What to make of Fall Out. Its radical abandonment of traditional narrative structure and refusal to offer neat conclusions or some overarching explicatory rationale to round things off annoyed the hell out of many viewers. It resembled some of the science fiction being published in New Worlds magazine at the time under the tutelage of Michael Moorcock and his merry band of rebels, taking generic conventions and inverting them, cutting them up and rearranging them in new and kaleidoscopic configurations. Inner space was the new destination, the controls set for the heart of the collective unconscious, cruising above the media landscape and confronting the spectres of modernist alienation rather than the aliens of outer space fiction. There’s something of the playfully revolutionary jouissance of the Jerry Cornelius stories, written by Moorcock and other hands and featuring the Harlequinesque anti-hero who was something of a New Worlds house character, to the seemingly chaotic free for all of this grand folly of a finale. Entirely apposite, then, that the novelisation of The Prisoner, published in 1969, was written by a stalwart of the New Worlds scene, Thomas Disch. His own highly cerebral, witty, absurdist novel Camp Concentration, serialised in New Worlds in 1967 and published in 1968, had a definite air of The Prisoner about it.
Mal Dean's depiction of Jerry Cornelius in New WorldsThe title itself could be interpreted in any number of ways, and hints at the way language itself is toyed with, dissected and punningly reassembled to probe new meanings, in the last two episodes. It could indicate the radioactive devastation of nuclear fallout; or it could be a falling out of love, something which the general public certainly experienced in the wake of the final episode; a falling out of favour; the tumbling out of some environment or vehicle; or the outcome or after effect of some momentous event. So the very choice of title breathes ambiguity and a multiple set of possible meanings. Nothing is fixed, everything is open and fluid, inviting a personal response, a direct and active engagement. It’s really the perfect form with which to finish the series. The viewer is not directed, there is no imposed message; Merely a succession of suggestive pointers, symbols, archetypes and associative triggers which invite the viewer to make their own connections, to unspool their own thread through the labyrinth. It’s a free improvisation, written in a burst of intense and fevered creativity by Patrick McGoohan, the structure forming in its own arc of burning creation; A Pink Floyd UFO Club freak out or Coltrane Ayler blast, communing with the divine fire or with some inner core of self-immolating spirit. In keeping with this spirit, I will follow the freeform line wheresoever it might lead me, allowing it to spark whatever connections and flaring associations light up my brain. Tune in, turn on, fall out.
A funereal organ plays as we are guided through a recap of the previous episode, this singular ‘previously on…’ convention introduced to make the continuity between Once Upon A Time and Fall Out apparent. The ‘till death do us part’ zero sum game is condensed into a couple of highly charged minutes, the seven ages of man played out briefly on the notional stage, stripped of all but significant or emotionally resonant props. A spare setting for the psychodramatic duel played out in the arena of inner space. Such staging would be taken to its ultimate filmic conclusion in Lars Von Trier’s Dogville, houses and streets delineated by lines drawn on bare boards. The influence of the theatre of the absurd seems apparent here, of playwrights like Eugene Ionesco, Harold Pinter and Samuel Beckett. Minimal props (two dustbins, a single bare tree) paring external reality to its essence; circular, sparring dialogue used as power play, actual meaningful communication frequently devolving into fragmented and nonsensical anti-language; a similar breakdown in logic and the accepted moral order; and a general air of universality, unanchored to specific time or place. These are internal stages upon which the eternal dramas of the human condition are played out, often with a nod and a wink, an antic aspect and dark, gallows humour which sticks two fingers up at whoever is in charge of the whole mess, whoever is Number One. Absurdism was a popular artistic mode in countries oppressed by authoritarian regimes. The existential condition could easily be translated into the political. Vaclav Havel’s plays from the 1960 were filled with absurdism and one of the finest films of the Czech New Wave cinema, which flourished in the brief Prague Spring before the Soviet tanks rolled in in 1968, Jan Nemec’s The Party and the Guests, is distinctly Prisoner-like in its mood. Protagonists of absurdist dramas, generally of lowly state and lacking appreciable power or agency, struggle to find meaning in a world which seems almost comically arbitrary and full of cruel irony. They seldom succeed in their quest. Some come to accept that this is the fundamental nature of the universe and adjust their perspective and expectations accordingly. Or not. A paradigmatic scene occurs at the end of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. The two Chaplinesque (or Keatonesque?) clowns debate the practicalities of hanging themselves on the single bleak tree which has been the central focus of the spartan theatrical landscape throughout. One of them removes his belt for the purpose. His trousers fall down. Ya gotta laugh.
So, Number 2 lies dead in the shipping container bedsit prison, the steel shutter slamming shut with conclusive finality. A book loudly closed. In this Seven Ages of Man scenario, he was tricked into taking on the final role, a transference with fatal consequence. A deadly fall out. The smooth-headed surveillance ‘eye’ from the control room asks Number 6 ‘what do you desire?’ A highly suggestive question with hints of fairy tale wizardry. Be careful what you wish for. No.6 wishes to meet No.1. ‘I’ll take you’, he is told, and they walk out of the room, past the red ‘doomsday’ countdown clock, it’s hands set in the midnight position.
The titles are a variant on the repetitive norm, the reiterated words of defiance followed by the mocking laughter of authority. A circling aerial shot celebrates the eccentric architectural hodge-podge of Portmeirion, and its equally eccentric architect, Clough Williams-Ellis, is thanked (with a free advertisement for The Hotel Portmeirion – you too can come and stay in The Village). A different, looser take on Ron Grainer’s theme emphasises heavy bass brass, creating an atmosphere of ominous anticipation. Alexis Kanner’s credit is boxed, making it look like a calling card. Look out for him, Patrick McGoohan is saying. As the circling gyre narrows, we home in on the dome of Number 2’s residence, at which point Patrick McGoohan’s writing and directing credit is superimposed on the screen. We are spiralling in to the heart of the maze, to the secret chamber within which the mystery of power, of the ultimate authority will be revealed. Or so we might innocently assume.
In the lift to the underworld. Close ups of the faces of the scrutinizer and the butler are like masks of fixed solemnity. Number 6, in contrast, has a mildly sardonic turn to his lips, a refusal to take this funereal parade with the same level of gravity. He has become aware of the essential absurdity of the environment in which he has found himself. To accept it on its own terms, to accede to the hierarchical structure it has created, would be to become a part of it, to cease questioning and seeking to uncover and ultimately destroy the power which underlies it. His shadow is cast on steel doors as they slide apart; the divided self, the schizoid man. Beyond are two portable clothes racks hung with shivering, clacking coat hangers. They are like surrealist objets trouvées, the kind of suggestive sculptures made from everyday artefacts that are lent a sinister or uncanny air by a focus on their form or likeness to other forms, their utility de-emphasised; Duchamp’s bicycle wheel or Max Ernst’s vacuum cleaner (later appropriated by Frank Zappa). At the end of the corridor they form, a pallid plastercast dummy wearing Number 6’s civvies. ‘We thought you’d be happier as yourself’, the scrutinizer says in a hollow, machine-like voice. It’s the first hint at an instability, a hollowness at the heart of Number 6. The costumes of the Village pageant, the guises he has put on in the course of his enforced role on its artificially bright stage, have all been put away. He is left with the rather austere clothing of the self. No hint of holiday camp jollity, adventure story regalia or Western cowboy gear here. What is the self we are left with when the dressing-up box is put away?
The white-faced dummy looks tense, hunched, with a lurching gait. Together with its broad forehead and dangling, apelike arms, it has the bearing of Frankenstein’s pitiful creature, sundered from its contemptuous father-creator at its unnatural birth and stumbling blindly through a hostile world, prone to exploitation by manipulative forces offering the semblance of friendship. The camera zooms in on this mocking dummy, the kind of effigy carried in procession before being burned in a ritual blaze. Number 6’s shadow stands beside it for a brief instant before it merges with this pale self. The black and the white, the shadow and the light. We shall see this motif repeated shortly. A close-up of the dummy’s head, and we see Number 6’s hand reach for the neck as if to throttle it. A hint of self-negation, of an aspect of the hidden self which needs to be eliminated? Shadows of revelations to come. This implicit gesture of violence, momentary though it is (the hand, after a brief hesitation, moves down to unbutton the ‘casual’ shirt) heralds the fanfare of the French national anthem, leading in to the Beatles’ All You Need Is Love. From the very outset its use is highly ironic.
