...a blog by Richard Flowers

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Day 3980: THE PRISONER 42nd 44th ANNIVERSARY: Many Happy Returns


I REALLY like the bit where the MILKMAN breaks into the SECRET BASE in order to bundle the important PRISONER into an aircraft and make off with him!

Oh, no, wait! I've been watching James Bond in "The Living Daylights"!

My Daddies have been watching a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT bonkers spy adventure. It does have a Colonel James in it though…


The Prisoner wakes to find, without any explanation, that the Village is utterly deserted, saving only a solitary black cat.

If "A. B. & C." is the archetypal episode of "The Prisoner" then this one is textbook enigmatic.

The opening half hour, with almost no dialogue beyond a grunted name called between gunrunners or an unintelligible gypsy dialect, and so very reminiscent of "Arrival", is carried entirely by McGoohan as he finally escapes from the Village.

He must realise, even as he builds his raft and sails away, that they are manipulating him, and he spends most of the story waiting for the other shoe to drop.

what's your number, please

Well, the title itself suggests an annual anniversary, so are we a year into our sojourn in the Village?

Last time, I discussed how after watching "A. B. & C." I reappraised our viewing order and decided that "Many Happy Returns" should have been the seventh episode rather than the ninth, revising the order to allow for "Mrs Butterworth" to reappear in "A. B. & C.".

The rule of thumb is a month to an episode, so that would suggest that at least six or seven months have passed since "Arrival". But we may have to revise or abandon that.

On the one hand, he meets the new occupant of his old home, a Mrs Butterworth, and tells her that he used to live there "about twelve months ago".

On the other hand, he seems surprised to learn that it's the day before his birthday, as though he didn't realise so much time had passed.

(So was the "twelve months ago" a guess or a "clever lie", an improvised cover story like his claim to be "Smith… Peter Smith" the "nameless" exile? Even if he is making it up, he's trying to make his story consistent with hers so twelve months would at least have to seem plausible to him.)

He also mentions that there were six months left to run on his lease but he's not saying that it's less than six months later and his lease should not have run out, rather he is trying to convince her of his bona fides.

If this were just over six months after "Arrival" it would be a little tight, but not impossible, for the lease on 1 Buckingham Place – of course he lives at Number 1 – to have run out and been snapped up by a new tenant.

But she seems too settled, too confident in her home, to have just moved in. And she seems to have had time to redecorate. We don't get to see the room we are familiar with from the titles and "Arrival", so it's hard to tell, but he seems to be struggling to recognise his way around the study and some of the chintzier porcelain doo-dahs on the shelves don't look very him either.

It seems very odd that she's moved into a new home with her late husband's things, though.

(Subsequent developments, however, will provide an alternative explanation.)

One thing this does scotch is the theory that "The Schizoid Man" and "Many Happy Returns" take place over consecutive February/Marches a year apart.

We say that after this episode the Prisoner gives up trying to escape, so the escape attempt at the end of "The Schizoid Man" means that "The Schizoid Man" has to come first.

But if "Many Happy Returns" is only "about twelve months" after "Arrival" (and not two years), then "The Schizoid Man" would have had to take place within days of his abduction, which is clearly nonsense.

We do, however, have every reason to believe that this episode genuinely ends on 19th March, the Prisoner's birthday – and that of, as you surely know or can guess, Patrick McGoohan too.

Unlike "The Schizoid Man" which is self-contained within the Village where they can make every day 10th February if they want to, here they let him roam about freely – well to a certain value of freely – in London.

Of course, we cannot entirely rule out the possibility that it's all in his head, that they are directly manipulating the Prisoner's senses and experience. Although "A. B. & C." seems to suggest their power to control his dreams is quite limited, as we'll see when we get to "Living in Harmony" this may by no means be the limit of their abilities.

But if they can do that, then they can do any damn thing, so let's accept Descartes's Second Maxim and assume that the rest of the world is real.

In which case there are simply too many variables to control to stop him, say, dashing into a newsagent and checking the front page of The Times.

As Sir Humphrey once said: never conceal anything that someone could easily find out any other way.

Lying to him about the date is an unnecessary risk in such a carefully controlled plan. So they're almost certainly telling the truth, just this once.

He spends, according to his own log, at least eighteen days on the raft, arguably reaching England early on what would have been day nineteen (which he is told is the 18th, the day before his birthday). This would mean he awakes to find the Village deserted on probably the last day of February.

That's less of a problem if we're accepting that "The Schizoid Man" is now the immediately preceding episode. It might even suggest, contrary to everything I've said previously, that if you're willing to believe the events of "The Schizoid Man" can take place in a couple of weeks then one of the 10th Februarys in "The Schizoid Man" might be the real one.

But it's more likely that it's just been 10th February in the Village since Christmas – a timelessness that also explains his surprise at it being the day before his birthday.

Here's another little thought, though.

In describing the Village to his superiors, he tells them about the Village council and says that he could have been elected as it's "democratic". Now, obviously, he's echoing the words of Number 2 from "Dance of the Dead", but it seems slightly odd that he would claim he could have been elected in the light of the events that take place in "Free For All" when he tries to do exactly that.

(Well, not exactly that, since he stands for the "post" of Number 2, not for the Council as such. Nevertheless, one taste of Village "democracy" would surely shake the confidence of even the most stalwart candidate.)

So could "Free For All" actually take place after this? Well, up to a point, yes it could.

If we can't have "Many Happy Returns" as the centre episode, then another turning point episode like "Free For All" would be preferable. The use of potentially-damaging drugs and brainwashing on the Prisoner in "Free For All" would seem like more of a development from "A. B. & C." The Prisoner's escape attempt amounts to seizing control of the control room in the Green Dome, more in line with the "conquest/overthrow" phase of the series than the "escape" episodes. (Although taking control isn't something he tries to do when he finds the Village deserted, suggesting he already knows it's futile.)

But as a bridge between "regular" and "barking mad" episodes, you couldn't ask for a better one; "Free For All" is definitely the one where it all goes nuts.

Except… the reasons for placing "Free For All" in the "early" phase, the fact he's still unfamiliar with the workings of the Village, still hold. And we are told that the elections are annual – something he doesn't seem to doubt, so it cannot have been disproved to him. That fact told us that "Free For All" must take place less than twelve months after "Arrival", which means "Many Happy Returns" must take place later than that.

Wherever you place it in the running order, there is a clear sense of "end of an era" here. The way that "Many Happy Returns" mirrors the events of "Arrival", the fact that "Return" ultimately suggest "Arrival Again", set us thinking that this is if not the conclusion of the series, at least the anti-climax, the dramatic midpoint.

The Prisoner finally escapes, returns to England and to his home. And – fairly major spoilers – the conclusion sees him returned to the Village. They never really let him go.

(And clearly it would have been much funnier if we had watched this one with a year's gap on either side rather than the General).

the new number two

When a keen-eyed observer notes the episode opening with a male voice not listed in the guest cast delivering the "new Number 2" speech, and with no cutaway to the guest star in the famous ball-shaped chair, then they might very well think that something is up.

