Number Two: “What in fact has been created? An international community. A perfect blueprint for world order. When the sides facing each other suddenly realize that they're looking into a mirror, they'll see that this is the pattern for the future.”
Number Six: “The whole world as The Village?”
Number Two: “That is my dream. What's yours?”
Number Six: “I’d like to be the first man on the moon.”
~The Chimes of Big Ben
In the 1960s a craze was sweeping the United States and Great Britain: people simply could not get enough of spies. Television shows such as The Avengers, The Saint, and Get Smart were all wildly popular. To some extent they owe their popularity to one show: Danger Man. First filmed in Britain in 1960 under producer Ralph Smart, Danger Man was the story of John Drake, NATO spy, adventurer, and general man about town. Over the course of 35 half-hour episodes Drake uses few guns or gadgets; he relies entirely on his own wit and reflexes.
The show proved so popular that it was imported to the United States under a new name, Secret Agent. The shows were lengthened to an hour apiece and filmed for the first time in color. Patrick McGoohan continued in the role of John Drake, using his formidable skills to foil everything from the plots of small-time bank robbers to Soviet intelligence agents. It’s interesting to note that in both Danger Man and Secret Agent the Soviets are never named; the closest Drake comes to this is being told by his NATO superiors that classified data may fall into the hands of “The Other People” should his mission fail.
Secret Agent was wildly popular. So popular, in fact, that even the theme is one of the best-known songs of that era. A night out a karaoke bar without hearing some drunk belt out “Seeeecret…Ay-gent Man, Seeeecret…Ay-gent Man” is a rarity. The show was so popular that Patrick McGoohan was offered $10,000 just to talk to agents about starring as the first James Bond. He never accepted the offer of $10,000 for a single obligation-free conversation. Instead, Sean Connery got the role as the original, and as-of-yet unequaled, Agent 007. Sean Connery was good, but Patrick McGoohan would have been great.
Why didn’t McGoohan leap on the chance to play the world’s most famous secret agent? In the end, it all comes down to one thing: he was bored. He’d been playing John Drake for a long time and had no interest in rehashing the same old style. Plus, he had a new idea, a fresh start, a chance to create something original.
What he created was The Prisoner, which would go on to be world-renown as “television’s first masterpiece.” The Prisoner is the story of a British spy who resigns his job without giving a reason. He returns to his home only to be gassed, and when he wakes up he is in The Village. No one in The Village has a name, only a number. The spy, whose name is never learned (it is hinted at in one episode, though only in a dream sequence) is Number Six. The Village is ruled by Number Two, whose mission is clear: he must find out the true reason for Number Six’s resignation. The entire Village population, in fact, is comprised of people who at one time knew valuable information affecting national security. Number Six is so valuable, however, that Number Two and his shadowy superiors are loathe to “permanently damage” him; thus more extreme tortures and druggings are out of the question.
Number Six, however, faces a dilemma: who runs The Village? Are his countrymen merely trying to make sure that his sudden resignation was not a symptom of Soviet sympathies, or have the Communists kidnapped him, and are trying to unlock the valuable secrets in his mind?
In each show a new Number Two tries to get information out of Number Six. The methods used are, almost without exception, those of high technology or psychotropic drugs. In the beginning of the series Number Six only barely manages to stay a step ahead of Number Two and his minions; towards the end, he has adapted, learned the style of The Village, and on a number of occasions thwarts their plans practically at the moment of conception.
The Prisoner is a show of incredible complexity, yet there are some simple themes that run through the entire thing. The first, the strongest, is that of the individual against society. Number Six does not behave as a member of society; he behaves as an individual, and over the course of the series his actions rock The Village to its foundations. This theme is brilliantly summarized in one of the final scenes of the final episode, where Number Six, recognized by The Village as an individual and addressed by his name, Sir, rather than by number, gives a speech in front of a panel representing various groups within The Village. Every time he speaks the pronoun “I,” the representatives go berserk, each screaming “I” as loud as he can. This produces an utter cacophony, a disharmony that drowns out the speech and impedes progress. At the end of the speech, on the other hand, the representatives each shout “I” three times, in perfect harmony with the other representatives. The effect is deafening. Individuals are disharmonious; only when they act without individuality can a coherent society be formed.
Another common theme is how Number Six treats women. Unlike James Bond, a disgusting hound whose exploits are unparalleled even by the staunchest fraternity pledge, Patrick McGoohan’s characters, John Drake of Secret Agent and Number Six of The Prisoner, treat women with respect bordering on distaste. He takes this respect to such an extent that in Hammer Into Anvil, late in the series, Number Six drives Number Two completely insane in retaliation for the death during interrogation of a woman being held in The Village. He doesn’t just drive Number Two insane; he forces Number Two to call his superiors, who may include the mysterious Number One, and admit that he’d gone mad and betrayed The Village. Having seen what The Village does to failures previously in the series, this particular Number Two would have been lucky had he been summarily executed after leaving his position.
Both of these themes have been exhaustively debated on the internet and, before the invention of the internet, in various fan club magazines. For every question (is Number Six actually John Drake? Who is Number One? Where is the Village? Is it an actual location to which ex-spies are taken, or is it an internal, purely spiritual place where Number Six must confront his own insanity?) one can easily find a hundred different answers.
One theme that has gone, for the most part, uninvestigated, however, is the role of technology in The Prisoner. This theme is one quite personal to me: because I was not alive in 1967, and thus did not see the show as it was first aired, I cannot ever really understand it. I was shocked, when talking to an older gentleman, to learn that seeing a helicopter on the show back in 1967 was an incredible special effect. In our modern times we see helicopters almost as frequently as we see automobiles; to learn that when The Prisoner was first aired helicopters were something of a rarity was truly a surprise.
Thus, this paper will investigate the various incarnations of technology in The Prisoner, and draw from them a common theme. As we shall see, at no point do any of the Prisoners (Number Six divides The Village at one point into Prisoners and Warders, the former unwilling guests of The Village from whom information is to be extracted, the latter the ones that form the backbone of The Village’s administration: guards, bureaucrats, doctors, technicians, and so on) obtain any form of technology. They are solely individuals, without even the simplest of tools. On the other hand, the Warders have at their disposal incredible machines, tools, and instruments of every description. It is with these that they attempt to break the will of the Prisoners; technology is always a device of torture and repression, never of freedom or righteousness. It is clear, after having viewed the show in its entirety, that technology ties into the other great theme of the show, that of the Individual and his duty (or lack thereof) to Society. Technology is the tool of Society and Society alone, and is the greatest threat to the Free Individual.
This paper will first address technology in a general sense: there are some devices that appear frequently, such as the televisions and radios in Number Six’s home. They all, no matter how small, are a part of the greater theme that we are exploring. Secondly, devices that appear in only one episode, such as the sonic lobotomizer in A Change of Mind, shall be investigated in detail. It is not just the uses of technology that clearly spell out the greater theme of the show; their appearance, the sounds they make, the way people interact with them, are all important windows into the mindset of the 1960s, the era during which this show was made.
Omnipresent Technology: The Village
The Admiral: “Game of chess, my dear?”
Number Nine: “I don’t play.”
The Admiral: “You should learn. We’re all pawns, my dear…”
Some technological devices are shown in almost every episode. The Village, at least the parts of it controlled by the Warders, is a highly technological place, but before exploring this a brief description is in order. The Village itself appears to be almost medieval in construction, all stone, bricks, tile roofs, cast iron, and concrete. If shown a photograph of the buildings in The Village, one would not be blamed for guessing that it was a photo of some sleepy European town from the turn of the century. This only accentuates the sinister shadow cast by technology: the Prisoners live, for the most part, in an area devoid of technology, which is only present when the Warders need to keep and eye on or control the population. Two episodes, Living in Harmony and The Girl Who Was Death are a drug-induced hallucination and story being told by Number Six to children, respectively, and as such neither have much technology in them nor have much to add to this discussion. Also, the appearance of technology throughout the series will be treated chronologically; since there is a debate about episode order due to different airing rotations in Britain and America, the order used in the A&E box set will be used.
Number Eight: “The door was open.”
Number Six: “It always is, to them.”
~It’s Your Funeral
The doors of every building in The Village open automatically. This simple, almost harmless, use of technology is a reminder that those who run The Village know where you are, where you are going, what you are doing, even before you do. Sometimes they even appear to act maliciously such as in Arrival when Number Six attempts to leave Number Two’s office early. The door opens halfway as he approaches and then snaps shut just before he can leave, as though it was mocking his powerlessness. Ominously, in the final episode, Fallout, Number 6 escapes The Village and returns to his London apartment, where the door opens automatically with the slight whirring that accompanies this action in The Village.
“Questions are a burden to others, answers a prison for oneself.”
