A secret agent resigns, then wakes up to find himself imprisoned in ‘The Village’ — a bizarre community with a cheery veneer, but an underbelly of mystery and threat. All occupants of The Village have numbers instead of names, with our secret agent forced to accept the mantle of Number Six.
The authorities running this Village are intent on discovering why Number Six resigned — but it’s a secret he steadfastly refuses to divulge. As the drama unfolds, the authorities, in the guise of the sinister Number Two, try ever more ingenious and aggressive means to bend Number Six to their will. All the while, Number Six is intent on two aims: to escape and to find out ‘Who is Number One?’.
Patrick McGoohan’s cult television classic The Prisoner has been reimagined by Big Finish’s Nicholas Briggs as a series of audio dramas. Each set contains three adaptations plus one original episode. The series is still set in 1967, but the Village is now truly futuristic, incorporating such things as tablets (“Am I expected to swallow it?”) and online bill pay at the Village store. The episode-to-episode continuity is also a little tighter than it was originally, such as certain characters being combined into one and certain “Number Twos” being in consecutive episodes. My assumption regarding this thread is that those reading it are familiar with the television show but not the audios. I will try to avoid specific spoilers for the audios, but the twists and endings of the television episodes are fair game. You have been warned. Here’s a look at what’s ahead.
1.1. Departure and Arrival
1.2. The Schizoid Man
1.3. Your Beautiful Village
1.4. The Chimes of Big Ben
2.1. I Met a Man Today
2.2. Project Six
2.3. Hammer into Anvil
2.4. Living in Harmony
DEPARTURE AND ARRIVAL (adapted from the TV episode “Arrival”):
“A failed meeting in Belgium catalyzes Agent ZM-73 to resign from his top secret post, but when he wakes the following morning everything has changed — even his name. Trapped in a bizarre coastal village, and with his every move monitored by the mysterious Number Two, the man now known as Number Six struggles to make sense of it all."
The first episode of the TV series began with an extended version of what would become the show’s opening throughout the rest of its run: the soon-to-be Number Six angrily resigns from his job, then goes home to his London flat to pack his bags for a tropical trip. He is gassed, and when he awakens he is in a replica of his room which he soon discovers is in a mysterious village. The main difference between “Departure and Arrival” and the TV episode upon which it is based is that it backs up a bit to show some of ZM-73’s life before he resigned. This allows for the introduction of characters (Danvers, Thorpe, Cobb, Janet) who were originally introduced in later episodes on TV.
Big Finish’s adaptation of The Prisoner is overseen by Nicholas Briggs, who writes/adapts and directs every episode. (He is almost as big a fan of The Prisoner as he is of Doctor Who.) Mark Elstob, who plays Number Six, sounds remarkably like Patrick McGoohan on audio. I should warn you that apparently Big Finish was unable to secure the rights to the soundtrack of the original TV show. Not to worry, however; the music recorded for this production is full of percussion, muted trumpets and lower brass, punctuated by thunder.
In my initial post I mentioned some of the “futuristic” technology incorporated into this series. On TV, the fact that the electrician in the first episode looks exactly like the gardener (who Number Six bumps into immediately after leaving the other) is a mere oddity, but in this version, such duplicates (including the woman whose overly-cheery voice is heard over the Village’s PA system) are expressly stated to be clones.
The female leads from the TV versions of this and the next two stories are combined into one character, Number Nine played by Sara Powell. She plays the role affecting a Jamaican accent. The audience knows she is just as much a victim of the Village as Number Six, but he does not.
Beyond that, the story plays out much as “Arrival” did on TV.
Looking forward to your summaries of the audio series especially the finale. When the TV show originally ran as a summer replacement in 1968, I was there faithfully watching every episode... except for the finale. I saw Part 1, but for reasons lost in time, I missed the second part which supposedly explained all that had happened and why. It was many years later when a local station ran the series and I finally saw the final episode. If I recall correctly it still left the viewer to fill in the blanks as to who and why Number Six had been run through the ringer.
Thanks for commenting, Kevin.
Regarding “Fallout” (the title of the TV series’ finale), I don’t know whether Big Finish plans to adapt it or not. The TV series ran for 17 episodes, but should it prove popular, the audio series may last well beyond that. Nicholas Briggs has said that plans for future sets are to follow the pattern of the first two, i.e., one original story and three adaptations. Given that the first set was released January 2016 and the second set was released August 2017, at that rate, even if the intention is to go no further than the end of the TV series, it’s likely to be several years before they get to that point.