And they'd be right.

So there is no avoiding the spoiler when I tell you that the episode ends with the "twist" reveal that Mrs Butterworth was Number 2 all the time.

This, of course, is the "alternative" explanation for her swift occupation of his old residence. In the ultimate violation, the Village have taken possession of his home.

As the new resident of his furnished apartment, she appears to be wryly amused by the tramp-like figure the Prisoner presents, but has no difficulty in believing his prior claim on her home and car (well, why would she?). Cleverly, though, she turns her knowledge of his backstory into a trusting and generous nature. She is always completely charming and helpful to him. She clothes him and feed him, even promising to bake him a birthday cake – a promise she actually keeps.

There is only one instant where maybe the façade slips as he seems about to walk out without her help and she panickingly cries out that he can't. It's a disconcerting moment, because you think she might have given herself away. She recovers, but you might expect that she will now move to thwart the Prisoner in some way. But no, instead she becomes more helpful – she even gives him back his car.

And that's it. She apparently plays no further part in the proceedings, allowing him to trot off back to his superiors to try to convince them about the Village. Her place in the story is given prominence by the length of the scenes and that they take place in the studio rather than as filmed inserts, but superficially she is no more important than any of the other characters that he encountered along his journey.

But her performance is so central and memorable that the revelation that she was Number 2 feels absolutely right.

What is interesting, genius even, about her character is that she never stops being motherly. It's brilliant that they play it against every cliché of "Woman is Wickedness!" untrustworthy ladies; she’s not even an ice bitch. But also it's brilliant that it never stops. Even Eric Portman's avuncular Number 2 in "Free For All" sheds his benevolent façade once he's floored the Prisoner with his moonshine. Here, you get the feeling she thinks that what is best for him, that she genuinely believes that breaking him is a birthday gift.

And thus she kills him with kindness.

In a sense, she is the Village incarnate, the ultimate evolution of the "society above the self" model that it represents, to which the Prisoner is the extreme antithesis.

It is the old maxim comparing the dictators, the venal capitalist with the messianic socialist. The evil of the former is less because ultimately his desires will be satiated. The latter believes that they are doing it to you "for your own good". So they will never, ever stop.

In that way, Number 2 is what Tony Blair always wanted to be: a socialist Margret Thatcher. She's even got the hair.

And you get the sense that the Prisoner trusted her. She didn't ask anything of him, appeared to believe him, and fed him with cake. In a way that little betrayal is the biggest blow. Ironically, by making no efforts to question or detain him, she beat him.

follow the signs

"You can never escape… even when we let you."

There is still room for ambiguity.

The Village have the Prisoner's pilot – Brian Worth playing the Group Captain – replaced by their own man – who then ejects him over "Portmeirion" with a cheery "Be Seeing You".

A throwaway line raises eyebrows with the news that the police roadblock he ran into was: "looking for an escaped convict, old man. Nothing to do with you."

The final exchange between Donald Sinden as the Prisoner's old friend the Colonel (surely not the same one as Kevin Stoney's character "Colonel J" in "The Chimes of Big Ben", although he is called "James") and Patrick Cargill as Thorpe, the man who doubts everything about the Prisoner's story, is open to no end of interpretation.

"Who was he?" asks Thorpe.

"An old friend, who will never give up," replies the Colonel.

That could be praise; that could be regret; that could be an assessment of whether this attempt to break him is going to work. If you read it as a eulogy – that the Colonel is not expecting the Prisoner to return – then the Prisoner's friends and allies are complicit: the Village is our Village. But if you read it as recognition that the Prisoner will doggedly stick at this until he's found the place again, then the Colonel could be innocent and the Village might be "their" Village after all.

To muddy the waters further, Thorpe is played by Patrick Cargill and he's another one who's going to be back later working for the Village as a Number 2. (See "Hammer into Anvil"; we'll have to see how the two characters reconcile – if at all – when we get there.)

We see the Village's pilot disguised as a milkman – yes, just like Necros in "The Living Daylights" but without the exploding milk bottles – before he enters the pilots' changing room. If it is our Village, why would he need to be disguised? This would seem to exonerate at least someone on our side.

You might think that it's the Group Captain, but since we don't see him knocked out or dead on the floor he might just exchange clothes with the ringer. If he's in on the plot, why the disguise? Well, it might not be for his benefit, but to get the pilot past Thorpe and/or the Colonel. Why replace him at all, you might ask, but you can counter that with "need to know" about the Village's real location.

Yes, the real location of the Village. Because, as becomes clear, since it's all a Village game we cannot even be completely sure about that. It would be a doddle for the Village pilot to have tampered with the navigation equipment on the plane, and it's clear that they're keeping close watch of the Prisoner's travels by raft too – the timing is too perfect for it to be otherwise; when it looks like he might still be adrift on the important birthday, the gunrunners Gunther and Ernst propitiously turn up to provide him with a motor launch.

(For Doctor Who fans, by the way, Ernst is Jon Laurimore, fabulous as Count Federico in "The Masque of Mandragora", although sadly this time he doesn't get to large it up around Portmeirion, while Gunther is Dennis Chinnery, one of the "nice Nazis" from "Genesis of the Daleks" who get exterminated by, well you can guess. He's also unlucky enough to have been in "The Twin Dilemma" too.)

Given that they can spirit away the entire population of the Village overnight – and their rematerialisation in the closing moments suggests that Number 2's ability to teleport now extends to everyone else in the Village – the ability to take his raft from the Welsh coast and drop it off in the Bay of Biscay while he's asleep is unlikely to be beyond them. Assuming they haven't just built another entire duplicate of Portmeirion somewhere off Morocco.

This ambiguity, about where the Village is, about which side it is on, is it should go without saying, the point. If the Village could be anywhere then the Village is everywhere.

Maybe the most telling point is the music. As the Prisoner finds himself in London, the incidental music takes the usual tantara of the Village's bombastic reveille and mutates it into a swinging London theme. London too, it seems, is the Village.

"You can never escape… even when we let you."

The Wackypedia entry for this episode suggests that "…his taste of freedom was nothing more than a carefully controlled birthday gift".

That's clearly more insane than anyone sent to the Village.

This is the most powerful blow that the Village ever strike against the Prisoner. If there's one thing that isn't ambiguous it is this: this is where they win. There is no escape, there can be no escape.

This is the episode where the Village says: "you can never escape… even when we let you."

And, tellingly, he never tries again.

They do it to him on his birthday.

Tradition and expectation tell us a birthday should be a day of celebration. A happy day.

But how many people actually enjoy their birthdays the way that we are supposed to?

We feel that the universe owes us a special day, but whatever we do the mundane still creeps in to undermine us, and it always seems so much more unfair that it happens on that day, even if it happens on every other too. Nostalgia makes us pine for golden birthdays of childhood, or remember the horrors of birthdays at school – for me, every time, it was the games field in winter, thank you oh ye gods of ill-omen, you really know how to put a kid off! And it's a marker of entropy, the irresistible force of dissolution, as we count off the calendar one more year closer to the dread inevitable.