Another item found in many episodes is the radio. They’re simple black boxes with grilles on the front and no power cord. From them music and informational reports are pumped to the Prisoners constantly. In Arrival Number Six takes his radio off of the shelf, raises it over his head, smashes it to the ground, and then stomps on the pieces. Despite being utterly destroyed, the music that is playing does not stop and an electrician comes in to repair the mess at the instant Number Six has finished creating it. This reinforces not just the idea that the Warders are always watching, and that they know the very moment a Prisoner begins to act out, but that they can predict the moves of the Prisoners so well that they can send, for example, an electrician out to repair a radio that has not yet been destroyed, but that they know will be. It should also be noted that in the 1960s the idea of a large radio that was completely wireless, without any batteries, power cords, or antennas, would have been utterly futuristic science fiction. In themselves, the radios, such a small part of The Village, are symbols of how far in advance of modern science the Village itself is.
In the episode A Change of Mind a radio is used in a somewhat more sinister fashion. Number Six has been charged with being an Unmutual, and as such, has to go to a committee meeting. Number 93 is then called, over a radio, to a podium to confess his own crimes. The voice from the radio says, “we will tell you what to say. They’re right, you know.” After this, Number 93 immediately blurts out “they’re right, you know.” So goes his whole confession: the radio says something, and then he repeats it immediately, ending with his howls of “believe me! Believe me!”
Obviously, it’s not the radio saying these things. There’s a man on the other end. However, that man is using the radio as a diabolical tool with which to shatter the sanity of poor Number 93. Being given commands by radio both distances the human being from the torture he is committing and dehumanizes the person being tortured. Even an object as simple as a radio is used as an instrument of the greatest cruelty in The Village.
“That’s why they call it the local service.”
~Number Six, The Chimes of Big Ben
There are no cars in The Village. Instead, they have Taxis, sort of little golf carts that have a top speed less than that of a walking person. They are a “local service only” that cannot get very far from The Village; nonetheless, each Taxi has a driver, almost certainly a Warder. This is a prime example of technology that can benefit the individual (in this case, by promoting freedom of movement and possibly easing escapes) being effectively kept away from the Prisoners and monopolized by those in power. They appear in many episodes, usually to chase down Number Six as he tries to escape, strongly reinforcing the view that technology can be used solely by Society, and only then to the detriment of the Individual.
Number Two: “Why do you care?”
Number Six: “I know this voice.”
Number Two: “I’ve been here before. Why do you care?”
Number Six: “You’ll never know.”
There are a number of phones in The Village. There is one in Number Six’s home, and three much more famous ones in the office of Number Two. They are shaped sort of like mildly streamlined Ls and are, like the radios, completely wireless. A wireless phone in the 1960s, of course, was so advanced as to be ridiculous, like a locomotive compared to a caveman. In the very first episode Number Six picks one up, appears shocked that there’s no cord, and tries to make a call. The operator informs him that if he has no number (he has not yet been in The Village long enough to understand how things work) he cannot make a call. Every phone is connected to this switchboard; all technology is to be used only in the way Society (the Warders) wants it to be. They are, therefore, of absolutely no use to the Villagers who wish to live free lives.
The three phones in Number Two’s office are similar. One connects him to the control room; another to his superiors (perhaps even Number One himself); the third’s destination is unclear. These three phones are used by Number Two to facilitate communications, to help his administration run more effectively. Any soldier knows that quick communications are the most crucial part of a battle, sometimes more so that armament, and it is this technology that allows Number Two to better control the lives of those he oversees. In a scattering of episodes, phones (and televisions) turn on and off seemingly at the will of Number Two. It’s also an interesting note that none of the phones have the ability to self-dial: all Prisoners must connect through the Village switchboard.
The Filing Machine
“In the matter of the people versus this person, court is now in session…”
~Number Two, Dance of the Dead
At the beginning of every episode the theme is played, which recounts the basic storyline. Number Six is shown resigning his job, driving home, getting gassed, and waking up in The Village. One short scene that is noteworthy within this opening is that of an enormous filing machine. First, a close-up of a typewriter printing Xs over Number Six’s paperwork is shown. Then, a mechanical arm carries the paperwork down a long, long hallway of filing cabinets, and drops it into a drawer labeled “Resigned’ that opens automatically. It is clear that this was filmed with the intention of it being a machine that carries the paperwork. Had it been a person dropping the file into the drawer, nothing would be noteworthy, however, Number Six’s resignation, his failure to perform as society compels him, is handled entirely by technology. Although he may have handed his resignation letter to his human boss, the opening sequence gives us the feeling that this man was only a façade; it is the ominous, automatic machinery that is handling everything.
Number Six: “I feel like taking a walk.”
Electrician: “Feel free.”
Scattered throughout The Village are small red boxes. These are actually loudspeakers, their size disproportionate to their volume; in the 1960s they would have been seen as incredibly futuristic, whereas the modern viewer notices nothing out of the ordinary at first. They look to be cubes about four or five inches on a side yet can be heard quite loudly for hundreds of feet. It is over this system that the Warders make their daily announcements, such as weather forecasts and notices about what flavor ice cream is available in the commissary.
Ominously, these boxes seem to be directly tied to the thoughts and wishes of the Warders. Take as an example a scene from the episode Checkmate. A game of chess is being played in a field, with human players as the pieces. Number Six is assigned the position, naturally, of pawn. Two chessmasters sit in raised chairs and call out the moves by megaphone, the human pieces then moving into position. Number Six strikes up a conversation with the queen, and when ordered to move doesn’t budge because he’s waiting for her to give him an answer. The chessmaster announces the movement order (two squares forward) and is ignored; when he repeats himself his voice comes not just from the megaphone but from the announcement boxes nearby, thundering and unable to be ignored. The announcement boxes, a common but rather advanced bit of technology, are the mouthpiece of the Warders, and nothing else. They are the lips through which the orders and demands of Society are conveyed to individuals.
In some of the early episodes, Number Six is given directions through the announcement boxes as he looks for a particular door or location. For instance, while alone in the parlor of the Green Dome (see below) he tries to find the way to the Council Chambers, a voice from an announcement box admonishes, “not that door. Nor that one. Through there.” The words of the message are not quite as important as the fact that the voice is demonstrating again the powers of the various surveillance devices in The Village.
“Confide and we concede.”
~Number Two, Free For All
Number Six runs away from someone in almost every episode for one reason or another, and every time he seems to end up in a forest clearing. Where this is isn’t entirely clear, but my personal suspicion is that it is at the top of a hill, towards the ocean, since Number Six passes through the clearing in Arrival as he runs from The Village Proper to the shore.
The interesting thing about this clearing is that it is home to a number of statues. Busts of famous people (none of whom I recognize, but at least some of which resemble various Number Twos) sit atop stone columns. They’re more than statues, though: the eyes contain video cameras that act as surveillance devices. At the time a video camera the size of a human eye was ridiculous fiction, so these items represent a fairly advanced state of technology, the sole use of which is to keep tabs on the Prisoners. While technology being used as surveillance equipment is hardly a novel or incredible idea, the fact that they are disguised as regular objects gives technology a bit of a devious air. Those statues are just camouflage, technology comes hand in hand with deceit.
The Green Dome (Number Two’s Office)
“You are free to go! I am in command! Obey me and be free!”
~Number Six, Free For All
The building itself has an ominous air. In a village of bricks and stone the single green dome, rising above all other structures, dominating the skyline, fairly screams modernity and, therefore, technology. Inside the green dome, the first thing one sees is a parlor, where the mute butler (played by Angelo Muscat and the only character to appear in every episode and not have a Number) waits to escort them to Number Two’s office. The office itself is behind metal doors a few feet thick a la Cheyenne Mountain and NORAD.
In the center of the room sits Number Two’s console. It’s a semicircular affair of dials, buttons, and knobs. He himself sits on a bizarre throne: a completely black, hollow half-sphere. This sort of chair was popular in the 1960s, but it’s shape does everything but scream “modern! modern!” It also calls to mind Rover, discussed below. Around Number Two’s desk are holes in the floor. At the push of a button these holes open and chairs, tables, and other furniture rises from below. The entirety of the room is automatic, the height of technology. As such, it is the seat of power from which the forces of Society perpetuate their evil actions against Individuals.
One entire wall is consumed by an enormous projection screen. On this screen Number Two regularly spies on Villagers, speaks with other administrators (all the Number Twos seem to have a fondness for looking at the Supervisor and the Head Doctor when they speak.) In the late 1960s, having an entire wall that served as an enormous television screen was the equivalent, I’m told, of a modern show saying that someone personally owns a spy satellite that can read the fine print on a dollar bill from the moon and send the image directly to the operators’ brain. That is to say, an almost laughably advanced piece of technology.
Before we depart Number Two’s office, there are two more items of interest. The first is in regards to telephones. Number Two has three telephones that sit on his desk. They have no buttons and (much more of a shock to the 1960s crowd) no wires. With them, he communicates to the Hospital, the Control Room, the Public Address system, his superiors (Number One, perhaps?) and individual telephones. At the time, wireless telephones were beyond imagination; just another example of technology facilitating the operations of The Village.
Second, behind Number Two’s throne sits a Penny Farthing. This is an old fashioned bicycle (the front wheel several feet in diameter, the rear wheel a few inches, with long curved handles) that represents technological progress. It’s not a coincidence that the badge each villager wears to identify his Number has a Penny Farthing shown in outline behind the Number. The Penny Farthing stands for technology; it also stands for The Village, therefore, one can see that The Village and technology are synonymous. Synonymous, that is, with the oppression of individuality for the good harmony of society.
