subtitle

...a blog by Richard Flowers

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Day 4002: A Star Wars Lego Advent day 16 - Bad News from Captain Pil

Friday:
From Star Wars Lego Advent Calendar
Day 16: Conversation with the Clone Pilot

Day 4001: THE PRISONER 42nd 44th ANNIVERSARY: The Girl Who Was Death

Thursday:



Is this REALLY "The Prisoner"? I'm not sure it's even TELEVISION!

Daddy Richard, however, thinks it's AWESOME.

information


The Prisoner appears in a tale from his life as a secret agent. The eponymous "girl" is impossibly modish in all-white attire and all-white make-up, stringing the Prisoner along through near-fatal escapades while he pursues her father, a mad scientist with a literal Napoleon complex, pastiching in passing "The Avengers", "The Man from U.N.C.L.E.", "Mission: Impossible", "James Bond", "Sherlock Holmes", Hitchcock and, um, "Danger Man" aka "Secret Agent" making "The Girl Who Was Death" possibly the single most Sixties thing ever!

what's your number, please


Everyone but everyone places "The Girl Who Was Death" as the fifteenth episode, just before the concluding two-parter. So what on Earth has possessed me to persuade Alex to let us put it here?

Well, the reasoning for everyone else placing it fifteenth appears to be "well, everyone else does", and that's not a particularly strong argument. Generally held to be barking mad – and, to be fair, it is – it is felt not to fit with the continuity of the series – which really isn't the case. In fact it fits very nicely with the other two "out of Village" episodes, except that it's vastly superior to either of them. As with the other two, there is a framing device to "allow" the Prisoner to be outside of his usual haunts which concludes with a return to the regular Village and a humiliation for Number 2.

From the Village's point of view, this seems almost tame: merely placing him in an "unguarded" situation and seeing if he will let anything slip. On the other hand,

In a way this is a nice mirror of "Living in Harmony": there it was a story that they were putting into his head; here it's still all in his head, but he's the one telling the story. The revelation that he is the one telling the story this time is what sets this above the other two. He has seen through the Village's latest attempt and this time he's actively fighting back, subverting the story and writing comedic and derogatory caricatures of Number 2 and his assistant into the narrative.

The most telling moment is the cheeky tag, where the Prisoner addresses his captors with a "Good night, children… everywhere."

But the observant will notice that Number 2, frustrated at the failure of this ploy, turns off the monitor.

Meaning that the Prisoner must have turned it back on again. He is beginning to take control of the machinery of the Village…

the new number two



Once again they employ the technique of a fake Number 2 voice for the – thankfully restored to full length after the previous two episodes – title sequence in order to hide the "twist" ending, and thus denying Kenneth Griffith his turn in the spherical chair.

Now this is interesting: Kenneth Griffith was a mate of Patrick McGoohan which is probably why he – like Alexis Kanner who also pops up here, though uncredited – will be back for the, ahem, big conclusion. However, before we get there, there are a couple of weeks' gap in the schedule of "The Prisoner" because production fell behind, so they dropped in the final two episodes – and only colour episodes – of "Danger Man". And the last episode of "Danger Man" also stars Kenneth Griffith.

And in it, a British agent abruptly resigns so John Drake takes his place to find out why, only to have the trail lead him to a sinister abandoned island. Honestly, it's hard to think people noticed the difference. And on top of that "The Girl Who Was Death" was adapted from an unmade "Danger Man" episode too! No, seriously!

Griffith gets a dual role here: within the story-within-a-story he is "Dr Schnipps" the aforementioned mad scientist with a rocket disguised as the Beachy Head lighthouse; while in the "real" world of the Village he is Number 2. As Schnipps, dressed as Napoleon, he is a rather sympathetic, melancholy figure: a villain in the "why capital? am I surrounded by idiots?" mould of Dr Evil, who'll trigger his Moonraker-esque plan and only then think to make sure his papers are saved for posterity. What is clever about his portrayal is that in his brief time as the "real" Number 2, he manages to retain your sympathy; his sharp critique of the latest plan "he wouldn't drop his guard with his own grandmother!" coveys a sharper intelligence but the same sense of "why am I surrounded by idiots" and convinces you that Schnipps was an, admittedly grotesque, genuine parody of this person.

He doesn't get a lot of screen time – the episode is owned by his "daughter" – but he's a lovely little supporting role that adds charm to what could have been… okay lets be fair, is… a ridiculous ending.

One intriguing little moment: as he and his daughter share a "family" moment, he remarks "if only our dear mother could be here". The subtitles clean this up to "your dear mother", but it's clearly delivered to suggest a hint of incest. It might explain why they're both so potty. But how shocking in front of the children!

follow the signs


It's not like they don't show you what's going on: the framing device of a children's picture storybook held in the hands of an invisible narrator. And it's not like it isn't funny. It is in fact full of deliciously black humour throughout. But they never choose to go for the laugh. Instead they "go for the surreal".

The entire episode is filled with bizarre juxtapositions, weird cuts, jump-zooms and other camera tricks and oddly, even grotesquely framed images.

We start as we mean to go on: bafflingly, with a cold open on a cricket field where "the Colonel" is exploded by a substitute cricket ball.

So far so nuts, but the execution is even stranger. The reveal of a high calibre rifle in a kit bag is almost run-of-the-mill in this sort of thing, but the first appearance of the Girl Who, apparently, is Death is quite extraordinary. Her appearance, highly made up – so white she's almost an anti-goth – and dressed for a party, not the cricket field, is quite, quite out of place. And the camera focuses on her parasol and, almost fetishistically, on her feet. There's a moment of "Thunderbirds"-like hand acting as she exchanges the cricket ball. Then there's an excitable three-stage zoom on the colonel as he faces the fatal delivery. And to cap it all, a quite indescribable extreme close-up of the bowler grinning like a maniac into the lens and held for seconds… The entire sequence is an exercise in estranging the audience.

And then the Colonel is dead. Now, unless he's a Time Lord who keeps regenerating, this is not the same "colonel" who was played by Kevin Stoney in "The Chimes of Big Ben", Donald Sinden in "Many Happy Returns", nor Nigel Stock in "Do Not Forsake Me…". Though it would be nice to think that it was, and that this rounds off a kind of character arc.

This colonel, though, was assisted by the always-marvellous Christopher Benjamin as Potter. He's been in this series before – as the psychoanalyst who spikes the Prisoner's tea in "Free For All" – and in "Danger Man" before too. As a character called "Potter". Anyway, Potter makes contact with the Prisoner Secret Agent and directs him to a happening record store, booth 7 (not 6?). Notice the shop window dummy at the start of this scene dressed as the Girl Who Was Death; by the end of the scene she actually is the Girl, suggesting that teleport ability that the Number 2's sometime have, or even spookier magic powers.

At the record store, a voice on a record gives our Secret Agent a "mission" (whether or not he chooses to accept it) to find out what happened to the colonel and trace Dr Schnipps. The record, incidentally, appears capable of answering back. Which is novel.

And "Standard disguise", by the way, appears to mean full-on Victorian whiskers.