The whole point of everything the Village does to him is to give him back home, Britain, hope, freedom, self, and all on his own special magical day…

…and then smash his dreams to flinders at the moment of maximum psychological impact.

The tortures from now on will become more bizarre and more cruel. But they'll never do more damage.

"You can never escape… even when we let you."

For some reason, I was sure that the episode would end with all the faces from his journey – Gunther and Ernst, the gypsies, the policemen from the checkout, the substitute pilot – all waiting for him in the Village. That's the obvious thing to do, to show us that he was in their power all along. And yet they don't. This is the point. They do not need to. The Village is so powerful, so all-pervading that wherever you are, they still have you.

Home is the Village. Britain is the Village. Hope is the Village. Freedom is the Village.

In the end, they want him to believe that self is the Village.

The whole of the rest of this series will be an exercise in proving that it is not. That I is greater than 1.

who is number one?

Who else could it be? When you can destroy Patrick McGoohan with a birthday cake and a look and a shimmy of your hips, it must be Georgina Cookson's force of nature that is Number 2.

She is one of the great Number 2s, clearly a believer in Al Capone's old maxim "you can get more with a kind word and 20mgs of sodium pentothal than you can with a kind word alone…", she uses kindness and cake the way Vlad the Impaler used to use sawn-off tree trunks.

She clearly relishes her rôle as Mrs Butterworth, having as much fun pricking her "maid's" pomposity as she does wrapping the Prisoner in knots.

The black cat reminds us of Mary Morris's Number 2. Georgina Cookson is not quite as much fun as Ms Morris's pixie performance in "Day of the Dead", and does not get to dominate the episode as much simply because there's only so much of it that she can be in.

And yet the last scene silently tells us that she has scripted this entire performance, made the Prisoner dance to her tune and when the game was over, once he knows his place, folded him up and put him back in his box.

next time…

That would be telling.

Be seeing you.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Day 3977: If Mr Balls walks like a duck and talks like a duck, does that make him a QUACK?


Any sceptical journalist on the subject of ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE will tell you that there are some people who will EXPLOIT anyone who is ill and/or in pain, and tell them:

"the medicine you are using is not working; if only you were using this ancient Chinese/African/Indian herbal mixture/shamanic bangle/magic pointing stick then you would be better."

The sceptical audience tend to refer to this disparagingly as "woo"; and refer to its practitioners as QUACKS.

And yet, this is EXACTLY the same technique that Shadow Chancer Mr Bully Balls is using to describe the economy and his own "alternative remedies".

If you are diagnosed with CANCER, then you will probably be offered CHEMOTHERAPY or RADIOTHERAPY or a bit of both. These are VERY HORRID. Chemo is basically taking poison. The poison kills more of the cancer cells than your ordinary cells. But it's still poison. Radiotherapy is basically being blasted with radiation. It's targeted on the cancer so it kills more of the cancer than of the rest of you, but it's still killing bits of you. And then we get onto the CHOPPING BITS OUT OF YOU options.

If that's what conventional medicine is offering, you can understand why some victims might want to try an ALTERNATIVE.

But when the alternative is to NOT take the treatment (and instead place fruit slices on your Chakra points or something), then YOU DIE.

I'm really, really not overdramatizing this.

A cancer is an ORDINARY, HEALTHY part of the body that goes WRONG and starts growing out of control.

The Western economies, all of us, have various stages of something like cancer of the public sector.

(Look, it's an ANALOGY, not a proper comparison: NO public sector worker is "wrong" the way a cancer cell is wrong. They're just people, trying to get along, make a little money. Just like working in the private sector. The fault lies more with a SYSTEM that created too many jobs it couldn't afford.)

A strong, healthy public sector is a VITAL part of our country, but if it starts to grow uncontrollably then it becomes a danger to us all. Of course there is a danger of cutting too much, of cutting good and "healthy" bits out. And we need to be CAREFUL, so careful, because of that.

But if we ignore the problem and let it grow out of control then we end up going down the road through France to Spain and Italy and then Greece.

And the Greek economy looks very like it is actually going to DIE.

(And look, it's another analogy; there isn't an ACTUAL road that goes to from France to Spain to Italy. Not without using a car ferry from Gibraltar anyway.)

Let me try a DIFFERENT medical analogy. The Great British economy took one heck of a whack in 2008. Mr Dr Vince "the Power" Cable describes this as a MASSIVE HEART ATTACK. And you don't expect to go back to running marathons straight away after that. You need a period of RECOVERY.

The same is true of the ENTIRE WORLD economy.

There's no point placing BLAME here. We've all done that before. It's all too horribly complicated anyway, and by now we've all decided we know the story. But we cannot avoid the fact: it happened.

After an APOCALYPSE-class catastrophe like the Credit Crunch, NOTHING will fix the economy any time soon. I'm sorry, that's just the way it is. It will take time, and not months but years maybe even DECADES.

ANYONE who says otherwise is talking ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE

Any "growth" that we saw in 2010 was AT BEST a DEAD CAT-MONSTER BOUNCE (even a dead cat-monster will bounce if you throw it at the ground hard enough, and the 2008 crash was about as hard as it's possible to throw). At WORST it was an ILLUSION fuelled by a Quantum of Easing to the tune of BILLIONS of pounds and PAID FOR by a 25% fall in the value of Sterling and the more than 5% inflation rate we are having to live with now.

Handily we have EXPERIMENTAL EVIDENCE for what happens to recovery plans after a massive crash.

In Americaland, President Barry O borrowed a whole load more money (mainly because the crazy wing of the Reploutcrats wouldn't let him raise taxes) and invested it in a stimulus package. In Great Britain the Liberal Democrats agreed to let Master Gideon SLIGHTLY accelerate the cuts that Alistair Dalek had planned.

And as you can see… both economies are still EQUALLY SHAFTED.

There are really only two plans on the table: borrow as LITTLE as you can (the Coalition plan); borrow MORE than you need and invest it in the hope that that leads to growth that gets you enough extra income to cover the extra borrowing (Barry O's plan).

The EVIDENCE appears to be that NEITHER plan is very successful in the short term. The only difference being Barry O owes a LOT more money at the end.

So when Mr Balls says that the current stagnation is the fault of the Coalition's cuts then I'm sorry but, like the quacks who try to push alternative cures on the gullible, he is IGNORING the EVIDENCE.

(Or at least he's ignoring HALF the evidence: look, look, he cries, the Coalition plan hasn't worked instantly! We must do my plan for tax cuts and spending! No, no! Do not look at the Americaland stimulus package of tax cuts and spending that, er, hasn't worked instantly either!)

The economic situation is not getting any better. And Hard Labour keep repeating the same mantra that the economy is reaching a "turning point", that it's time for a "plan B" or that "when the facts change, they change their minds" (as if!).

But what, REALLY, has changed?

The problem is more the LACK of change, rather than anything else.

Now Hard Labour have invented a new stick to hit us with: they are tossing around the accusation that the Coalition are going to borrow "more than Labour would have done".

That's NONSENSE. The Coalition are only going to borrow more than Labour SAID they would have done. That's not the same.