Having said that, though, you won’t have long to wait for Big Finish to address what might have happened in “Fallout”. The Dean Motter comic book sequel series (1988) postulates that “the man who would not break simply broke.” Commander Benson once put forth the possibility that Number Six himself is Number One. I will discuss this in more depth next Wednesday (September 27) when I get to “Project Six.”
Be seeing you!
THE SCHIZOID MAN (adapted from the TV episode of the same title):
“Six finds himself fascinated by a strange bond which has suddenly developed between himself and Number Nine. But the next morning, Six wakes to find himself changed. A moustache, different hair, and… a new name. Number Twelve.”
In the TV version, Number Six has suddenly developed this affinity with a female prisoner we had never seen before and would never see again. By folding this role into Number Nine, the premise is easier to buy. The technology is updated a bit, too. Originally, “Number Twelve” was surgically altered duplicate; here he is a clone. As McGoohan did on TV, so too does Mark Elstob play both roles. On audio especially one might expect to find that confusing, but the performance and direction are so spot on that which character is speaking at any given time is never in doubt.
YOUR BEAUTIFUL VILLAGE:
“Something is very wrong, as Six experiences the most disturbing sense deprivation. Almost complete darkness, filled with haunting sounds, fragments of conversations, and a desperate call from Nine start to test his reason.”
“Your Beautiful Village” is this set’s original story, and one perfectly suited to audio. Whereas one might expect some of the TV episodes would be difficult to translate to audio only, this is one would be difficult to imagine how it might be filmed it on video. As the story opens, Number Six awakens to total darkness. It’s not that he is blind, it’s as if the entire Village has been cast into darkness. But not only that, there are no sounds, either. Or at least the sounds he hears are very selective. When he opens the door he cannot hear anyone else in walking about or the gulls which should be flying overhead. He can, hover, hear the phone.
He speaks to Number Nine and Number Two. Although he still doesn’t completely trust her, he and Number Two try to find their way to each other to determine what’s going on. His communication with Number Two develops into a plea (to Number Six) for help, as if some sort of experiment has somehow gone terribly out of control. From time to time Number Six hears snatches of daily Village life, but at other times he cannot hear his own voice.
Number Nine apparently dies in this one. I say “apparently” because… but, no.
“That would be telling.”
"Information. INFORMATION. INFORMATION."
"You won't get it."
Jeff of Earth-J said:
"You won't get it."
"By hook or by crook...we will."
"I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered! My life is my own."
THE CHIMES OF BIG BEN (adapted from the TV episode of the same title):
“A new prisoner arrives in The Village. The woman is strong-minded, independent, and refuses to accept her new number - Eight. She is not a number, she is Nadia. And Six is convinced that she is his ticket out of The Village.”
As with “The Schizoid Man,” the technology for “The Chimes of Big Ben” has been updated somewhat. Number Six doesn’t quite make it to London (this time), but whereas his trip was faked by elaborate sets and special effects (mechanical and otherwise) on the TV version, this hoax is perpetrated by what I interpreted to be Star Trek-like “holodeck” technology.
Incidentally, just because an episode ended a certain way or had a certain twist on television does not necessarily mean the same will apply to the audio… at least, I never assume that it does.
There was a Dark Shadows audio a couple of years ago titled “Beneath the Veil” which featured a couple of young English serial killer aficionados, Alfie Chapman and Emma Finney, who thought everything was such a bloody laugh. Their performance was marred by their complete inability to laugh convincingly. The reason I bring it up here is because the actress who plays Nadia/Number Eight has such a natural laugh when she’s flirting with “Big Ben” that I truly wanted to believe she was who she said she was. Was she really?
“That would be telling.”
I MET A MAN TODAY (adapted from the TV episode “Many Happy Returns”):
“Exhausted after a daring escape from the Village, Six returns to London to find a woman living in his home. Despite being fearful that this could be yet another trick by those who run the Village, he dares to take the risk and starts to get to know her… Meanwhile, those running British Intelligence have their own agenda.”
Let me say up front that “Many Happy Returns” is probably my favorite of the television episodes. I’m afraid I’m going to have to spoil both the television and the audio versions in order to discuss it at all, though, so… SPOILERS. First, here’s what the writer/director has to say about it.
NICHOLAS BRIGGS on “I Met a Man Today”:
“This is the episode that so many people cited as impossible to adapt for audio. So, at first, that just seemed like too much of a challenge to ignore, particularly as I’m always saying that anything if possible with audio drama. But then, it also occurred to me what a perfect beginning to the ‘second series’ this would be, especially since I’d decided to start the narrative a lot later in the story, when Number Six had already arrived in London. With The Prisoner I’m keen to wrong-foot the audience, and opening with him already in London seemed the ideal thing to do in that respect.
