Following the deserved success of the first volume of this intelligent re-imagening for audio of the classic TV show of the 1960s, now comes its sequel – and it is even better than the first. Mark Elstob is our hero, a kidnapped secret agent, while Deirdre Mullins, Michael Cochrane (and another, who must remain a secret) play the ‘Number Twos’ trying to make him talk.
The following review is offered for Todd Mason’s Tuesday’s Overlooked AV Media meme over at his fab Sweet Freedom blog.
“I am not a number, I am a free man”
A genuine labour of love for writer-director Nicholas Briggs, this new box set (available on CD or download) improves on the already impressive first volume by being much more expansive in its adaptation of the original tales. And much more daring too. This is immediately apparent from the way that the opening two episodes, while both taken loosely from the original TV episodes Many Happy Returns and A, B and C (both written by Anthony Skene), blend superbly to create a single extended narrative (with elements from the original series finale also daringly appended). This use of a strong overarching structure will certainly engage new listeners weaned on serialised Netflix drama but will also please fans of the original as it remains tonally faithful throughout. This is a difficult balancing act and Briggs deserves great kudos for succeeding so completely, especially in further exploring the roots of our hero’s sense of distrust by bringing back Janet, a woman he felt betrayed by in flashbacks from series 1.
The series also looks hard at one of the original series’ major concerns, the concept of doubling and duality, by having various actors play multiple roles. This particular conceit (“doubling up” is standard in drama, most especially on audio) is deliberately left vague and not properly explained at plot level even by the end, which may frustrate some listeners. However, a massive clue is provided by Number 90 (or is it Number 9?) at the close of the final episode (though admittedly only fans of the show will be able to pick up on its importance – perhaps Google can assist them …). The show was always keen to not be too pedestrian to allow its allegorical underpinnings proper room to breathe, while maintaining a semblance of genre credibility and giving itself ample scope to also undermine it from within. If that sounds like a tall order and potentially off-putting, one of the best things about this audio production is that the personal dimension is always front and centre. It helps that star Mark Elstob is so good in the role, evoking the original as played by Patrick McGoohan but remaining very much his own man, even finding new and exciting ways to say “whaaaat?” on a very regular basis! Equally good are Lucy Briggs-Owen as the tragic Kate in episode one, while the return of Sarah Mowat as Janet and Sara Powell as Number 9 (or is it 90?) is really welcome.
Here are the official synopses for the four episodes:
Episode One: I Met A Man Today
Exhausted after a daring escape from the Village, Six returns to London to find a woman living in his home. Despite being fearful that this could be yet another trick by those who run the Village, he dares to take the risk and starts to get to know her… Meanwhile, those running British Intelligence have their own agenda.
[Adapted from the original TV episode, Many Happy Returns]
Episode Two: Project Six
Six is now certain he can’t trust anyone. Any food or water in the Village could be laced with chemicals to alter his mental state. Going ‘nil by mouth’ in an attempt to prevent potential drugging, he finds himself dazed and confused by hunger and dehydration. And a prisoner in a secret laboratory makes some unnerving claims. Claims that lead to the identity of Number One.
[Adapted from the original TV episode, A, B and C]
Episode Three: Hammer into Anvil
For the new Number Two ‘the gloves are off’. His mission is to break Six, saying he must be either hammer or anvil. But Six has a plan to exploit a weakness in the system.
[Adapted from the TV episode of the same title]
Episode Four: Living in Harmony
Six finds himself in entirely unfamiliar circumstances. He is also confronted with the seemingly impossible return of Number Nine. But worst of all, he is faced with a deadly choice. Just how much is his freedom really worth?
[N.B. not adapted from the TV episode of the same title]
“Truth is what you make of it, Number Six!”
As with the first volume, Briggs has adapted three of the episodes from the TV show, more or less directly, while one is entirely his creation. The third play, Hammer into Anvil (from the episode scripted by Roger Woddis), is the closest adaptation to the original TV show – it was never a great favourite of mine to be honest, one of the more conventionally plotted in fact but works extremely well on audio as a duel of wits between a particularly nasty Number 2 and Number 6, with their relationship paradoxically flipped. As with the entire box set, the narrative blends seamlessly from one tale into another, to create one giant narrative. The climax comes with Living in Harmony, an original by Briggs that acts as the finale to the set. Cheekily it is given the same title as one of the TV episodes even though they have nothing in common. I shan’t say too much about it, other than to say that is is an appropriately risky idea with its roots deep in the original show and that it is superbly executed and provides an open-ended but emotionally resonant conclusion. A third series has been promised – let’s just hope we won’t have to wait quite so long for it this time, please!
Writer: Nicholas Briggs
Director: Nicholas Briggs
Music: Jamie Robertson
Sound Design: Iain Meadows
Running time: 4 x 60 minutes (approx), plus extras
Main cast: Mark Elstob (Number Six), Lucy Briggs-Owen (Kate Butterworth), Susan Earnshaw (Brenda), Jim Barclay (Control), Barnaby Edwards (Danvers / Shopkeeper), John Heffernan (Thorpe), Sarah Mowat (Janet), Sara Powell (Number Nine / Number 90), Andrew Ryan (Number 52), Nicholas Briggs (Number 99), Jez Fielder (Number 48), Deirdre Mullins (Number Two), Helen Goldwyn (Barmaid / Village Voice / Village Clone / Number 26 / Lunar Controller / Moon Clone / Observation Controller), Michael Cochrane (Number Two).
Availability: This release is available on CD or as an MP3 download. For further details on this series, and how to purchase on CD or download, visit the Big Finish site at: www.bigfinish.com/ranges/v/the-prisoner