Remember, Mr Alistair Dalek ALSO said that Britain under Labour would grow at 3½%, have 2% inflation and ½% interest rates. Do you think that that is what would REALLY have happened? Let me ask another question: do you think Mr Alistair Dalek ever got an economic forecast right when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer?

And it's funny, isn't it how Mr Balls never quotes Mr Dalek saying he would make cuts in 2011 "Deeper than Thatcher's."

(Almost as hilarious as last week's Any Questionables on the Radio, where Diane Abbot-and-Portillo immediately GROANS THEATRICALLY "oh, the old cliché" as soon as someone suggests that the financial problems may have ever so slightly started when Mr Frown was Prime Monster, but raises not a PEEP at the suggestion that all the greedy bankers can be traced back to… "oh the EVEN HOARIER old cliché" …Queen Maggie. I think this is called HISTORICAL IRONY.)

Hard Labour's claim that they would spend more and borrow less depends on them having succeeded, in the teeth of a global recession, and against every precedent they set while in power, in pulling huge levels of growth out of their fluffy behinds.

And if you believe THAT then you're clearly the target market for Lynx deodorant and Rapture cults.

Here's the difference: the Coalition borrowing is going UP to pay for the so-called AUTOMATIC STABILISERS, including the increase in benefits payments because there is higher unemployment and capital spending on infrastructure.

This is a CYCLICAL DEFICIT (the very-KEYNESIAN rise in borrowing when there is a fall in tax revenue to smooth the economic cycle – in fact, exactly what Hard Labour were SAYING we should be doing for most of the last year. A clue: we were).

When (when!) growth returns, there will be more jobs so more tax income and lower benefits and so the situation naturally reverses and we repay this borrowing.

This is the COMPLETE OPPOSITE of Labour borrowing to cover CURRENT spending i.e. paying for public sector jobs. THAT is a STRUCTURAL deficit, one that does NOT reverse when the economy gets better (as we saw when Mr Balls was spending more than the country earned at the HEIGHT of the BOOM!).

Let's look at the MATHS.

Unemployment is going UP because people in the PUBLIC sector are losing their jobs. The Coalition hoped this wouldn't happen because more jobs would be created in the private sector. That hasn't worked. That's a FAILURE on the government's part. The private sector IS taking on more workers, but not AS MANY as are losing jobs in the public sector.

(There is also a BIG problem for YOUNG people, because OLD people are working LONGER, and so not leaving GAPS in the workforce for young people to move into. And companies are reluctant to create NEW jobs for a great many people who have been failed by an education system that Labour geared to getting the TOP HALF into universities while under-investing in apprenticeships meant ABANDONING the rest. But that's a whole other demographic thing.)

The WORST argument against reducing the public sector is that "the government loses the taxes that they would have paid".

I've said this before but no one seems to be listening: this is Baron Munchausen logic.

Think about it. If the government employed EVERYBODY, could it raise enough tax to pay for us all? Only by taxing everybody at 100% of their salary.

Yes, making that public servant unemployed costs the exchequer lost tax and extra benefits. But not nearly so much as they SAVE in reduced wages.

In fact, if unemployment is rising but private sector employment remains under control then the public sector wage bill must be falling and the only reason the government can be borrowing more is because tax revenues remain depressed.

All things being equal you would EXPECT that – we've CUT income and corporate taxes and people have chosen to SAVE rather than SPEND which reduces spending taxes (VAT, duties and the like). The idea was to stimulate growth and take a smaller share of a bigger pie. But the pie DIDN'T get any bigger so obviously LESS TAX.

So where the Labour Party is RIGHT is in saying that we need GROWTH in order to get the country out of the economic doldrums.

Where they are DEAD WRONG is in thinking that there is anything that the government can DO about this that the Coalition aren't doing already! Lower taxes, doing that; increase capital spending, doing that; invest in education for young people, doing that; the list goes on. Could we do MORE of those things? Well, maybe, but it always comes down to where does the money come from and does it, in the end, actually work?

Growth, real growth, will come when people stop being more afraid than they are confident that there is money to be made. All we can do is try to spend wisely preparing for that in the meantime.

So when Mr Balls (or Mr Milipede, if anyone remembers him) says that they have some TONIC that will CURE the economy, just remember that it's probably SNAKE OIL. Or a MAGIC POINTING STICK. Or WOO.

Because Mr Balls' brand of prescription isn't MAGIC; it's just a NASTY TRICK.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Day 3973: THE PRISONER 42nd 44th ANNIVERSARY: A. B. & C.


Oh very fluffy dear.

You MAY remember from the DISTANT past that Daddies Alex and Richard were going to watch the sensational Sixties Spy Serial "The Prisoner" all the way through.

That didn't ENTIRELY work out. So they tried again…

And last year's attempt at a revival didn't really come to much, either. Much like ITV's attempt at a revival, really.

But we can never escape!

So we return to the Village once more…


Almost certainly the quintessential Prisoner episode, this may even be the first I ever watched, and it captures everything that makes "The Prisoner" iconic, being at times an action-spy drama, a commentary on the tropes of television and a musing on the nature of reality and freedom.

After his failure in "The General", Number 2 is under pressure from his unseen superiors and decides to try a dangerous new technique on the Prisoner. Number 14 has developed a drug that will allow her to induce a highly specific dream state into the subject, and equipment to allow her to watch those dreams on a big screen in three acts as though on commercial television. Only trouble is, more than three doses will be fatal. So they only have three chances.

It is Number 2's belief that the Prisoner will break if only they can get him to admit why he resigned, and Number 2 is convinced that he was selling out. All he needs to know is to whom. So he uses the Village resources to narrow the suspects down to just three, his three chances, whom he labels "A", "B" and "C".

"A" is Peter Bowles in a tightly sprung moustache as an old friend of the Prisoner who infamously – well, it made world news – defected to the "other side" a couple of years ago. His interest is predatory verging on the homoerotic and he'd rather indulge in a little light kidnapping than take no for an answer.

"B" is Annette Carell as an enigmatic foreign agent of the Mata Hari school. In fact, implied of Mata Hari's family. Although they are mildly flirtatious, she and the Prisoner seem to respect one another, at least until Number 2 tries to force the situation along by having Number 14 manipulate "B"'s voice directly.

"C" is a mystery person – this is a bit of a cheat by 2: I guess "A" Peter Bowles, "B" Annette Carell or "C" anyone else in the World! – but the Prisoner's most psychedelic dream yet seemingly unmasks Madame Engadine, the society hostess, as "C", only for her to reveal that she really works for yet another mystery person.

What Number 2 does not realise is that his own heavy-handedness has tipped the Prisoner off, and that by following Number 14 during the day, he has discovered the secret lab and weakened the third and final dose of the drug so that he, rather than 14, is in charge of his final dream. Meaning Number 2 is in for a rather nasty surprise twist.

there's been a slight misunderstanding

Well, we placed "Many Happy Returns" at the end of this four-episode sequence because it is every bit as big a turning point as "Free For All" was, and it seemed right to make it the end of phase two and, as the ninth episode, the dead centre of the series. Except, and this may be a bit of a spoiler for "Many Happy Returns" but Georgina Cookson plays a significant role in that story as "Mrs Butterworth" and blow me if she doesn't turn up here in the "C" dream sequence – significantly, the one most under the Prisoner's control.