More doors slide open (this is an underground lair with a proliferation of sliding doors) revealing Number 6 in his grey everyman suit, the institutional grey of the steely corridors. We process through a rocky corridor whose geological nooks are filled with an installation of jukeboxes, all seemingly playing the Beatles anthem, beamed to the world via communication satellite on 25th June 1967. The jukeboxes make for an incongruously sleek chrome and glass, neon-illuminated presence in these chthonic corridors; the natural and artificial set in uneasy juxtaposition. The shaky, hand-held camera, which gives an air of cinema verité immediacy, zooms in on the jukeboxes, isolating them as pop art objects, signifiers of primary coloured space-age consumerism. The culture of the future NOW. Oddly enough, none of the songs glimpsed remotely conjures the spirit of the psychedelic age, the summer of love now 50 years distant as I am writing. One which particularly catches the eye is Al Jolson, the embodiment of minstrelsy, the black-face entertainments whose grotesque stereotyping of African-American performers were being torn to shreds by the fierce rhetoric of black power revolutionaries.
At the end of the rocky corridor, an imposing wooden door with massive, rust-aged lock. A door heavy with the weight and mass of immemorial power and authority, only to be opened by those entrusted with the impressively sized key. This in close proximity to the array of juke boxes, surface modernity co-existing with a superstructure of unchanging tradition. Britain was never very good at ‘going modern’, as the artist Paul Nash put it. There was always likely to be a foundation of romantic, pre-modern antiquity beneath the sleek, silvery façade. The old guard remained in control, despite surface appearances. And the Butler, of course, is ready with the key, opening the way into the underworld.
On the other side of the door, an illuminated sign reading Well Come. Words cracked apart, new meaning created, as in classic proto-absurdist writings such as Alice in Wonderland and the nonsense poetry of Edward Lear (whose Incidents in the Life of My Uncle Arly had been filmed to memorably haunting effect by Peter Cook and Dudley Moore in the company of John Lennon; Cook also making a daffily distracted and hyperactive white rabbit in Jonathan Miller’s 1966 BBC play of Alice). Here, the open greeting becomes a testy command as well as another reference to ‘wellness’, mental stability. The large cavern we enter is like a parody of a James Bond villain’s lair. All bustling activity amongst clearly distinguished groups of functionaries. The disposable minions. Clusters of stalactites hang down like swords of Damocles in racked arrays, or inverted rows of rockets ready for launching. The whole idea of a subterranean rocket base draws on the experimental laboratories set up by the Nazis in the hollowed out caverns of the Mittelwerk complex under Kohnstein Mountain in central Germany, near Nordhausen. It was here that V2 rockets were built and tested, technology co-opted by the Americans after the war, leading to intercontinental ballistic missile capability (and the Apollo missions leading to the first Moon landing which led to the modernist, techno-utopian space age dreaming of the 60s). The NORAD (North American Air Defense Command) base was installed in a complex beneath Cheyenne Mountain in the 1960s, becoming fully functional in 1967 (the year that McGoohan wrote Fall Out) and housing aerial surveillance and space defence facilities.
The cavern is full of bustling activity, but there seem to be distinct areas, zones of designated purpose. Medics in green gowns attend to clusters of clinical equipment, scientists in lab coat robes fine tune the dials of imposing banks of electronic control units; 60s computers the size of cathedral organs whose executive capacity could now be condensed onto a hand held device. And mobile cadres of military police, their uniforms having a distinctly American cut. National guardsmen on call to protect the people against themselves. All the stratified elements of a technocratic society.
The echoing 4:4 tympany of marching military manoeuvres segues seamlessly into the rippling applause of a robed and masked gathering, figures ranked in raked seating. The camera’s panning glide combined with this sonic splicing makes a clear connection between armed force and this occult, masonic judiciary; the secret cult of the elite, those born to power. The masks worn by this select order are split into black and white divisions, happy/sad turns of the smiling or downcast mouth. The theatrical masks of comedy and tragedy combined, the one containing the other. This is the theatre of the absurd, after all, where we laugh at the tragic madness inherent in the human condition, at the tautological justifications of power, control and oppression in the name of freedom, happiness and peace. The black and white divisions betoken a simple-minded dualism, an us and them worldview which creates the conditions for conflict and authoritarian ‘mutuality’.
The masks give the robed individuals a universalised lack of identity, freedom from the burden of the self. They are reduced to singular types, the fixed and unresponsive face of authority. Approval or opprobrium – the masks offer both. The raised or downturned thumb, according to whim or expediency. Desktop name blocks assign particular areas of control or scrutiny, ranging from specific groups of people to more notional social and philosophical concepts or movements. Direct control and mind control, the baton and the gun combined with the treatise, headline-courting speech and propaganda broadcast. The first three we see are ‘welfare’, ‘pacifists’ and ‘activists’. Elements of the liberal agenda and world view which must be allowed a certain degree of expression and purchase, but not permitted to take root too firmly and thus grow beyond the compass of control. There’s a vagueness about these blanket terms too, which makes them useful tools. When language loses its definition, its precision of meaning, it can be used to evade responsibility and accountability. Amorphous and malleable language can be formed into a weapon, broad terminology honed and sharpened into an insulting dart aimed at an opponent. ‘Pacifist’ and ‘activist’ as reductive, dismissive shorthand for ‘troublemaker’, ‘malcontent’, ‘enemy’; ‘welfare’ as ‘dependency’, ‘weakness’, ‘burden’. The echoes of All You Need Is Love fade away, dying into the rocky crevasses of the age-old chamber. Power is deep rooted, geologically embedded. Its tinny strains in this environment make the ideals of pacifism and activism seem hollow, without any substantial grounding. Flowers in gun barrels are unlikely to make any impact here.
The overseeing eye, the central, orange alerting scrutiniser, puts on his own robe with an economical, flapping crispness of gesture and affixes his concealing mask. His identity, such as it is, is willingly subsumed. He will be identified as ‘identification’ itself, taking his place next to ‘therapy’, ‘reactionists’ and ‘nationalists’. The latter qualities forms of madness requiring therapeutic ‘readjustment’, in the manner of Soviet dissidents silenced with treatments in mental hospitals.
Surveying the sceneA wide-angled camera follows No.6 around the stage-set scene. As with Once Upon A Time, the sense of stage-set design is deliberate, its artificiality foregrounded. And here is our master of ceremonies, looking down from an elevated speaker’s podium, dressed in judge’s drag, red ermine-trimmed robes and 18th century wig. It is none other than the No.2 subjected to mocking caricature as a petty, tantrum-throwing Napoleon in the bedtime story told by No.6 in The Girl Who Was Death. Well, come he invites, leading the guest of honour on. Alexis Kanner, now in the guise of No.48, briefly pops up from a hissing silo which belches clouds of vaporous steam, bound with metallic bands to a sturdy steel rod. A latterday heretic at a technocratic stake, babbling nonsense rhymes to himself as he awaits his fate. An inconvenient reminder that, despite the rapturous applause greeting No.6, the embodiment of resistance and individual integrity, this is not the land of the free.