We then get a shot for crazy-shot remount of the cold open, except with McGoohan at the crease. Having taken over the colonel's batting position, though, the Secret Agent avoids the sticky wicket and returns the deadly delivery to the boundary, hoping perhaps to bowl the maiden over. Instead he gets an invite to meet again. Let's try the pub…

The gag about having McGoohan drink the entire length of the bar works so much better as a sketch in this story rather than making it the whole raison d'être of "Living in Harmony".

patrick mcgoohan only rides the tunnel of love with mrs mcgoohan


The Secret Agent continues to follow the clues that the Girl leaves for him, first to a Turkish bath and a scene lifted directly from "Thunderball". Then to a boxing ring where for once his skill with fisticuffs does not lay out the opponent flat. Finally to a long and extraordinary sequence at a funfair as she literally takes him for a ride. This location sequence is filmed almost as a silent comedy, a style that the Goodies would use over and over in the Seventies, in part because the music can be used to add to the derangement of the audience without the need for expensive location sound recording and dialogue re-dubbing, and in part because McGoohan blatantly isn't there. They intercut sequences of McGoohan standing in front of a back-projection of the location doing "looking this way and that" shtick, and then cut to footage of a man who clearly isn't McGoohan striding away from the camera after the Girl. And they keep doing it for a good five minutes!

Add to that the magic realism that sees the Girl again exerting that teleportation-like ability to suddenly be back on the ground watching as the log flume or the waltzers carry him away again. And they repeat twice a joke of him approaching a woman dressed all in white only for her not to be the Girl so that on the third time, when it is her, he wrongly backs off. A simple rule of three, and also a very fairy-tale approach, but putting it all together it starts to look deliberate.

Either they genuinely didn't think that the audience would notice or they are trying to do something consciously Brechtian to remind you that this is a story-within-a-story, to make you question what is real.

This reaches its apogee at the end of this sequence where the Girl flees in her car, for the traditional action-spy-drama car chase, pursued using more back-projection, by the Secret Agent – it can hardly be said to be McGoohan; it's almost like they're not even trying any more.

And then, as they chase down country lanes around Borehamwood, she turns to face her pursuer – or the screen on which he is projected anyway – points a finger and… he starts to rotate, in fact the whole image does, turning upside down, rolling round and round. As Alex puts it, it's like she's becoming director of her own story, fighting David Tomblin for control.

After this, the car chase ends with her leading him into a back lot. Rather like "A. B. and C." this is rather knowingly a back lot, making a point of saying "this is a set".

This is also the end of the first act, indicated by a second appearance of the narrator and his storybook. This time the picture is ominously labelled "The Village" and features prominently a bell tower with a green dome. As does the back lot set – she's going to machine-gun him from it later.

It's about as subtle as McGoohan racing up to the screen and shouting "Look at the fourth wall!" in your face. It flaunts its artificiality; it wants you to get that this is an allegory of the Village so that you will think about how the Village itself is artificial.

sometimes a rocket disguised as a lighthouse is just a rocket disguised as a lighthouse


On the down side, this is also what we might call the "Scooby Doo" moment. At first, the Girl speaks to him and her voice seems to come from everywhere. Until he espies a wire leading to a barely-concealed speaker. And there's a noticeable change in the sound treatment of her voice at that point, from omnipresent to public address.

Once he spots the wires, her magic seems to go from that point on.

The second act sees him defeating a deadly assault course, through the shops of the butcher the baker and the candlestick maker, of course, before he finds himself trapped in a garage with a bulldozer in a scene that you would think was pastiching "The A-Team" if it wasn't a decade-and-a-half early.

The second act concludes with her thinking the Secret Agent is dead and departing in, with another nod to the Village, her helicopter.

The third act sees him carried to the villain's secret underground lair™, clinging to the skids of the chopper.

They land in a field (also near Borehamwood unless I miss my guess) where McGoohan, actually on location this time, peers over the "cliff" to see some stock footage of the White Cliffs and the lighthouse.

Yes, it's big and pink and explodes at the climax; I'm rather afraid we've rather moved on from Vagina Dentata (or a bomb in the tunnel of love) to Phallic Symbolism as the script has his male power overwhelm her female treachery. Sigh.

That lighthouse turns out to be not only a massively-overcompensatory "rocket" but also a complex full of Napoleons. Six Napoleons, in fact (not counting Dr Schnipps himself) which is obviously another Sherlock Holmes reference.

Needless to say, by this point the Secret Agent is well on top, easily able to turn their own weapons against them, rigging guns to backfire and stick grenades to explode in their hands and, ultimately the "rocket" to explode on its launch pad.

At which point, the "narrator" closes the storybook and, revealed to be the Prisoner, tells the children to whom he's been reading:

"And that is how I stopped the mad scientist destroying London."

It works as a much more successful framing device than that "Living in Harmony" mainly because they set it up from the beginning, and repeatedly refer to the storybook motif throughout, but also because the whacked-out surrealism of the story as it is told is just so weird, so deliberately artificial that the explanation becomes an "oh, that's what's going on" moment, rather than them trying something out of left field and chickening out in the end.

Her strange powers over the story become his powers as the storyteller; the use of repetition and reiteration within the narrative become symbolic of the oral tradition; and the implausible coincidences and unbelievable mistakes become commentary on the art.

And clearly, this is all pre-figuring "Fall Out": the big spy finish with the rocket being discarded for a reveal that is one part unexpected to two parts insane. Alex takes it as an explicit warning not to expect the series to end with a "traditional" spy story twist / climax, although where "Fall Out" will be… whatever it is, "The Girl Who Was Death" just comes out and says "Spy stories are childish".

It is very blackly funny, but as a spy spoof it doesn't have many "gags". In part this would have to be because "The Avengers", the precursor and great rival to all these ITC serials, had already gone there with witty badinage and knowing commentary. Not until they discover Jason King, the High Lord of Louche, will ITC be in a position to do post-modernism, with a character who deconstructs and debunks the story around himself. What "The Prisoner" is doing here is much more about getting at the "engineering" of the story, because McGoohan is more interested in commenting on the society that watches spy dramas, rather than the incestuous reflection of the drama on its own nature.

Bluntly, he uses "The Girl Who Was Death" to test the spy adventure to destruction.

And if you watch closely, you might just spot the point where he goes right round the twist in the process.

It could be said that this story in three acts reflects the three phases of the conflict between the Prisoner and the Village: the first, psychological; the second, more intrusive and technological; the third where he turns the tables on them.

Or it could just be bonkers, with a side helping of psychedelia turned up to eleven.

who is number one?


Who else can it be? Justine Lord is completely compelling for at least the first thirty minutes of the story, appearing like an apparition in shot after shot. The gag at the funfair is entirely built around her iconic image, her ability to pose like a silent movie star. And at the end I'm sure she Joker-kills Alexis Kanner's photographer with a kiss of her deadly lipstick.

It's a shame that she becomes more mundane in the second half. And subject to a man rather than exercising her power over them. She becomes less visually interesting, too: transforming from an ethereal Mary Quant to an evil Emma Peel – the white leather catsuit may not be an exactly "ordinary" look, but in this genre it means she looks less out of place, less like a thing from an entirely other world. Even so, with her little World War One German helmet and Maxim gun, and the occasional "goodbye, lover" she still manages to hold her own in battle with McGoohan and dressed up in wig and gown as his Josephine she's equally good with Griffith. It's only the last scene back in the Village when she becomes merely Number 11 that lets her down, by giving him all the meat and leaving her to drape herself over the penny-farthing.

She's the last of the really powerful women in the series and together with Mary Morris ("Dance of the Dead") and Georgina Cookson ("Many Happy Returns") she forms the third part of a Village triad the symbols of one sort of female power, the Kindly Ones: Maiden, Mother, Crone. They are the Fates, Clotho, Lachesis, Atropos, who control men's lives with their spinning and measuring and cutting just as the Village seeks to control the warp and weft of the Prisoner's existence. (A point that would be even better if the Girl's given name had been Moira (meaning fate) rather than Sonia (meaning wisdom)).

If anything would convince me that this ought to be the penultimate story (before the two-part finale), it would be the symmetry of this Kindly One with Mary Morris's in "Dance of the Dead" added to Georgina Cookson appearing in the middle of the series, if only the other evidence could be bent to fit the picture.