Now, as we talked about under "The Schizoid Man", it is the Nineteen Sixties and para-science phenomena are in, but the series never comes out and flat admits to the possibility of telepathy. So it's wildly unlikely that the Prisoner has suddenly developed precognition, prescience or any other paranormal ability to see into the future. Faced with the fact of her appearance, she must be someone he remembers.

It is of course possible that he remembers her from one of Mme. Engadine's parties. We know are full of spy types. Perhaps he spotted her as someone who might reasonably show up working for the Village; perhaps they just happen to recruit her from the same small pool of people that he knows.

Though of course there is the catch that he effectively implicates her as a member of "C's" organisation.

But since he doesn't remember her in "Many Happy Returns" (although we can't rule out the usual brainwashing that the series has started inflicting on him by now, though there's no evidence to support that regarding her) then "A. B. & C." almost certainly ought to come after "Many Happy Returns".

The continuity of Colin Gordon's Number 2 is pretty incontrovertible, which means in fact that "The General" must come immediately before "A. B. & C." and so after "Many Happy Returns" too. In fact, that could be seen to fit: as we will see next time, "Many Happy Returns" is a powerful victory for the Village and – more spoilers – convincingly proves escape in any meaningful sense cannot be achieved by conventional means; and "The General" is the first episode where the Prisoner makes no effort at all to escape and is the first episode where he appears to come out ahead of the Village.

(And when I say "first" here, it is because we distinguish episodes of "The Prisoner" into three clear phases of "just got here", "barking mad" and "the middle one". He tries to escape in all of the "first phase" stories and none – barring "Fall Out", and arguably not even then – of the "late phase" stories. There are only the two "middle phase" stories "A. B. & C." and "The General" that could be the "first" where he doesn't try to escape and, as I've just said, "The General" has to be first of those two.)

Another first, incidentally: this would be the first time since "Arrival" (not counting the reprise in every title sequence) that we have seen the Prisoner outside of the Village (even if the set is just a redress of the Professor's residence from "The General"). And some actual not-stock film footage as Peter Bowles takes him to a nearby Dubious Foreign Embassy for a punch-up.

There's almost a case to be made for saying that "Many Happy Returns" should precede "The Schizoid Man": the Number 2 that appears in "Many Happy Returns" is as powerful and victorious as Mary Morris was back in "Dance of the Dead", whereas Anton Rogers' young technocrat is almost bested by the Prisoner and, as we've argued before, the series can be seen as having a definite through line as power shifts from 2 to 6.

There are however two good reasons to prefer them in the order "The Schizoid Man" then "Many Happy Returns".

The first and stronger reason is that at the end of "The Schizoid Man" the Prisoner tries another escape attempt, but, as I've said, following "Many Happy Returns" he has reason to give up even trying to escape.

The second, weaker, reason is the dates.

We said previously that "The Schizoid Man" starts on 10th February followed by a long enough period for the Village to electroshock the Prisoner into being left-handed and for the bruise on his fingernail to grow out; and then "Many Happy Returns" ends on 19th March after many days on a raft as the Prisoner "escapes" by sea. Now, there might – just about – be time for both of these stories to take place one after the other, and that would be in keeping with "one month to one story" rule-of-thumb for the series. We separated the two, acknowledging that there's really not space for four stories in this time span, but covering ourselves with the justifiable assertion that trusting the date to calendars in the Village is at best unwise. Putting "The Schizoid Man" and "Many Happy Returns" back together avoids the necessity of that fudge, though if you're still not happy with the time available for the two tales, you can still use it.

So, taking account of the "new" evidence of the Prisoner being familiar with someone who looks like Georgina Cookson suggests we should have a revised running order of:

"The Schizoid Man", "Many Happy Returns", "The General" and "A. B. & C.".

We will of course revisit this next time.

the new number two

Colin Gordon returns, drinking more milk that ever and now apparently living in terror of a big red telephone.

That telephone is new, though we'll be seeing more of it, and it's an endlessly fascinating visual icon, its oversized semi-circular shape reminiscent of Rover providing director Pat Jackson with plenty of opportunities to photograph Number 2 through the phone, metaphorically trapping him, or catching him like a fish on a hook. Using the perspective to diminish Number 2 and make the phone – and by implication whoever is on the other end – bigger than him.

We neither see nor hear whoever is on the other end, nor are they named (or numbered). But it's almost impossible to avoid leaping to the conclusion that this, at last, is the hotline to "Number 1".

Oh, and either there are several of them or, like Number 2 himself, it can teleport around the place, as it somehow gets from the Green Dome to the secret lab without Number 2 appearing to bring it with him. In a further demonstration of possibly super-natural powers, the moment that Number 2 realises he's done for, even though it's still the middle of the night, it rings. Because unseen evil bosses always know.

But let's not get distracted from the fact that this is obviously "Part Two" of a two-part story. And for the first time, the series chooses to be about Number 2 rather than the Prisoner.

The episode opens with Number 2 in his control room – as remarked under "the General" it is unusual to see this Number 2 in there – and most of the scenes, in fact all the scenes set at night, are from his point of view rather than that of the literally-unconscious Prisoner, in contrast to the couple of sequences set in the day when we follow the Prisoner about.

His chief henchperson this week is Number 14 – two up from "The General's" Number 12? Or two down? – but his bullying of her seems more desperate than his previous sardonic sadism, more lashing out, or trying to do to her what is being done to him.

Finally, in a cunning reversal, granting Number 2 the power to look into Prisoner's mind actually reduces his status from "omnipotent observer" to impotently shouting at the television. Yes, we've all been there.

follow the signs

Lightning flashes and a storm breaks over the Village on the night of the first experiment, as though nature herself rebels against this "unnatural" act, which again may symbolise this is the first real "violation" of the Prisoner's mind. More prosaically, of course, it brings to mind Dr Frankenstein and "mad scientists" as we are introduced to the otherwise perfectly nice Number 14.

(Actually, with her dispassionate professionalism she reminds me very strongly of Doctor Who's Dr Elizabeth Shaw, particularly in her moments of sarcasm to her overbearing boss such as "you'll have to call him 'D'," on learning of a mysterious fourth person vying for the good the Prisoner has to offer).

Ever so slightly, one has to wonder how much Number 14 "lets slip" in order to drop her boss in it. She doesn't need to turn up at the café flaunting her Tally-Ho with its headline questioning Number 2's competence. And she's, at best, careless to repeat the words she spoke to the Prisoner in the afternoon when putting them into "B's" mouth in the second dream. Did she deliberately allow herself to be followed to the secret lab so that he could discover what was going on and arm himself against the third night's dreams?

And the heady mix of dreams, magic potions and mistaken identities might make us think of "A Midsummer Night's Dream", though there it was Oberon who fooled his Titania, not the other way around.

