Nor Iron Bars A Cage

I first encountered The Prisoner through my parents’ recollections and repeat billings in the TV Times, in exotic regions like Southern or Westward, I suppose.

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I finally saw one episode as part of an ITV celebration “The Girl Who Was Death”. I had no idea that it was something of a spoof and not indicative of the style of the series.

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I also think it might have inspired the early scenes of The Tides of Time. Later, I was aware that it was an influence on a FF arc in the late 60s and we glimpsed the abortive Kirby project above.

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It wasn’t until the Channel 4 repeats of the early 80s, however, that I saw the majority of episodes in this eccentric, allegorical sci-fi spy thriller.  In the 80s, I read the Thomas Disch novel and of course, I paid some cursory attention to the desert-based remake in 2009. Now Big Finish have released an audio box set, “re-imagining”  the series.

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Departure and Arrival sets the series squarely in 1967, with a bit of back story for No. 6 and his incarceration in the Village.

The Schizoid Man: another tv adaptation as No.6 is cloned and also develops a telepathic link with No 9, who has a melodic Caribbean accent. This version is more overtly sci-fi than the original.

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Your Beautiful Village is a new story and is the most intense of the four episodes as No.6 is traumatised when his senses fall under Number 2’s control.

The Chimes of Big Ben: the third adaptation of a tv episode and one in which No. 6 and Nadia,  a defecting Soviet swimmer, use a Village art competition to stage a (temporary) escape.

I found the series more satisfying than I’d imagined: Mark Elstob mimics McGoohan’s clipped, snarling delivery but imbues the character with more vulnerability. Michael Cochrane’s disturbing jollity makes for a memorable No.2 and the  theme music is a convincingly Sixties arrangement- an Earth-Two version, if you like: similar but not identical. I think this is more successful than the Noughties  tv reboot.

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On my long weekend in Glasgow- made longer by trains diverted to Central Station- I listened to another BF collection: the second Doom Coalition box. The previous quartet of audio plays introduced the Eighth Doctor and glum space medic companion Liv Chenka to 1960s languages scholar, Helen Sinclair. We also met supervillain The Eleven, a Time Lord criminal with a multiple personality.

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Beachhead is a bland Earth Invasion adventure from Nick Briggs, reviving the alien Voord. There’s no callback to Domain of the Voord, which portrayed them as a cult-like society but the female-dominated cast is a pleasant change.

Scenes From Her Life, the most satisfying episode, is basically Gormenghast in Space. A trio of grotesques are carrying out horrible experiments in an unrecognisable Tardis. Their victim is revealed to be the telepath Caleera, Clarice Starling to the Eleven’s Hannibal, and the Doctor enables her to escape.

The Gift is a magical realist Marc Platt tale set during the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. The eponymous gift is a mysterious destructive power which passes from host to host. This episode was more bombastic, given that it involves actors and actor-managers.

The Sonomancer, Matt Fitton’s concluding disc, is also the new identity of the destructive Caleera. Aboriginal people on the volcanic planet Syra are being exploited but Prof. River Song is fighting back.  As in The Diary of River Song box, the Doctor can’t meet his future wife but we have to assume she will play a part in the ultimate showdown.

I found this box set more engaging than its predecessor but I would like more of a sense of where the series is going; there’s really no apparent arc, merely a sense of the episodic. Also, like box one, I found the production values poorer than usual: I struggled to make out some of the dialogue ( McGann murmurs at the best of times!) and the whole thing sounded muffled.

Finally, following up yesterday’s post, here are my top five Doctors, in traditional reverse order:

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5) to my surprise, watching the box set of the second series, I find the austere and unknowable Twelfth Doctor captivating. While I understand that his experiences as a war veteran twice over would have made this Doctor more abrasive, I think the move towards a more playful performance was a wise one.

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4) in my forties I had cooled toward the suave, protective Third Doctor played by the commanding Jon Pertwee. A decade later and his psychedelic adventures, while rather morally simplistic by modern standards, have won me over again.

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3) the image of the freewheeling, unpredictable Fourth Doctor dominated the series for so long- conceivably until the arrival of David Tennant. His era is divided (somewhat unclearly) between the teatime body horror of the mid-70s and the Postgrad playfulness of the later years of the decade. Increasingly,it’s that capriciousness I enjoy now.

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2) the gauche, hyperactive Eleventh Doctor, like his successor, took a long time for me to learn to like. His foibles and quirks disguised the depth of emotion Matt Smith could mine. Now, he is for me, the most endearing of the modern Doctors.

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1) It had to be really. The first Doctor I ever knew: the ambiguous, whimsical performance of Patrick Troughton will always be my Doctor.

Coming soon: Wonder Woman; the Legion; the Infinity Entity

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One comment on “Nor Iron Bars A Cage

  1. Kid Robson says:

    Oh dear, that Kirby Prisoner panel is awful, and ample testament to just how much Jack Kirby’s powers had declined. Number Six’s arms are simply far, far too long.

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