Big Finish Review: The Prisoner Volume 3

Big Finish Review: The Prisoner Volume 3

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 audio adaptation of The Prisoner is written and directed by Nicholas Briggs. Volumes one, two and three are available from the Big Finish website.

This is a review of Volume 3 – for a recap of the major narrative points and character moments of the eight episodes that constitute Volumes 1 and 2, see here. Be wary of spoilers.

Synopsis

Number Six is still trapped in ‘The Village’. Do those who run this place want simply to extract classified information or do they have a darker purpose? Number Six has to believe he will escape. And this time he begins to see a possible way out. But will the price of freedom be too high?

Free For All

Time for an election in the Village. The regime seems to want Six to stand as a candidate to be Number Two. But when Two’s manifesto seems to be based on the notion of freedom, what platform will Six decide to stand upon? And can there ever be freedom in the Village?

The Girl Who Was Death

Six finds himself free again, back in London. But how did he get here? An explosion rocks the city and Six must work out who he can trust. Will it be Control, Danvers, Number 43, Kate, Number Two or Potter?

The Seltzman Connection

Potter and ZM-73 think that if they go back to the beginning of it all, they’ll be able to solve the mystery of the Village. But can Professor Jacob Seltzman really provide all the answers?

No One Will Know

From London, to Kandersfeld to the Village… Will an end to it all ever be possible?

Review

Free For All

The first story of the set picks up where the last left off, by continuing to develop themes of freedom, democracy and choice. There is more than just an attempt to get Six to confess to the reasons behind his resignation – key themes are afoot.

Number Two’s position up for grabs in a democratic election (apparently). As Number Six, who also elects to run, Mark Elstob is marvellous, his every line considered and layered. It is good to hear him play a Number Six who seems in-control of the situation.

A few new faces join the crew, including Lorelei King as Number Two; Number 43 – Number Six’s campaign manager – is played by Genevieve Gaunt; and due to scheduling, Jennifer Healy replaces Helen Goldwyn as the Village Voice, and does an admirable job.

Nicholas Briggs continues to expand the multicultural population of the Village; Number Two is Southern American and Number 43 Russian. This, with a larger ongoing cast than the previous set, presents a broader canvass to work from – the Village feels bigger, more dictatorial.

Free For All is a speedy episode, coming to a head quickly and pushing forward into the rest of the set.

The Girl Who Was Death

Away from the Village this time, Number Six is back in London, Lucy Briggs-Owen’s Kate returns, and it is 1973 apparently, five years since their previous meeting – add Danvers and Control, and everyone’s back. The ensemble cast is on full show here more than ever.

The Girl Who Was Death feels speedier and more lively than previous attempts at London-set story; indeed, this is more action – Parliament Square explodes, a hospital catches fire – but not to the extent that the themes of identity and undisclosed loyalties go unexplored.

Briggs pushes Number Six back from the in-control version of the previous episode to expose the vulnerable and emotional sides of the character. The flashbacks to Number Six as the new Number Two are brief but delicious – you are made to want more of Number Six in charge of the Village.

The ‘Girl’ of the title is “back”, and it is revealed to be Number 43, but her role in the larger story is only clarified retrospectively – specifically, in The Seltzman Connection, which follows on directly from this episode.

The Seltzman Connection

The serialised nature of the third series engrosses and somehow manages to up the stakes further. Seltzman, a name whispered furtively since volume one, is now given significance. Surprisingly, a number of answers are given to the questions being asked – but Six’s ultimate fate is still uncertain.

Six and Potter meet Professor Seltzman in Austria. He philosophises a lot. As strongly hinted at previously, Janet is key to the reasons why Six resigned. It turns out the people behind the Village already knew why he resigned – they simply needed him to admit it.

This third episode leans heavily into a science (fiction) plot, as the intentions behind Six’s presence in the Village are revealed, at least partially. The series definitely feels like it is building to a climax.

Control and Danvers’ married-couple, back-and-forth squabbling is delightfully hilarious. Also, some classic mind-swapping technology is implemented – Six-as-Two and Two-as-Six are fantastic to listen to and is a great setup for the final story.

No One Will Know

It’s difficult to know what the truth is.

The end arrives; it is climactic but also close and intimate. There is humour in addition to a dash of action; the fast pace is countered by an intimate exploration of Six coming to the end of his struggle against the Village.

Elstob excels again. Briggs-Owen’s also gives a fantastic performance as Six – not an impression, but showing enough of an understanding of Elstob’s vocal habits to convince listeners that Six is the one inside.

The plan of Number Two, working in conjunction with Seltzman, comes to fruition, and the showdown between Six and Two (in each other’s bodies) does the job. The ending is highly climactic – with some ambitious steps being taken – and ties the whole series together, although there is always potential for things to change.

Series Conclusion

There is much high-quality material included in each volume, including entertaining and genuinely insightful extended features (such as Nicholas Briggs’ video diaries). These are well worth the listen and just as entertaining as the main event, even more so than behind-the-scenes interviews on other Big Finish releases. Jamie Robertson’s score is energetic, sets the mood as required, and is best played at full volume. Downloadable scripts show an impressive attention to detail in depicting sound design and guiding performances.

The Prisoner, in this third volume, moves beyond simply seeking a confession from Number Six, preferring instead to present multiple psychological conundrums and wrestle with them across four thoroughly baffling yet cogent episodes. The extended delay between releases only served to increase anticipation – and it was worth it, considering the maturity and sophistication of the final product.

Mark Elstob shines as a man put under the microscope. Combined with Nicholas Briggs’ precise writing and express thematic intentions, he leads a star cast through a sequence of inexplicable episodes that never fall shy of being very, very good.

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