Tuesday, 10 December 2013

"I am not a number, I am a free man" - The Prisoner

It wouldn't get on TV networks today. Certainly not at the time it was aired back in '67. It is too progressive, too groundbreaking for its own good and for teatime viewing. For me though it is far more than a teenage boy's memory burnished to nostalgia; it was and remains one of the best TV show I have seen.

I used to start feeling excited around about the Thursday prior to the weekend. Doctor Who was on Saturday, in those days Patrick Troughton played the part of the time-travelling Gallifreyan. The Man from U.N.C.L.E was good as was Mission Impossible. Not sure if they were weekend shows or not.  The Monkees certainly were as was Captain Scarlet. There then followed a heap of junk. Sunday evening came alive around about seven thirty as I recall. Drums rolled, brass blew and the fun started.

I was captivated when it first came on and remained so throughout its modest run. It felt right for the time it was created in but seems somehow to have lived well beyond those hallucinatory days.The whole thing with surrealism is that it fits neatly into any time.

Having watched the Danger Man series that preceded it and which also starred Patrick McGoohan, I wanted to believe and still do, that John Drake and Number Six are one and the same man. This vague allusion was often repeated. Drake having resigned from a secret government department is then drugged and shipped out to the village. He tries to escape again and again but is forever foiled. Prevented by those terrifying bubbles or betrayed by some village spy.

For me, it shows with alarming clarity just how we all are part of some hideous self-made machine that no matter how we, as free individuals, try can ever leave or get off the wheel. It spins and turns and we must, for fear of falling off, keep madly running. It isn't that the machine we have made and which runs everything is totally bad. It is the lack of alternatives that is the scary thing. If we were able to get off how would we cope? What would we do? It is a classic case of fear of flying. Far better the devil we know than the one we don't. This feeling is not confined to England, it is shared throughout the world and in many other G8 countries.

Set within the village where all is catered for. There is no fear of anything unless it is the fear of the truth. All needs are fed; all worries dispelled. You have your appointed place in village society. You have your number and as long as you remember that and forget who you are everything is hunky dory. Food, sex, love, religion all there for you and at your merest whim. There is nothing you cannot have apart from freedom.

The disenfranchised feeling you get is further enforced by use of there being pristine, perfect hedges, borders and homes. All looks hygienic, precise and constantly in a state of being cleaned. It is the village of remorseless perfection that is monitored by camera's set on street corner signposts, on rooftops and in your homes. It is Orwell's vision of 1984 buffed and polished until it gleams. It is a village in a constant state of alert as white bubble balloons, bigger than a man, circuit the periphery perpetually  patrolling the beach. You cannot leave but then again why would you want to?

From September 1967 until February 1968 the series rolled on spinning weekly stories that featured Number six forever trying to escape, constantly spying on village life and always attempting to subvert villagers. He never discovers, any more then we the audience do, who the village works for. Is it 'us' or 'them.' A clear case of individuality (Ayn Rand eat your heart out) over collectivism. Those closing scenes in the final episode still haunt me. Number Six tearing up the stairs in pursuit of Number One - the thus far faceless controller who, as Number Six catches him turns out to be himself. 

Was Number Six, in fact, Number One? Surely not? 

It is all rather confused in my mind now. Time has not dimmed the vague uneasiness I felt then, it has increased it and along with that feeling the myth has grown large in my mind.

I missed the one and only re-run that was shown some years ago. ! saw bits of the show but not the end so my memory is that of a thirteen-year-old. I recall and having researched this from Wikipedia, a deal of gunfire, a man in a monkey mask who turns out to have Number six's face. Escape and arrival in London with the inference being a close proximity to the village. Then the self-same butler we had seen earlier walking through the front door with a number 1 affixed to it.  Confused? I was. Ideally, I would like to see the whole series again. Amazon perhaps or better still the local HMV store. Well, Yuletide is fast approaching.

If Kafka had lived to make films or indeed TV programmes, and even if he hadn't, I think he would have enjoyed this tiny masterpiece.

Russell is number nine, number nine, number nine


Gretyll Hus said...

It was a great show, never could be duplicated. It's hard to find television that cerebral.

Russell Norman Murray said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Russell Norman Murray said...

'Was Number Six in fact Number One? Surely not?'

My Dad used to watch this when I was pretty small.

Never viewed the last episode until You Tube. Very bizarre show, but provides some things to think about philosophically. Led by a fine actor.

Have a good week, Russell...

LeeKwo said...

Fascinating review of program I dont think we got out here/What was it called?/Regards Lee Kwo

Russell Duffy said...

The Prisoner

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