The Supervisor’s Room (The Control Room)
Number Six: “I am not a number. I am a person.”
Number Two: “Six of one, half a dozen of the other.”
Though the interior of the Control Room is shown in almost every episode, its exact location is not really known. This is the domain of the Supervisor, a bald chap with angry eyes who seems to be second in command after Number Two. In the center of the room two men sit on a revolving seesaw, eyes glues to a strange box-like machine. Although it’s never really clearly explained exactly what they’re doing, the impression is given that they are watching over The Village, spying on inhabitants or monitoring that everything is going well.
Around them is a short wall that forms three-quarters of a circle. On it is a map of The Village, which is rarely mentioned in an episode, but always present. Sometimes a glowing light can be see traveling the map, which many assume to be a locator detailing the location of Rover (see below) as it goes out on patrol.
To the front of the seesaw is the open part of the semicircle with the map. This is where the Supervisor usually stands, and where specialized equipment is brought in for special tasks. This is also the location of a wireless phone, with which the Supervisor communicates to Number Two, the Hospital, and his various guard posts and minions.
One wall of the Control Room is covered by a map of the Earth. The opposite wall is covered in a map of constellations, and there’s also a huge viewing screen similar to the one in Number Two’s office. More ominously, and most importantly, however, is an object that hangs from the ceiling. It’s shaped like an eye with a bright green iris and thick metal eyelids. Generally called the Eye, it’s assumed to be the primary means of surveillance for the Warders. This impression is given mainly from a fantastic scene in an early episode. Number Six tries to make a run for it; he is shown running on the viewing screen, then the camera zooms in on the Supervisor’s eye, then zooms in on the Eye. The scene then cycles between the three while the Supervisor reads off Number Six’s location and gives orders to his guards. This eye is, oftentimes, the first thing one sees in a scene involving the Control Room, and is actually an icon on the DVD interface. It is, quite possibly, one of the most advanced and important pieces of technology in The Village, and it’s uses are clear: to facilitate the suppression of the populace.
“My arrival here is a fact, but I have to tell you nothing.”
~Number Six, Fallout
Over the course of the series Number Six is brought to the hospital dozens of times. Most often he is brought there and some drug or truth serum is injected into him, which he inevitably realizes and fights against. There are, however, some interesting rooms and scenes that fit into our discussion of the role of technology in The Village.
The first of these is the general examination room. A number of times Number Six is brought there and his vital statistics are taken, either as a matter of routine or to make sure he was not permanently injured during an escape attempt or an attempt by Number Two to break him and make him talk.
The first occurs in the episode Arrival. In it, Number Six has his first personal run-in with Rover, described below. He is knocked out and, according to the doctor, that can lead to a number of serious side effects. Number Six is led into an examination room with a large examination chair and a bank of computers whirring against one wall. At the time these were the height of computing technology; in the modern day the huge reel-to-reel tapes and endless rows of switches and buttons look vaguely comical. Nonetheless, we must take it as it was intended by the creators of the show, and nothing sums up the role of the computer better than this conversation heard as Number Six is being examined:
Number Six: “I’m all right. I want to leave.”
Doctor: “Let me be the judge of that.” The doctor then proceeds to the computer, punches some buttons, and waits. A punch card is produced from a slot in the machine. The Doctor examines it. “All right, everything is in order.”
The doctor first tells Number Six to let him decide whether or not Number Six is in good health. He then immediately turns to a machine, which tells him what to say. This theme of machines telling people exactly what to say or do will be re-examined in the episode A Change of Mind. One could argue that the doctor was using the machine merely as a tool to perform tests and then interpreted the results himself, however, the staging of the scene, the body language, and the general atmosphere of the show make it clear that the machine is telling the doctor what to do, and he is doing it. There is no room for individual thought even for professionals who are usually entrusted by society to use their intelligence and instincts to perform their jobs.
The hospital contains a number of other pieces of technology that demand scrutiny. The first is the “group therapy room,” in which Number Six sees a man hooked up to a device that strongly resembles the projector device from A Clockwork Orange. The man’s eyes are pried open and he is watching various scenes, all the while screaming and jibbering, raving like a madman. Though the doctors insist that the machine is helping the man to work through his various neuroses, in effect healing him, it is obvious that the device is simply an instrument of torture and brainwashing. Though the device shows up only two or three times it is a clear and obvious example of technology being used by society to suppress the individual. This room is seen in later episodes, but the sign on the door says “Aversion Therapy Room.”
Those Insidious Lamps (The Pulsators)
“Humanity is not humanized without force.”
~The Minister, Fallout
Number Six’s home is relatively comfortable, aside from the ominous semi-intelligent doors, the radio he can never turn off, and the television over which Number Two occasionally converses with him. There are, however, two items of high technology disguised as ordinary appliances: the lamps over his bed and recliner. They look like regular lamps positioned directly over where Number Six’s head would rest while laying in bed or sitting in the recliner. (The recliner is more of a very comfortable looking chair, whether or not it reclines isn’t clear and isn’t terribly important.) When Number Six falls asleep, however, the lamps descend from the ceiling and, with odd lights and a whirring noise, render him unconscious. In the episode The Schizoid Man these lamps are referred to as the “Pulsators.”
Other than Rover, this is possibly the most disturbing piece of technology in The Village. They look like normal lamps, technology camouflaged as utility, but are instruments of repression. It is with the aid of these lamps that the Warders can enter Number Six’s home without fear of waking him to drug his food and drink, search for contraband, administer sedatives to Number Six and then kidnap him, and so on. Technology, in this case, is not just an instrument of terror used by Society to subjugate the Free Individual. It is shown as particularly devious and evil, lying in wait for the unsuspecting subject like some poisonous jungle predator. After the function of these lamps is revealed to the viewer (since they knock Number Six out, it’s fairly sure he never knows them for what they are) one finds oneself eyeing anything more complex than an abacus with suspicion.
In the penultimate episode, Once Upon a Time, we find that there is more to these Pulsators than the simple ability to knock a person out. In all but this episode, the Pulsator lowers to Number Six’s head, knocks him out, and then doctors enter the room and retrieve him, administer drugs, or so on. In Once Upon a Time, Number Six is left beneath the Pulsator overnight. Upon being woken by Number Two he thinks, for some reason, that he is a small child. The Pulsators evidently have quite a range of abilities other than simple tranquilization, which makes them both more advanced and more evil.
Number Six: “What was that?”
Number Two: “Rover.”
Number Six: “Rover what?”
Number Two: (pause) “Just Rover.”
Number Six: “Who drives it?”
Number Two: (long, puzzled look) “Drives it?”
Rover is the absolute pinnacle of technology in The Village; that is what makes it so horrifying. Rover is the guardian of The Village, the enforcer of the will of the Warders. Anytime a Prisoner attempts to escape, he is hunted down by Rover; anytime lawlessness appears to be taking hold, Rover appears; any time that Number Six misbehaves, Rover rolls onto the scene.
Rover itself is a white sphere. Nothing more, nothing less, a white sphere that rolls along with a mind of its own accompanied by a blood-curdling sound like some demonic ambulance. It is the most complex mechanical system in The Village; it is also utterly inhuman and completely unstoppable. Originally the script called for a flat, “beetle shaped” device with a blue police light on the top, however, during the first day of filming it was swept into the sea and lost forever. Instead, the idea of using a weather balloon was hit upon, and one of the most purely terrifying characters in television history was born.
The horror of Rover comes ultimately from its perfection. It is a pure white sphere, utterly inhuman, technology in its highest state. As the show progresses the more complicated a technological device is the less and less it is identifiable with everyday experience; Rover is completely alien. It is the enforcer of the will of society, the pure incarnation of technology, which is used as nothing more than an instrument of torture and murder, horror and evil.
One of the most fascinating moments during the series comes in the episode Once Upon a Time, when Number Two enters his office to find Rover sitting in his chair. It is a clear and hard message from those that run The Village: even Number Two, the highest ranking person in The Village, the one from whom are issued all orders, is not above being menaced by Rover. The message that Rover sends is that any individual, no matter how important, will be subject to a terrible fate should they betray Society, and technology is the tool through which that fate shall be effected.
In the very first episode, Arrival, Rover is introduced. Number Two is showing Number Six around The Village, and as they arrive upon the town square everyone freezes. Everyone, that is, except for one man, who runs around in circles, screams, and attempts to run away. Instantly Rover appears, rolls down, and engulfs the man. The man is standing there; Rover rolls on top of him; there is a shot of the man struggling, his face shown through some sort of rubbery material, there is a terrible gurgling sound, and then the man exists no more.
The grounds of The Village are fairly littered with lava lamps. While this may seem to be tangential to the discussion of Rover, these lamps are reminders of the omnipresence of technology. In some episodes the camera zooms in on a lava lamp, and when a sphere of ‘lava’ begins to float to the surface, the camera then zooms out to reveal Rover springing up from the ocean depths. These lava lamps, rather technological devices in and of themselves, serve as a reminder that Rover is always watching, that technology is always at the ready to repress the individual, should society require it.