Of course it's typical of the Village's twisted logic that while Clotho is incarnated as – forgive me Mary – the Crone; and Mrs Butterworth practically asks "Shall I be mother?"; here Atropos is the Maiden: hence the "Girl" who was "Death".

next time…


That would be telling.

Be seeing you.

.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Day 3999: A Star Wars Lego Advent Day 13 - A Deadly Droid Double-cross

Tuesday:
From Star Wars Lego Advent Calendar
Day 13: R2-Q5 has a hidden agenda... can we trust him? (Clue: No!)

Day 3999: In Defence of Mr Balloon. A bit.

Tuesday:



"Mush, my huskies, mush," cries Mr Balloon into the biting arctic winds, "I must hugs you later, for the wolfpack of Deadwood, Desperate-Dan-Hannan and Cash-in-the-Attic are snapping close at my heels and their foetid breath is warm on my plump Etonian behind…"

There's no getting away it: our Prime Monster has behaved VERY BADLY.

Throwing RED MEAT to the slathering Europhobes will only make them pursue him more closely, hungry for a get-out-of-Europe referendum.

And getting into a WILLY-WAVING contest with the most PRIAPIC PRESIDENT on the face of the PLANET was never going to end well.

But still…

The thing is, it kind of looks like he sort of actually did the RIGHT thing. The thing that ANY Prime Monster would have had to do – and that Hard Labour twist and turn but eventually admit that THEY would have done too.

We can't just say it was WRONG because it's made the Europhobes GIDDY with GLEE. Just as we cannot say it proves him right to see the SILLY SUGGESTIONS being tossed about in the Euro Parliament today.

But he did the sort-of right thing in ENTIRELY the WRONG way, bad-wording off the whole of the rest of the continent in the process, so even people like the Swedish and Polish who might have quite likely to see things our way.

By swaggering in all MACHO, turning up at the "save the Euro" meeting saying he'll do what's in BRITAIN'S interests, he managed to portray the REASONABLE position (presumably the one he agreed with Captain Clegg) of "let's not do anything to endanger the Single European Act that we've ALL signed up to" as "I demand special privileges for Britain, and especially for the bankers you all secretly believe got you into this mess."

He's refused to hold out the fluffy foot of friendship when they needed our help and instead gambled everything on being able to say "I told you so" if the Euro really does collapse.

In doing so, he came across as the worst item in the IKEA catalogue: the KNORB.

The FUNDAMENTAL problem with Mr Balloon's behaviour was NOT, however, that he vetoed the treaty, but that he then walked away without putting anything else in its place.

What he SHOULD have done is said: "This is a BAD treaty that DOES NOT fix the Euroland crisis. Therefore I demand that we all STAY HERE until we sort out a solution that WILL solve the problem!"

Instead, he flounced off into the night like a PRIMA CINDERELLA, unfortunately not before his dress transformed back into rags and his husky-drawn carriage turned back into a PUMPKIN!

But just because Mr Balloon did WRONG does NOT make the treaty proposed by the German'n'French axis RIGHT.

An Economic Imbalance


The options proposed by France and Germany are NOT in any way a solution to the problems of Euroland.

A bigger bailout fund (more loans) and promises to stick to tighter controls with the prospect of penalties (won't that make overspending worse?). We've seen all of this before. And it didn't work then. Why would we expect more of the same to work this time?

I will say this about the European Union's proceedings. If the rules say they require unanimity then, not matter how bloody-minded and crazy the minority of one might be, ignoring that and saying "well we'll do it anyway without you" is NOT playing by the rules.

Maybe Mr Balloon IS the dog in the manger here… but the RULES are to PERSUADE him out, not to say he's not allowed to play any more.

And the RULES are IMPORTANT because they're trying to calm the markets by saying that… they will stick to the rules.

So it is NO GOOD saying Britain is being INTRANSIGENT (even when we are) or even SELFISH (which a lot of people think might be true), because when they all signed up to the European Union they agreed that the rules would only be changed if EVERYONE agreed, that it was to be evolved by PERSUASION and CONSENSUS and not just because a couple of big countries really wanted it, not even if all but one countries wanted it.

(DIPLOMATICALLY, of course, this is a catastrophe. In fact a cat-monster-astrophe! And we are going to be in the dog house for a long time. Especially if I keep mixing metaphors like that! And just when we thought Captain Clegg and even Mr Vague had managed to come up with a workable European policy, too! We're going to have to be very patient… and very HUMBLE… for a long, long time to persuade people that we will HELP rather than BOSS ABOUT!)

But if they won't play by the rules, how much store are we ACTUALLY able to put in a pact that says "we really reeaally promise to play by the (fiscal) rules. This time. Like we didn't for the last decade"?

Instead, the solution I propose to the problems of the Euro is – entirely counterintuitive, I know – that GERMANY should be ejected from Euroland.

No, calm down. Let me explain why.

The problems of the Eurozone are NOT that the Southern European countries' currencies are overvalued but that Germany's currency is essentially UNDERVALUED. This means that German goods for export are CHEAPER than the international market might expect. Before the single currency, an excess of demand for German goods would mean more people needed German Deutschmarks to buy those goods so the currency would strengthen, cancelling out the competitive advantage. But being in Euroland keeps the German currency relatively depressed in value.

Very much the same thing has been happening with CHINALAND on an even larger scale. The Chinese government has for a long while had a policy of keeping their currency stable relative to the dollar. This has meant that Chinese goods have been kept CHEAPER, a competitive advantage that has allowed them to continue growing. This draws money into Chinaland which – because of their sort-of-communist system, allows their government to continue to depress their currency by essentially advancing more loans to Americaland, loans with which the Americans can buy yet more cheap Chinese goods and so the cycle continues.

Likewise, money drawn into Germany fills up German banks enabling them to advance more loans to the Southern Europeans.

This was one of the engines that allowed Western borrowing to go on and on and on, inflating the bubble. The Chinese government IS in some part to BLAME. But remember it takes TWO to TANGO: it was our GREED for growth that kept us borrowing when we shouldn't have.

The situation in Germany is SLIGHTLY less CULPABLE. The Germans have not ACTIVELY been maintaining this currency imbalance. But I'm sure they've been very happy to let it continue to be to their advantage.

And who wouldn't? Certainly not US in Great Britain – how many times have you heard Conservatories BOAST that we have an independent currency that lets us DEVALUE to become more competitive? Well that's just what us trying to get the SAME advantage that Germany has with the Euro, built-in as it were.

This SMALL but SIGNIFICANT advantage diverts money towards Germany. People are more likely to BUY from Germany because their exports are, relatively speaking, cheaper; people are more likely to INVEST in Germany because their successful industries are there and their labour is relatively cheap and the labour in Southern Europe which ought to be cheap is kept artificially more expensive by the same currency. (That is, wages in Southern Europe ARE less, but because of the single currency not less ENOUGH – and companies looking for cheap labour can go to INDIALAND or CHINALAND.)

And of course this happens in Great Britain too. Much of our economic base is now in the South-East, and companies coming here are more likely to invest in London and the Home Counties because OUR single currency (the good old British pound, est. 1971) has a similar effect on the cost of business.

The DIFFERENCE is that in Great Britain there is a REVERSE transfer of money in the form of government spending that recycles the extra money that comes in in London into government investments and redistributive benefits.

The OTHER solution (the REAL solution) to Euroland's problem is, of course, for German (and France and yes Britain too) to ACCEPT that there is a RESPONSIBILITY attached to the financial advantage and that there is going to have to be arrangement to transfer money – to GIVE not to LOAN – from the rich, wealth generating parts of the Euroland to the poorer bits.

