme for these two episodes edited together as a film. There is an apparent connection between the two episodes because of the use of the title the General, but there is also a problem because the title means different things in the two episodes, which naturally makes a bit of a nonsense of editing them together. If it is therefore true that The Prisoner's episodes were originally intended to be a series of full length films, I think it unlikely that these two were intended to go together like this.

In conclusion, although these two episodes repeat the structure of the first being core series mythology and the second commenting on our world I don't see them as intended to be a whole film, or even going very well together. The use of the work General to mean different things in them is confusing, and their structure again suggests two separate episodes written separately because they repeat a similar structure reflecting repeat series concerns and behaviours, rather than showing one structure.

Sources: I will be making extensive use of the page from David Stimpson's blog with its anonymous comment and the essay and video by David Farkrikian for these posts:

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