Dreams also might make us think of Dickens' "Christmas Carol", together with its three act structure, and there is just a hint here of past, present, future in that "A" is past friend, "B" someone he's comfortable just to be with for the present and "C" ends with his future in the Village.

(See also Doctor Who's "The Trial of a Time Lord" for a rather blunter take on this sort of thing.)

But Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, also reminds us of stealing the secrets from the "gods", and that is simultaneously what Number 2 is trying to do here to the Prisoner and what he suspects the Prisoner of having been doing when he resigned. So we have three possible candidates for our "Frankenstein" though, ironically, the reveal that his "secrets" were no more than holiday brochures leaves the Prisoner as the "Victor". (Forgive me, the pun was irresistible.)

In fact, McGoohan is more likely to cast himself as the hero of the flipside of Frankenstein, the anarchist creator god of Shelley's "Prometheus Unbound". See also "Fall Out".

By this point the series is getting pretty unequivocal that this is "our" side's Village. Number 2's appropriately dualist approach is very "them and us"; he believes the Prisoner was going to sell out "us" and go over to "them". All three of the agents, "A", "B" and "C" are working for "the other side". "A" is explicitly a defector (and clearly "studied at Cambridge" to coin a euphemism); "B" is "vaguely foreign" which is the none-too-subtle code in these things; and "C" has "fooled us for years". This may not be immediately clear – it wasn't to me! It's certainly possible to misinterpret Number 2's early remarks as questioning which side the Prisoner is going to defect to. But that makes no sense; there are (at least in 2's mind) only two sides and the Prisoner is already on one of them.

So everything here points to Number 2 believing that the Prisoner and the Village at least nominally are working for the same side.

(We might as well take the path of least resistance and assume that the Prisoner used to work for British or the more vaguely general "Western" Intelligence. Or whoever it is that John Drake was supposed to work for. You can mull over the possibility that he was actually a Russian agent in London and that Number 2 believes he was coming over to the West. But that still means that 2 thinks the Village is a Russian Village and that they were still both on the same side.)

Or they used to be. Number 2 believes that the Prisoner wanted to go over to the other side; the Prisoner believes that the existence of the Village betrays everything he thought his side stood for.

But let's get down to brass tacks: this is the episode that explicitly says that the Village wants to steal the Prisoner's dreams.

A man may be made of memories but his dreams are what give him freedom.

In that sense there is a terrible irony that the Prisoner's dreams – when not tampered with – appear to be of his resignation.

And should you be of the school that takes all of "The Prisoner" to be taking place inside what passes for McGoohan's brain, then the fact that it's actually an endless loop of the title sequence, which itself repeats every week, lends evidence to your cause.

Or even worse, there's an infinite regression, of Prisoners dreaming of Prisoners!

On the other hand, his dreams reveal that the Prisoner will not compromise, even in his imagination.

As I mentioned above, this is the first time we've seen him outside the Village, even if only in drug-induced flashback ("Chimes of Big Ben" was faked and doesn't count). And this may be the only freedom that he'll ever see. But even this he refuses.

In a way, this episode is addressing one of those quintessential Sixties existential questions: can we believe what we think is real or could it all be faked, false sensory impressions fed to a brain in a jar? The modern reader might consider this "The Matrix Question".

A pragmatist might accept that you can never know, and accept the "freedom" offered in the dreamworld as a better escape than none. But the Prisoner is, as has been frequently said, an idealist – in the almost Aristotelian sense. His quest is for Truth with a capital T. For him somewhere there is an "ideal form" of "John Drake", a "Number 1" towards whom he constantly strives even as he rejects him.

But then we're getting into almost Buddhist interpretations of reality: the dream is only a shadow of the greater "Truth" and the World is only a veil of illusion.

In this sense it is obvious that Number 2, well this Number 2 anyway, cannot defeat the Prisoner. Number 2 is compromised because he will compromise, cut corners, take short cuts, in essence because he is pragmatic. Obviously he gets crushed between the two implacable forces of the Prisoner's Truth and Village's Truth.

And finally the one everyone remarks on: the moment in the third dream – where the direction has gone all groovy Sixties angles and the music, after waltzing delicately around being "After the Ball" in the first two dreams, evolves into an altogether more trippy Sixties rock'n'roll theme – when the Prisoner looks into a mirror and seeing it hanging crooked seizes it and as he sets it straight, the scene behind him rotates to the perpendicular too, as he literally seizes control of the world.

I'm sorry, did someone mention a god complex?

who is number one?

Much as I should like to reward the suave Peter Bowles for carrying off that astonishing moustache, I have to give the crown for this to Katherine Kath as the evanescent Mme. Engadine. She appears in all three dreams, making this almost a two-hander between her and McGoohan – or making her the dreamworld reflection of Number 14 as the Prisoner is the mirror of Number 2 – and she's quite the most three-dimensional character present, mocking every spy cliché, teasing the so-chaste-it-hurts McGoohan as a womaniser, but then turning mournfully serious when "revealed" as "C".

By playing the life and soul of the party – blowing kisses and exchanging salüts with guests we never see – Engardine sells us the illusion that these swinging happenings are really happening. And selling the illusion is, of course, central to what this story is about.

In a way, she is a traitor to the Prisoner's dreams and this may be why he uses her similarly in return when he turns the tables. Even though Number 2 is left discredited at the end, this may leave the real Mme. Engadine in an awkward situation. Having said that, the Prisoner is or was a very good spy and may genuinely have unmasked her as "C". And his gentlemanly chivalry has always turned to callous disregard when let down by a woman – just see how he walks away from the false "B".

Her name, incidentally, is repeatedly pronounced as a feminine pun on "En Garde!". Which might be a clue.

next time…

That would be telling.

Be seeing you.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Day 3959: Mysteries of Doctor Who #23: Why Does "Pyramids of Mars" Take Place in ENGLAND?


Here is me, kneeling before Sutekh!

Dust? Anyone?

"Pyramids of Mars" is one of the MOST famously SCARY episodes of Doctor Who, and one of the (very few) stories where Dr Woo takes down a GOD!

However, even though this story is an EPIC contest between two aliens with god-like powers – Sutekh the Destroyer in his pyramid in Egypt; and Horus from his pyramid on Mars – some people feel it necessary to point out that Sutekh cannot rise from his chair and Horus is slightly dead. So neither of them is coming to England any time soon. Which makes it a BIT odd that the bulk of the action takes place at Sir Mick Jagger's place in the Home Counties.

Of course, some people say that that the last episode is a bit of a let-down, and a bit of a knock-off of "Death to the Dustbins", but look: you are PROMISED a PYRAMID. And MARS. And that is what you get! And if a few MDF flats in a studio aren't good enough for you, then just you wait for the CGI ultimate edition!

Mind you, these are the same sort of people who don't like it that Sutekh is ultimately killed by the Doctor saying something clever about the time difference and using a bit of the TARDIS console. Which means that they have missed the WHOLE POINT.

Sutekh is a GOD and works by MAGIC. Doctor Woo is a TIME LORD and uses SCIENCE and TECHNOLOGY.