For pretty obvious reasons, the German (and French… and British) people don't want to do that.
.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Day 3993: A Star Wars Lego Advent Day 7 - Chewbacca Tooled Up

Wednesday:
From Star Wars Lego Advent Calendar
Day 7: You're Not In Glee Now, Chewie

Day 3994: THE PRISONER 42nd 44th ANNIVERSARY: Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling

Thursday:



Still trying to watch an episode of "The Prisoner", this week my Daddies appear to have stuck in a disc of time-travelling rom-com "Dr Watson and the Amnesia Machine" instead by mistake.

Hang on, why's it named after the theme from "High Noon"? I thought the Western was last week!

information


Dr Seltzman, inventor of the mind-swap machine, has disappeared. And only the Prisoner knows where to find him.

The Village's solution? Use the machine to stick his mind in the body of one of their agents ("The Colonel", Nigel Stock) and follow him. What could possibly go wrong?

They guess – rightly as it happens – that if they give him a new face, stick him back in his old home in London, give him back his fiancée – yes, I said fiancée – that he'll go completely out of character and concentrate on finding the missing doctor to get himself swapped back. Rather than, you know, escaping, which is his usual concern.

One question: The Village can now put the mind of the person in bed A into the body of the person in bed B while putting the mind of the person in bed B into the body of the person in bed A. But they don't know how to reverse the procedure. Have they not considered swapping the beds?



The episode starts promisingly with an unexpected pre-title sequence, intriguingly suggesting more than is ultimately delivered.

As a premise, the mind-swap or body-swap is almost as obvious as the "evil doubles" episode that every genre series manages to do at one time or another, and in a way it's just the flip-side of that idea. Doctor Who sticks the Doctor's mind (or possibly his soul) in Freddie Jaeger's body as early as "The Savages", or there are as many Philip K Dick books as you care to throw sticks at.

Here it is deployed because, as almost everyone knows, McGoohan was double booked, and so spent this week filming "Ice Station Zebra" instead of "The Prisoner", so his character here is represented by a selection of Stock footage (I'm sorry, the pun is irresistible).

In a series so bound up in the question of identity this ought to have been a standout episode, indeed it's surprising they hadn't already used the idea.

Unfortunately it is done in the laziest manner possible, breaking the conventions and continuity of "The Prisoner" in so many ways as to suggest the writer was unfamiliar with the series… except that it's Vincent Tilsley who also wrote "The Chimes of Big Ben", one of the most on-the-button episodes there is. According to the imdb trivia: "he gave up writing for television, and became a psychotherapist, when his six-hour drama 'The Death of Adolph Hitler' was cut down to less than 2 hours". I guess writers in the Sixties were just like that.

what's your number, please


Well, this is awkward, because "Do Not Forsake Me" is clearly set just about a year after the Prisoner's abduction. It's a plot point that he attends his fiancée's birthday party. But in trying to convince her of his identity he describes a dress that she was to wear to the party and she replies "but that was a year ago".

For this reason, other list-makers have placed this as episode twelve, thirteen or fourteen on the "one month to an episode" principle. Although the fact that it is almost exactly one year on would surely pin it to twelve.

I assume that the reason for this "one year on" was connected to the suggestion that this was by way of a pilot for "Prisoner 2.0" where the Village now send him on missions as an agent. Quite how that's supposed to be possible what with him being totally opposed to the Village's authorities, philosophies and indeed existence utterly passes me by, but there we are.

But never mind that because as we discovered in "Many Happy Returns" he's been away for more than a year by then already.

Really, this is impossible to reconcile. "Many Happy Returns" makes no sense if he's been allowed out of the Village before. The entire psychological effect hinges on him finally being given a taste of escape and for it then to be proved an impossibility.

Equally, "Do Not Forsake Me" features long stretches with him back with his old employers, but he doesn't once try to get them to act against the Village and they don't seem that interested in knowing where he's been this last year. True, he's mainly trying to convince them he's who he says he is, but surely a trip to Portmeirion would at least support his case that there are these numerologically obsessed baddies who've been messing with him. It has to be that he's already tried that once – in "Many Happy Returns" – only to learn that his own side at least already know of and most likely are in cahoots with the Village.

Of course, the Amnesia Room could be used to cover a multitude of sins. We are shown the Amnesia Room – helpfully labelled "examination room", thank you crystal clear Blu-ray – in a very Chekov's Gun way before the mind swap, and then when he first wakes in London it's certainly open to the interpretation that he's forgotten his entire year in the Village – at least until he catches sight of his new face and has an unconvincing flashback sequence consisting of clips from "Arrival" and "Free For All". After this he seems at least semi-aware that a year has gone astray.

But wiping his memories is a drastic intervention which, along with the Village casually scooping out his marbles and plonking them in someone else's head using an unreliable experimental machine, must mean this is set later than episodes like "The Schizoid Man" or "A. B. and C." where it's important to them – and to Number 2's personal wellbeing – that his mind and memories not be damaged.

Ultimately, however, as we'll see, the continuity of this episode is shot to buggery anyway.

We place this second in the "out of Village" episodes because the Village suffers a bigger setback than in "Living in Harmony" but, like in that story, it's not really the Prisoner's doing.

From next time, we'll start to see him get pro-active.

the new number two


This week we have Clifford Evans playing an avuncular and largely forgettable Number 2. It's not his fault; in fact Number 2's role as antagonist is principally filled by John Wentworth as Sir Charles Portland, a remarkably similar avuncular piece of casting; it could have been used to cleverly suggest an equivalence but the opportunity is sadly wasted. Number 2 is mainly there to Basil Exposition "the Colonel" up to speed on how and why his body is going to be inhabited by the Prisoner for most of this story.

He's even denied the traditional "I am the new Number 2" speech as the title sequence is cut short at the point where the Prisoner reawakens in the Village, instead getting his moment in that badly edited flashback sequence, tacked on to the similar moment from "Arrival" where the Prisoner demands who are you of the first Number 2 (and the film footage very obviously doesn't match, making the insert stick out like a sore thumb).

And he pops up again at the end to be made a fool of by Dr Seltzman.

He is, I'm afraid, probably the least impressive Number 2 of the entire series, lacking even the presence of such "failed" Number 2's as Colin Gordon or David Bauer. More of a comedy stooge than a foe, his only exchange with the Prisoner is when – back in his own body – the Prisoner explains how the wool has been pulled over Number 2's eyes. At which the supposed Village mastermind just gawps stupidly. Rather than, say, calling the control room and having them bring the helicopter back.

Ultimately, he defeats himself. Only the Prisoner's generally passive role in the proceedings leaves us to rank this outside of the greater victories over the Village to come.

patrick mcgoohan only kisses mrs mcgoohan


The most shocking thing about "Do Not Forsake Me" is the romantic subplot. It's shocking because it has a romantic subplot.

McGoohan was infamously staunchly opposed to that sort of thing. His character, whether as John Drake or the Prisoner, was chivalrous but never lecherous. It's been one of the great strengths of the series because it's enabled women to be shown in a variety of roles, some strong, some weak, but never reduced to an appendage as "the hero's girl".

And suddenly, here he has a fiancée. It's utterly preposterous. Never mind that he's utterly failed to make any reference to a fiancée in any other episode – the very idea that he would be marrying the boss's daughter being utterly out of character. He's flirted with Mme Engardine, and gone head-to-head with Mary Morris; pity poor Zena Walker, playing Janet is a horrible, horrible part, but this drab little character wouldn't even arouse his pity.

And she's not helped by vanishing – Dodo-like – half-way through the narrative after one snog and delivering the next plot coupon – a receipt for a vital tray of holiday snaps.

