Skip to main content

It means what it is.

The Prisoner
Ranked: 17 of 1

17: Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling

The Prisoner pulls the old body-swap plotline but fails to dust it off and spruce it up. Patrick McGoohan was away filming Ice Station Zebra, so instead Nigel Stock is recruited as a portly, bumbling and less than commanding Six. Stock’s lack of presence and dynamism isn’t the only problem here. The action fails to engage, with another return to London (following Many Happy Returns, it gives the impression that it isn’t all that hard for Six to leave the Village after all) and a weary back-projected jaunt to Switzerland. If you have no recollection of Clifford Evans’ Two, that’s in keeping with the lack of impression this makes generally. Positives? The code-breaking scene is good. And, er, that’s about it. Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling is like no other Prisoner episode in that it’s really rather boring.

Memorable Lines

Two: Imagine the power we could have if the spy we returned had the mind of our choosing. We could break the security of any nation.


16: Many Happy Returns

Is it a coincidence that the two episodes at the bottom of my list both take place outside the Village? Possibly not, but, since one of my top two does also, it’s clearly how you do it, not what you do. Six is let out for his birthday, a terribly sick joke, and, while it’s interesting to see him haring about London, the plot itself does very little of consequence. He meets a woman in his old house, which is numbered One. She offers to bake him a birthday cake, and then, when she reveals herself as Two at the conclusion, gives him said cake. The swine! He tells his old bosses about the Village, who send him off to locate it, and he only goes and gets deposited slap-bang back in the middle of the place. Also problematic is that the “Six escapes” plot, and sting in the tale, isn’t that far from the earlier The Chimes of Big Ben. That one, at least, has a fair portion of an intriguing episode before Six sails away, however.

Memorable Lines

Colonel: He’s an old friend. Who never gives up.


15: Living in Harmony

Six wakes up in the Old West, or Wales as it used to be known. This sounds like it should be far out, man, with wild ideas supporting its wild setting, but its actually a highly traditional tale, for the most part failing to pay off its better ideas (the scene where an awakened Six finds cardboard cut-outs of his featured dream cast is one such). Six as the sheriff reluctantly restoring order to the town is a bit too on-the-nose, really, but in its favour there’s a great supporting turn from Alexis Kanner as the psycho Kid, and Valerie French is also very good, one of McGoohan’s most memorable leading ladies.

Memorable Lines

The Judge: You’ve already taken a job? With who?
Six: With whom.


14: The Schizoid Man

Before the old body swap plotline came the old doppelganger one. McGoohan has fun inhabiting the dual roles of 12 and 6, but there’s never any mystery here (since we know what is going on from the start). Also, and I know this is The Prisoner we’re talking about, the scheme itself is incredibly daft. It’s hardly surprising Six gets wise to what is going on quite quickly. Anton Rodgers is only a so-so Two too (fortunately, the more middling Twos tend to show up in weaker episodes).

Memorable Lines

Two: You have a unique physical advantage.
Six: Physical advantage of GROWING A MOUSTACHE OVERNIGHT?


13: Checkmate

The one with the human chess match. Not nearly as offbeat as that suggests, Checkmate finds Six mounting a fairly standard escape attempt with some fellow inmates. The final twist is effective, and the guardian/prisoner test is astutely played. There are also strong performances. Peter Wyngarde has enormous presence as Two and some estimable balsa wood-chopping action, so it’s a shame he doesn’t really get to butt heads or lock wills with Six. Rosalie Crutchley is convincingly overwrought as the brainwashed obsessive White Queen. In the end, though, this one doesn’t quite come together.

Memorable Lines

Two: They’ll be back tomorrow, on the chessboard, as pawns.


12: The Chimes of Big Ben

Leo McKern’s first appearance as Two, appealingly full of bonhomie, buoys The Chimes of Big Ben considerably. To be relished is Six getting involved in Village life, entering the Arts and Crafts Competition – the other entries are devoted to the glorification of Two –  and taking swipes at art criticism. The escape sequence is less engaging, however, although The Ipcress File-esque reveal is a good one – the clue is in the title – and Six is allowed a small victory in defeat.

Memorable Lines

Two: He can make the act of putting on a dressing gown appear as a gesture of defiance.


11: A Change of Mind

Six is labelled unmutual and undergoes a lobotomy. Except that he doesn’t really. It’s another mind-altering plot! The are many things to like about A Change of Mind; Thomas Heathcote’s believably genuine case of conversion, Six’s disruption of the Social Group, his Village-wide rejection, the switcheroo he pulls on 86 (and all the tea drinking generally). He even gets savaged with a brolly! On the minus side, Six again realises it’s all a ruse too quickly (shades of The Schizoid Man), and, while endings are often one of The Prisoner’s strong points, this turns on a fairly unconvincing speech as Six successfully deposes Two through an accusation of his unmutuality.

