The Prisoner is considerably different from the Doctor Who-dominated output from Big Finish. Psychological and inexplicable, the series is intensely thematic while been driven forward by an array of powerful performances, most prominently by Mark Elstob as Number Six.
This article will recap the major narrative points and character moments of the first eight episodes –the newly-released Volume 3 will be given a deeper treatment in our upcoming review.
‘I’m not a number. I’m a free man!’
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.
Departure and Arrival – The one that starts it all. An engrossing and perplexing opening episode. The premise of the series – a secret agent resigns, is imprisoned in a village – is set up effectively, but little else is clarified. More questions asked than answers given. Mark Elstob entertains and engrosses from the start.
The Schizoid Man – The one with two Number Sixes. Continues to deflect and postpone answers. Mind games and unknown loyalties galore. Celia Imrie provides probably the most gleefully malicious Number Two of the first series. Again, Elstob impresses, this time in a dual role. Things are getting complicated, but still thoughtful and depicted confidently.
Your Beautiful Village – The one where Six goes blind. Brings an aural intimacy and danger to Six’s stay in the Village. Furthers themes of perception and individuality. The ‘hook’ of the episode clearly done to capitalise upon being presented on audio – and it’s worth it. Very exact and demanding requirements for sound designer. The limited four-person cast captivates for the full hour.
The Chimes of Big Ben – The one where Six escapes. The feature length runtime allows for a deeper, steadier exploration of theme and character. Michael Cochrane co-stars as a sleezy Number Two with a truly maniacal laugh. Features some appeasing narrative book-ending with Six’s meeting a new arrival in the Village – but there are twists in the tale.
Summary – Volume 1 is a highly engaging and perplexing start to the series – with a multitude of questions but minimal answers – but in the best possible way. The rationale for the stories is clear – Six’s reason for resigning is the information being sought. There are four distinct and entertaining versions of Number Two and one very impressive Six. The series’ intentions are elusive and concealed, without making the drama unclear or convoluted.
I Met a Man Today – The one where Six is back in London. Shows off a couple of precise, delicate and nuanced performances from Elstob and Lucy Briggs-Owen as Kate. There is a different tone to this episode – it is purely a character piece, with emotional undertones and psychological ramifications. The minimal score for much of the story helps here. Themes of stories, secrets, confessions, truth and lies – that at least is no different from normal.
Project Six – The one where Six hallucinates. Explores his relationship with fiancé Janet further. Briggs-Owen’s character – Number Two – is a complete reversal from the previous episode’s. The shortest episode so far, and the smallest main cast (of four) make it the most contained, coherent and focused.
Hammer into Anvil – The one where a Village Clone develops feelings. The new Number Two, played with delight by John Heffernan, is a sadistic psychopath who sets out to break Six. Six develops a quasi-relationship with Number 26 and turns the tables on Number Two – refreshing to see a more confident, in-control Six. Helen Goldwyn here, as ever, to be commended for an exceptional ubiquitous Village Voice.
Living in Harmony – The one set on a moonbase. Closes the second series off with a trip to space. Number Two is Russian now. Little Village action, but a returning Sara Powell as Number Nine(-ty) confounds Six’s sense of reality. Themes of cooperation, freedom and individuality. Sets up a lot for succeeding instalments that is not explained yet. Major take-aways: appearances are deceiving; people change.
Summary – Volume 2 continues to confound, perplex and provide few clear or conventional answers. This lack of definitiveness leaves it up to individual listener interpretation, which is great – but it can get a little confusing for the uninitiated. Still, a talented cast led by Mark Elstob propels the engrossing drama, and the theme tune remixes keep things interesting. Although often aloof and abrupt, Elstob’s Number Six is vulnerable and emotionally accessible enough to have listeners rooting for him, hoping he eventually achieves a happy ending.
Join us tomorrow for our review of The Prisoner Volume 3.
Comic review: Omni-Visibilis by Trondheim and Bonhomme
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