The judge is a comic, gavel-thumping buffoon. The red robes and long-outmoded wigs of the judiciary make them a natural target for caricature. They make for a readily available symbol of the establishment’s distance from the realities of the modern world, its rootedness in arcane ritual and tradition. The judge looks as if he belongs in the parochial world of Anthony Trollope novels rather than in this hi-tech bunker. This incongruous blend of tradition and modernity, conservative nostalgia existing side by side with technocratic sleekness, was exploited to quirkily amusing effect in The Avengers, filmed in colour for the first time in 1966 and using its potential to full pop art effect. In Lindsay Anderson’s If…, released in 1968 (the year of Fall Out’s first broadcast) Peter Jeffrey’s headmaster declares that ‘Britain today is a powerhouse of ideas, experiments, imagination, everything from pop music to pig breeding, from atom power stations to mini skirts. That’s the challenge we’ve got to meet’. He says this with his schoolmaster’s robes flapping out behind him whilst standing in front of the neo-gothic arches of a public school steeped in ritual and tradition valorising the continuity of inherited power, addressing boys dressed in a uniform which appears to have remained unchanged since the mid-Victorian period. There is little hint of modernity here.
Order is called, the applause instantly silenced and ‘a matter of democratic crisis’ announced. Is this to be a trial? If so, then of whom, or what? The intention seems to be ‘to resolve the question of revolt’, an abstruse matter more suited to the sociology classes newly emergent in the 60s. A sanctimonious appeal for civilised conduct is swiftly followed by the observation that ‘errant children must sometimes be brought to book with a smack on their backside’, a remark made with a significant glance at Alexis Kanner’s distractedly humming No.48 and accompanied with a clap of the hands and a manic look of unrestrained glee. I’m reminded of Lindsay Anderson once again (he and Patrick McGoohan seem very much fellow spirits) and the scene in his modern 1970s picaresque O Lucky Man! in which a judge, having pronounced firm and punitive sentence on Malcolm McDowell’s hapless everyman Travis, retreats to the private chambers to undress and receive a damn good thrashing. The judge’s gestures towards corporal punishment gain immediate, reflexive applause. The crowd-pleasing prospect of the Roman circus, give ‘em a bit of blood, a good hanging. As a ‘deterrent’, of course. The ultimate extension of such thinking onto a global scale would be the ‘regrettable bullet’, the bomb which hisses and steams in the corner of the cavern. It is the devouring, fire breathing dragon, the focus of fear from countless mythologies, and this is its lair. And as in the tales of old, it is imperative not to waken it from its torpid slumber.
The assembly is declared ‘in security’; more dissected words, meanings prised apart and realigned. Fuse them and create insecurity, a more accurate reason for convening, perhaps. No.6 is presented and the judge reaches for heights of elevated, over the top rhetoric. The tone is fawning, obsequious, and leads to the approbatory order ‘this assembly rises to you – sir’. He has been ennobled, given a new title. From Six to Sir. A new kind of depersonalisation? Conducted applause is quelled at a gesture. There is a sense that the whole ceremony is carefully scripted, orchestrated by some unknown author. ‘The transfer of ultimate power requires some tedious ceremony’, the judge apologises with unctuous, hand-wringing deference. The mode of address is modified according to the position of the addressee within the hierarchy of power. No.6, Sir, is invited to ascend a dais atop which sits ‘the chair of honour’, a gilded throne with ornate, rococo putti poutingly looking down from its carved frame. It’s an ego seat, the sort of vanity throne millionaire footballers or property magnates like to be photographed in. The furnishings of self-importance and inflated self-regard. Sir takes the seat, a comic rendition of ‘For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow’, in the manner of the ‘Pop Goes The Weasel’ variants which have sent mocking echoes through the Village in previous episodes, accompanying his enthronement, undermining any air of grandiose ceremony which might otherwise attend it. Does it suit him? He looks quietly pleased at this point, poised and relaxed. But we have come to learn that he is very good at biding his time.
A crane shot looks down over the back of the throne to the guards below. He really is in an elevated position now. A position of power. The throne facing the judge’s podium (or, given his predilection for priestly pronouncement, pulpit). From Sir’s perspective, we switch to a bomb’s-eye view, the baleful green-eyed gaze looking down over all. The symbol of ultimate power, the high-pressure exhalations of steam suggestive of huge latent energies on the verge of destructive release. The switch between elevated throne and bomb perspectives is already hinting at a link between Sir and whatever power fuels the terrible missile.
The shipping crate descends with clunking metallic gracelessness, its loud and effortful docking giving an impression of great bulk and mass. The barred room is revealed with No.2 still lying dead within. A rising alarm is combined with the closing of steel eyelids over the green eye, and we notice the emphatic red stripe of a number 1 above it for the first time. The all-seeing surveillance eye, the eye of God, or some gnostic demi-urge ruling over its delusory sub-creation. Some kind of command is conveyed to the judge, who complies by issuing the order to ‘resuscitate’. It is all too apparent who (or what) is truly in charge here. The judge’s rhetoric will increasingly appear as empty bombast from hereon in. The bomb itself is the soul of concision. Its message is very clear, and brooks no disobedience. Erect and monumental, it is its own towering, modernist statue testifying to totalitarian power.
No.2’s final collapse into breathlessness and death is reversed on the oversized monitor projection screen, accompanied by a sped up and backward masked soundtrack; the self-consuming concrète signature of the psychedelic summer of love, as rehearsed on The Beatles’ Tomorrow Never Knows and further explored by the likes of Traffic, The Pretty Things, The Jimi Hendrix Experience and many others. The sound of heady dislocation, of senses being deranged. ‘Revolution’, the judge smilingly observes, as if acknowledging the cultural upheavals such sounds evoke. The revolution in the head. It’s an odd word to hear from his lips. But this is not the sloganeering word which would accrue such hip cachet in 1968 amongst the rock, dope and Ché set. This is evolution with an ‘r’ added; refashioned evolution, enabled by advanced medical technology and occult science. Control over the body, over the state of life and death. Godlike power! A celluloid resurrection. The image is all, as our idea of the self becomes increasingly mediated.
Dalek surgeryThe corporeal remains of No.2 are wheeled out by medics, masks perpetuating the general state of anonymous depersonalisation amongst the various cadres which pervades the cavern. The Butler climbs the dais to stand by No.6 (for let us maintain his old identification for the time being, to avoid confusion), giving him the slightest of deferent nods. As the prospect of resurrection is mooted, realigned allegiances are subtly acknowledged. No.2 is subjected to an undignified makeover, accompanied by inappropriate romantic music; part extreme day at the hairdressers, part invasive surgical procedure. With head positioned beneath a conical, 50s robot hairstyling ‘pod’, face entirely covered with shaving foam, he is menaced by a mask extending on a telescoping arm to smother him. It is vaguely reminiscent of a Dalek’s sink plunger appendage. No.2 appears to be turning into a cybernetic hybrid, a techno-medical miracle man. But what will remain of his essential, true self? Is our humanity somehow diminished by our reliance on technology? On the screen, we see the spinning mobile familiar from the General’s speedlearn broadcasts, the camera zooming in and out on its flashing, gyroscopic form. It’s our cue to go into the ads, a little bit of metafictional commentary. ‘Consume’, ‘Obey’, ‘Conform’, ‘Do Not Question Authority’ as the hidden subliminal messages in John Carpenter’s satirical science fiction movie They Live direct us.
We come back from our interlude of subliminal suggestion, mnemonic jingles firmly lodged in the filing sytems of the subconscious, to hear an instructive lecture from the judge. ‘Revolt can take many forms’, he explains with tedious pedantry. We are about to witness the first of three examples. No.48 emerges from his silo. ‘Thanks for the trip, dad’, he says, with more than a little sardonicism (censor alert! Drug reference!) He will continue speaking in this strange, archaic beatnik argot throughout. Perhaps Patrick McGoohan was thinking back to his role as the jazz drummer Johnny Cousin in the 1961 Othello adaptation All Night Long. This mode of speech, staccato in delivery and pared down to the simplest of syllabic utterances, feels strangely removed from any particular time period. It has more in common with the invented Nadsat lingo of Alex and his droogs in A Clockwork Orange, or of the abbreviated, simplified vocabulary of the media-saturated future portrayed in Nigel Kneale’s TV play The Year of the Sex Olympics (1968), a key referent when thinking of The Prisoner.