“Very scientific. The trouble with science is that it can be perverted!”
~Number Six, The Schizoid Man
There are, of course, some pieces of technology that only show up in single episodes, make their point, and are then never seen again. In this section we will take a look at these devices one at a time in chronological order. Some episodes include little or no technology at all (of these, almost all rely on drugging the hell out of Number Six and hoping he’ll spill) and will not be discussed.
The Truth Test
Number Six: “Elections? In this place?”
Number Two: “Of course. Everyone has a choice…are you going to run?”
Number Six: “Like blazes, first chance I get.”
~Free For All
A scene in Free For All, the second episode, introduces us to a rather bizarre piece of technology. It’s called the Truth Test, and is located in the Head Doctor’s office (which is below the Council Chamber, which is inside the Green Dome.) In this scene Number Six has just been sent to the Head Doctor’s office after getting in an argument with Number Two and the Village Council (a puppet regime, at best.) Number Six has decided to run for the position of Number Two in the upcoming elections.
Inside the Head Doctor’s office, Number Six takes a seat. With the press of a button, the Head Doctor activates some sort of device that makes it impossible for Number Six to get out of the chair. He’s stuck there. This in and of itself is an example of some (even nowadays) advanced technology that can only have one use: torture and subjugation.
The Head Doctor then begins the Truth Test, which uses some sort of unidentified machine. The exact scene is hard to describe, because we never actually see the machine administering the test. However, progress is indicated by a somewhat strange set of silhouettes projected against the back wall. The Head Doctor begins asking questions in regards to why Number Six wants to run for office. Despite the fact that Number Six makes no response, the Head Doctor acts as though he’s spoken out loud. He actually tells Number Six at one point that “everything you think here is in the strictest confidence.”
The silhouette in the background changes after each “response,” indicating lies and true statements, as well as statements that serve society and those that indicate Number Six is putting his own welfare above that of society. At the end, the strain is too much and Number Six passes out.
What makes this machine, whatever it is, so important, is that it indicates that those that run The Village are able to read minds, at least to some degree. They’ve shown remarkable abilities to predict Number Six’s reactions through simple psychology (they know him, so they know how he’s likely to react,) but this is a step further. This device falls more closely to the realm of torture than other devices found in The Village. The subject must be forcefully restrained, and the experience puts some sort of stress on his body (otherwise, Number Six would not have passed out.) This is, at best, a harsh tool of interrogation, yet another weapon in Society’s arsenal meant to be aimed at the Free Individual.
Roland Walter Dutton
Number 40: “I would have made him talk. Every man has his breaking point.”
Number Two: “I don’t want him broken. He must be won over.”
~Dance of the Dead
Roland W. Dutton is one of the most unsettling pieces of technology that The Village has at its disposal. He was once a friend and colleague of Number Six; now, he’s a puppet, an automaton that takes his orders from The Village. When we first see him at the beginning of Dance of the Dead he is sitting in a wheelchair, utterly immobile, staring straight ahead, unblinking. Medical technicians break into Number Six’s residence and hook electrodes up to his forehead, all the while being monitored on the large screen in the Control Room. At their signal, a phone is pressed into Dutton’s hand and he is made to call Number Six. Number Six has apparently been drugged into thinking he’s back in London, and Dutton tries to persuade him to give up his secrets. To say that it is Dutton doing the persuading is erroneous: it is Number 40, a doctor, that does the persuading. Number 40 says something, and then Dutton repeats it exactly, without emotion, thought, or elaboration. Dutton is nothing but a zombie, a megaphone made of flesh, to the extent that he cannot even hold the telephone himself. Someone has to lift his arm, pry open the fingers, place the phone in, and then curl the fingers around the phone.
Throughout the episode, Dutton does a pretty unimpressive job of trying to force Number Six into spilling his secrets. What he serves as, however, is a reminder of the terrible things that The Village will do to get what it wants: turning men into machines, killing one so that another will talk. Society wants what it wants, and it’s ready to chop some people open to get it if it has to.
The Reaction Transmitter
Number Six: “How do I know I can trust you?”
The Queen: “That’s a risk you’ll have to take.”
Number Six: “Not me.”
Checkmate introduces us to yet another piece of insidious technology– the unknowing human being. In this episode Number Two hypnotizes a woman to believe that she is in love with Number Six. He then gives her a special locket that records her emotions and transmits them to the Control Room. This way, they can tell where Number Six is because the woman will constantly try to follow him and, if near him, her heart will race. By monitoring her vital statistics, those in control can figure out, more or less, where Number Six is. This is technology at its most evil, enabling those in power to betray us using our own bodies against us. Had the woman known she was spying on Number Six, she undoubtedly would not have done it but technology forced her to perform the job against her will. The locket is also another example of technology being disguised as a harmless object, reinforcing the fear that the technology used by those in power can appear anywhere, anytime, as anything.
A. B. and C.
“His mind is now yours. What do you want from it?”
~Number 42, A. B. and C.
In A. B. and C. we see not just some strange, futuristic technology, but an overall feeling about technology is revealed. In this episode Number Six is taken into an underground medical room and his dreams, through use of some machines and a potent new drug, are manipulated. The hope is that if he is put into the right situation in a dream, he will reveal the reason behind his resignation. The plan is foiled by an increasingly adept Number Six, but Number Two’s theory that he resigned because he was going to sell his secrets to an enemy nation is soundly disproved.
In this episode we are introduced to some sort of miscellaneous medical room. It doesn’t seem to be in the hospital, but it is where the drugs are administered to Number Six that enable the manipulation of his dreams. It is, to be blunt, the grayest place on earth. The walls and floors are all the same drab gray, as is the machinery that encircles the litter on which Number Six lays during the procedure. Technology is represented as gray and impersonal, emotionless and ominous. Wires run from a box to clips that are attached to Number Six’s forehead, and an oscilloscope shows Number Six’s thoughts in wave form. Those waves are then turned into pictures, which are projected on a huge screen in the far end of the room.
One interesting thing is that the show successfully predicts a future trend of technology: miniaturization. The data of three important people in Number Six’s life, identified only by the letters A, B, and C, are held on small red disks. The machine they connect to has a reel-to-reel system, the hallmark of old-fashioned computers, with the difference that they are quite small and compact. The creators of the show were incorrect in their assumption that reel-to-reels of magnetic tape would be a staple of computing forever, but they were correct that they would get smaller.
The fact that a machine has been created that can see into a subjects’ mind and display his dreams is not something to be taken lightly, no matter how handily Number Six defeats it. It shows a general feeling that with technology anything is possible, to say nothing of the ominous and terrible things that technology can be made to do. This machine, like all of the other large machines over the course of the show, has no point other than torture, interrogation, pain, and evil. The plain gray boxes show a sort of detached disinterest in the subject itself, creating the impression that since technology cannot feel it cannot empathize with those upon whom it inflicts such horrors. An ancient Latin writer once noted, “The world would perish if pity did not put an end to hate.” These machines are not capable of pity or hate, only of being used to destroy the Individual that threatens Society.
Something that Number Two says will strike the viewer interested in technology as important. In doing research for this particular scheme, he says the details of Number Six’s life have “been computed,” identifying three people as incredibly important. This shows a sort of optimistic faith in technology: a computer, suitably informed, can complete any task. It is similar idea found in a comic book printed in the 1960s where, in the 30th century, the details of the lives of every person on the earth are fed into a computer, which then selects the optimum candidate for the position of President of Earth. Technology, and computers especially, are almost venerated as objects of such supreme power that they can do anything at all. Of course, one must bear in mind that since Number Two is the leader of The Village, his views on the computer as a superior, god-like tool are tainted by the fact that he wants to use this tool to subjugate Individuals and force them to be what Society demands of them.
This episode also sees the introduction of the Superphone, a wireless phone not quite the same as all the others. Instead of the regular L-shaped phone we’ve come accustomed to seeing in The Village, this one has a curve to it, like a cross between an L and a C, and is linked directly to, apparently, Number One. Number Two receives calls on the Superphone, and although we hear only half of the conversation, it is clear he’s getting chewed out by his superiors.
“Speedlearn is an abomination! It is slavery! If you wish to be free, there is only one way: destroy the General!”
~The Professor, The General
In The General we are introduced to the Speedlearn program – a three year university-level degree in three minutes! The goal of the program is, apparently, one hundred percent enrollment, one hundred percent passing of examinations. Number Six returns to his home after some fairly bizarre scenes to watch one of the Speedlearn sessions. It appears on his television (the one he can never turn on or off) and consists of a weasely-looking man giving a sales pitch about the greatness of Speedlearn, and how it will revolutionize the education system. The lesson then starts: it’s a picture of the professor, in black and white, on the screen accompanied by an eerie electronic wailing. A blue light appears and pulsates in the photograph’s eye, the sound gets louder, and then abruptly the whole thing is over. Moments later Number Two comes to visit Number Six, who is shocked to discover that he now knows all of the important names and dates of recent European history.