Memorable Lines

Forty-Two: You’re trying to undermine my rehabilitation. Disrupt my social progress!
Six: Strange talk for a poet!


10: It’s Your Funeral

Two Twos and an assassination plotline. It’s Your Funeral experienced a troubled production history, but the result is a mostly engrossing episode with fine performances from Derren Nesbitt (magnificent prop acting!) and Andre Van Gygseghem (resigned to his lot) as the incoming and outgoing Twos respectively. True, the watchmaker element is on the twee side, the Activity Prognosis scene is baffling filler, and the motive for topping the former Two is murky to say the least. Fortunately, this all leads to a highly satisfying climax in which Nesbitt gives a marvellously twitchy acceptance speech.

Memorable Lines

Announcement: There’ll be speeches, thrills and excitement.


9: The General

One in which Six comes out (relatively) on top, thanks to a handy Star Trek-esque “baffle the computer with humanity” routine. Six doesn’t launch an escape bid or get experimented upon either! I quite like the conclusion, obvious as it is, and the conceit of Speed Learn is displayed with the visual aplomb. Colin Gordon (as Two) and (especially) John Castle (as 12) lend strong support. The “message of the week” (rote learning leads to a society of “knowledgeable cabbages”) might be considered a little overstated, but it effectively underscores McGoohan’s abiding suspicion of systems of rule.

Memorable Lines

Six: The only subject I’m interested in is, um, getting away from this place.


8: Arrival

A highly effective scene-setter. We are introduced to the Village, its idiosyncrasies (strange brainwashing rooms, face-hugging Rovers, inhabitants who pause motionless on Two’s command), and themes (the desire to find out why Six resigned, his perpetual struggle with authority, the need to trust the potentially untrustworthy and the consequent thwarting of his plans for escape through betrayal, the chess game motif). Stylishly directed by Don Chaffey and anchored by a driven McGoohan, this is first class.

Memorable Lines

Two: A lot of people are curious about what lies behind your resignation. They want to know why you suddenly left.


7: Once Upon a Time

Leo McKern returns in the most literal battle of wills between a Two and Six. Intense, theatrical and claustrophobic, Once Upon a Time is an exhausting experience and it’s no wonder it caused McKern a nervous collapse. McKern and McGoohan give tour-de-force performances, as Two initiates Degree Absolute. He takes Six on an eccentric journey through the Seven Ages of Man, combined with a liberal dollop of nursery rhyme weirdness. Does Six actually admit why he resigned here? Perhaps not, but his explanation remains a plausible one.

Memorable Lines

Two: He thinks you’re the boss, now.
Six: I am.
Two: I’m Number Two. I’m the boss.
Six: Number One is the boss.


6: Hammer Into Anvil

Perhaps the most purely satisfying episode in terms of Six showing his mettle. One might argue Six “winning” isn’t really the point of the show, but it still makes for a pleasant change. He devises a rock-solid scheme to undermine and topple Two after the latter causes the death of poor 73. Employing misdirection and supreme cunning, Six encourages Two (a magnificent Patrick Cargill, essaying the journey from over-confidence to abject disintegration with precision timing) to believe everyone has turned against him. Beautifully plotted, and with some wonderful visual touches (the fight between Basil Hoskins’ 14 and Six to the strains of L’Arlessienne). There’s even a kosho match thrown in!

Memorable Lines

Two: (to the innocent bandmaster) You’re lying, aren’t you? There’s something going on. You’re all lying! It’s a plot!


5: Dance of the Dead

Mary Morris essays a top drawer Two in one of the series’ most unsettling episodes. Six is invited to the Village Carnival costume ball, put on trial, sentenced to death, and pursued by an angry mob apparently ready to tear him limb from limb. There’s also more quality lobotomisation on display (Six’s friend Dutton, grotesquely outfitted in a jester costume). Two is intent on winning Six over, and in response, Six issues his most defiant retort (“You’ll never win!”) With the mocking laugh of Two and a symbolic telex machine that refuses to die, Dance of the Dead presents one of the series’ bleakest conclusions.

Memorable Lines

Two: If you insist on living a dream, you may be taken for mad.


4: Free For All

McGoohan lets loose the ponderances bouncing around his noggin. Out pour his conflicted feelings on democracy, and its illusory nature, into this satire of the idea of making a difference. Six is persuaded to stand in the Village elections, but his path is undercut at every stage. Eventually he wins, through espousing ineffectual sound bites and decrying his opposition, only to discover he wields no real power at all. McGoohan both writes and directs (Don Chaffey departed after disagreements) and handles the electioneering with flair and visual wit.