It's unfortunate that we can't pretend that she's really the Colonel's fiancée, but she can't be. Not least because she's come to the Prisoner's house having recognised the Prisoner's car and – staring straight through Nigel Stock – asks if he is here. Her failure to intuit that the man awkwardly trying not to tell her that he is her betrothed dressed up in the wrong body somehow makes her come across as obtuse. To be fair, Stock's performance is nothing like the Prisoner and together they have less chemistry than noble gasses frozen to the surface of an inert Kuiper Belt object, but we the audience know who he's supposed to be and "television logic" says that if she's his soul mate she ought to know too.

And if nothing else why wouldn't the Village at least try pointing a gun at her head and demanding he tell them why he resigned?

follow the signs


The McGuffin of the episode, featuring in the unique pre-title sequence and setting the whole bonkers scheme going, is a roll of film, developed as slides, which Sir Charles Portland, high up in, presumably, British Intelligence (never so blatantly a contradiction in terms) and coincidentally the Prisoner's old boss, believes may contain a coded message.

Ultimately, this proves to be correct as the Prisoner uses a (simple) letter/number substitution key to select the correct four slides and some special lenses conveniently placed about his home (why didn't the Village come across those when clearing out the house for "Mrs Butterworth"?) to read the invisible message written across them.

This really isn't that secure. Sir Charles's assistants complain that with thirty slides there are too many combinations to check, but that shouldn't stop them analysing each slide under various lights and filters and discovering the "invisible" ink after which the combination should be obvious. Unless of course there are random letters on all the slides and only the right four make up a legible message. But that's not what they say. In fact, they say they don't even know if there is a message. Which just shows they're not really trying.

So what's the point of the clue in the slides?

The implication, surely, is that they are a message to the Prisoner from Dr Seltzman, to arrange a meeting. And yet, if you've gone to the trouble to encoding the location for your secret rendezvous, would you then hang around for a year – indeed, set yourself up as the local barber – if your contact failed to turn up? Or would you, rather more reasonably, assume he'd been nobbled and run for your life?

So perhaps it's that Seltzman is telling the Prisoner the location where he has gone into hiding in case… what? The Prisoner should ever find himself in need of a bodyswap? It's not really a very safe way of keeping your safe house safe, if you're going to tell people where it is. Rather more sensible would be to have a forwarding address or the spy classic "dead letter box" where contacts can leave messages without knowing where you are.

Later on, the episode seems to imply that the Prisoner helped Seltzman set himself up in this hidey-hole. Which leaves one even more puzzled over why he needs the slides. Does he not remember? Oh yes, the Village may or may not have erased some or all of his (precious) memories. So he, what, prepared the slides in the event of his getting brain wiped? In which case how does he remember how to decode them?



So on the one hand we have a romantic subplot that has no place in the Prisoner and on the other we have a spy plot so cack-handed that it hinges on the Prisoner hiding Dr Seltzman's hideaway behind a code so ingenious that neither his superiors nor the Village can crack it, but overlooking the possibility that they might just follow him there.

And yet, underneath this, crushed by the awfulness, there is a very Prisoner-esque attack on Descartes.

"I Think Therefore I Am" is a proof of your own existence. It proves it to yourself. It is possible to doubt your own existence but, crucially, you have to be thinking in order to do the doubting.

Where Descartes really struggles is to prove that anyone else exists, and eventually he has to fall back on "god isn't a bastard".

In "Do Not Forsake Me", the character played by Nigel Stock thinks he is the Prisoner. And we get to hear – thanks to McGoohan's literally telephoned-in voiceover – the inner monologue that proves that he's thinking therefore he is.

But can he prove that to anybody else?

Apparently not, because as his old boss Sir Charles says, he could be a fake who only learned what the Prisoner knows by extracting it from the real Prisoner.

In fact it's worse than that. The existence of the Seltzman machine means that he can never prove who he is. Even if he turns up in his own body, Sir Charles can say "ah ha, but you could be an enemy spy who has been body-swapped into our man's body. And if your people broke him and learned everything he knew, then you could know everything he knew."

Ultimately, this is now a world where nobody could ever prove they were who they said they were. And spying ought to break down overnight.

(Though fortunately for the Prisoner, this is also a world where your handwriting is as individual as your fingerprints and therefore a world utterly without forgery…)

Which leads us to the existential question: is Nigel Stock really playing the Prisoner? Or is he still the Colonel with a mixed up print of the Prisoner's memories and whatever else – like a fiancée – that the Village have concocted for him?

In a way, this would make the whole ghastly mess make a lot more sense.

For all Number 2's suggestion that they could use the Seltzman machine to turn returned spies into moles (as though returned spies aren't instantly pensioned off anyway, precisely because their own side can never be sure they've not been turned), a machine that extracts a person's memories would be infinitely more useful to the Village. They claim already to have an "amnesia" machine – which would mean half the old dears stuck in the Village because they "know too much" ought to be allowed out with a mild brain scrub – but how much more useful for them if they could just download all those tasty secrets first and then format the ex-agents brains like a redundant hard drive.

And how very irritating for them if Seltzman's machine doesn't work and insists on copying those annoying personality quirks like resistance and stubbornness across too.

Under those circumstances, what you get is a Colonel who thinks he's the Prisoner, while the real Prisoner remains safely locked up. Then all the funny business with the – obviously fake – fiancée and the slides is all part of the mind games to try and get him to trip some part of those copied memories into giving them what they want. He's not behaving out of character by falling for their obvious ploy because this isn't the Prisoner and we don't know what would be out of character for the Colonel. He is a Village agent.

The "twist" ending would have been the Colonel, overcome by the Prisoner's feelings, letting Setlzman get away, and finding himself in the Village alongside the Prisoner as another "Number 6". After all, he knows too much now too.

who is number one?


It would be nice to say that it's Nigel Stock, since the entire episode hangs on him, to say that he passes himself off as the Prisoner and that we don't miss McGoohan. But he doesn't and we do.

Zena Walker is given very little character to work with as Janet and does very little with it; John Wentworth as her father is really too wet to be a senior spy; and Clifford Evans' Number 2 is a cypher. And a smug prat too.

I'm tempted to give it to a very young Jimmy Bree as Villiers, just because he's actually entertaining and it's funny to see him as a security chief. (See Doctor Who's "The War Games" if you don't already know why!)

But in the end, and it is in the end, it has to be McGoohan again, who has barely more than a single line, and yet the moment he sits up to deliver it he lights up the screen and shows you just why you cannot do this series without him.

(Something ITV will take six hours to prove all over again in the 2009 remake.)

next time…


That would be telling.

Be seeing you.

.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Day 3992: A Star Wars Lego Advent Day 6 - Rescued by Chewbacca

Tuesday:
From Star Wars Lego Advent Calendar
Day 6: Laugh it up, furball

Day 3992: Tobin or Not Tobin: Why Paddy Ashdown is Wrong and We Need a Robin Hood Tax like an Arrow in the Head.

Tuesday:



Time to take a leaf out of Daddy Alex's book – and take my life in my fluffy feet – by picking a fight with Lord Paddy!



Look, for starters Robbing Hoodie ROBBED the taxman; he didn't work for him! A "Robin Hood Tax" is a CONTRADICTION IN TERMS!

People say "it's an itty bitty little fraction of a percent but it raises oodles of dosh." Well, it's either one or the other. If it raises a lot of money then that's got to come from SOMEWHERE.

And here's the real kicker: it comes from YOUR pensions and insurance. It doesn't come from "the rich" or from "the bankers". It comes from YOU.