The lectures are written by The Professor, a distinguished and kindly-looking older gentleman who, as the episode progresses, is shown to despise Speedlearn. His counterpart, The General, must be destroyed for the good of mankind, he contends. At this point Number Six is visited by Number 12, an associate of Number Two and member of the Educational Board, who wants to destroy the Speedlearn program in its entirety. His reasons are summed up quite thoroughly in an exchange with Number Six:
Number 12: “What was the Treaty of Adrianople?”
Number Six: “September 1828.”
Number 12: “Wrong. I said what, not when. You need special coaching.”
It’s apparent that Speedlearn has some serious flaws, however, these all arise from the human beings that write the lectures. The technology itself is perfect and inscrutable.
Number Six, naturally, breaks into the administration building, planning on murdering The General. He manages to change the lecture to be broadcast into anti-Speedlearn propaganda given to him by Number 12, but is caught, his plan foiled. The device that he takes over to do this, incidentally, is called the Sublimator, and looks like a cross between Sputnik and a weird Christmas tree decoration. One tracks its’ operation, apparently, through use of a periscope. After the foiling of his plan, Number Six is taken to meet The General.
As it turns out, The General is an enormous computer. This episode follows closely on A. B. and C., but the sentiment is the same, as evidenced by Number Two’s interruption of Number Six’s interrogation:
”He won’t answer any of our questions, but The General can answer any question, given the basic facts!”
The show is beginning to sound like an advertisement for IBM: computers can do anything! They are infallible, so long as mere human beings don’t interfere! They are the wave of the future! They can answer any question!
The General looks the way people in the 1960s thought a computer ought to: large and in charge, literally. It takes up an entire room, complete with not just one reel-to-reel tape, but two! Blinking lights, hundreds of tiny knobs, and a punch-card reader complete the monstrous device, and it sits atop a stage that gives the distinct impression of an idol upon an altar. Number Six destroys it eventually, of course, but while The General lives, he is spoken of in tones of awe and reverence. Once again, we see a computer venerated as the height of perfection, the summit of human achievement, only slightly bogged down by incompetent human operators. This device, of course, is in the hands of the Warders, who are going to use it to for their own goals, and the fact that Individuals like Number Six attempt to use it for their own goals is seen as a terrible, terrible crime against Society.
The Activity Report Generator
Number Six: “Too many people know too much!”
Number Two: “Never!”
Number Six: “ I know too much!”
~Once Upon a Time
There is one scene of any importance to the discussion of technology in the episode It’s Your Funeral. In this episode, Number Six is told of a plan to assassinate Number Two through use of a bomb, which he must prevent lest there be harsh reprisals against the Prisoners.
Early in the episode Number Two asks for the activity report for Number Six. This begins a fascinating scene, whereby the viewer gets a glance at exactly how The Village is able to predict the actions of the Prisoners. First, surveillance devices have tracked him for most of his stay at the Village. Apparently, they track him for a portion of the morning and then a computer extrapolates how Number Six will spend his day.
The room in which the activity report is compiled demands attention. It has curving round walls and looks like nothing so much as it looks like the interior of an airplane. Built into one wall is a bank of computers in front of which sit technicians. Off to the left is a semicircular desk where a woman, obvious in charge, sits and sets out orders. When looking at this room, one is immediately reminded of the interior of a military surveillance aircraft or of a large bomber. The AWACS from the beginning of Independence Day or the B52 from Dr. Strangelove are both prime examples. There’s an air of urgency and importance, of military precision and high technology in this room. The computers produce ticker tapes that look not unlike cash register receipts, which are carried from the technicians to the woman in charge by an auxiliary or yeoman.
When the woman in charge of this machine brings her findings to Number Two, he is unimpressed. She predicts that he will go to the store and purchase a bag of candy- something he simply does not do. Number Six is too hard a man to indulge in sweets. The woman councils patience, and after a moment they see that Number Six buys the candy as a present for an old lady who’s spent her week’s allowance.
Number Two apologizes and the woman explains that the machine was able to analyze the old lady’s behavior and Number Six’s behavior and predict that he would be in the right place, at the right time, and of the right temperament, to buy her a bag of candy. When Number Two asks her exactly how it works, she spurts some technobabble about quantum matrices, but the point is clear: they have a computer system powerful enough that, when enough details about the behavior patterns of each Villager and their personalities are entered, can produce an infallible, perfect prediction of what they will and will not do on a daily basis. This shows again the almost ridiculous faith placed in computers and their power, to say nothing of the awe and reverence. It also shows yet another powerful and technologically advanced weapon in the hands of The Village.
On the other hand, let us examine the following conversation, which occurs shortly after the machine’s supervisor makes her correct prediction of Number Six’s actions:
Number Two: “Good. How accurate are these? What is the percentage of right and wrong?”
Supervisor: “I’m afraid we don’t know that.”
Number Two: “ Why not?”
Supervisor: “Well, twice we programmed the machines for a percentile appraisal of their own efficiencies. Each time they refused to give back the requested information.”
Number Two: “Refused? How?”
Supervisor: “Simply by not returning the data to us.”
Number Two: “They’ll be wanting their own trade union next…”
First, it should be noted that the word “supervisor” in this context refers to the woman who supervises the machine that generates the activity reports, not the man whose title is actually Supervisor, in the Control Room.
Second, who has the power in this scene? Certainly not the human beings. They want information from their technology, and the technology doesn’t just actively fight against them, but it wins. And there’s no marginal victory here, either: it’s a hands-down win. No contest. The machines are in control, hold all the cards, do what they want, and don’t need to be bothered with questions they don’t feel like answering. Just as Number Six becomes more and more adept at destroying the plans of those in charge towards the end of the show, so does the line between master and servant blur between man and machine. The ultimate blurring of this line will be seen in the final episode, Fallout.
The Sonic Lobotomizer
“Stupid woman! She’ll ruin everything!”
~Number Two, A Change of Mind
In A Change of Mind The Village decides that it’s time Number Six had a change of heart. They decide, of course, that the best way to effect this change is by changing his mind, literally. Accused of being Disharmonious and Unmutual, Number Six is brought up on charges and sentenced to undergo Instant Social Conversion, a procedure which “isolates the aggressive frontal lobe…of the brain!” Using a complicated machine, The Village basically gives Number Six a lobotomy.
The device “uses a variable electromagnetic field to induce a quartz crystal to create ultrasonic waves, focused by a parabolic reflector, to cause molecular turbulence at the focal point.” The focal point, of course, being in the brain of Number Six. No such machine exists, so the prop designers had to design a device that looks like what everyone thinks a sonic lobotomizer ought to look like. It looks basically like a lot of old electrical equipment connected to a satellite dish, which shines a light onto the patient’s (conveniently restrained on a metal rack) head.
The irony is that even in the show the machine doesn’t do anything. The doctors strap Number Six to the rack, convince him that the machine can do what they say it can by melting a concrete brick, and then give him a knock-out drug. He sees the beginning of what he thinks is a lobotomy, passes out, and when he wakes up his nurse drugs the hell out of him so that he feels as though he’s really undergone a lobotomy. The hope being that Number Six, convinced he’s been brain damaged, will give up the reason that he resigned. The plan hinges, essentially, on Number Six being convinced that a machine that in reality does nothing can actually do what they say it can.
This is something that comes up every once in a while in science. If you invent a device, no matter how well it works, people won’t buy it if it doesn’t look like what they think such a device ought to look like. If you’re going to build a microscope, by god, you’d better make it look like a traditional light-focusing microscope, no matter what principle it runs on.
On a slightly more anecdotal note, the quote at the beginning of this section is delivered when Number Six figures out he’s been drugged and switches his tainted tea with his nurses’. The nurse, then suitably tranquilized, spills her guts about the plan. A friend of mine created an audio file of this quote and set it to play every time his girlfriend signed online. One day he was on the phone with her, she signed online, heard Number Two call her stupid in the background, and that was the end of that.
“I am a good man. I was a good man. But if you get him, he will be better.”
~Number Two, Once Upon a Time
As we near the end of the series, things are looking down for those that run The Village. They have only a few hints at why Number Six resigned his position, certainly nothing amounting to a confession. Not only that, but Number Six has become more and more adept at foiling their plans: he’s driven at least one Number Two insane, set a howling mob of Villagers after another, and helped one Number Two escape an assassination plot by strapping a bomb to his replacement. Therefore, it is with the utmost solemnity and after quite a deal of thought that Number Two orders Degree Absolute, the harshest of the procedures known to The Village. Two men. One week. One survivor. In this case, it’s Number Two versus Number Six.
As mentioned above, the Pulsators are an integral part of Degree Absolute. After letting Number Six stew under a Pulsator all night, Number Two wakes him. Somehow, the Pulsators have made Number Six think he’s a small child, and Number Two lures him into a chamber beneath his office with, of all things, ice cream.
In this room the two men undergo degree absolute. It seems that the process itself involves making one man think he’s a child, then moving through the important events in his life chronologically. The other man gets to play the part of the important characters in the first man’s life and then the process is run backwards, so that one observes while the other relives his life. In this manner, the two men will get to know and respect each other, and it is hoped that they will confide in each other. Problematically, Number Six kills Number Two after only a second of the second phase.