His theme tune is Dem Bones, a piece of minstrelsy which harks back to our glimpse of Al Jolson on the jukebox (the version here is by the white Canadian vocal quartet The Four Lads, recorded in 1961). It’s a resurrection song, drawing on the biblical story of Ezekiel in the Valley of Dry Bones. He prophesies that the bones will rise again at the word of the Lord, an allegory for the rebirth of nation. Harlem Renaissance writer James Weldon Johnson imagines them drawing together and reconnecting, conjuring up a vision of dancing Harryhausen skeletons in a barren wilderness (a post-apocalyptic landscape?) It’s a song with an implicit sense of mortality, but not a morbid one. These are the kind of skeletons who might be seen, bedecked with roses and sporting Uncle Sam hats, on the covers of Grateful Dead albums.
No.48 is set free from his ‘stake’ and cautiously creeps out. With his top hat, roguishly ruffled shirt, black jacket and trousers rounded off with white sneakers, he is like a mocking parody of the sinister funereal aspect adopted by the Village ‘collectors’. An aspect which would also be adopted by the apple ‘bonkers’ in the animated Beatles fantasia Yellow Submarine the following year. A red flower affixed to the hat offsets the dolorous black and a cowbell pendant from a long chain gives the appearance either of a pilgrim or a leper; the bell one of the hippy accoutrements co-opted from the Indian subcontinent. Gold-braided epaulettes also dandify military dress, Sgt Pepper, I Was Lord Kitchener’s Valet Edwardian finery from the London Summer of Love. Hippie uniforms. No.48 is alert and wary, like an animal emerging from cover, from the rabbit hole. He looks like an artful dodger urchin, sweaty and besmirched from his confinement in the underworld, the purgatorial holding tube. His look is part London hippy, part LA freak. There’s a certain resemblance to the San Francisco ‘Digger’ Emmett Grogan, particularly in a well-known photo in which he is adopting a wide-legged pose (as if afflicted by poverty-induced Dickensian rickets) and sticking two fingers up with cheeky ragamuffin defiance. No.48 is definitely more merry prankster than passive flower child, more yippie than hippie.
Judge and jury are driven wild by the strains of Dem Bones unleashed along with No.48. The infectious rhythm throws them into a state of chaotic outrage, this flaunting of due solemnity stirring up a flapping, flustered commotion. The eye of No.1 cracks open and the alarm sounds, adding an extra level of tension to the general panic. Music as revolutionary force, the intoxicating power of Pan’s flute driving celebrants and unwitting auditors alike in to a state of wild, frenzied ecstasy. The music is silenced and order restored. The judge launches into a pontificating speech, puffed up with the dramatic pomp of his own oratory. ‘Youth with its enthusiasm, which rebels against any accepted norm because it must, and we sympathise’, he declaims, turning No.48 into the embodiment of an entire generation. He himself is momentarily like an archetypal progressive 60s judge, one of the Lady Chatterley trial liberalisers inching their confused, classbound and morally earnest way towards greater tolerance and openness. Turning again to If…, he is once more like Peter Jeffrey’s headmaster. He stands in the college quadrangle on founder’s day as Mick Travis and his crusaders launch their armed revolution against the hated establishment figures in this public-school as microcosm of Britain allegory: the church, the army, the teachers as political and judicial legislators and the prefects as brutal police enforcers. ‘Boys! Boys! I understand you! Listen to reason and trust me. Trust me!’ he complacently pleads, arms outstretched in earnest entreaty. The outsider in their group, the woman in their male bande à part, puts a bullet in his head. Again, no peace and love here.
The judge’s tone soon turns from exaggerated sympathy, the affected understanding of the patronising patriarch, to spittle-flecked vehemence, the rhetoric becoming violent and punitive. ‘When the function of society is endangered, such revolts must cease. They are non-productive and must be ABOLISHED’. Crushed, quashed, elimated, ranks of militarised police sent in with shields and batons. There is a close-up on No.48’s still face, frozen in a look of crestfallen dejection, like a melancholy mime. He raises his bell and gives it a sad little tinkle. ‘Hear the word of the Lord’, he says in conclusion. ‘Lord’ here takes on a satirical cast; M’Lord, your honour, honourable member of the upper chamber, the House of Lords. Sir!
The tinkle of the bell is like a call to revolt, a meditative cue leading to violent action. Kill for peace. No.6 was repeatedly goaded in the degree absolute duel of Once Upon A Time to relinquish his pacifism and go for the kill. He is reminded that ‘in the war, you killed’, an assertion to which he accedes, with the qualification that he killed ‘for peace’. With Dem Bones echoing around the cavern once more, No.48 leads everybody on a merry dance. It’s like a revolutionary Gene Kelly number, a choreographed ballet of evasion and pursuit covering all the spaces of this underground microcosm. Leaping up onto the science embankment, waltzing around the mobile medical camp, ascending the judicial dais before finally falling to the ground, surrounded by a thicket of pointing gun barrels. The moment where Gene Kelly (‘Gene’ Kanner) slides to his knees and raises his arms to the skies, the camera craning up and drawing the routine to a conclusion.
RecognitionInto this tense moment of frozen suspension, No.6 throws in the words ‘young man’. Not so much a means of address as a formal naming. A granting of identity. ‘Give it to me again’, No.48 says with a look of eager anticipation. Someone is listening, he has got through. The routine has found its audience. No.6 gives a tight, controlled smile. Sincere for its lack of phony beam, its cool. ‘Don’t knock yourself out’, he replies in his characteristically terse manner. No.48 springs up, standing rigidly, as if to attention. The camera glides swiftly over to a close-up on his smiling face, turned sideways to look at No.6. ‘I’m bone all over’, he declares, with evident satisfaction. A connection has been made, bone on bone. A new body of outsiders is forming.
A high crane shot looks down from on high at No.48, corralled by the prodding guns of the military police. It is the judge’s elevated perspective. ‘We must maintain the status quo’, he proclaims, the word of the Lord. Familiarity is discouraged, divisions and social ranks are to be maintained, given numbers observed. Contact across class or professional borders is frowned upon and made note of. Number 1 communicates once more in its alarm siren language, a dialect which commands attention, its green, glowing eye fixing on the judge. He understands the dialect, although he obviously can’t respond in kind. The military police retreat and the new form of address is accepted. No.6’s will is being done. ‘We are obliged, sir’, the judge genuflects. ‘Don’t mention it, dad’ comes the response, followed by a wry exchange of glances between No.6 and No.48.
ObservanceThere follows a farcical trial which takes the form of a rapidfire exchange of dialogue between No.48 and the judge in a hip pidgin argot. The judge may not be able to speak like an armed warhead, but he makes the attempting at adopting youth speak (‘give it to me baby’). Sense is less important than the interplay between the two figures in what amounts to a fast rally, short phrases racketed back and forth, rapid camera cutting creating a kinetic momentum. Some kind of transference take place through the adoption of this condensed lingo, new sense winkled out from nonsense. An Edward Lear or Alfred Jarry Ubu Roi dialogue, advanced pataphysics in action. No.48 instigates a table thumping ‘take, take’ chant, spreading from judge to jury, the elevated crane shot showing the judge joining in the percussive beat with a look of frenzied greed upon his face. No.48 has conducted the dialogue on his own terms and revealed the true nature of authority, the simple, base motivation beneath its platitudinous posturing, the puffed up pontifications of the judge. He kneels down, as if carrying the weight of this knowledge, and holds his arms out in a cruciform pose, head bowed. Youth as sacrificial victim, Isaac offered before the Lord. The camera glides past the ‘Rehabilitation, Education, Youngsters’ name blocks on the jury desks, more aspects of society requiring scrutiny and control.
A ring of the bell brings the judge and jury out of their trance state, the conductor bringing the performance to a close. The tiny tinkle of the peace bell, held delicately between thumb and forefinger, is the converse sound to the aggressive thumping of the gavel. But it proves just as effective in bringing the gathering to order.
