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
Sarah Mowat's name sounded familiar, and then I remembered that she's in rather a lot of "The Sirens of Time", the Fifth/Sixth/Seventh Doctor crossover story.
Sarah Mowat is a Big Finish regular and has appeared in 31 different releases (mostly in the "Dalek Empire" series).
HAMMER INTO ANVIL (adapted from the TV episode of the same title):
“For the new Number Two ‘the gloves are off’. His mission is to break Six, saying he must be either hammer or anvil. But Six has a plan to exploit a weakness in the system.”
NICHOLAS BRIGGS on “Hammer into Anvil”:
“Sometimes I think the original ‘Hammer into Anvil’ is my favorite episode of The Prisoner. It’s so clear-cut and far less ambiguous than some of the others. Hence the fact that I really liked it when I first saw it when I was a teenager. But given all the ongoing story developments I’ve made in this new audio re-imagining of the series, having a Number Two driven to the point of insanity by Number Six presents some problems.
“What helped me to overcome them was to link this to the final confusions of ‘Project Six’ and delve even further into the question of ‘What is reality anyway?’.
“The episode also gave me the opportunity to create two great characters. Making Number 26, the woman in the control room, a pivotal part of this was a choice inspired partly by the desire to make the focus of Two’s paranoia related to a particular relationship Six was apparently having, but mostly inspired by my desire to give Helen Goldwyn a role worthy of her abilities. Helen really rise to the challenge here, with spectacular results.
“Also spectacular is John Heffernan as Number Two. Having never seen Patrick Cargill’s superb original, John was able to craft something entirely different without any paranoid feelings of his own. Where Cargil’s irrationality was visible from the start, John opts for something far more slow burning. But be warned, the explosion does eventually happen!”
This episode continues directly from “Project Six” and directly into “Living in Harmony”. Number Six may not be convinced that he himself in Number One, but Number Two certainly is.
Given that, on TV, episodes were not broadcast in the same order in which they were filmed, there is some debate as to which order they occur. As I’ve already pointed out, that is definitely not the case with the audio series. There is much tighter episode-to-episode continuity in this series, and the “twist” of “A, B and C” is not revealed until “Hammer into Anvil.”
Another difference: on TV, the actor who played Thorpe on “Many Happy Returns” later turned up as one of the Number Twos. Number Six did not make a point of this, and I do not believe the characters were intended to be the same person. The Number Two in the audio version of “Hammer into Anvil”, however, most definitely is Thorpe from “I Met a Man Today”.
The television episode included the Goethe quote, “Du must ambose oder hammer sein” (“You must be anvil or hammer”), and this adaptation does, too. Bizet’s L’Arlésiene is an integral part of the plot on TV, but a different piece of music is used here. Missing from the audio adaptation is the same of “kosho” (which Patrick Mcgoohan invented for the original), involving two trampolines and a tank of water.
By the end of this episode, Number Two has resigned and Number Six is still not certain whether or not he is really Number One. He walks over to the Green Dome to see if a new Number Two is there, but when he steps inside he finds himself in the cockpit of a space capsule, which promptly blasts off!
LIVING IN HARMONY (not adapted from the TV episode of the same title)
“Six finds himself in entirely unfamiliar circumstances. He is also confronted with the seemingly impossible return of Number Nine. But worst of all, he is faced with a deadly choice. Just how much is his freedom really worth?”
The reason I said that Number Nine “apparently” dies in “Your Beautiful Village” is that in this one she “apparently” comes back.
NICHOLAS BRIGGS on “Living in Harmony”:
“By far the clearest message I received from listeners of the first series of our audio re-imagining of The Prisoner was that they wanted more completely original episodes. I have to confess that this surprised me — but it was a nice surprise.
“Since my adaptations are very loose and often very different from the original TV episodes, I wasn’t too concerned about increasing the number of ‘new’ episodes — and here I found myself clutching hold of a title from the TV series, but constructing a story that is completely different.
“As you’ll know, the ‘Living in Harmony’ made in the ‘60s was all about Number Six finding himself in a drug-induced replica of a western frontier town, complete with cowboy outfits, six-shooters and saloon. This version exploits another genre which flourished in the 1960s… it’s a ‘Space Age’ story. It somehow seemed in keeping with a series set in that decade and feels like the kind of thing they might have done had the series lasted longer. But maybe that is me just fantasizing!
“Perhaps most exciting of all was the opportunity to bring Sara Powell back, who had been so brilliant in the first series. It felt like she’d never left us.”
As soon as the rocket breaks free of Earth’s gravitational pull and Number Six becomes weightless, Johan Strauss’s On the Beautiful Blue Danube begins playing in the background, immediately calling to mind images of Stanley Kubrik’s 2001: A Space Odessey. He soon discovers another occupant of the space capsule, Number Nine, except she claims not to know him and identifies herself as Number Ninety. The capsule soon lands on the Moon and the prisoners are surprised to discover that whoever runs “The Village” has a facility on the Moon as well. The (female) Number Two in charge of the moon base is Russian, calling to mind the cold war and the space race.
This facility has families and children living in it, and the base is protected from damage from random meteors by a force screen, which also serves the purpose of preventing anything, or anyone, else from entering or leaving. Number Six and Number Ninety settle into a routine and are rotated among various assignments in the weeks to come. Eventually they decide upon a plan: to disable the force screen just prior to the next meteor storm in the hope that they will be able to steal a shuttle and escape in the confusion while the screen is down.
When they discover that the meteor storm will not only destroy the base and everyone living there including the children, but also cause a feedback loop destroying the Village and everyone in it as well, how does this affect their plan? I’d like to leave it at that, but I really want to discuss the end of the story (and this set), so the next paragraph is governed by the following…
Number Ninety and Number Six agree to go ahead with the plan despite the mass casualties it would cause. At the critical moment, Number Ninety realizes the force screen is still up and Number Six reveals that he was not willing to gain his freedom at the cost of all those lives. (I’m going to leave the secret of “Who is Number Nine/Ninety?” open.) Their capsule is guided back to the Village, and this set is left hanging on the question of whether or not Number Six is becoming loyal to the Village.
I should point out that by now we know that Number Six quite definitely is not Number One. On the interview disc accompanying this set, Nicholas Briggs said that he wanted to put that particular theory on the table, address it, then dismiss it. Briggs knows who’s running the Village, the purpose behind it and who Number One is, but it’s not Number Six. When he started to reveal the secret behind the Village, the sound of “Rover” drowned him out and he was apparently consumed.
Your thread prompted me to do a bit of research on the original TV series. According to one fan site Patrick McGoohan had to literally get out of town after the final episode aired. Upset fans went to his house to berate him over the ambiguous ending to the series. He moved to the US to escape the attention.
The show premiered 50 years ago today.
It is a complete coincidence that I'm wrapping up this discussion on the 50th anniversary!
Here is a link to NPR's coverage.
Nicholas Briggs has said he wants to do one or possibly two more sets.
Marl Elstob said he would like to do five total so he can say he's done more episodes than Patrick McGoohan.