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…

Exit bear, pursued by an actor.

Paddington 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Paddington 2 is every bit as upbeat and well-meaning as its predecessor. It also has more money thrown at it, a much better villain (an infinitely better villain) and, in terms of plotting, is more developed, offering greater variety and a more satisfying structure. Additionally, crucially, it succeeds in offering continued emotional heft and heart to the Peruvian bear’s further adventures. It isn’t, however, quite as funny.

Even suggesting such a thing sounds curmudgeonly, given the universal applause greeting the movie, but I say that having revisited the original a couple of days prior and found myself enjoying it even more than on first viewing. Writer-director Paul King and co-writer Simon Farnaby introduce a highly impressive array of set-ups with huge potential to milk their absurdity to comic ends, but don’t so much squander as frequently leave them undertapped.

Paddington’s succession of odd jobs don’t quite escalate as uproariously as they migh…

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

What ho, Brinkley. So, do you think we’re going to get along, what?

Jeeves and Wooster 2.4: Jeeves in the Country  (aka Chuffy)
The plundering of Thank You, Jeeves elicits two more of the series’ best episodes, the first of which finds Bertie retiring to the country with a new valet, the insolent, incompetent and inebriate Brinkley (a wonderfully sour, sullen performance from Fred Evans, who would receive an encore in the final season), owing to Jeeves being forced to resign over his master’s refusal to give up the trumpet (“not an instrument for a gentleman”; in the book, it’s a banjulele).

Chuffnall Hall is the setting (filmed at Wrotham Park in Hertfordshire), although the best of the action takes place around Bertie’s digs in Chuffnall Regis (Clovelly, Devon), which old pal Reginald “Chuffy” Chuffnell (Marmaduke Lord Chuffnell) has obligingly rented him, much to the grievance of the villagers, who have to endure his trumpeting disrupting the beatific beach (it’s a lovely spot, one of the most evocative in the series).

Jeeves is snapped up into the e…

What I have tried to show you is the inevitability of history. What must be, must be.

The Avengers 2.24: A Sense of History
Another gem, A Sense of History features one of the series’ very best villains in Patrick Mower’s belligerent, sneering student Duboys. Steed and Mrs Peel arrive at St Bode’s College investigating murder most cloistered, and the author of a politically sensitive theoretical document, in Martin Woodhouse’s final, and best, teleplay for the show (other notables include Mr. Teddy Bear and The Wringer).

Don't give me any of that intelligent life crap, just give me something I can blow up.

Dark Star (1974)
(SPOILERS) Is Dark Star more a John Carpenter film or more a Dan O’Bannon one? Until the mid ‘80s it might have seemed atypical of either of them, since they had both subsequently eschewed comedy in favour of horror (or thriller). And then they made Big Trouble in Little China and Return of the Living Dead respectively, and you’d have been none-the-wiser again. I think it’s probably fair to suggest it was a more personal film to O’Bannon, who took its commercial failure harder, and Carpenter certainly didn’t relish the tension their creative collaboration brought (“a duel of control” as he put it), as he elected not to work with his co-writer/ actor/ editor/ production designer/ special effects supervisor again. Which is a shame, as, while no one is ever going to label Dark Star a masterpiece, their meeting of minds resulted in one of the decade’s most enduring cult classics, and for all that they may have dismissed it/ seen only its negatives since, one of the best mo…

Ruination to all men!

The Avengers 24: How to Succeed…. At Murder
On the one hand, this episode has a distinctly reactionary whiff about it, pricking the bubble of the feminist movement, with Steed putting a female assassin over his knee and tickling her into submission. On the other, it has Steed putting a female assassin over his knee and tickling her into submission. How to Succeed… At Murder (a title play on How to Succeed at Business Without Really Trying, perhaps) is often very funny, even if you’re more than a little aware of the “wacky” formula that has been steadily honed over the course of the fourth season.

You just keep on drilling, sir, and we'll keep on killing.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (2016)
(SPOILERS) The drubbing Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk received really wasn’t unfair. I can’t even offer it the “brave experiment” consolation on the basis of its use of a different frame rate – not evident in itself on 24fps Blu ray, but the neutering effect of the actual compositions is, and quite tellingly in places – since the material itself is so lacking. It’s yet another misguided (to be generous to its motives) War on Terror movie, and one that manages to be both formulaic and at times fatuous in its presentation.

The irony is that Ang Lee, who wanted Billy Lynn to feel immersive and realistic, has made a movie where nothing seems real. Jean-Christophe Castelli’s adaptation of Ben Fountain’s novel is careful to tread heavily on every war movie cliché it can muster – and Vietnam War movie cliché at that – as it follows Billy Lynn (British actor Joe Alwyn) and his unit (“Bravo Squad”) on a media blitz celebrating their heroism in 2004 Iraq …

This here's a bottomless pit, baby. Two-and-a-half miles straight down.

The Abyss (1989)
(SPOILERS) By the time The Abyss was released in late summer ’89, I was a card carrying James Cameron fanboy (not a term was in such common use then, thankfully). Such devotion would only truly fade once True Lies revealed the stark, unadulterated truth of his filmmaking foibles. Consequently, I was an ardent Abyss apologist, railing at suggestions of its flaws. I loved the action, found the love story affecting, and admired the general conceit. So, when the Special Edition arrived in 1993, with its Day the Earth Stood Still-invoking global tsunami reinserted, I was more than happy to embrace it as a now-fully-revealed masterpiece.

I still see the Special Edition as significantly better than the release version (whatever quality concerns swore Cameron off the effects initially, CGI had advanced sufficiently by that point;certainly, the only underwhelming aspect is the surfaced alien craft, which was deemed suitable for the theatrical release), both dramatically and them…

Never compare me to the mayor in Jaws! Never!

Ghostbusters (2016)
(SPOILERS) Paul Feig is a better director than Ivan Reitman, or at very least he’s savvy enough to gather technicians around him who make his films look good, but that hasn’t helped make his Ghostbusters remake (or reboot) a better movie than the original, and that’s even with the original not even being that great a movie in the first place.

Along which lines, I’d lay no claims to the 1984 movie being some kind of auteurist gem, but it does make some capital from the polarising forces of Aykroyd’s ultra-geekiness on the subject of spooks and Murray’s “I’m just here for the asides” irreverence. In contrast, Feig’s picture is all about treating the subject as he does any other genre, be it cop, or spy, or romcom. There’s no great affection, merely a reliably professional approach, one minded to ensure that a generous quota of gags (on-topic not required) can be pumped out via abundant improv sessions.

So there’s nothing terribly wrong with Ghostbusters, but aside from …