We never get to see much of the machinery that makes a man believe he’s a different age then he actually is, but the effect seems to be transmitted, at least, by a single object: an intensely bright light in the ceiling of the room that tracks the person in question and somehow hypnotizes him into believing he’s a child. This may be considered by some Philistines without a sense of taste to be a cheap special effect, but it fits in with the theme of the show: Degree Absolute is the most advanced technique in The Village, requiring the most advanced technology, and as far as we can tell the technology in question is so advanced that we cannot understand it. Like Rover and Number One, it is advanced to the point of losing all semblance of humanity, to the point of being a cold, unfeeling, inhuman, unfamiliar object. There are no knobs, buttons, dials, or handholds, only a single excruciatingly bright light. It is positioned at the top of the room, where it shines down, omniscient and uncaring, on those below. It is a clear example of how, as a device gets more technologically powerful and complex, it becomes less and less identifiable with what it is to be human. It’s safe to say that Number Six never gets to control the device, and anyone who argues that a device that steals a man’s mind and forces his square psyche into a round hole is anything other than pure evil has more than likely got a bit of a flawed definition of evil.
The Underground Cavern
“Dem bones, dem bones, gonna walk around, now hear the word of the lord.”
~Number 48, Fallout
In the final episode, Fallout, the ruler of The Village, the elusive Number One, is finally revealed (sort of.) After killing Number Two and surviving Degree Absolute, the Supervisor informs Number Six that he has won; The Village cannot break him, and they surrender. The Supervisor then asks what Number Six wants, and his reply is simply “Number One.” The Supervisor offers to lead him to Number One’s dwelling.
Degree Absolute takes place in a chamber underneath Number Two’s office. The Supervisor leads Number Six downwards yet again to a bizarre subterranean cavern. It should be noted that there’s a scene that’s odd even by The Prisoner’s standards that was cut of the approach to the cavern’s entrance. Frogmen riding tiny motor scooters are driving down a hall in front a sign that says both stop and go. One is lit at a time. The frogmen obey the sign, but Number Six stops when it says go and goes when it says stop, just to (apparently) annoy The Supervisor.
After passing the immense steel doors, a throne is located dead ahead. To the left is a medical section that will be described briefly, and beyond that are two tubes from which floats a pale fog. Directly ahead of the throne is a wall of computers, complete with hooded technicians working the machinery. To the left of that is a podium, and behind that a sort of bleachers filled with hooded men representing the various special interest groups in The Village. Further left yet again is an immense silver cylinder. This is Number One.
The cylinder has a huge red ‘1’ on the side, right above an electronic eye. This eye matches the Eye described above, the surveillance device from the Control Room, in every way, except that it also has a pair of metal eyelids. Smoke vents from the floor around the circumference of the cylinder, and it makes an eerie electronic chirping sound every now and again.
The scene that takes place here is long and complex, and should not be discussed except among fellow cult TV enthusiasts with several pints of lager on hand. There are, however, several things of note to those interested in technology.
First is the medical section mentioned briefly above. This is where The Village actually brings the dead back to life through use of a device that looks remarkably like a Pulsator, some smaller machines, and a whole tangle of wires. They bring the last Number Two back to life, as well as resurrecting Number 48, who was killed by a fall in Living in Harmony. This device shows the same amazing faith in technology as The General and other computers above: a belief that some day a computer will be created powerful enough to resurrect the dead. At the same time, this device is used only because those that run The Village want the dead to testify at Number Six’s bizarre hearing.
The throne is for Number Six. Having beaten The Village in their game, a man dressed in the powdered wig of a British magistrate implores Number Six to either teach them what they did wrong, so that they can more easily break others sent to The Village, or to leave and never, ever bother them again. The throne sits on a square platform, and it’s interesting to note that at each corner of the square stands a Village Soldier in his gray jumpsuit, sunglasses, white helmet and gloves, and armed with (for some reason) either a Sten submachine gun or a Thompson submachine gun (sadly, no gangster-style drum clips are in evidence.) The four Soldiers, however, are all facing the same direction: towards the wall of computers. If they were meant to protect Number Six from attack, it stands to reason that they’d be spread out, each facing a different direction, however, it is obvious that the greatest threat to a Free Individual is technology, and so they face the band of computers. Whether they think that the bank of computers is going to dive for a gun or something is unclear, but they do it anyway.
“Who is Number One?”
“You are Number Six.”
~The opening credits (read by some as “You are, Number Six.”)
Number One resides in the metal cylinder to the far left of the throne in the underground cavern. At least, that’s what some think: it’s also been argued that Number One is the metal cylinder to the far left of the throne.
Regardless, Number Six eventually tires of the shenanigans of the folks in the Underground Cavern and descends further to meet Number One. He is brought to a long hallway that ends in a door, which leads into the metal cylinder of which one can see a part in the above room. The first room that Number Six enters hums with activity. Technicians in white robes and masks work at computer banks, and Number Two and Number 48 stand enclosed in clear tubes labeled “Orbit 2” and “Orbit 48,” respectively. A third tube, labeled simply “Orbit” stands empty near the back wall.
A spiral staircase leads up to Number One’s chamber. There is a table covered in globes of the earth, and beyond that, the mysterious figure sits at a computer control panel. He watches on a monitor as Number Six begins to sneak up behind him. After a moment, Number Six peels away the figure’s mask to reveal a gibbering ape! Fortunately, Number Six sees through that trick rather quickly and peels off the ape mask to reveal himself. Number One is identical to Number Six, except in behavior. Number One screams and jibbers, runs around like a madman, and flees through a hatch in the roof.
Number Six cannot chase him; instead he messes with some of he computers, frees Number Two and Number 48, and shoots his way out of the cavern. Above ground we hear orders to evacuate The Village, and we soon see the reason: Number One’s cylinder is actually a rocket, which is lifting off from The Village.
Number One is the symbol, the avatar, the very personification of Society. He is the leader of The Village, the sum total of all that humankind knows as civilization. It is fitting, then, that he is to be shown as an enormous rocket, the apex of human technology. At the time of The Prisoner the moon race was on the verge of being won, and rockets that carried men to the moon were (and still are) symbols of all that mankind has achieved. They are also symbols of incredible atrocity, of the evil man is capable of inflicting on other men. ICBMs, InterContinental Ballistic Missiles, are capable of delivering their thermonuclear payloads to anywhere on earth. Number One is a symbol simultaneously of humankind as a collective society; of the achievements of humankind; and also of terrible suffering and horror. Number One is the perfect incarnation of technology, society, and of evil, all of which are linked.
Technology: Free For All?
Number Two: “You are a unit of society!”
Number Six: (howling) “NO! NO! NO!”
~Once Upon a Time
Some episodes make it appear that the Prisoners, such as Number Six, can obtain technology and use it to their own benefit. At first glance, that’s true: Number Six manages to steal quite a volume of objects from the Warders. Upon closer inspection, however, the case is more complicated: either the objects he’s stolen are completely worthless and non-functional, or he was meant to steal them to further the wishes of those that run The Village. In this section, we shall investigate those objects, once again in chronological order.
In the first episode, Arrival, Number Six is given a device called an Electropass. It’s one of very few Bond-like gadgets to make an appearance in the show. He’s given it by a woman that was close to Cobb, an old friend of Number Six’s, and had planned to escape with him. The pass, which looks like an ordinary wristwatch, enables the wearer to pass Rover undetected, an ability which Number Six uses to steal a helicopter and make an escape attempt.
At first it appears that Number Six has gotten his hands on a piece of technology, and is using it for his own benefit. It’s not the Electropass’s fault, after all, that all the helicopters in The Village are remote controllable and can be piloted from the ground, thus torpedoing Number Six’s escape attempt. A close look at the episode, however, reveals the truth: the Electropass is a tool for sure, but not a tool ever usable by Number Six or any other Individual. The Village arranged for the Electropass to fall into Number Six’s hands on purpose, so that he could steal the helicopter and then be taught that there’s no point in trying to escape, since the Warders have every avenue of egress under their thumb. The Electropass is technology, but it is technology whose only masters are those who run The Village, regardless of whether or not Number Six happens to wear it around for a little while.
The Radio Transmitter and The Rook’s Device in Checkmate
The Rook: “I thought all nations should have it. It would have ensured peace.”
Number Six: “Treason?”
The Rook: “Treasonous thoughts, maybe.”
In Checkmate Number Six tries to escape by, and this is a greatly abbreviated summary, constructing a radio transmitter from stolen electronics parts, floating it out to sea, and luring a ship to come to his rescue. For this, he recruits some other prisoners, including a man he meets during a game of chess who is referred to throughout the episode as The Rook.
An interesting sidenote about The Rook: he’s in The Village for a reason that spells out the theme of this paper beautifully. He tells Number Six that he had built an electronic device for defense purposes. It could deactivate any enemy weapon trying to cross the border into or out of a country. He thought to himself that all nations should have such a device, and then world peace would be ensured. The next day, he awoke in The Village.
