Sunday, 3 October 2010

The Prisoner Challenge: Free For All

So the plot of this one is very simple: Number 2 (played by Eric Portman) persuades Number 6 to run in an election against him. It's a trick.

"Elections... in this place?"

Although it seems obvious that Number 6 is being set up for something, and the entire scene has been carefully stage-managed by Number 2/the Village, Number 6 is visibly taken aback when villagers instantly produce placards with his face and number on them.

This cleverly mirrors the moment at the beginning of the scene when Number 2 appeared instantly at Number 6's door after being challenged to come to him if Number 2 wanted to talk.

Of course the election is a sham, and it becomes clear that every part of it is controlled by Number 2 and the people that run the Village. The journalist that interviews Number 6 gets "no comment" in answer to his questions, but responds by just making up soundbites.

The newspaper is then instantly produced. "No. 6 Speaks His Mind" is the headline. By this point they're not even trying to pretend the election is genuine - they are showing Number 6 the extent of their power and control.

Eventually they brainwash Number 6 into acting like a model candidate, making speeches full of empty rhetoric and that sort of thing, but he recovers. When he throws it off he panics - perhaps realising what he has let himself in for - and goes on the run, steals a speedboat and has to be stopped by Rover.

They brainwash him again and his speeches sound more like the Village party line, basically indistinguishable from the sort of things Number 2 might say. But he is very popular, while Number 2 is not.

The conditioning seems to make him unstable, and he goes in quest of a drink, finding an illicit still where Number 2 is having a real alcoholic drink in secret. But the 'drink' is, to Number 6, just more drugs - enough to take him through to the end of the election.

When Number 6 wins (unanimously) 'For He's A Jolly Good Fellow' plays as the background music as Number 2 takes him up to the Green Dome to hand over power to him.

Number 6 is still drugged and his first action as the boss of the Village is to play with the buttons in the control room, making the electric chairs go up and down for a bit.
That's understandable though, really, isn't it?

Throughout the episode Number 6 has been accompanied in his electioneering by his non-English-speaking maid, Number 58, and she is present in the control room. When Number 6 is entranced by the hypnotic pattern on the wall she snaps him out of it - and the drugged state he's in - by slapping him repeatedly.

Coming to his senses, Number 6 just has time to use the control panel to order the villagers free before heavies arrive to subdue him. Suffice to say, his orders are not carried out. He's not in charge here.

Number 58 has assumed the role of Number 2, and now speaks perfect English. Yes, the whole thing was a trick. Who'd have though it?

I'm not that keen on this episode. Nothing much happens in it that isn't the Village displaying its absolute power and total control to Number 6, all the while making a mockery of the democratic process of free elections.

Perhaps this was a bold statement at the time this was made and first broadcast, but it seems a bit too obvious to me that a dictatorship can control the outcome of an election - and that is the only statement this story is making.

I think it could have been better if Number 6 had not spent most of the episode being drugged into playing his part in proceedings, and if the story had been about him being manipulated every step of the way, his every action - taken with his free will intact - still leading to the outcome they wanted.

But that's just speculation on my part. As it is, I'm not really impressed. The drugging and brainwashing of Number 6 is overused here, and it diminishes the impact of events when they can basically make Number 6 do whatever they like. Other episodes see Number 6 drugged and conditioned, but use it much more effectively.

Next: The Schizoid Man

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