The Prisoner: Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darling

"Tomorrow, you will wake up a new man."

This is very much an atypical Prisoner episode. It had an unusual beginning, very little taking place in the Village, and a serious absence of Patrick McGoohan, which I most certainly did not like. Basically, the hero of the piece was Professor Seltzman, who saved Six from eternal imprisonment in someone else's body while stealing another man's. I sort of felt a bit sorry for the Colonel, who came out of it with a raw deal. Okay, dead.

Although they were very careful not to reveal Six's real name, we got some unexpected and uncharacteristic personal information. Engaged to the boss's daughter? That doesn't sound like the individualistic, James Bondian Number Six that we know and love. From that sweet scene in the garden, it appeared to be a sincere connection, too.

At least it was an out and out science fiction plot, although the mind transfer device looked like it came out of a B movie from the fifties. And the twist at the end -- Professor Seltzman stealing the Colonel's body and waltzing off, scott free, was somewhat cool.

The real problem with it was the Colonel as Number Six. He just didn't seem Six-like to me. Patrick McGoohan was a charismatic actor with a lot of presence. If they'd found a stronger actor who could have mimicked McGoohan's voice patterns and physical mannerisms, it would have been a lot easier to take and might even have been cool. It didn't even need to be someone younger, although they might have made the fight scene more believable. (Sorry about that, Nigel Stock.) I also thought Six took the theft of his own body a bit too calmly, smashed mirror or no smashed mirror. If I were a James Bond type of guy and woke up looking like M, I think I'd be a bit angrier and more freaked than he was.

I was also thinking that Seltzman might have been the reason why Six resigned and his location was what they were trying to get out of Six. But that ship has sailed, so I guess not.

Ben P Duck Number Five says...

Number 31: Two men walk into a bar.
Number Two: What?
Number 31: It's the sort of thing that Number Five would say.
Number Two: Wait, don't you have Number Five's brain right now?
Number 31: Do I? I don't think so.
Number Two: Well, I certainly don't have it.
Number Five: I haven't seen it in years.

Since Patrick McGoohan was pretty much completely absent from this episode, what better time than to reflect on this actor/director/writer (which is particularly appropriate since he was off filming Ice Station Zebra as the episode was shot).

I think the interesting thing about McGoohan were the many roads not taken. He was a big name when he made The Prisoner and his rise among actors of his generation continued for some years thereafter, but a few decisions he made have left him in relative obscurity compared to many of his peers. Probably the critical one is when he passed on the role of James Bond in Dr. No, the original Sean Connery Bond film. You make decisions in the present and nothing is a sure thing (just ask Ryan Reynolds about Green Lantern or Elizabeth Berkley about Showgirls), but one has to wonder where this would have taken the series and the actor.

At the other end of his career, he was apparently an early choice to play both Gandalf and Professor Dumbledore in the movie adaptations of those beloved books (proof that his fame in Britain and the Commonwealth was more enduring than in the U.S.). By that point, he had largely retired from acting, which since he had already been doing it for fifty years, seems fair enough. Still, here are two more iconic roles that would have made him a household name for another couple of generations unrealized. Instead, he had a solid Emmy-winning career long associated with his early spy thrillers, the detective series Columbo and (of course) The Prisoner. Late in his career, he played Edward Longshanks in Braveheart, who was one of the truly great movie villains of the 1990s, but it's more a trivia question than a calling card that he was in the role. He chose to make The Prisoner at the only moment in his career when he had the juice to pull off something so crazy, silly and commercially unviable. I am not sorry we got Connery as Bond or McKellen as Gandalf, but I do wonder what crazy half-developed ideas, scripts and projects McGoohan might have been bouncing around for years but which he wasn't quite important enough to pull off.

Back to Billie for bits and pieces:

-- The opening sequence began with the spy stuff in Sir Charles' office instead of the usual, and there was different music and no opening dialogue. We also got a lot of tooling around London and bits of Europe in a back viewscreen behind Six's Lotus.

-- Six has been gone for a year, exactly.

-- Sir Charles and his daughter Janet actually got a last name: Portland.

-- Although we didn't get Six's real name, we did get two of his aliases: Duval and Schmitt, and his code name: Zed M 73.

-- Every organization should have an "Amnesia Room." :) And an open elevator. That elevator was cool. I want one.

-- This episode's Number Two had very little screen time, perhaps because he wearing one of the most appallingly bad wigs I've ever seen on television. I can hear the director saying, no no no, back that up, can we give his lines to someone else?

-- Sir Charles: (referring to a photograph) "What's number six?" Man: "Hopelessly overexposed."

-- Austrian waiter: "Welcome to the village, sir."

Disappointing, and definitely my least favorite Prisoner episode. One out of four smashed mirrors,

Billie
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Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.

1 comment:

Mark said...

The Companion has notes that add to what Ben said, that McGoohan was busy filming Ice Station Zebra. The original production schedule was for two sessions of 13 episodes each. This was compressed to one session of 17 episodes, but that caused scheduling conflicts with production personnel and McGoohan.

- "The episode we see, however, is not the episode as first conceived. When McGoohan returned from Hollywood, he was reportedly quite upset; he shot new scenes and reedited the entire episode."

- "This is the only episode that has any affectionate embrace between Number Six and a woman. Number Six's mind is in another body, so Patrick McGoohan was not directly involved in the love scene. It has been mentioned by at least one co-star that McGoohan had a problem with physical intimacy on the set. Perhaps that's why most of the love scenes were written out of other scripts (both "The Chimes of Big Ben" and "Many Happy Returns" originally called for at least one "kissing" scene). McGoohan has defended his editing of such scenes to ensure that the series be good, wholesome, family entertainment."