And "Pyramids of Mars" is, basically, where SCIENCE tells RELIGION to FLUFF OFF!

(REALLY, as Daddy Alex will cleverly explain, this is all going to kick off NEXT season, with stories like "Masque of Mandragora" and "The Face of Evil" really laying on the "Dark Religion" theme, and also the techno-cults of "The Hand of Fear" and "Robots of Death" not to mention "That Thing with the Time Lords", but it all starts here with the evil Egyptian god of death and chaos getting his!)

Sutekh escapes by WISHING very hard and the Eye of Horus blows up. But this is the Time Lords' universe now, so little things like the law of propagation of electromagnetic radiation at the speed of light and relativity making lightspeed a universal constant are in play. And they TRUMP Sutekh's magic powers.

Finally to (TIME) RAM the point home, the Doctor uses a MACHINE (and not just ANY machine but HIS machine) to defeat Sutekh's MAGIC CABINET. And then literally kills the immortal with TIME.

It's not THAT subtle a reading of the we-can-hardly-call-it-subtext to say that, unlike the preceding Twerpee era, where magic, the devil, Atlantis, the Age of Aquarius and all that New Age jazz turned out to be LITERALLY REAL, the "story" of "Pyramids of Mars" is that science beats religion, end of.

Of course, what is REALLY interesting about this story is way that it handles TIME.

For starters, this story, broadcast in 1975, had Sarah Jane Smith stating quite boldly that she was from 1980. NOT "the 1970s" or 1975; clearly 1980.

We've done UNIT dating before, but to take it at a gallop: the UNIT era started out set a good DECADE into the future – with British Space Programmes and no end of HUGE not to mention DOOMED science-energy projects – but over the years this was quietly downgraded to just "the day after tomorrow" if that, with only a touch of video-conferencing to suggest it wasn't completely contemporary. And after his regeneration, Dr Woo has made it pretty clear that the UNIT era is over, to the extent that the immediately previous story-but-one, "Terror of the Zygons", is very much the valedictory UNIT outing.

So it's positively WEIRD of Sarah to be re-establishing herself as the girl of tomorrow. And we're already messing with the audience's heads when it comes to what TIME means to people. Sarah's from "our time", but now she's also from "the future" and she's in "the past". Are we confused yet?

But then there is that memorable scene where – having already cued us up to remember the works of Mr H G Wells – Dr Woo takes us to visit Sarah's 1980 and, as expected, the world has been destroyed. Only THIS wasteland is not the result of Thatcherism but the dust left behind by a vengeful Sutekh getting on with his day job of being "the Destroyer".

Now in part this is the ultimate in "show, don't tell": Sutekh is the ONLY Doctor Who villain EVER who actually SUCCEEDS; he definitively gets to Destroy the World™. Okay, so Dr Woo takes us back to 1911 and defeats him afterwards, but even that takes the SLAUGHTER of the whole of the rest of the cast (except for Ahmed the Egyptian porter – who Uncle Terry gets to finish off in the novelisation). And for a while there, Sutekh actually WON.

Spare a thought, incidentally, for Ernie Clements, the poacher. It costs him his life, but he saves the World. Having witnessed the brutal murder of Dr Warlock, he sets out to avenge the man, not realising that the murderer is the dead body of Professor Scarman. But his simple determination not to allow the killer to kill again, manages to save the Doctor, Sarah Jane and Scarman's brother Lawrence by distracting the undead Prof at the crucial moment. And hence he saves the World.

They do say that History repeats itself, first as tragedy then as comedy, but in Ernie's case the REVERSE is true. We see him run into Sutekh's deflection barrier TWICE: the first time he bounces off it is played as a big JOKE. But the SECOND time… with the mummies closing in… what seemed FUNNY becomes totally TERRIFYING!

And of course none of this is NECESSARY; the unlucky poacher is really only there so that Dr Woo can get hold of some explosives in part three! Mind you, his man-trap-sized rabbit traps ARE a bit on the BIG side!

What "Pyramids of Mars" is telling us, almost uniquely among Doctor Who stories although it's never actually contradicted either, is that the future and the past are CONTINGENT. That is to say, History past and future exists in one form until Dr Woo begins to MEDDLE. But once he has STARTED to interfere with events, he can no longer count on them working out as he used to know that they would just because "history" says they should. Even if his own past – via the agency of his travelling companions – DEPENDS on events working out according to "known" history.

For example, Sarah Jane's very EXISTENCE becomes PARADOXICAL once she sees that without finishing the adventure she doesn't have a world to have come from. This is a bit like Schrodinger's cat-monster in the box: Sarah Jane is both alive AND never existed until the experiment/adventure is completed. Only thanks to Dr Woo's Time Lord Powers™ she is allowed a sneak peek inside the box to see what her alternatives are!

More interesting, perhaps, is the often overlooked OPENING. After a bit in Egypt where Professor Scarman UNWISELY ignores the "Beware of the God" sign (translated by Ahmed as "aiiii, no!") and trespasses on Sutekh's grass with fatal consequences, the start of the story see Dr Woo and Sarah Jane travelling in the TARDIS and discussing dresses and mid-life crises, when suddenly Sutekh knocks a dirty great hole through the ship.

Now if Sutekh can punch a hole in an indestructible time machine at a range of who knows how many millions of light years never mind who can guess how far into the future – the Doc and Sarah are on their way home from the Planet of Evil in the story, er, "Planet of Evil" set on the edge of the universe in the space year thirty-seven thousand and change, (to a Morestran value of 37,166), and although they are ALLEGEDLY heading for UNIT HQ, there's NO indication that they are ANYWHERE near Earth let alone 1911 at the time – if Sutekh can do that, then there's no reason why he couldn't just destroy the Eye of Horus from the comfort of his own tomb.

Which he obviously can't do so obviously he shouldn't be able to puncture the Doctor's timeship either!

I mean, ultimately he DOES destroy the Eye with "mind power", but remember, he needs to get the late Professor Scarman NEAR to the thing to explode it in episode four because he's using the departed prof's zombie as a way to get around the effects of his imprisonment.

After all, kind of the whole POINT of the Eye of Horus is that it is STOPPING Sutekh doing this sort of astral projection shtick. It wouldn't be much good at stopping him destroying the world if it didn't!

Notice too that the Sutekh that Sarah sees in the TARDIS does not have his HAT on – she sees the Typhonian beast face, but he only appears that way AFTER the Eye of Horus is destroyed and he is at last able to rise from his chair (the Hand of Horus notwithstanding).

All of which SUGGEST that the Sutekh we see in the opening scene is actually… Sutekh AFTER HE HAS ALREADY ESCAPED.

Dr Woo even SAYS that he is tracing the mental projection to its source, which just HAPPENS to be the priory in 1911 that is on the site that will one day be UNIT headquarters.

In other words, the entire story APPEARS to begin with Sutekh escaping and Dr Woo going back in time to prevent that from having happened.

Who says the Grand Moff introduced the ontological paradox into Doctor Who, eh?

"Something is interfering with Time," he says to Mr Lawrence Scarman, "and that's MY job!"

