Saturday, 25 September 2010

The Prisoner Challenge: A. B. and C.

This is the first episode to feature Colin Gordon as 'the milk-drinking Number 2' (he'll be back in The General later in the series). It is also the first time we see the big red telephone that Number 2 uses to speak to someone he calls "sir" - Number 1 perhaps?

A. B. and C. wastes no time in getting on with the plot; it seems in as much of a hurry to get started as Number 2 is after he gets the call. It is a dark and stormy night when Number 2 and his scientist Number 14 begin their experiment - a stock shot of lightning sums up in a second that this is mad science they are practising here.

Their experiment allows them to see into Number 6's mind - a constant loop of his resignation, taken straight from the series' titles - and control what he dreams so they can find out what he would have done, upon his resignation, had he not been taken to the Village. They are seeing not a flashback or a memory, but what might-have-been.

Number 2 and Number 14 introduce into Number 6's dream the first of their three scenarios - 'a' is played by Peter Bowles and he is a somewhat camp member of the 'other side' from Number 6. When they meet Number 6 brushes him off, but 'a' doesn't take no for an answer.
"You never could take a hint," says Number 6.
"I don't want a hint; I want you," is the reply.

I think Number 6 seems very much like John Drake in the ensuing fist fight, right up to the point where he finishes it with a "Be seeing you." This dream sequence could well come from an episode of Danger Man, it feels just like that kind of spy drama when away from the trappings of the Village.

By day Number 6 is suspicious when he meets Number 14 and recognises her from the previous night, having briefly glimpsed her as he was being put under the drug. He guesses - and confirms - that Number 2 is up to something, but can't do anything about it at this stage.

In the second dream 'b' is a woman, a spy and an enemy of 'a,' and Number 6 (who is, after all, the coolest man ever) is very charming with her and they dance. Number 2 and Number 14 put words into 'b's mouth but Number 6 sees through it and brings the dream to an end.

By day Number 6 takes action - following Number 14 he gets into the experiment room and finds everything they have done, including the a, b and c folders. He massively dilutes the last dose of the drug and, with that small act of sabotage accomplished, leaves the scene.

That night he pours the drugged tea - by which they had clearly intended to put him to sleep - down the sink and has a drink of water instead. It still knocks him out.

The drug is dangerous and this is the last dream they can enter and manipulate, and the effects show as the camera tilts from side to side, trippy music plays - distinct from the classical music of the previous dreams - and Number 6 moves around as if drunk.

"It's dreamy. This is a dreamy party!"

He adjusts a mirror on the wall until it is straight and seems to regain some control that way. The events that follow are rather more fantastic than the previous dreams as Number 6 goes looking for 'c.'

Winning (on '6' naturally) on the roulette wheel gets him a key, one that is matched by the key held by Engadine, the party's hostess. Together they unlock a door and step through, but Number 6 fights showing what lies beyond it. Number 2 and Number 14 force him to go on.

Number 2 is excited about what he is uncovering about Number 6 and can barely contain his enthusiasm - he thinks he has gotten further than any other Number 2 before him. This would perhaps be of more significance if this episode came later in the series than I am watching it.

Number 6 is face to face with a masked man in a tuxedo, hat and cape. Number 2 is desperate to know who he is, and Number 6 wants to show him to "the people who are watching" (by which he means Number 2 and Number 14, but this could also refer to the viewers - who are, after all, as in the dark about Number 6's resignation as Number 2).

But it is revealed to be Number 2 behind the mask and, watching the screen, the real Number 2 jumps to see his own face, and then he staggers back with the shock. In the dream Number 6 walks into the Village and enters the experiment room. Number 2 and Number 14 turn to the door in the real world but, of course, it remains closed.

Now in an identical room on the screen, Number 6 hands Number 2 an envelope and, upon opening it, this Number 2 sees a handful of holiday brochures.
"I wasn't selling out. That wasn't the reason I resigned."
He then lies down on the table, taking the same position he occupies in the real world, and the dream ends - to go back to showing the scene of his resignation.

The big red telephone rings for Number 2...

This episode is an excellent blend of the fantastic elements that give The Prisoner its uniqueness with the more conventional spy-drama elements that would have been familiar to viewers of Danger Man, Patrick McGoohan's role for several years prior to The Prisoner.

These come together in the last dream sequence, where Number 6 turns the tables on Number 2 by taking control of his own dream. Number 2 is fooled because the events created by Number 6 remain plausible within the bounds of a spy thriller; he is drawn in as the viewer of this drama (as the viewers at home watching this episode) and he is shocked by the 'twist' that the man in the mask is him.

In the end Number 2 - and the viewers at home - learn next to nothing about Number 6.