ConnectionThe judge, completely misreading (mistranslating) the situation, failing to perceive the act of self-revelation into which he has been conducted, says ‘now you’re high!’ ‘I’m low’, No.48 corrects him. An offer of inter-generational connection is made, an attempt to reach across the generation gap, to create a universality out of ancestral descent, of common humanity; ‘The bones is yours, dad. They came from you my daddy’. But the judge is only interested in using his perceived communication breakthrough to exert power and authority. ‘Confess, confess’, he chants, like come Counter-reformation inquisitor. The chant is taken up by the jury, who fall easily into mass sloganeering chorus. And we are back to the St Vitus Dance of Dem Bones, this time soaked with reverb, as if to emphasise its artificiality, the sense that this time it is a recording being cued up once more. No.48, still in Christlike pose, looks back to No.6 and the Butler, who calmly watch the proceedings whilst the judge and jury are once more possessed with the frenzied spirit of reactionary revelry. Filled with intoxication of power. A small tip of the topper acknowledges their co-fraternity. They stand (or sit) outside this mass hysteria, individuals observing the mob mentality of the conformist mind. As the music plays on, cued by an invisible hand, we see the ‘Entertainments’ and ‘Recreation’ name blocks, further elements of social control (thinking once more of those hidden They Live commands). These blocks are becoming like chapter headings, or markers of the end of episodes.
Greybeard judgementThe judge seems possessed by a spirit of demented hatred as he twitches and jerks to the music. ‘Hip, hip, hooray!’ rounds off the chanting, and once more we ‘hear the word of the Lord’. That word is ‘Guilty!’, spat out with venomous vituperation. The charge, only now read out, after the verdict has been arrived at, is elucidated by one of the anonymous jury members whose board identifies him as being in charge of ‘Anarchists’ (nestled in between ‘Identification’ and ‘Recreation’). We can see a grey beard projecting beneath the chin of his mask, however, trembling with anger and indignation. This is the judgement of age upon youth, the father upon the son. The accusations of ‘total defiance’, the questioning of authority, ‘unhealthy aspects of speech and dress’ and, perhaps most seriously, ‘the refusal to observe, wear or respond to his number’. To know his place. No.48 looks on with amusement, little surprised at the foreordained outcome and punctuating the grave oratory with the occasional tinkle of his bell. The judge looks to No.6 to seek his approval, an acknowledgement of new authority, even if it is only nominal. A regal nod of assent from the throne. ‘I…note them’, Sir remarks of the proceedings, maintaining a cool neutrality. ‘I take it you have no comment at this stage’, the judge prompts. ‘….Not at this stage’, No.6 replies after a dramatic pause. Not at this stage and not on this stage. But he will have comment, at the right time. He awaits his moment. He has learned patience.
Passive ResistanceNo.48 is carried back to his silo, cross-legged and folded-armed, offering no resistance but no assistance. He is like a peaceful protestor being removed from a sit-in demonstration by the police. He descends, still singing in a babbling undertone, the rebel song of defiant nonsense which conveys another new sense (to some, just a nuisance). ‘I think you’ll find our next revolutionary a different kettle of fish altogether’, the judge announces before collapsing into uproarious, semi-hysterical laughter. The flashing ‘General’ gyroscope appears on the screen again. It’s time for more subliminal conditioning, the advent of the ad break. Be seeing you on the other side.
The Dalek suction cup is removed to reveal No.2 freshly shaved and shorn with a neatly clipped moustache. He awakens bemused and shaken and reaches for his heart, as if to check that he really is alive. Or perhaps he reaches for his number badge to affirm his identity, his current position. On the large screen there is a reminder of his former self, the hale and hearty fellow bellowing with laughter. It sounds as if the screen self is mocking this new, bewildered incarnation, staggering from his seat of medical resurrection. All present point to the stilled image of No.2 on the screen and join in with the guffaws which still reverberate around the cavern. He has become a figure of fun. But he maintains a vestige of authority and stills the hollow hilarity with a raised hand. Into the ensuing, anticipatory silence he roars ‘I feel a new man’, and laughs in a direct echo of the recorded example we’ve just heard. But no-one joins in with the present laughter.
Turning to see No.6 on the throne, he greets him with the same jocular familiarity with which he addressed him in his first stint as No.2. ‘My dear chap’, he says with real warmth. ‘Enthroned at last, eh’. He has understood No.6’s underlying psychology, the compulsions and principles which drive him, better than anyone. Turning to the Butler, ‘my little friend, ever faithful’, he beckons him down as if he were a dog. But he remains in his new place, stoically impassive as ever. ‘New allegiances’, No.2 observes with weary resignation. ‘Such is the price of fame’. He turns to address the gathering in a grandiloquent and theatrical manner. ‘My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen’. Are there any ladies present? This is a notably male affair, with not one single female member of the cast. Then again, 60s counterculture and politics, revolutionary or otherwise, and were notable male. It wouldn’t be until the 70s that feminism (a genuine, continuing and lasting revolution) would begin fully to assert itself. ‘A most extraordinary thing happened on my way…here’, he continues.
New configurations of powerNow the laughter comes, the jury transformed into a quaking mass of mirth. He seems in absolute command of proceedings, a seasoned orator in his element. Not waiting for an invitation, he ascends the judge’s podium and delivers a speech as if he were at the despatch box. Noting the political power he once wielded, and the ‘use’ the ‘community’ found for him, abducted into the Village just as No.6 had been, he comes out as a born-again rebel, repudiating the weakness of his old self. ‘What is deplorable is that I resisted for so short a time. A fine tribute to your methods’. He really is a new man. Or the old man back again.
His demise is replayed on the big screen; a terrible thing for anyone to witness, their own death. ‘You couldn’t even let me rest in peace’, he observes with considerable bitterness. ‘How was it done?’ But if he expects explication here, then he has learned nothing (and perhaps the same could be said of the TV audience). ‘Did you ever meet Him?’, No.6 asks, having to further clarify ‘meet Number One’. ‘Face to face?’, No.2 responds, but it comes out sounding like ‘faith to faith’. When No.6 affirms, he roars ‘Meet Him?’ (the capital H implied) with a tone of utter incredulity. The very idea is regarded with contemptuous dismissiveness. And if this No.2 never came near to such an encounter, it’s highly unlikely that any other did. Number One remains the great unknown, the enduring mystery. The Great I Am who has departed the stage set which he constructed.
Standing up to technologised tyrannyNow is the time for such an encounter, however. He approaches the Number One bomb with sidling steps, as if edging towards the brink of a deep chasm, and stares at its closed metal lids. The eye lazily opens like that of a sluggish lizard and he averts his gaze, his sober face lit a sickly green. A naughty, impish look overtakes his features, and he suddenly resembles a mischievous schoolboy plotting some puckish prank. One of the If… gang, grown up but recalling rebellious days. ‘Shall I?’, he wonders aloud. ‘Give him a stare?’ Then, with self-responsive determination, ‘I shall give him a stare!’ He walks proudly up to the eye. Distantly, a voice cries ‘you’ll die’, all but drowned out by the rising outrage of the keening siren. ‘Then I’ll die with my own mind’, he declares, the honourable code of an intellectual hero. He tears his number badge off and flips it aside, discarding it with contemptuous disregard. Throwing the idea away with its physical emblem. ‘You’ll hypnotise me no longer’, he promises. There is a billowing exhalation and the eye slides fully open. He spits on it and lets forth a laugh of unbridled glee, as if he can’t quite believe the bold recklessness of his own actions. He turns around with a ‘whatcha gonna do now’ look, a ‘come and get me’ readiness.
Passive resistance 2No.6 now gives the order, his authority seemingly intensifying. ‘Hold him…until my inauguration’. No.2 is led away in a dignified processional, arms outstretched in cruciform acquiescence between two military policemen. Another rebel martyr. Returned to his restrictive silo, he goes down laughing; lout and extended laughter at the establishment, at its manifold absurdities. A refusal to take it as seriously as it takes itself, one form of resistance. This was the decade of the satire boom, after all, with the Cambridge Footlights, That Was The Week That Was, the birth of Private Eye and Peter Cook’s Establishment club. The old No.2 (now, like No.48, numberless) has one last word before descending. Looking up into the camera with a fourth wall breaking aside to the audience, he utters that signature Village farewell, ‘be seeing you’. The last time we will hear those words, in The Prisoner at any rate. Exit, laughing uproariously.