“Recording of this episode was a slightly confusing experience, because, for reasons of cast availability, we recorded this one second—with Project Six being first in front of the microphones. So Lucy Briggs-Owen had the opportunity to be the particularly nasty Number Two before she played the far less nasty Kate Butterworth. My intention here was again to turn expectations on their head. In ‘Many Happy Returns’, there’s a kind of sinister quality about ‘Mrs. Butterworth’ even when she’s being kind. But in this version, I wanted our ‘Kate’ to be completely credible as a nice person, even more confused and caught up in this than Number Six himself.”
Back in 2002, Carl Amari acquired the rights to adapt The Twilight Zone for radio with Stacy Keach as host. I bring that up here because many, many of those original TV episodes had a visual twist. I would listen to those episodes with the express intention of paying attention to how those twists were “translated” into audio only, but I usually ended up becoming so caught up in the story that I forgot to do so. The reason “so many people cited [“Many Happy Returns”] as impossible to adapt for audio is because much of it is silent. By choosing “to start the narrative a lot later in the story” and having Number Six relate his experiences, Nicholas Briggs cleverly solves that problem.
If you’ve read Nicholas Briggs’ remarks above, you know that Mrs. Butterworth is Number Two, just as she was on TV. That’s the last we see of this particular Two on TV, but one of the (many) differences between “Many Happy Returns” and “I Met a Man Today” is that this same Number Two continues into the next story. You may have already gathered from Briggs’ remarks that Lucy Briggs-Owen is absolutely brilliant in “both” roles. She is so charming as Mrs. Butterworth that, after hearing her performance in the next episode, one can only conclude that this Number Two is a complete psychopath.
PROJECT SIX: (adapted from the TV episode “A, B and C”):
“Six is now certain he can’t trust anyone. Any food or water in the Village could be laced with chemicals to alter his mental state. Going ‘nil by mouth’ in an attempt to prevent potential drugging, he finds himself dazed and confused by hunger and dehydration. And a prisoner in a secret laboratory makes some unnerving claims. Claims that lead to the identity of Number One.”
NICHOLAS BRIGGS on “Project Six”:
“This episode was recorded first because of the availability of Sarah Mowat who plays Janet, the lady we heard Number Six having a meeting with just before he famously resigned, in the first series.
“I wanted to take the central idea of the original ‘A, B and C’ — of there being three fictional scenarios in which Number Six was involved — but to turn that around a little. The idea here is that we’re not sure whose fictional scenarios they are. And given that one of the central concerns of Number Six, the audience and the series is the question of ‘Where am I?’, I wanted each of the scenarios to, in some way, try to answer that question.
“What this version has in common with the original is Number Six’s grasping to keep control of his sanity. But how he grasps, exactly what he’s grasping for, and what he really discovers, are all quite a departure. And given that Number Two’s presentation of a cake to Number Six at the end of ‘I Met a Man Today’ raised the obvious questions of ‘Couldn’t this be drugged? And if it is, why isn’t anything or everything else in the Village drugged?’… Well, there were certainly all sorts of questions to deal with about what is real and what is not. Cue Number Six being subjected to all sorts of angst again!”
“Project Six” is quite different from “A, B and C,” the TV episode upon which it is based. For one thing, Janet is real (at least I think she is), and we learn much more about her relationship with Number Six (at least I think we do) than we did on TV. “A” in this version is Janet; “B” is the mission in Belgium (see “Departure and Arrival”); “C” is the escape attempt. Janet is also a secret agent, which I don’t think she was on TV. When she tells Six of her plan to escape, it is the exact same plan as Nadia’s from “The Chimes of Big Ben.” How could she not be working for the Village given that plan? On the other hand, if she were working for the Village, why would she put forward such an obvious giveaway? What if she was somehow receiving mental impressions directly from Six’s mind? And if so, what can they do to turn the tables?
The end of the episode is very much like the end of “Fallout,” the controversial last episode of the TV series in which Number Six… what? Cracks up? Goes insane? Did you notice that the above summary of “Project Six” mentioned “claims that lead to the identity of Number One”? There is a fan theory that Number One actually is Number Six. That’s certainly what the end of this episode seems to suggest. But we’re only two episodes in to the second set on new stories. Can Nicholas Briggs be letting the cat out of the bag so soon? Will the series continue beyond this set? At this point, I wouldn’t rule anything out. As with so many stories in this revival, one episode leads into the next.