Next: Free For All

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Big Gay Longcat reviews Star Trek: Spock's Brain

I was going to do The Changeling as my next Star Trek review until Star Cat pointed out that it is just like The Motion Picture only not long.
So here is a review of Spock's Brain instead.

This is the first episode of season 3, and I am sure that when the mannys who made it decided to show it first they thought it was the best example of Star Trek that would keep all the mannys wanting to watch more Star Trek because it is so exciting.

If so then I think they were wrong. There are much better episodes than this in season 3. Almost all of them, really.

It starts with a spaceship flying towards the Enterprise, which is already on Red Alert and ready for action. A woman beams on to the bridge. She makes the lights go on and then off and everyone on the Enterprise falls down to have sleeps. The woman is the only one still awake and she touches Mr Spock's head.

When the lights come on again and everyone wakes up the woman is gone and Mr Spock is not on the bridge, he is in sickbay. Captain Kirk is very worried and asks Dr McCoy what is wrong with Mr Spock. Dr McCoy tells him:
"His brain is gone. It's been removed surgically."

Captain Kirk guesses the woman has stolen Spock's brain and so they will have to search for it. Dr McCoy says:
"Jim, where are you going to look? In this whole galaxy, where are you going to look for Spock's brain? How are you going to find it?"

The Enterprise follows the spaceship that has Spock's brain until they lose the trail. There are three planets that it could have gone to but none of them look like they could have made a spaceship. Lt Uhura detects energy from one of the planets so they go to it.

This scene tries to be dramatic but it is not really because it is so obvious that they should go to where the energy is instead of the other planets. Lt Sulu and Mr Chekhov are being silly when they suggest investigating the other planets. Maybe the woman took their brains as well?

Captain Kirk beams down with Scotty but then he forgets that Mr Spock is not there and asks him for lifeform readings. This shows Captain Kirk misses his friend a lot and is worried about him.

They are attacked by primitive mannys but win the fight using phasers and capture one of the mannys. Captain Kirk speaks to him - he knows things about this planet but he doesn't know what women are and then gets scared of their questions and runs away.

Scotty finds a cave. Dr McCoy beams down with Mr Spock's body, which he can move about with a remote control.

Remote Controlled Mr Spock.

The cave takes Captain Kirk, Mr Spock, Dr McCoy and Scotty inside the planet. They meet a woman called Luma and Captain Kirk stuns her before she can do anything to them. He then asks her questions but she doesn't know anything.

Captain Kirk gets through to Spock's brain on his communicator so he can speak to Spock's brain but they still don't know where it is. Then they meet the woman who Captain Kirk recognises as the one who stole Spock's brain. She is Kara and she captures them.

Captain Kirk asks Kara about Spock's brain but, like Luma, she doesn't know anything. Kara doesn't remember being on the Enterprise and doesn't even know what a brain is.
"Brain and brain! What is brain?" she says.

I know what a brain is. I am a clever cat.

Kara will not let Captain Kirk speak to their controller, who is in charge of their planet, and Captain Kirk suspects it is Spock's brain that is the controller. They escape from their guards (really easily) and go looking for it.

When they find the controller's room Kara is there and she zaps Captain Kirk, Dr McCoy and Scotty, but Mr Spock's body is unaffected so Captain Kirk uses the remote control to get Mr Spock to overpower Kara.

Hoping she will restore Spock's brain to his body, Captain Kirk puts Kara in the teaching machine to give her the knowledge but she will not do it, so Dr McCoy tries it as well.

"He's operating at warp speed!"

Dr McCoy starts to put Spock's brain back in his body but the knowledge is temporary and he forgets half way through. He manages to carry on enough so Mr Spock can talk to him, then Mr Spock takes over and tells Dr McCoy how to finish putting his brain back in.

When he is better Mr Spock talks so much that Dr MCoy wishes he had not let Mr Spock be able to speak again. Lol!

Spock's Brain is a very silly episode, especially when it tries to be serious and dramatic about finding Spock's brain and putting it back in, which is a silly idea in the first place.

It is quite exciting in places and it is good in bits, like when we see how much Captain Kirk misses Mr Spock that he calls Scotty "Mr Spock" by mistake, but there are no memorable baddys like Khan or high stakes to make things tense for our heroes. I always knew Captain Kirk would get Spock's brain back because Mr Spock needs his brain to be in other episodes.

Don't believe Star Cat if he tells you otherwise.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

The Prisoner Challenge: The Chimes of Big Ben

"Where am I?"
"In the Village."
"What do you want?"
"Whose side are you on?"
"That would be telling. We want information. Information... information..."
"You won't get it."
"By hook or by crook - we will."
"Who are you?"
"The new Number 2."
"Who is Number 1?"
"You are Number 6."
"I am not a number, I am a free man!"