This, as the Doctor himself might say, is intensely interesting. Sutekh ISN'T interfering in time; if Sutekh could time travel he wouldn't get stuck in the Doctor's space-time trap at the end. No, HISTORY says that Sutekh should never have been released: if he had been then Sarah Jane would never have existed, and SHE does so HE wasn't.

That may be the significance of Sutekh's appearance in the TARDIS being seen by Sarah Jane, not the Doctor. She says that "whatever it was, it was totally malevolent". Now to be FAIR, Mr Sutekh does rather RADIATE EVIL. But maybe it goes deeper than that and Best Friend Sarah is sensing at what Mr Larry might call a "biodata" level that Sutekh's timeline is totally inimical to her own.

(Plus she's dressed as a Victorian "sensitive" at the time; you can't get more mediumistic that that!)

So HISTORY has CHANGED. The interference in Time is Sutekh having got out at all, and that is why the Doctor – in his new "I walk in eternity" Time Lord duty mode – has gone back in time to change things back again.

Let me reiterate: something or someone has CHANGED HISTORY to release Sutekh. And we don't find out who!

Never mind "who blew up the TARDIS" at the end of season thirty one…

and when ARE they going to answer that question, that's what I want to know! (Clue: they aren't!)

…THAT's the REAL mystery!

There is – hat tip Daddy Alex – one POSSIBLE explanation…

Could it be that the REASON Dr Woo is going all broody (and falls into a year-long SULK) is BECAUSE his Time Lord Spidey-sense is telling him that there's an ontological paradox about.

Can Dr Woo sense the future? Well, next year, in "That One That Rewrites Everything We Thought We Knew", the same author is going to state definitively that precognitive visions of the future are impossible… in a story that HINGES on the Doctor receiving a precognitive vision! And THAT one's a TRAP too!

But, if you remember, the ontological or PREDESTINATION paradox is the one that SEEMS like it's allowable logically (it happens because it happens) BUT is the one that says there is NO FREE WILL. Essentially, Dr Woo knowing something's going to happen means he HAS to go and MAKE it happen. And since the Doctor has always stood for FREE WILL over DESTINY that would be BOUND to put him in a STROP.

Yet if "Pyramids of Mars" is telling us that History is CONTINGENT – and over and over again that is EXACTLY what it is telling us… even the supposed "padding" in part four is telling us this: consider the logic puzzle of the two guardians: they have fixed destinies, one must always tell the truth, one must always lie, whereas the Doctor has reason and choice on his side and he wins – if History is contingent on our decisions, then Dr Woo's big decision at the start is CHANGING HISTORY.

Superficially – not to mention meta-textually – he is choosing between returning to UNIT HQ and his larger destiny. Except that his "larger destiny" actually MEANS returning to UNIT HQ (or site thereof) because that's where Sutekh is waiting for him.

But as soon as that decision is on the table, History – future AND past – becomes contingent on it, and THAT is what lets Sutekh out!

In a story that is ABOUT the contrast between making choices and "destiny" then the conflict between the Doctor and Sutekh is INEVITABLE.

LIFE, in a universe with FREE WILL means CHOICES even though they come with RISKS. Sutekh wants NO RISKS and NO CHOICES.

Anyone who, by this point, is still thinking that Sutekh is a badly motivated villain who is "bad" just because he likes being "bad" is STILL missing the point: Sutekh is DESTINY INCARNATE, that's what gods ARE. Here he explicitly wants to deny any choice to anyone in the universe – and Bob Holmes is not even trying to be subtle when he equates this 100% with DEATH.

(But see also Mr the White Guardian's threat in "The Ribos Operation".)

Saying that Destiny doesn't have a motive is as silly as saying GRAVITY doesn't have a motive. And YES, you can defy gravity too.

"Your evil is my good" isn't JUST a cool line to excuse being the baddie; it's a statement that Sutekh and the Doctor are OPPOSITES. And again, see how those contrasts are REITERATED throughout the story, whether it is the lying/truthful guardians or the two Scarman brothers or even the (slightly stereotyped) contrast of "superstitious" Egypt with "enlightened", "rational" England…

Oh, that reminds me, I'm supposed to be explaining something!

So anyway, Sutekh's initial plan, of course, before he gets his frozen-in-place hands on a time capsule, is to build and then fire a war rocket at the Pyramid of Mars. Or rather, use "pyramid power" to transpose his war, er, pyramid with its target.

At which point those people turn up again to complain about the Sutekh being buried with all the equipment he needs in order to escape.

Except of course he ISN'T.

There is NO indication that ANY of the materials for the war rocket are actually IN the pyramid tomb with ol' Suuty.

The only things we can definitively say ARE from the tomb in Egypt are three mummy-shaped servitor robots (with matching slave relay ring accessory) and four canopic jars which form a force field (though these are almost certainly salvaged from the prison itself, probably designed to keep curious archaeologists from breaking in – either Sutekh has managed to tamper with them or the whoever who let him out did; this interference may explain how Dr Woo is able to easily disarm them too).

Actually, the exact number of Mummies is another thing that is STRANGE.

Obviously there are three of them 'cos there are three costumes and they're played by Mr Nick Burnell, Mr Melvyn Bedford and Mr Kevin Selway.

EXCEPT… when he sends them after poacher Ernie we clearly see TWO of them lumbering after him into the grounds but there are still TWO of them inside to drag away the body of cultist Namin.

In fact, it gets WORSE, because later on he has a quick tele-conference with Sutekh and the boss tells him not to let pursuit of the humans slow down building the rocket. So the late Scarman says he will recall TWO of the servitors from the hunt. But there are STILL TWO more who finally get poor old Ernie and then smash up the lodge at the end of part two. Which means there must be at least SIX of the buggers.

Plus the two with gold-wrap accessories doubling as servitors of Horus on Mars.

Clearly Sutekh's relationship with MATHEMATICS is as dodgy as his relationship with SCIENCE!

Anyway, it is far more likely that Sutekh has had to have the components of his war rocket manufactured for him.

And then it's MUCH easier to have all of his war rocket parts manufactured in England and delivered to Stargroves care of Ibrahim Namin than order them from Egypt in the days before Amazon Prime. That way, you only have to arrange for four sarcophaguses (three mummies and one space-time tunnel) to be shipped "home". We can assume that the Priory had its own crazy self-playing organ, though presumably Sutekh had to lay on the hot and cold running cultist.

And THAT is why he is using Professor Scarman's home in England as his main base of operations. Because England in 1911 is at the centre of a huge industrialised Empire. And Egypt is NOT.

"Pyramids of Mars" is available as an extra-feature on "The Scary Jane Adventures" season four, which means that it is the first "Classic" Doctor Who adventure to be available on Blu-Ray. Woo.

Unfortunately, it is presented in STANDARD DEFINITION rather than upscaled to HIGH DEFINITION and also in a rather nasty STRETCHED-TO-FIT widescreen. AND being a Blu-Ray already you can't fix this with the player controls.

So all in all I'd recommend sticking to the rather spiffy DVD edition.