We now look up at a sober and reflective judge, the camera angles of power adjusted. Having played very little part in No.2’s ‘trial’, he embarks on his next explicatory exegesis. At this point it feels like a summary speech before proceedings move onto the next stage. No.6’s ‘inauguration’ perhaps. ‘We have just witnessed two forms of revolt’, he explains, as if to a hall full of slightly dim students. The first was ‘unco-ordinated youth’, the words spat out with undisguised venom. The second ‘an established, successful, secure member of the establishment turning upon and biting the hand that feeds him’. ‘These attitudes are dangerous’, he concludes, the camera pulling back to reveal the military police standing at attention beneath the podium. ‘They contribute nothing to our culture and are to be stamped out’. And the means to achieve that erasure are readily displayed before our eyes. The fascistic nature of authority wielded through armed strength is laid bare. This kind of brutish, firmly stated philosophy is popular amongst certain sections of the populace, however. Give ‘em a dose of national service. The judge’s words are greeted with a round of applause. The camera retreats until No.6 is drawn into the frame, raised throne facing judge’s podium.
The Number One bomb beeps into life, as if prompting the puppet judge to utter his following encomium. No.6 is subjected to a glowing paean of praise, a valorisation which places him at the other end of the scale. The fawning rhetoric is accompanied by footage of his house being purchased for him, the KAR1 racer being polished and prepared. All is to be restored, the pre-Village status quo reinstated. He is the heroic rebel, the exemplar, the moral compass. He has prevailed ‘despite materialistic efforts’. Is the judge making some allusion to the soul here, introducing the idea of some spiritual dimension to man’s being? ‘All that remains is recognition of a man’, he concludes, the kind of pompous puffery which you might find on the sleevenotes of another tedious 1960s Frank Sinatra LP. ‘Lead us or go’, he offers, holding out the possibility of power (the same offer once proffered to No.2?) We are witnessing the Temptation of No.6.
A treasure box wheeled in on a hostess trolley offers the material means for freedom. Money, shelter (the key to his house) and unimpeded mobility (passport and traveller’s cheques). A small purse with ‘petty cash’ looks suspiciously like a pouch filled with 30 pieces of silver. Blood money. Hearing that he is free to go, No.6 uses his old interrogatory method. The Occam’s razored question which can be repeated ad infinitum, the five year old’s neverending inquisition. In The General, it destroyed the all-knowing computer with the one simple yet unanswerable question, fed into it by No.6: ‘W.H.Y. Question mark’. Now he uses it to press the judge into clarifying his position. Each response amplifies his standing until he is effectively granted the holy status of sainthood. ‘You are pure, you know the way, show us…your revolt is good and honest. You are the only individual, we need you’. By this point, the judge’s speech has taken on the cadence and language of liturgical incantation. ‘I see’, No.6 finally concedes, although perhaps he is only responding to those final words, ‘we need you’. ‘I’m an individual?’ he asks tentatively, as if this assertion weren’t at the centre of his crusade throughout his Village sojourn. The response, ‘you are on your own’, puzzles him, however. ‘I fail to see’, he replies. Is individuality an aspect of egotism. Does it involve a rejection of the idea of community, of communal identity (the Village sacrilege of ‘unmutuality’)? There is no such thing as society, as another leader once declared.
Taking the loot‘All of this is…yours’, the judge indicates with an expansive sweep of the arm whose import seems to extend well beyond the confines of the cavern. ‘We plead for you to lead us’. He descends from the podium, inviting No.6 to ‘take the stand – address us’. To take to the podium and turn it into a pulpit, a barricade from which to preach revolution, the downfall of all he surveys. He appears hesitant, however. Unsure of himself, the ‘why?’ still echoing around his mind. Can it all really be this easy? Such a sudden and wholesale reversal of the former power dynamic, a ceding of authority which amounts to complete surrender. The Temptation of No.6 continues with a direct appeal to his ego, the ‘I’ of pride and self-belief, the core of the unbending pillar of individuality. ‘You are the greatest, make a statement, Sir, we are all yours’.
The great speechNo.6 is won over, the ego rises and Sir descends from his throne, taking the key, cash and passport as he passes. Preparing for a quick getaway. But he must make his proclamation first, his firebrand speech which will, of course, be a masterclass in impassioned oratory, transforming hearts and minds and destined to be quoted by succeeding generations. A ripple of applause urges him onward, celebratory processional music adding to the sense of momentous occasion. This will be the climax, No.6 speaks, excoriates the evils of political coercion, mind control and enforced conformity. A gentle tap of the gavel to still the applause, and indrawn breath and… ‘I’. The following words are drowned out by loud, rapturous affirmation, applause and bovine yeasaying. A House of Commons cacophony. A bang of the gavel and a glance at the convocation gathered behind him brings silence, but another ‘I’ immediately triggers further censorious approbation. This too is the price of fame. You never get beyond that towering ‘I’. Once you become (or are made into) an icon, an objectified embodiment of a set of beliefs or ideals, your actual opinion is of little interest. You are the vessel for the opinions and provocations of others. No.6’s ego, his ‘I’, has proved his downfall, the fall out of his heroic struggle and the renown it has brought him. He has been co-opted and thus lost his voice. His passionate speech, so long in the mental composition, is reduced to a series of hollow and increasingly desperate physical gestures. A look of awful horror distorts his face. The judge stills the humiliating hubbub with one casually upraised finger. He is the conductor now. A lesson learned. Things cannot be changed from within.
RealisationNo.6’s look of horror relaxes into an dawning of resigned awareness; A painful but necessary enlightenment. ‘Sir, on behalf of us all, we thank you’, the judge says, the fawning language now coloured with a distinctly sardonic shade. His ego has been shattered, but this is a necessary prelude. A ritual humbling before the meeting with Number One. He takes one last look at the gathering before allowing himself to be led to the silo, an accompanying fanfare now mocking and undermining rather than ceremonial, in true Village style. One final rendezvous, a descent into the underworld, a conclusive unveiling. After these commercial messages, beamed directly at your id.
Through the rabbit holeWe view No.6’s descent into the underworld from below. He has gone down the rabbit hole. What further episodes of Carrollian absurdity await him below, what homicidal monarchs will he encounter? The waning elliptical moon of light from the world above crowns No.6’s noble brow as it looms above us. He truly looks like an icon, complete with glowing halo. Having been ennobled, is he now to be sanctified? From Sir to St. Will such elevation to the ranks of the holy prove equally hollow? He takes a slightly sardonic but at the same time bewildered look back at the world above. Will he ever return, see the light again (even if it is artificial). Sweat beads his brow, just had besmirched the faces of Nos.2 and 48 after they had been risen. It’s the heat of the Inferno, the first circle of Hell. In the grey corridors below, Nos.2 and 48 are locked into their ‘orbits’, just as the sinners in Dante’s Inferno are trapped in their own circles within Hell’s poetically judicial structure. These transparent tubes are like museum specimen jars, designed to display informative exemplars of particular ‘types’. Their unceasing jive song and volcanic laughter continue within the narrow confines, waiting to burst out and infect the world once more.
Rebel orbitsAnother, unnumbered ‘orbit’ tube opens up to give No.6/Sir (Sir Six?) access. An orbit especially prepared for him, awaiting this climactic moment? The Village announcement jingle heralds the arrival of the Butler, striding purposefully down the corridor. Robed scientists are absorbed in adjusting dials on the walls, looking like acolytes in some technocratic temple. Occult technology, demonic science. The Butler arrives at his side and with the merest of gestures (he is the most economical of fellows) gives him permission to ascend the spiral stair. We began the episode with a helicoptered point of view spiralling into towards No.2’s house. Now we spiral up a coiling staircase into the final chamber of power, the heart of the nautilus shell. Power with Power. It’s the endpoint of the spiralling path we’ve been taking with No.6 from the very beginning, with numerous illuminating diversions and wrong turns along the way.