The Chimes of Big Ben was the second broadcast episode of The Prisoner, and as such it contains a number of firsts for the series. It is the first episode to contain the exchange I have quoted above between Number 6 and Number 2 (sometimes voiced by the actor playing Number 2 that episode, sometimes not) as the second part of the title sequence.

It is also the first episode where Number 2 is played by Leo McKern, though - unusually but not uniquely - not the last. He is a fantastic actor who I have recently been watching in Rumpole of the Bailey.

His Number 2 makes for one of the best antagonists in the series by making him, in only a few lines of dialogue, a more rounded and believable character than many of the others, with the suggestion that he was once a prisoner like Number 6 but now a convert to the side of the Village.

I understand there is a bit of a question of why this is the second episode of The Prisoner. In it Number 6 is clearly shown to have been in the Village a while and become accustomed to some aspects of Village life, unlike in some (broadcast) later episodes such as Dance of the Dead.

I think the answer may lie in the way this episode, in its opening moments, makes explicit something that was only suggested in Arrival: that if Number 6 tells them why he resigned, he loses. Take this exchange between Number 2's assistant (played by Christopher Benjamin, who was also in Arrival) and Number 2:

Assistant: "He doesn't even bend a little."
Number 2: "That's why he'll break. It only needs one small thing. If he will answer one simple question, the rest will follow - why did he resign?"

This establishes the conflict at the heart of not only this episode but also the series as a whole.
Alternatively it could be that ITV broadcast the episodes in any old order, and it was only luck that Arrival was shown first.

There are direct parallels between this episode and Arrival when Number 6 is shown Number 8 (Nadia) waking up in the Village for the first time and acting much as he did when he first woke up and saw an exact replica of his room but with the Village outside.

Of course the situation is then flipped when he meets her and it is Number 6 playing the part of the local, with all the knowledge of the Village that she lacks.
"Oh I'm frightened," she says to him outside Number 2's house.
"Goodbye," is his only reaction to this.
"I've done nothing wrong," Nadia insists. "I've committed no crime, all I did was resign." This line confirms, if there was any doubt, that she is a direct counterpart for him. How does Number 6 respond to this?
"No use telling me." Without sympathy. It seems clear that after the events of Arrival (and however many more chapters that have passed since then) Number 6 is already suspicious that she may be a trap for him.

But when they meet again she acts suspicious of Number 6 and takes him as one of Number 2's assistants - a trap for her? He is eventually convinced she really is a prisoner after witnessing an escape attempt foiled by Rover that lands Nadia in the hospital, and then her apparent suicide attempt.

Is Number 6 still being quite naive though? His 'abstract art' consisting of the hull and mast of the boat to be used in the escape attempt - did he really think they wouldn't see it? Or am I just being cynical, having seen this episode before?

Though I have to say I think using the tapestry of Number 2 as the sail is a touch of genius.

"Orange Alert. Orange Alert." Rover attacks Number 6 and Nadia out at sea, just when they're within sight of Nadia's friends and it looks like they have escaped. As with Rover's attack on Nadia earlier, this lends credibility to the escape.

I find the sequence showing their 'escape' to London is somewhat reminiscent of scenes in From Russia With Love, where James Bond is escaping Eastern Europe with Tatiana Romanova.

There is a bit of a cheat at this point in the story - the scene in London with Fotheringay on the telephone, which Number 6 couldn't be aware of, can surely therefore only exist to keep the audience thinking the 'escape' is real.

When they get to 'London' the Colonel's...

Big Gay Longcat says: It's Kevin Stoney!

The Colonel's debriefing of Number 6 in 'London' is possibly the closest they ever get to him admitting why he resigned. But at that very moment their plan is foiled by the smallest of errors - forgetting the time difference between Poland and England.

"Why did you resign?"
"I resigned because, for a very long time... just... just a minute, it's 8 O'Clock."
The Colonel doesn't realise the significance of this statement - that Number 6 has seen through their plan in that instant - and he tries to carry on.
"That's right - the night is young and there are many questions. First: why did you resign?"

Patrick McGoohan's performance of Number 6's reaction to this is amazing, the way he walks out of the room, out of the building, and says nothing except "Be seeing you" and rejoins the Village. He won't break.

And, of course, Nadia was one of them. Number 6 underestimated the lengths the Village went to to make her performance convincing, but they cannot use a trick like that on him again. So the episode ends as it must - Number 2's plan is defeated and Number 6 is still a prisoner.

Next: A. B. and C.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

The Prisoner Challenge: Arrival

If you watch one episode of The Prisoner, watch this one.
Then you'll want to watch the rest, I'm pretty sure of that.

The Prisoner has gone down into popular culture as an iconic TV series of the 1960s, and many of its distinctive features are familiar even to those that have never seen the show - I know this because I was one of these people until a few years ago.