The RICH do not, on the whole, spend their time buying and selling their assets over and over. They leave their wealth invested – in bonds or shares or in gold or oil paintings or racehorses or whatever. That's your problem right there: money being locked away in unproductive assets instead of being made to work creating business and jobs. A tax on capital transfers WON'T TOUCH THAT.

The capital transfer tax or Tobin Tax is usually said to apply to buying and selling shares and bonds, although some formulations suggest that it might be applied to ANY transfer of cash (yes, including moving your own money from your current account into your savings account).

The Tobin Tax mostly affects the HIGH VOLUME of stocks and shares traded on stock exchanges, particularly in LONDON.

But Bankers, you may somehow not have noticed this, do NOT play the city casinos with their own money. They invest money on behalf of clients, and mostly that is money from the huge funds controlled by pension funds, insurance firms and other financial institutions. And THAT money comes by and large from ordinary people paying in money to their pension plan or insuring their health, home, holiday or the rest.

If you're going to take fifty billion quid in extra tax then THAT's where it's going to come out of. Pensions and insurance firms will make less profit on each transaction. It doesn't matter that it's only a little bit less per transaction; if it's going to add up to a LOT of tax raised then it's going to be a LOT less profit overall. So they will need YOU to pay that extra bit in to cover it.

We've been here before.

When Mr Frown raided the pension funds back in the days when he was Mr Pay Down the National Debt (following Fatty Clarke's plan for repaying the tripling of the national debt the Conservatories ran up under Mr Major Minor, oh those heady days), what he did was to abolish a little tax giveaway called the Advance Corporation Tax Credit or ACT.

What ACT meant was that when company dividends were paid, 20% of the dividend was sent to the treasury. Ordinary shareholders would pay tax on their dividend, but the ACT was like a payment on account, so some or all of the tax they owed was already paid. But Pension funds didn't have to pay tax, so they could reclaim ALL of the ACT credit. It was only a little thing, an itty bitty amount per dividend. But it added up to a BIG amount in total.

And through the effect of compound interest, that amount could be snowballed to really build up the value of the pension fund.

So when Mr Frown took the ACT away, that REALLY hit the long-term growth value of the funds in which pensions were invested. And that's a big factor in the way that pensions suddenly became HUGELY more expensive to fund. People with private pensions had to pay in a lot more. Many companies decided that they had to stop offering final salary pensions because they were just too expensive.

(Ironically, Mr Frown STOPPED using the pension money to pay down Britain's debts and instead started using it to pay lots more public sector workers. Which is another reason why some people are a LITTLE bit resentful about those public sector workers who are demanding EVEN more from tax payers to fund all the extra pensions that all the extra workers are going to need. It would be easier to believe "we want decent pensions for everyone" if Mr Frown had not explicitly funded public sector pensions – and salaries – by raiding the private sector pensions for the money!)

The government and the Liberal Democrats in particular say that people who are paying into pensions are doing the RIGHT THING.

Now we could have a great big debate about whether they are or they aren't – pensions are of course more tying up wealth in unproductive savings rather than spending or investing money in a business – but since we have made a retirement, and a COMFORTABLE retirement at that, not merely an ASPIRATION but an EXPECTATION for most people then someone has got to pay for that.

Until the Seventies, that someone was always the government, but since the Eighties successive governments have made it abundantly clear that they are not going to pick up the tab and people had better make their own arrangements.

So it's a bit bloody cheeky to then keep eyeing up the savings of those people and going "we'll have a chunk of that, thanks".



(And the same thing goes for the so-called Higher Rate Pension Credits too. As I Twittered last week: that's not £40bn GIVEN to private pensions; that's £40bn NOT TAKEN from them. There IS a difference. Payments into your pension pot are supposed to come from your PRE-TAX income, because you are deferring that income until later in your life and you are going to get TAXED on it when the pension pays out. So it's somewhat NAUGHTY to tax it going IN as well.)



Anyway, the WORST thing about Captain Paddy's article is that he doesn't just want to raise yet more tax, but that he already has a wishlist of things to SPEND it all on.

Yes, of course it would be wonderful to end child poverty, or to reverse climate change, or to meet our Millennium commitments. But we are ALREADY spending more than we raise in tax. And we are already taking more than half Great Britain's GDP. Somewhere between none of it and all of it there has to be a limit to how much of what the country produces the government can take in tax. Adding a new tax burden and then hypothecating it to causes, no matter how laudable and worthy, just makes it more difficult to close the gap between what we are getting in and what we are forking out.

And, at the last election, the country made the choice to go for LESS tax and LESS spend.

That's the truth about the "ideological" cuts, incidentally. The country chose to accept the need for cuts. Just as in 1997 when the county accepted the case for more spending on public services, and so the largest vote went to the party "ideologically" inclined to SPEND, so OF COURSE in 2010, knowing that there had to be cuts, the largest vote went to the Party "ideologically" inclined to implement them. As opposed to the one which promised fiscal prudence and then spent like there was no tomorrow. Which in the end, there wasn't! And then promised us fiscal prudence again. And also promised us "Cuts deeper than Thatcher's". And now deny everything.



But never mind that Paddy is having a fit of the TAX-and-SPENDS; all this austerity is bound to give even the best of us a funny turn. But I want to say why this tax is WRONG no matter WHAT you spend it on.

You see, Paddy suggests that the Robbing Hoodie Tax will have a "calming" effect on the markets, as though it will act as an automatic regulator.

The logic behind this is that people will make choices about whether or not to do transactions if there's going to be a cost involved, so there will be fewer "unnecessary" transactions. The assumption here is that FEWER transactions is necessarily BETTER.

That's because people think that more trading means that the market is more out of control.

And there have been a good few occasions now where we have seen huge drops in the stock prices allegedly driven by computers chuntering away at huge volumes of trades and getting themselves stuck into automatic selling spirals.

But a free market isn't SUPPOSED to be "under control". And those incidents stand out because they are the EXCEPTIONS; they are NOT the way the markets behave day in day out almost all year round.

There're plenty of things wrong with Free Market Theory – like the assumption that investors will always behave RATIONALLY (have you SEEN the stock market?!) or that everyone has the same access to INFORMATION (have you HEARD of insider dealing?!) – but there being TOO MUCH trade is NOT one of them.

More transactions OUGHT to be MORE stable.

This is the most basic of those things called "market forces". A famous man called Mr Adam Smith wrote a book about it called "The Wealth of Terry Nations" (clue: invent the Daleks). Mr Adam Smith called this "the invisible hand" of the market, which "guides" people to find the right price.

If you happen to be a left-wing critic of liberal economics, you might talk about "the invisible hand" as some kind of crazy right-wing belief in MAGIC or WOO.

In which case, you need punching in the head, because it's NOT belief in magic; it's A GREAT BIG FLUFFING METAPHOR.

There isn't a REAL "invisible hand"; there isn't a magic pixie who "knows" what the proper price should be and "guides" the market to it. It just means that the market reaches a consensus without everyone having to sit down and agree on what it will be.

The theory of market forces isn't a made up belief like crossing your fingers for luck, or praying to Mercury for a safe journey, or the dialectic imperative of history. It's based on the way people really behave (or at least the way they behave a lot of the time).

It's like a weight on a spring. Let the weight go and it will bounce up and down as gravity tries to pull the weight down and the spring tries to pull the weight back up. At some point the weight will settle down and stop. No one has "decided" the height it stops at; it's just the point where the downward force and the upward force BALANCE.

So, somewhere there is a fair price; no one knows what it is. BUT if some people are charging more and some people are charging less then buyers will go to the people who are charging less. The people who are charging more won't sell until they drop their prices. Prices will fall. BUT (again!) if there are limited supplies, the people who are selling might chose NOT to sell if the price is too low, so the people who are buying won't be able to buy until they raise the price. Prices will rise. Between them, these two forces will reach a BALANCE point and that is the "market price".