Memorable Lines

Six: I am in command! Obey me and be free!


3: A. B. & C.

In which Six attends a dreamy party. The first (broadcast) mind-altering-to-get-Six-to-talk episode, and the best. This is how to have Six gradually realise he’s being drugged/manipulated. The dream scenarios are skillfully etched out, the third particularly so, with great aural accompaniment from Albert Elms. Anthony Skene’s script is superbly conceived and splendidly directed by Pat Jackson (Six opens doors from a courtyard in daylight and passes into another courtyard at night). The twist is supremely satisfying also, as Two – in one of Colin Gordon’s two stints as Two – is unmasked within the dream as Six’s co-conspirator. The tripping with reality peaks at the point where Six, within a dream, is observed walking to the doors of the dream control room; the real Two expects him, for a moment, to enter the real control room.

Memorable Lines

Six: We mustn’t disappoint them, the people who are watching.


2: The Girl Who Was Death

My top two episodes are two of The Prisoner’s most atypical instalments, but it’s probably a mistake to see the series as duty bound to conform to a set routine (unless you’re George Markstein). Even this one, the most bat-shit crazy in terms of ignoring not just the rules but the entire premise of the series, manages to insert a very loose justification for playing fast and loose (Six is reading a bedtime story to Village moppets, and Two hopes he might learn some juicy truths through eavesdropping).  Six embarks on a madcap mission to prevent a nutty professor from destroying London with a rocket disguised as a lighthouse, dodging numerous attempts by the titular girl (Sonia, the professor’s daughter; they are revealed as Two and 17 at the end) to deaden him. These include a calamitous cricket match, a poisonous pint and a too toasty Turkish bath. Verbal and visual gags abound, the most extreme of which include a record that talks back and Sonia revolving the road (and Six) with her finger. Enormous fun, and very funny.

Memorable Lines

Six: Thank you very much.
Record: What was that?
Six: Nothing.


1: Fall Out

The final episode, and the series’ psychedelic breakdown. Six massacres guards to the strains of All You Need Is Love, and discovers it was himself all along. Kenneth Griffith, Alexis Kanner and Leo McKern return to find McGoohan wrestling with and summarising his themes of rebellion and ego. Six is rewarded for his continued resistance, offered the chance to lead the Village, but discovers he is a prisoner unto himself. The episode is a sprawling mess, a result of McGoohan feverishly throwing everything into the mix and seeing what sticks, but it is also quite brilliant. As director, the star carries the proceedings along with a giddy energy; this is enormously cynical, downbeat material (Six ends up right back where he started, at door Number One, which opens of its own accord, just as in the Village) but it is rendered with verve and momentum. Indeed, the flight to London is charged with an irresistible euphoria (accompanied by the incredibly catchy Number 6 Throned). Script editor George Markstein dismissed Fall Out as an absurd pantomime, and it is, but in the best possible sense.

Memorable Lines

Supervisor: We thought you would feel happier as yourself.



Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Your honor, with all due respect: if you're going to try my case for me, I wish you wouldn't lose it.

The Verdict (1982)
(SPOILERS) Sidney Lumet’s return to the legal arena, with results every bit as compelling as 12 Angry Men a quarter of a century earlier. This time the focus is on the lawyer, in the form of Paul Newman’s washed-up ambulance chaser Frank Galvin, given a case that finally matters to him. In less capable hands, The Verdict could easily have resorted to a punch-the-air piece of Hollywood cheese, but, thanks to Lumet’s earthy instincts and a sharp, unsentimental screenplay from David Mamet, this redemption tale is one of the genre’s very best.

And it could easily have been otherwise. The Verdict went through several line-ups of writer, director and lead, before reverting to Mamet’s original screenplay. There was Arthur Hiller, who didn’t like the script. Robert Redford, who didn’t like the subsequent Jay Presson Allen script and brought in James Bridges (Redford didn’t like that either). Finally, the producers got the hump with the luxuriantly golden-haired star for meetin…

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

Who are you and why do you know so much about car washes?

Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
(SPOILERS) The belated arrival of the Ant-Man sequel on UK shores may have been legitimately down to World Cup programming, but it nevertheless adds to the sense that this is the inessential little sibling of the MCU, not really expected to challenge the grosses of a Doctor Strange, let alone the gargantuan takes of its two predecessors this year. Empire magazine ran with this diminution, expressing disappointment that it was "comparatively minor and light-hitting" and "lacks the scale and ambition of recent Marvel entries". Far from deficits, for my money these should be regard as accolades bestowed upon Ant-Man and the Wasp; it understands exactly the zone its operating in, yielding greater dividends than the three most recent prior Marvel entries the review cites in its efforts at point scoring.