The first episode, Arrival, displays almost all of these idiosyncratic characteristics - the numbers instead of names, the Portmeirion location, the roaring weather-balloon guard, the costumes, etc. All save one - it only features the first half of the iconic opening title sequence.

There is an extended version of the first half of the titles, showing the resignation and kidnapping of Patrick McGoohan's character, whom I will have to call "Number 6" as he is never given any other name (and calling him "The Prisoner" could be confusing with the name of the show).

In the majority of the other episodes, this sequence is then followed by the famous exchange between Number 6 and Number 2, in which the conflict at the heart of The Prisoner is made clear. There is no place for this sequence in Arrival, because that is what the episode as a whole is for.

It is nine minutes into Arrival before Number 2 introduces himself to the understandably disorientated Number 6, who has found himself transported from the heart of London to a place that could be almost anywhere on Earth. Number 6 heads straight over to "The Green Dome" for a confrontation.

The Green Dome, then and now
(well, 2009, when I took the photo on the right)

The confrontation occurs over breakfast, where the heart of the matter is reached pretty quickly - Number 2 wants to know why Number 6 resigned from his job. Or rather he wants Number 6 to tell him the reason, even though they apparently already have the information in their file.

"I will not make any deals with you. I've resigned. I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered."

By refusing to cooperate here, Number 6 has set the stakes - if he tells them why he resigned, he loses. The Village has secrets of its own - whose side is it on? This being the Cold War era there are a number of obvious candidates, Britain itself among them. Number 6 will win if he can find their secrets out. And escape.

Number 2 acts friendly towards Number 6, trying to win him over perhaps. He shows Number 6 around the Village. It is a stunning use of the Portmeirion location, which really does look like nowhere else.

I think they mess around with the geography of the place, presumably for practical reasons, but it also helps convey the disorientation that Number 6 must be feeling.

Then we get an introduction to 'Rover,' the roaring automaton that is a sort-of 'watchdog' on the Village's inhabitants and was in actual fact a white, spherical weather-balloon. An amazing special effect in both sound and appearance, Rover is as otherworldly as anything in the Village.
And it is also quite terrifying.
"What was that?" asks Number 6.
"That would be telling," is Number 2's enigmatic reply.

Number 6's scene with his maid provides some exposition on the Village, most importantly regarding how difficult it will be for him to escape from it. When he asks "has anyone ever escaped?" she replies:
"Some have tried. They've been brought back... not always alive."

This sounds like a challenge! Almost immediately Number 6 makes his first escape attempt. Making his way out of the Village on foot, he is unaware of the Supervisor keeping him under constant surveillance from their control centre.

All the while the seemingly decorative but sinister statues turn themselves to follow him.

"Yellow Alert" declares the Supervisor, which seems to mean a couple of guys in a car chase Number 6 on the beach. But this just means Number 6 quickly captures the car.

"Orange Alert" brings out Rover. The first escape attempt is swiftly ended, with McGoohan's face stretched, silently screaming, against the white balloon. Another iconic image.

We don't get as far as Red Alert. In fact, we never get to Red Alert in the entire series...

After leaving the hospital Number 6 is dressed in the blazer and outfit that will be his trademark for the rest of the series. He goes straight to see Number 2 and meets a different man from before.
"I have taken his place. I am the new Number 2."
This is the introduction of a concept that will become familiar through the series - the seamless replacement of Number 2 with another person fulfilling the same function. 'Number 2' is an office, a position; its holder can be - and often is - replaced.

This Number 2 calls Number 6 "Number 6" as a name (or at least as an identity) for the first time - previously he had not been identified at all, and '6' could have just referred to his house or 'phone number. Suffice to say, this provokes the following response:
"I am not a number. I am a person."
"Six of one, half-dozen the other," is Number 2's reply.

This only leaves the second escape attempt, with the 'electropass' to the helicopter. This is really just a taste (for the audience as well as Number 6) of the methods used by the Village. The remote control defeats Number 6's attempt very easily, but he will not be so naive and underestimate them like that again.

The episode ends with Number 6 still a prisoner of the Village. This might sound obvious now, but if you compare this ending with Patrick McGoohan's previous series Danger Man, which saw John Drake win through at the end of every episode, it's quite a departure.
I can imagine audiences at the time may even have been surprised that his second escape attempt didn't succeed, given they were coming up to the end of the hour.

Next: The Chimes of Big Ben

The Prisoner Challenge: 17 episodes in 17 weeks

It is now over to Duncan for this year's Challenge - he is watching the TV series The Prisoner over the next 17 weeks at a rate of exactly one episode per week.

It will have lots of spoilers for the story, so be warned if you have not seen it already.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Reinforcements for Longstealer

Longstealer has not had much success in trying to steal my long recently, because Scary Cat has just scared him away.
But now he has friends to help him in stealing my long. Oh noes!