No.6 ascends, a look of tense anticipation on his face. Does he secretly know what he will discover? The camera circles up and into the room, its wayward hand-held navigation and wide-angled distortions adding to a sense of perceptual dislocation, of a sensorium on the brink of some disastrous implosion. We are crossing an event horizon beyond which some immense mental gravitation force compresses and stretches consensual reality to the point of complete breakdown. We are in the heart of Rocket Number One, the volatile bomb and it is Revelation time.
Global controlControl centre is spartan and functional. The steady drip of electronic sound is suggestive of a heart monitor registering life signs. A collection of planetary globes of varying sizes is clustered on a tabletop like so many pale blue bowling balls. One is clearly not enough. Here is a multitude of worlds, hinting at megalomania. If the planet is many things to many people, then total control can only be exerted by claiming all possible worlds, all dreamed of worldviews. The vision of Charlie Chaplin’s Hitlerian caricature Adenoid Hinckel dancing about his command room with a giant inflatable globe comes to mind. Of course, the routine ends when the balloon bursts with a resounding bang.
The fascination with the selfThe curved pop art bones of plastic phones stand out with brightly coloured red and yellow contrast against the grey metal walls. These are the phones through which so many commands have been issued, gaily coloured, childlike objects which have inspired so much fear. Modern pop art design as a symbol of doom. The tyrannical terror lying beneath the plastic surface of cheerful commercialism. The authoritarianism which makes children of all of us. A TV screen broadcasts No.6’s cautious approach. A McLuhanesque mirror reflecting the true self, the mediated self. As Professor Brian O’Blivion would suggest some 20 years later in David Cronenberg’s Videodrome, ‘the TV screen is the retina of the mind’s eye’. And this the retina of the baleful green eye of the Number One bomb which has been watching proceedings beyond. We are in the confined space delineated by the walls of the braincase, the bone cave of the mind, a skull reinforced by metallic shielding. This is the source of all power, the human mind and the myriad possibilities it is able to imagine, the potentialities it can unleash. No.6’s defiant declaration of independence appears on the screen. ‘I will not be pushed, filed, indexed, stamped, briefed, debriefed or numbered. My life is my own’. A positive negation repeated three times, like Peter’s denial after the crucifixion. Three is the magic number.
The fragile egoA cowled figure slowly proffers a glass globe to No.6, holding it with the reverence and care due to something of both immense value and brittle fragility. It’s like the crystal snowglobe which Charles Foster Kane holds at the start of Orson Welles’ dissection of power and public reputation Citizen Kane, and which he drops as he utters his dying words. A globe which somehow contains the condensed singularity of his life. The delicate container of the hidden self. The globe held out here is a scrying glass offering true insight. Its inverted fish-eye lens perspective encompasses the control panels and phones, the instrumentation of power. And the circuitry of the mind? The globe is ceremoniously transferred just as the mediated No.6 on the screen says ‘my life is my own’. Well, here it is then. This is your life. The recording stutters, reductively distilling the heroic statement of individualism into a shrill, chittering ‘I,I,I’. The bars crash on No.6’s head as it rushes forward with a look of intense determination. It’s a symbolic scene we’ve seen over and over again at the end of every episode. The prisoner failing to escape, either physically or, increasingly as time unfolds, in some metaphysical sense. The rushing head is reminiscent of the bizarre and disturbing scene in Hitchcock’s Vertigo in which James Stewart’s Scotty’s abstracted head is propelled down a vertiginous corridor somewhere in the depths of his inner landscape as his outer form sits with catatonic blankness in a hospital room. The bars crash three times, a ringing percussion. Here is the ultimate prison, the cells of the self, Piranesian catacombs of the mind. The globe falls to the ground, shattering into a thousand scintillant fragments.
The madness of powerThe time of revelation is now upon us. The robed figure draws his arms wide, like a cult leader offering some unholy sacrament (or like Christopher Lee’s Lord Summerisle telling poor old Inspector Howie ‘it is time for your appointment with the Wicker Man). It is the cult of the self, of the ego fascinated by its own reflection, studiously posing in front of the mirror. A cult which has only magnified over the ensuing decades. The circled Number One is ironed onto the front of the robes like the identifying number on a goalkeeper’s jersey (the most existential position on the pitch, as Camus, Nabokov and Wim Wenders would attest). The ‘I’ is repeated, accelerating and rising to a pitch of hysteria which is the herald of madness. No.6’s hair has lost its usual brylcreemed sheen and sculpted lacquer and flops in uncombed disarray (another echo of Scotty). Hairstyles as indicators of mental states. Although the look of wild edginess on his face is indicator enough that No.6 is on the borders of sanity. It is the rictus grin familiar from the films and TV shows of David Lynch.
He rips off the black and white theatrical mask, the stage persona, to reveal an ape mask below, gibbering its repeated ‘I’ chant. No.1 is I, the base self, the babbling, grasping, unreasoning creature of the id. Unfiltered desire, greed and acquisitiveness. The ‘I want’ part of the mind (the ‘take, take, take’ which No.48 exposed) concerned only with the instant gratification of its own instincts and impulses. It contains unconscious wells of destructive as well as creative force, the death drive as well as the life impulse, Eros and Thanatos both. Here, in the heart of the bomb, the Thanatopic principle has become dominant. Just as it had in Forbidden Planet, the forces of the Professor’s id disastrously magnified by the alien Krell machinery to create and indestructible monster, let loose in a seeming Arcadian idyll. The monkey mask of the id is torn off to reveal the ego below. And as he must have known, the face revealed is his own. No.6, or perhaps Patrick McGoohan himself. The character in search of an author successful in his quest. The insane laughter which is loosened by his unmasking is partly the madness courted by the artist who delves deeply within themselves to unearth some fundamental truth, some core of the self which pushes the creative impulse to its limits. ‘Humankind cannot bear very much reality’, as TS Eliot suggested, but it is the duty of the serious artist to bare as much of it as they are able, no matter the cost.
No.6 chases his insane ego around the globe table. The camera movements are now wholly uncoordinated, catching a black and white blur of robes and suit, with a brief flash of warning red from the fire extinguisher and a defining tone of sick green light (again hearkening back to Vertigo and the scene in which the refashioned Madeleine walks into the room). Number One Ego is chased babbling from the nosecone, No.6 locking the hatch after him. Get out of my head! It is done, the overinflated ego, the amplified ‘I’ has been expelled. It’s akin to an exorcism, banishing the ghost inside. Outside, the steel lids of the bomb eye are shuttered. For good? The judge, now seated in the throne (his throne all along, perhaps) looks pensively on. Has this all been anticipated? Is No.6 still being manipulated like a puppet?
The revolution begins - exit from the ego chamberBack down below, the camera focuses on the red of the fire extinguisher, the bright primary colour of revolution, danger, passion, anger, blood. No.6 picks it up and descends. Revolution starts in the head before spreading out into the world. Battle commences, the Butler joining in as a loyal footsoldier. The fire extinguisher, intended for the damping down of flames, is used as a weapon to fan them. Guns are requisitioned and the songs and laughter of Nos.2 and 48 set free from their silos to join in the insurgency. The bomb is primed and a doom organ accompanies the chaos erupting in the cavern above. The rebels ascend in robed disguise and open fire with machine guns. This is like the armed revolution with which If… climaxes. A full on surrealist assault on the establishment order which can be taken on an allegorical level. Even if no blood is actually shed, if the revolution is in the head rather than on the streets (The Stones’ Street Fighting Man would set the modish tone for revolutionary ’68) violence on some level seems unavoidable. Power, or dominant ideologies, are not relinquished without a struggle. The strains of All You Need Is Love, echoing down the jukebox tunnel, are drowned out by the percussive rattle of gunfire. It’s a symbolically ironic sound collage, anticipated by the song’s fading into the parade ground stomp of military boots at the start of the episode.