The ACTUAL price you might pay at any one moment will wobble up and down around this level as the market is constantly adjusting and readjusting. INDIVIDUALLY people don't "know" the market price but they can see from the trading around them what SORT of price it should be and can either squeeze a good deal out of a seller or pay over the odds if they're in a hurry to buy and so strike their own deals accordingly at ABOUT the market price.

Now if there's a REAL change to the supply in the REAL World – like frost destroying the broccoli crop or a new oil strike – then the balance of the forces CHANGES and the price goes up or down.

(That's true of demand as well – e.g. it is thought that when the Roman Empire was turned CHRISTIAN by the Emperor Constantine all the temples had to stop making sacrifices to all the other gods so there was a big fall in demand for INCENSE, and as a result the price of Frankincense collapsed, wiping out the economy of Yemen. Which, frankly, has never recovered!)

The bigger the market, the more trades there are, the better this works.

Think about it: if there's just you and a farmer, then she can offer you a price and you can only take it or leave it. But if you are at the farmers' market, then she can offer you one price and you can either take it OR go and see what several other farmers are offering for their goods. So she's less likely to quote you over the odds. And the more farmers there are at the market, then the more the market forces will work to balance out the price.

This, incidentally, is another reason why MORE TRADE is ALWAYS BETTER.

A Tobin Tax would have a CHILLING effect on the financial markets, maybe not much of a one, but a little bit and that would make them LESS efficient.

A proper REGULATOR, like the controller of a steam engine, depends on a NEGATIVE FEEDBACK mechanism. That's CYBERNETICS. If the machine goes too fast, the controller starts to slow it down; but – and this is what the Tobin Tax doesn't do – if it slows too much the controller ought to speed it back up again. Tax just takes money out; it doesn't put anything back if the market grinds to a halt.

At the moment we want MORE transactions, specifically in the form of more BANK LENDING. So, sorry Captain Paddy, but a tax that is specifically designed to make FEWER transactions is EXACTLY the WRONG prescription.
.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Day 3987: THE PRISONER 42nd 44th ANNIVERSARY: Living in Harmony

Thursday:



Daddy's put the wrong disk in the DVD player.

He says that this may LOOK like a Western but really it IS "The Prisoner" after all.

I say it's STILL the wrong disk… I wanted GOLDFINGER!

But apparently we're going to watch THIS…

welcome to harmony


A sheriff rides into town, storms into the Marshal's office and throws down his badge and gun. As he walks away, he is surrounded by toughs who knock him down and carry him off to a small town in the old West, a town called Harmony. D'you see what they did there?

There's no getting away from it: this week, "The Prisoner" goes completely bonkers, substituting an entirely alternative universe version of itself, where McGoohan uses his American accent a lot and punches people also a lot.

Harmony contains all the clichés of the Western: the saloon bar with the whiskey in straight shots and the girl in silks and feathers; the jailhouse; the lynching; the corrupt city official with the black hat; the shootout with the sinister sharp-shooter; even the Mexican bandito!

What it doesn't have is anything particularly interesting to do with all these tropes once it has collected them.

As usual on these occasions, real men can drink prodigious quantities of whiskey without suffering the slighted impairment to the quick draw.

silver dollar saloon: prickly pear beers


We are now into the third phase of "The Prisoner". Previously we have had "Arrival", "Dance of the Dead", "The Chimes of Big Ben" "Checkmate" and "Free For All" as the first phase when he was "new here"; and then, in our revised order, "The Schizoid Man", "Many Happy Returns", "The General" and "A. B. & C." in the second phase.

We now have six more episodes before the final two-parter. Arguably all six see the Prisoner scoring victories over Number 2, but in three of them –"Hammer into Anvil", "It's Your Funeral" and "Change of Mind" – there is a distinctly personal nature to their conflict. Perhaps not coincidentally, these are the most Village-centric episodes. In the other group – "Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling", "Living in Harmony" and "The Girl Who Was Death" – we have what could be called the "out of Village" episodes, as all of them see the Prisoner in unfamiliar environments outside of Portmeirion (a jaunt to the continent; a Western town; and what Alex might call Englandland, a hyper-real "Avengers"-type version of the Home Counties).

We think that it is reasonable to infer that the former group belong later in the sequence, because they feature the Prisoner becoming proactive against the Village, reaching the height of his power against Number 2, able to use the machinery of the Village, turning it against and overthrowing Number 2 almost at will. In contrast – although we might make an exception for "The Girl Who Was Death" – the "out of Village" episodes still see a Village that is powerful, using its most blatant mind-control experiments with the Prisoner still on the defensive.

Let us therefore assume that our next episodes are the "out of Village" ones, because increasing drugs and mind-control feels like a logical extension from the events of "A. B. & C." We then have a choice of "Living in Harmony" or "Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling". We're going to put "Living in Harmony" first because it seems like the Village contrives its own defeat as much as the Prisoner scores a victory over them compared to "Do Not Forsake Me…" where, even if he cannot escape himself, he can arrange for another inmate to get properly away.

Placed immediately after "A. B & C.", "Living in Harmony" might feel like a bit of a jump. In "A. B & C.", Number 14 described the process as untested and experimental, whereas in "Living in Harmony" the seemingly much more elaborate illusion is said by Number 8 to have worked before.

But it seems – from the outcome – that this process is more risky for the Village agents requiring their active participation, with accompanying risk of psychosomatic feedback, compared with the passive observation of "A. B. & C." which suggests a more extreme and therefore later attempt.

Alex suggests the creditable resolution to this conundrum. The process in "A. B & C." involves infiltrating the Prisoner's actual dreams, that is these are his real memories that they are influencing, whereas the events of "Living in Harmony" are an entirely created dreamscape, supported by props and actors. We might infer, therefore, that Number 14's experimental procedure in "A. B. & C." is actually a refinement of the drugs and brain-washing used more routinely here.

Because of the dangers involved, they've held off on this process until now. But once the milk-drinking Number 2 has exposed the Prisoner to the possibility that they can do this, they quickly move to use the technique in its proper guise rather than allow him time to compose a defence.

the Judge


David Bauer will, for me, always remain Mr Morten Slumber, proprietor of "Slumber Inc" crematorium and garden of remembrance in the James Bond film "Diamonds are Forever". When talking to Bond he's gloriously unctuous and totally, deliciously fake (he's almost certainly a member of the diamond smuggling pipeline masquerading as the real Mr Slumber in order to collect the diamonds from Bond's – improvised – method of smuggling them inside a convenient corpse) and later put upon, harassed and somewhat cross to discover the smuggled diamonds are fakes.

There's some of that in each of the two distinct turns he gives in "Living in Harmony".

As the Judge, he is assured and sinister, a powerful understated performance, with the nice touch of him seeming more interested in his games of Patience than his nefarious plots. In a way, he is the most blatant representation of the establishment using his position of power to arbitrarily change the rules on a whim so that he can get what he wants. His kangaroo court where he suddenly puts Kathy on trial in order to blackmail the Prisoner with her fate is case in point.

But then once he's revealed as Number 2, he's a much less impressive figure. He's not a little reminiscent of Colin Gordon's performance in "A. B. & C." possibly suggesting a well-founded fear that he will go the same way. Clearly trying to shift the blame and cover his own arse, he seems less in charge of the scheme, rather more that he has been persuaded to go along with a plan of Number 8's. He genuinely seems ill-prepared for the psychological feedback from the scenario they've been playing out, and shaken by the outcome, though not as disturbed as Number 22 (or, as it turns out, Number 8). But then that might be because his character was the only one to "survive" the climactic fight to the death.