Dude, you're embarrassing me in front of the wizards.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
(SPOILERS) The cliffhanger sequel, as a phenomenon, is a relatively recent thing. Sure, we kind of saw it with The Empire Strikes Back – one of those "old" movies Peter Parker is so fond of – a consequence of George Lucas deliberately borrowing from the Republic serials of old, but he had no guarantee of being able to complete his trilogy; it was really Back to the Future that began the trend, and promptly drew a line under it for another decade. In more recent years, really starting with The MatrixThe Lord of the Rings stands apart as, post-Weinstein's involvement, fashioned that way from the ground up – shooting the second and third instalments back-to-back has become a thing, both more cost effective and ensuring audiences don’t have to endure an interminable wait for their anticipation to be sated. The flipside of not taking this path is an Allegiant, where greed gets the better of a studio (split a novel into two movie parts assuming a…

The simple fact is, your killer is in your midst. Your killer is one of you.

The Avengers 5.12: The Superlative Seven
I’ve always rather liked this one, basic as it is in premise. If the title consciously evokes The Magnificent Seven, to flippant effect, the content is Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, but played out with titans of their respective crafts – including John Steed, naturally – encountering diminishing returns. It also boasts a cast of soon-to-be-famous types (Charlotte Rampling, Brian Blessed, Donald Sutherland), and the return of one John Hollis (2.16: Warlock, 4.7: The Cybernauts). Kanwitch ROCKS!

Never mind. You may be losing a carriage, but he’ll be gaining a bomb.

The Avengers 5.13: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Station
Continuing a strong mid-season run, Brian Clemens rejigs one of the dissenting (and departing) Roger Marshall's scripts (hence "Brian Sheriff") and follows in the steps of the previous season's The Girl from Auntie by adding a topical-twist title (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum came out a year earlier). If this is one of those stories where you know from the first who's doing what to whom, the actual mechanism for the doing is a strong and engaging one, and it's pepped considerably by a supporting cast including one John Laurie (2.11: Death of a Great Dane, 3.2: Brief for Murder).

I freely chose my response to this absurd world. If given the opportunity, I would have been more vigorous.

The Falcon and the Snowman (1985)
(SPOILERS) I suspect, if I hadn’t been ignorant of the story of Christopher Boyce and Andrew Daulton Lee selling secrets to the Soviets during the ‘70s, I’d have found The Falcon and the Snowman less engaging than I did. Which is to say that John Schlesinger’s film has all the right ingredients to be riveting, including a particularly camera-hogging performance from Sean Penn (as Lee), but it’s curiously lacking in narrative drive. Only fitfully does it channel the motives of its protagonists and their ensuing paranoia. As such, the movie makes a decent primer on the case, but I ended up wondering if it might not be ideal fodder for retelling as a miniseries.

Everyone creates the thing they dread.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
(SPOILERS) Avengers: Age of Ultron’s problem isn’t one of lack. It benefits from a solid central plot. It features a host of standout scenes and set pieces. It hands (most of) its characters strong defining moments. It doesn’t even suffer now the “wow” factor of seeing the team together for the first time has subsided. Its problem is that it’s too encumbered. Maybe its asking to much of a director to effectively martial the many different elements required by an ensemble superhero movie such as this, yet Joss Whedon’s predecessor feels positively lean in comparison.

Part of this is simply down to the demands of the vaster Marvel franchise machine. Seeds are laid for Captain America: Civil War, Infinity Wars I & II, Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok. It feels like several spinning plates too many. Such activity occasionally became over-intrusive on previous occasions (Iron Man II), but there are points in Age of Ultron where it becomes distractingly so. …

You keep a horse in the basement?

The ‘Burbs (1989)
(SPOILERS) The ‘Burbs is Joe Dante’s masterpiece. Or at least, his masterpiece that isn’t his bite-the-hand-that-feeds-you masterpiece Gremlins 2: The New Batch, or his high profile masterpiece Gremlins. Unlike those two, the latter of which bolted out of the gate and took audiences by surprise with it’s black wit subverting the expected Spielberg melange, and the first which was roundly shunned by viewers and critics for being absolutely nothing like the first and waving that fact gleefully under their noses, The ‘Burbs took a while to gain its foothold in the Dante pantheon. 

It came out at a time when there had been a good few movies (not least Dante’s) taking a poke at small town Americana, and it was a Tom Hanks movie when Hanks was still a broad strokes comedy guy (Big had just made him big, Turner and Hooch was a few months away; you know you’ve really made it when you co-star with a pooch). It’s true to say that some, as with say The Big Lebowski, “got it” on fi…