Revolution from below - the insurrectionaries ascendDriven on by bullets and the urgent alarm of the countdown warning, the cavern assembly flees in a bizarre panicked parade of red robed judges, soldiers and a column of frogmen on fold-up bikes. Again, If… springs to mind, with its emblematic founders day gathering of armoured knights, mitred bishops, floral-hatted ladies, uniformed generals, gowned masters and embroidered-waistcoated prefect police falling under fire. The frogmen add a surreal touch. After all, surrealism was initially a revolutionary movement (the revolution in the head) before it was watered down into shorthand for freaky weirdness for weirdness’ sake. A similar fate which befell psychedelia and the whole idea of 60s experimentalism, the urge to discover new forms and once more set about deranging the senses to uncover new perspectives and hidden truths. Yeah, far out. It’s a trip, man. Like, what were they on when they made that? Fall Out has suffered from this syndrome. From the idea that it was a modish, throwaway indulgence, more weirdness for weirdness’ sake. It’s all too easy to dismiss vividly imaginative or challenging work on this basis (and if it’s not drugs, it must be madness) particularly when it emerges from this period. But a revolution in the head, a conceptual breakthrough, a shift in consciousness requires new forms. New waves, new worlds.
Parallel revolutions - Lindsay Anderson's If...The fold-up bikes, a 60s innovation and symbol of mobile urban modernity, are a diminished form of the penny farthing, which had been such a central, enigmatic symbol throughout the series. Constructed piece by piece during the end credits of each episode. These little versions are now pedalled out in a hurried and far from dignified fashion. The baroque and elevated perspective of power reduced to the hunched-up fluster of these comical clown bikes. Frogmen pedallers are as near to fish on bicycles as we are likely to get. The frogmen costumes may also be a sly pastiche of the underwater scenes in Thunderball, and by extension of the studied cool of the Bond series as a whole. Elegant in their element, absurd out of it.
Establishment panicFast cut scenes show us the panicked evacuation of the Village, fleets of helicopters rising above the children’s storybook domes and minarets. Saigon was a few years in the future, but the helicopter as the emblematic vessel of the Viet Nam war was already fixed in people’s minds via regular news footage. The mad dash of the colourfully caped villagers, scattering blindly in all directions, contrasts with the opening aerial shots in which all were calmly going about their daily business.
The rebels exit in the prison room, No.2’s container coffin, which turns out to be attached to the back of an articulated lorry. A poetically ironic means of escape. Escape from incarceration by taking your prison cell with you. What once confined now protects. The Butler’s smashing through the gates at the end of the tunnel coincides with the launching of the rocket, which rises between the old residences of No.2 and No.6, the gulf between individual and institutional power filled with fire. Stock footage of one of the Apollo launches (yet to land a man on the Moon, of course), notionally arising from the hollowed out caverns below, tacitly acknowledges the origins of the American space programme with Werner von Braun and those terrible workshops beneath the Kohnstein mountains.
And it’s goodbye to Rover, who rises briefly only to dissolve in a bubbling Venusian soup, a primordial broth. A speeded up version of ‘I Love You Very Much’ accompanies its return to undivided matter, protozoan gloop. An ‘I,I,I’ song in an absurd register, another ego bubble burst. This odd, childlike Pinky and Perky ditty blends with electronic Village concrète sound to unsettling effect. We never see the fall out from the rocket. There is never any explosive conclusion, the concrete answers or fiery destruction which people were expecting. The rocket rises in the sky and we can imagine it continuing to rise beyond the Earth’s atmosphere, the destructive impulse expelled into the outer reaches of space (or perhaps transformed into that race to reach the Moon). Like the orbiting craft in 2001:A Space Odyssey which is the ultimate product of early man’s discovery of the weapon, the bludgeoning bone tossed triumphantly up into the starry heavens.
Death of Rover
The final scenes, in which our bande à part enjoy their newly won freedom, are filled with a spirit of lightness and joy which remains infectiously uplifting on every viewing. They breathe the heady optimism of their times. The room on the road, the rebels hastily divesting themselves of their robes and throwing the guns out. They were a means of overthrowing power, not of maintaining it. An archetypal city gent in his Roller (a type long since consigned to cultural history), bowler-hatted and with red rosebud in his buttonhole (the rose rhyming with that pinned to No.48’s topper) tunes in his radio with an elegantly grey-gloved hand. Dem Bones has infected his airwaves, and he is soon passing the articulated human zoo cage in which the rebels are dancing to the music in their heads. No.6 sashays with a silver tea tray (he’s the butler now in this democratic band) while No.2 and No.48 link arms and dosey-doe. Wild youth and reflective establishment dancing together, the songs of innocence and experience combining to the tune of this foolishly wise nonsense refrain of connection and resurrection. The gent in his status car does a comedy double-take before accelerating past towards the City and more sensible affairs.
Fucking with the establishmentNo.48 jumps off and says his farewells, hitching along the A20. Shots of London are accompanied by romantic music. No.6 is on home territory again. The lorry pulls up on the Embankment, immediately attracting the attention of a passing bobby (remember them?). No.2 walks proudly towards the Houses of Parliament and strikes an iconic pose, looking up at Big Ben as the chimes strike. A little nod to his former self, the incumbent No.2 in the first ‘escape’ episode, The Chimes of Big Ben. We can assume that these chimes are authentic, however, witnessed and heard in situ. No.6 watches him enter the House of Commons, waving goodbye from across the road, a safely neutral distance. We can imagine him becoming a rebellious backbencher, a principled thorn in the side of whatever government holds power. Turning around, he sees a policeman (the same one who greeted their arrival?). We switch to the perspective of the Butler, who impassively watches him doing the hip bone dance as the music makes once last appearance. In the real, extra-fictional world, passersby throw curious glances at Patrick McGoohan’s antic behaviour. But with characteristic Englishness, they pretend that nothing unusual is occurring and pass hurriedly on. An then we get that glorious final image, No.6 hand in hand with the Butler as they run to catch the departing no.59 bus (numbers useful in this context), leaping up onto the Routemaster’s platform. Be seeing you!
Bonedance for the constabulary
Catching the No.59 - Heading SouthAlexis Kanner is privileged in the credits once more. And here he is, happily striding along in the middle of the road. Taking a step outside the fiction, here are actors utterly committed to the singular vision of Patrick McGoohan, ready to follow him to the edge of madness. Willing to risk life, limb and sanity. To dodge traffic on a busy (for the time) A road. Having tried one direction, he skips through the passing cars and gives the other way a go. Life lies ahead of him, he can try out all routes. Let fate play its part. Who knows where the wind will blow him. His optimism and openness to the play of chance are the tokens of bright-eyed youth, carefree and yet to accumulate the experiential burden of caution and suspicion.
No.6 arrives back at No.1, his home, with KAR120C parked outside, and the door glides open for Angelo Muscat’s Butler, now credited. He gives a hint of a departing bow, to us as much as to his new boss and liberator (although where does the real power lie? If anywhere now). And for Patrick McGoohan? The credit simply reads Prisoner. The prisoner of his own creation, which has driven him to the edge of sanity? The credit suggests and intense level of identification between actor (and in the end writer and director) and character. This is a part and an artistic endeavour in to which he has put everything. The credit suggests that he knows that it will to a large part be his greatest legacy, the work with which he will forever by most closely identified. It’s an intuition which would prove entire accurate. Leo McKern is now dressed in standard bowler hat with white carnation in his buttonhole, formally attired for his credit. He poses by the statue of Richard the Lionheart in front of the Houses of Parliament. A visual pun, perhaps. Leo the Lion.
And we’re back to the start, looping to the opening shot of the credits. The KAR on the runway, No.6 smiling as he races into the future. This time he really is going somewhere unimaginable though. No longer to stride furiously down that underground corridor and burst through those institutional doors like a gunfighter entering a saloon. Now the road is open. The choices are his and they are manifold. Freedom!
The penny farthing assembles itself one last time. We are still not sure as to why, or what it might signify. We never will be. Goodnight children. Everywhere!