An Individual develops a technology and decides to use it in a way that is clearly forbidden by Society: giving defense technology to an enemy country. (Interesting note: it’s not clear where The Rook is from. It’s as possible he’s from Russia as it is that he is from America or Britain.) Then, he’s taken to The Village where technology is used as the main tool in breaking his Individuality. To be brief, Society and Society alone has the monopoly on technology, and if you want to use it in the wrong way, watch out, because you’re in a world of trouble.
Back to Checkmate. In it, The Rook helps Number Six assemble a radio transmitter and float it out to sea. Number Six then transmits a message that he’s an airplane pilot whose craft is aflame and falling into the ocean. The message is received by the H.M.S. Pelotska, which moves in to rescue survivors.
This seems like a pretty bulletproof case of Number Six using technology to his own advantage, but it has two large flaws. The first is that The Rook betrays him, thinking that Number Six is a Warder sent to try and trick him into getting in trouble. In The Rook’s defense, Number Six treats him fairly poorly over the course of the episode. The other problem is that the H.M.S. Pelotska is a Village ship. Number Six makes it all the way out the ship, is rescued, and then receives a call from Number Two. Shortly thereafter, the crew tries to apprehend him, Rover becomes involved, it’s all sorts of a big mess.
The important fact is this: at no point is there any chance whatsoever that this transmitter will be of any use whatsoever to Number Six. It’s as though he stole a pistol, but no bullets. One would not claim that he was armed, if that were the case, and one certainly cannot reason that he uses this transmitter for his own good, since that is impossible. If anything, it reinforces the notion that escape is not possible, because all ships in the area belong to The Village.
The Chimes of Big Ben
“Rutherford, for example. How he must regret having split the atom.”
~Professor Seltzman, A Change of Mind
The Chimes of Big Ben is, in the opinion of the learned, the best of all the episodes of the prisoner. It is the gold standard, the pure shining essence of what a good show ought to be. If this episode were a beverage, it would be carefully kept in an oaken cask, deep in the cellar of a rather grave, white-haired British man, who would serve it on a silver platter, his crisply starched tuxedo reiterating the solemnity of the occasion on which this fine vintage is to be tasted.
In this episode Number Two is played by Leo McKern, who returns later in the series as the final Number Two, and who is, much like Sean Connery and James Bond, the quintessential Number Two. Number Six is particularly on form, trading barbs with a flair and wit unmatched in any other episode. What is most important, however, is that those who run The Village almost win. They come within a hair of tricking Number Six into confessing the reason behind his resignation, getting so far as to learn that it was a moral decision.
Number Six is surprised to meet a girl, Nadia, who moves in next door as the new Number Eight. In return for Number Two’s promise to stop torturing her, Number Six becomes a model citizen and enters an art contest, carving an elaborate display piece from wood. In the episode he fashions his own tools: a stone-and-wood axe, a stone chisel, and other woodworking items. We learn from Number Two that this is against the law, that such tools are not meant for Prisoners to use. However, since Number Six is being such a co-operative, model citizen, he looks the other way. A victory for Number Six, who is now free to use the crude tools however he wishes? Not so much, as we shall see momentarily.
Number Six’s display piece turns out, in reality, to be a boat. He and Nadia, who came to The Village because she accidentally learned its location, escape to the Polish coast, where they meet with the anti-Soviet resistance. The resistance transmits a message from Number Six to London, and then mails him there in a large wooden crate. (Nadia goes too, and there’s a hilarious scene where the crate is getting jostled about and one can clearly hear workers saying things like “Oi, ease up there mate, it’s supposed to be fragile!”)
The crate is mailed to the office of Number Six’s old boss. Number Six steps out and questions besiege him: he resigned without explanation, promptly disappeared, and now he’s returning to London from behind the Iron Curtain. It certainly doesn’t look good for him, and his boss begins demanding answers. Number Six is about to respond when he realizes that Big Ben has just chimed eight O’clock. The wristwatch that he borrowed from a resistance man in Poland says eight, despite the fact that there’s an hour difference. Number Six knows something is up and searches the room, revealing a tape recorder playing sounds of ambient noise from outside. He’s not in London, rather, he’s in a room in The Village, suitably disguised so as to fool him.
This is why the technology that Number Six gets his hands on in this episode is not really his. When he uses the tools to build a boat, he is not actually using technology for his own good. He is playing right into the hands of the Warders. Despite the fact that he created these tools from rocks and sticks, they are still the instruments through which Society is trying to trick him.
The wristwatch is the same: he uses it to time he voyage and ensure that he’s traveled for as long as he ought to have. It is not, however, of any use to him. It is not the watch that enables him to realize he is in a trap: it is the misuse, by The Village, of the tape recorder playing ambient noise that enables him to realize he’s in a trap. The watch served its purpose during the trip; the incompetent use of technology by The Village is not the same as the competent use of technology by Number Six. While Number Six does use some tools and technology in this episode, it is the same as with the Electropass before it: because it plays directly into the hands of what The Village wants, it is of no use to Number Six. The Village understands Number Six’s personality, and thus gives him tools and technology that further their own goals, never his.
Number Six (impersonating Number 12):“Number Six is dead.”
Number Two: “WHAT?!”
Number Six: “Number Six is dead. Rover got him.”
Number Two: “Control room! Deactivate Rover immediately, pending further investigation!”
~The Schizoid Man
In The Schizoid Man Number Six actually tricks Rover into killing his doppelganger. An impersonator had been brought to The Village to take the place of Number Six, who was then told that he was actually Number Twelve, brought in to help break Number Six’s sense of reality by impersonating him. Though that is a pretty complicated explanation, the episode dutifully holds the viewer’s hand and makes it clear who is who the entire time. The basics are that they try to drive Number Six insane by bring in a double and, through use of Pavlovian conditioning and then memory-erasing drugs, making him left handed instead of right, changing his home around just a little, etcetera.
Number Six, of course, figures all this out about halfway through the episode. He breaks into his Doppelganger’s home, beats some information out of him, and promptly chases him outdoors after curfew. When Rover appears, the quick-thinking Number Six blurts out the password that the fake was supposed to use to identify himself, and Rover kills the Doppelganger, thinking him to be the actual Number Six.
Over the course of the episode, Rover is depicted as being a little on the stupid side. When it first comes across the two identical men, Number Six remarks “this must be quite confusing for it, not knowing which of us to bite.” It seems less like a horrifying instrument of terror and more like a large, single-minded dog in this episode, to the point that, it makes a mistake and kills the fake Number Six instead of the real one. It would seem that the perfect expression of technology in Village life is flawed.
Or is it? This particular Number Two presumably orders Rover to kill Number Six if he is out past curfew and then brings a man who is absolutely identical to Number Six to The Village. With this in mind, it certainly doesn’t seem that Rover is the weak link in this particular chain: it seems as though Number Two didn’t quite think things through. Like a modern computer program or an old-fashioned hand grenade, Rover is a tool that does exactly what it is ordered to do. If it’s told to do something done, then it will do it with all the viciousness and savage efficiency it can muster. Number Two is the one who failed, not Rover. While technology is shown throughout the show as the tool by which Society represses the Individual, it is also, on occasions such as this, shown to be a complex tool that Society cannot always handle properly.
“I also have a problem. I don’t know which side runs this Village.”
~Number Six, Many Happy Returns
Number Six finally effects his escape in Many Happy Returns. He wakes one day to a deserted Village- nothing larger than a cat stirs. He searches the whole place and can’t find a trace of anyone else. The water and electricity are both out, and not even ringing the town bell in the bell tower attracts any attention. Naturally, his first impulse is escape. He steals an axe, chops down some trees, and rigs up a raft. He also builds a homemade compass to keep track of his progress and steals a camera to bring back photographic evidence of the existence of The Village.
He makes it all the way back to London, where he reunites with his old bosses from the intelligence community. They strap him into a jet plane and he takes off to search for the location of The Village.
So there it is. Number Six, The Prisoner, has finally gotten his hands on some technology which he first used to escape The Village and now uses to track it down, that he may return and destroy it. A great big gaping hole has been blown in the thesis of this paper- an Individual is using technology for his own goals.
At least, that’s how it seems partway through the episode. It turns out that it’s all a trick! The pilot of the jet finds The Village, circles it, and then shoots Number Six out of his ejection seat. He floats down to earth, only to find Number Two waiting for him with a birthday cake. The whole thing was orchestrated- his escape and brief freedom were not actually escape or freedom, but a birthday present from those who are in command of The Village. So while at first it looks as though he’s obtained tools and weapons, finally, it’s all just one big sham. He’s played directly into the hands of The Village, done their will. Number Six had tools and instruments, true, but he didn’t use them for his own gain any more than he used Rover for his own gain when Rover roughed him up in Free For All. Technology is still the sole domain of those that run The Village.
A Hammer and an Anvil
“I have to report a breakdown in control. Number Two must be replaced. Yes, this is Number Two reporting…”
~Number Two, Hammer Into Anvil
Hammer into Anvil is a fantastic episode that provides evildoers a weak argument to counter the claim that only those that run The Village may use technology, and they use it solely to break the minds, hearts, and spirits of Free Individuals. In this episode a young woman leaps her to her death while being interrogated by Number Two. Number Six, who has a soft spot for the ladies, vows vengeance.