I wish it had been real


"Living in Harmony" was written, directed and produced by David Tomblin, and it might well have been very funny for him to force McGoohan to play the Prisoner as a man who drinks too much and won't do his job… but for the rest of us, this is less entertaining.

It is by turns bafflingly mental, actually quite nasty and for the most part surprisingly boring.

Once you've got past the "it's 'The Prisoner' if the genre was swapped from 'Spy' to 'Western'," high concept – which takes all of two seconds – then not a lot happens, interspersed with a very disturbing lynching and some even-more-disturbing sexualised violence and murder.

In a typical episode of "The Prisoner" – and let's for the moment not dwell on the fact that from here on in there are no "typical" episodes – you would expect the Village to come up with some scheme in an attempt to get the Prisoner to crack. Here the entire scenario is the attempt, which may be why someone forgot that if this was the "The Prisoner as Western" then there ought to be an attempt to crack him within that "episode" too. It's not like you would have an episode in Portmierion that just had him sat around not being a spy, with Number 2 occasionally saying "be a spy!" at him and having him beaten up.

What is particularly odd about this, as Alex pointed out to me, is that this is not the usual modus operandi for the Village. Ever since "Arrival", either as an end in itself or because they've been convinced that they can crack him if only they can get him to answer, the question they've been obsessed with is "why did you resign", until here where suddenly they seem to be wanting him to "un-resign".

If nothing else this is a bit obvious in giving away that they are "our" Village. It's not "why not come and be Sheriff for our side"; it's clearly "come and be our Sheriff again".

On the one hand, this allows them to appeal to his sense of dereliction of duty, not something they've tried before, suggesting that he's "letting the side down" or that he should be doing it "for England" or to defend the people or for his honour.

On the other hand, they actually don't really try that. They ignore his patriotism or his humanism and instead go after him again through his chivalry, falling back on the make-it-about-a-woman kind of blackmail that they really have tried several times. They ought to know by now that he doesn't fall for that sort of thing. Except this time it seems he does. Perhaps it's because Kathy doesn't try to form a relationship with him, but instead has her own personal tragedy – her murdered brother. Having said that, it's not really the "give him love, take it away" that Number 2 sneers about once the scheme is blown. McGoohan doesn't play it remotely romantic. Without that line from Number 2, the script might be suggesting he thinks of himself as a substitute for her murdered brother. But with it, that isn’t strong enough; or is verging on the icky. If anything, it's a paternal care he shows to Kathy, and it's the wrath of a grieving father that pushes him over the edge.

Which brings us to the fact that this is the first time we have seen the Prisoner actively kill someone, and in particular in so crude a way as to shoot them. McGoohan had a particular horror of gunplay, and made a point of his heroes using fisticuffs rather than pistols, a point possibly satirised by the number of times that his character in "Living in Harmony" picks a fist fight with someone.

But to then have him pick up a gun and shoot someone is jarring and deeply unpleasant.

So there's this deep sense of confusion about the symbols of the Village. For example, the episode clearly wants to equate the Prisoner's refusal to wear the Sheriff's star with his usual refusal to wear a "Number 6" badge, but these things aren't equivalent. The star empowers the Sheriff; it enables him to do his job. Wearing the star is about actively doing something unlike the "Number 6" which is about passively accepting society's labels.

It must be possible to read more into this episode, because something got it banned in America.

Ostensibly it was the reference to drug use, but this is fleeting and no more than a McGuffin to allow the story to step outside the usual parameters. It's certainly not a heavy-handed "bad trip" metaphor. And if anything the person who is given the drugs is the one least traumatised by his "trip" to Harmony.

The other suggestion is that this was read as an anti-Vietnam story: the corrupt authority figure and the hero refusing to take up his gun just like those kids in universities… Except that he does take up his gun and the only Kid here is a psychopath. Once again, this isn't about patriotism, it's about small-time bullying.

If it's an attack on anything, it's on the American myth of the West and of the power of the gun. If anything might have persuaded McGoohan to do this script it is this: the best gunman is a madman; the hero doesn't get the girl and the minute he picks up the gun he is bound to get killed; technically the black hat wins, but by shooting the hero he actually loses in the "real" world. Ultimately the guns corrupt and destroy everyone who touches them.

Or maybe it's just a big metatextual sign to say "it's all a story": look, look, it's on a set and they're all actors! In which case, "A. B. & C." did it first and did it better.

At best "Living in Harmony" is a pastiche of other Prisoner episodes (it's certainly not an "allegory" whatever the Wackypedia might think, since it no more "explains" the series than any other episode does; at a pinch you might call it an "analogue" of other episodes).

And, ultimately, the episode bottles it, with the revelation in the last ten minutes that it was all a drug-induced hallucination within the "normal" framework of the "real" Village. It's the equivalent of "it was all a dream", tossing aside the surrealism of the experiment for the crutch of an "explanation". It shows a lack of confidence in the audience and in the strength of the show. Surely, the idea is that "The Prisoner" is such a powerful idea that you can translate it into any genre.

the ace of spades


Well, that would be Alexis Kanner in a special boxout in the titles as the Kid.

Kanner is an unusual actor, appearing in several roles across three episodes of "The Prisoner" but famous for almost nothing else. In a way, even though he's never a Number 2, he's the "face" of the latter half of the series, as his speciality would seem to be "being crazy" and as the series goes rapidly round the bend so it seems apposite that he crops up more and more in differently demented ways.

As with David Bauer as the Judge/Number 2 (or for that matter Valerie French as Kathy/Number 22) Alexis Kanner plays two distinct roles in "Living in Harmony": in Harmony, he plays "The Kid", a mute gunslinger and frighteningly accurate pistol shot, who has formed a dangerous obsession with Kathy the saloon girl; while in the Village he is Number 8, clearly the brains behind the current scheme, and apparently the least affected by the sudden crushing failure. Where Number 2 is visibly shaken, and Number 22 is in tears, Number 8 remains collected enough to essay a post-mortem on their efforts.

With that failure of their scheme, the first appearance is that it's down to Number 2 panicking and shooting the Prisoner dead in the dreamworld, thus breaking the spell. That's certainly the story that Number 8 is selling.

The final shootout is itself precipitated by the murder of Kathy and again the Judge/Number 2 could be said to culpable for this, having incited the unstable Kid to abduct her.

Except of course that analysis hangs on the assumption that the Kid is not an independent actor in this scenario.

The conclusion sees the psycho-drama repeat itself. Number 22 is seemingly drawn back to the backlot where the town of Harmony was staged. She returns to the saloon and curls up on the stairs where, as Kathy, she died earlier. Then, in one of the nastiest moments in the series, Number 8 suddenly appears in the gap between the treads of the stair. Number 22 is terrified and tries to flee only to end up being strangled for real.

As the Kid, he uses the character's silence (playing the Kid as a mute was apparently a choice) to create a childlike innocence – he cries easily and openly – that makes the sexual element of his menacing of Kathy all the more disturbing and wrong.

It's not a "naturalistic" performance, but in a dull episode it is an eye-catching and oddly sympathetic one.

In a way, his short scene as the "normal" Number 8 is more striking, because he plays it as normal, when anyone familiar with the series will be more likely to remember him as a crazy person.

So in spite of him being quite the most dangerous and frightening person in the Village this week, you sympathise because it is clear that he, not the Prisoner, is the one who has broken and gone mad. In the strange and ugly world of "Living in Harmony" it seems apt to pity the victim of his own dangerous experiment.

next time…


That would be telling.

Be seeing you.

.