He eventually is able to drive Number Two insane, forcing him to call his superiors and admit he’d gone mad. He does so by going to the general store and listening to four copies of the same record, pretending to listen to a secret message, by placing a personal ad from himself in the paper that makes it look as though he’s contacting a conspirator, and pretty much just acts weird until Number Two thinks he’s the object of an investigation by his enemies. He even goes so far as to capture a pigeon and release it, leading Number Two to think he’s sending a message to fellow conspirators.
Some would claim that Number Six uses various tools, instruments, and technologies around The Village for his own goal (breaking Number Two.) However, this is not the case. Number Six just acts weird until Number Two breaks down: the technology has nothing to do with it. It is not the technology or the props that drives Number Two insane, nor is it the use of these props that drives Number Two insane. It is Number Six’s wits and actions that are the tool, and the thing that drives Number Two insane is his own character. He was an anvil, and Number Six just hammered him until he broke. Or, as it’s said in the episode:
Number Two: “You destroyed me!”
Number Six: “No. You destroyed yourself. A character flaw. You were afraid of your masters, a weak link in the chain of command ready to be broken.”
The Seltzman Machine
Number Two: “Why make this stand now? You must have known what you were doing when you invented the wretched process.”
Professor Seltzman: “Only people like you have made it wretched.”
~Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling
Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling is only grudgingly earns mention in this paper. Patrick McGoohan was busy filming Ice Station Zebra, so a different actor was brought in to play Number Six. This is explained away during the episode by having the plot revolve around a Professor Seltzman, who has built a machine that can take the soul of one person and switch it into another man’s body. This episode is abnormal not just because so little of it occurs in The Village, but also because it seems as though the producers of the show decided to play while McGoohan was away. McGoohan, the Executive Producer, forbade throwing ladies at Number Six as was so often done to James Bond. He’s said to have chopped out whole sections of two other scripts where Number Six was supposed to have a love interest (or, more often, one night stand.)
Yet in this episode, Number Six returns to London in some other man’s body and runs into his fiancée as he chases the elusive Professor Seltzman. There is a kissing scene so terrible that every minute of it lasts for five minutes, and even readers of supermarket paperbacks fight the urge to gag. In other realms the episode is equally terrible, but that’s not what is important here.
What is important is the Seltzman machine, the device which takes the souls out of two bodies and swaps them. Since no such machine exists, it had to look like what people think one would look like. Apparently, this means a metal frame with two tables. When in operation, multi-colored lightning bolts shoot out of the machine and into the heads of the patients. This device is not solely technological, but involves a bit of spirituality: the yogis of India are mentioned as people who can perform this feat at their leisure through psychic means.
This machine is used to put Number Six into another man’s body. He is then turned loose in London, under orders to find Professor Seltzman. Those that run The Village want it, so that they can put the minds of their spies into other bodies, enabling them to infiltrate every government of the world. Of course, Number Six uses his various means to track down Professor Seltzman, who he’d been the last man to see. Seltzman is, apparently, an old friend. Anyway, this is what The Village wants him to do, and, as we’ve seen before, his use of technology only occurs in this instance because The Village allows it to further their own goals. When Number Six locates Professor Seltzman, the two are captured by operatives of The Village.
A prickly problem arises with the end of the episode. Seltzman volunteers to reverse the process, swapping the souls of Number Six and the other man back into their bodies, and in the process he steals the other mans body and escapes. Incidentally, the other man is placed into Seltzman’s body, which promptly dies of shock, and the machine explodes.
At first, it appears that the professor has used technology for his own needs, to escape, but Number Six quickly shoots a hole in that idea. After he and Number Two realize that Seltzman has escaped, he turns and decides to rub it in. In doing so, he lays the credit for the escape entirely on Seltzman’s natural skills. He doesn’t mention the machine a single time, rather, he applauds Seltzman’s natural spiritual ability, similar to those of the yogis in India. To claim that Seltzman used technology for his own wishes (escape) is like claiming that a long-distance runner owes his Olympic victory to the pair of trousers he was wearing that day. Sure, there may have been some connection, but it’s one thin argument.
Kathy: “Regulars get the first on one the house.”
Number Two: “I’m not regular.”
~Living in Harmony
In Living In Harmony Number Six is drugged into thinking he’s in the Wild West. He resigns his job as sheriff and tries to leave, only to be captured and dragged into the town of Harmony, where an evil judge tries to force him to join his team of lawmen. To make a long story short, there’s a pair of revolvers that Number Six refuses to wear. In a roundabout way, one could argue that they’re technology, except that in this case it is the Warders that want him to use them, and he refuses. The fact that the Warders want him to use the pistols immediately drops them into this category, since the Free Individual is not using them to effect his own goals.
In the end of the episode, Number Six grabs the weapons in a rage and decides to kill as many people as he can and leave the town. He makes some progress in this, but is ultimately shot in the face and killed. Of course, it’s all the product of hallucinogenic drugs, so he’s really okay, but one can easily see how this is an example of an Individual being denied the ability to use technology for his own wants. Anything that ends with a person getting shot in the face twice can generally be considered a failure.
The Computer Wore Menace Shoes
“I am not a number! I am a free…oh wait, it says here that I’m Number Five! In your face, Number Six!”
I must acknowledge that the makers of many modern television series have found inspiration in The Prisoner. For instance, an episode of The Simpsons involves Homer being kidnapped and sent to The Village, where he is pumped full of drugs. This episode is an affront to everyone who likes The Prisoner in many ways, but one interesting thing should be mentioned. The reason that Homer is sent to the Village in the first place is that he buys a computer and uses it to start a webpage where he types angry, unfounded conspiracy-theory style rants. One of them turns out to be true, however, and he wakes up in The Village, dressed exactly the same as Number Six. It’s interesting, and in all likelihood unintentional, that Homer is sent to The Village to be tortured specifically because he was a Free Individual that tried to use technology to his own benefit.
“Thanks for the ride, dad.”
~Number 48 to The Magistrate, Fallout
We can now see clearly that technology had a less than glamorous reputation to those who made The Prisoner. We’ve seen each instance of technology in The Village explored, whether simple, common devices or complex machines that show up for only a single episode. We’ve also seen each occasion on which it looks like an Individual gets to use technology for his own uses disproved: the Individual was either allowed to use technology to further the goals of The Village, or the technology was entirely useless in the first place.
We can see that there are some common themes running through the show. Not just that technology is a weapon with which Individuals are to be repressed by Society, but that technology has some inherently inhuman quality. The more complicated and powerful the device, the less and less it appears to have any tie to humanity. Weak, ineffective devices such as The General or The Seltzman Machine all have dials, knobs, levers, and buttons that make it clear that they are meant to interact with human beings: the truly effective and powerful devices, such as Rover or the Degree Absolute machine, have no such thing. Rover is the height of technology, a pure and inhuman white sphere, and the Degree Absolute machine goes beyond that, appearing as an incorporeal light.
We can also clearly see that technology plays only one role: as a device of torture and evil. Society uses different machines, instruments, and devices to mold Free Individuals to its will or to destroy them. It is not a coincidence that Number One, the incarnation of Society, is a missile, the symbol of all real human achievement and man’s inhumanity to man simultaneously. Technology, whether the most powerful device or the simple telephone, is synonymous with Society is synonymous with evil, torture, and repression. No individual ever, for any reason, gets to use any piece of technology for his own wishes.
Simultaneously we see a kind of naïve hope for technology. A computer suitably programmed, such as The General or the Activity Report Generator, can answer any question. Technology holds the key to man’s oldest goal, the conquest of death itself. Computers cannot just answer any question, they can extrapolate appropriate courses of action if given enough data. Furthermore and more ominously, computers are above the pale of the law: if they decide not to give their “masters” data, there is nothing that can be done about it. The computers are in charge.
We see not only a naïve hope, a reverence, an awe for technology, but also a stoic belief in their perfection. Machines never fail: it is the people that use them that sometimes make mistakes. When Rover is accused of killing Number Six, Number Two clearly thinks such a thing preposterous. It is the incarnation of technology and thus above making mistakes. The Activity Report Generator cannot generate an inaccurate report. Number Six’s belief in the perfection and power of technology is so pervasive that even looking at a technological device makes him believe he’s been given a lobotomy.
At the time The Prisoner was produced, the world was a pretty lousy place. The Soviet Union and America had amassed great arsenals capable of wiping humanity from the face of the earth. America was being dragged into a war where it would try to match unthinkable brutality with unthinking brutality. (In fact, Living In Harmony, where Number Six refuses to pick up his guns and fight was not aired in America. The explanation was that it showed characters using mind-altering drugs, which was a theme in many if not all of the other episodes. Knowing this, the reason was almost certainly its anti-war theme.) Those that tried to upset the status quo of Society, whether calling for Civil Rights for blacks or shaking up politics, were being assassinated left and right. Technology was making great leaps in every corner of the world and commercialism was beginning to run out of the control of its creators.
Which of these things influenced the creators of The Prisoner can’t really be certain just from watching the show. However, the sentiments can, and have in this paper, been clearly identified and spelled out.