Search This Blog

Sunday 9 September 2018

Generally It’s As Easy As A B and C

The Great Debate regarding the screening order of ‘the Prisoner,’ this is something that has been running since the early 1980’s. Each of us could arrive at a screening order of our own if so inclined, not every enthusiast is of course. No matter what order one might place the 17 episodes three of them are well and truly cemented into position, ‘Arrival,’ ‘Once Upon A Time,’ and ‘Fall Out’ for they are the beginning and the end of any screening order. A B and C’ and ‘The General’ is a quite different case, and are the cause of the biggest headache when assembling any screening order for ‘the Prisoner.’ Both JP and PH
have placed ‘A B and C’ before ‘The General.’ I suppose that’s fair enough as it goes, however both of these episodes do contradict one another.
    It is possible to pair up two episodes ‘The Chimes of Big Ben,’ and ‘Once Upon A Time’ with Leo McKern as No. 2, so it would be reasonable to pair up ‘A B and C’ and ‘The General’ with Colin Gordon as No.2. However to be able to do this, or indeed to place these two episodes is any screening order, one first has to decide which to place before the other! The opening sequence should be able to decide the matter for us. ‘A B and C,’ written by Anthony Skene, has No. 2 saying most definitely “I am Number Two.” While on the other hand Lewis Greifer, scriptwriter of ‘The General,’ has No.2 telling us “I am the new Number Two,” which tells us that ‘The General’ precedes ‘A B and C.’ This appears to be confirmed by the headline of The Tally Ho which asks the question “Is No.2 Fit For Further Term?” That “further term” would suggest ‘The General.’ And that would appear to be that, however, although screened after ‘A B and C,’ ‘The General’ was in fact filmed before ‘A B and C,’ so that Colin Gordon makes his return appearance five weeks before his debut! "I've never been so flattered" was Colin Gordon's comment "Especially as this is the first time I've played a part quite like this.” The story-line of ‘The General’ was altered so as to allow for this, although the provision was not needed as the episodes were screened in the reverse order to their filming. No. 2 in ‘The General’ was originally to have met his death at the end of the episode, a victim of "the Generals" short circuiting, and explosive self-destruction. But Colin Gordon's performance as Number 2 was admired so much, that he was reprieved, simply to pave the way for his appearance in the later episode of ‘A B and C.’ And that would appear to clear up the matter, well it would if it wasn’t for that one line in ‘The General’ when No.2 tells Madam Professor “Number Six and I are old friends,” how can that be if ‘The General’ should precede
‘A B and C?’ These are the difficulties faced with these two episodes. I myself have entered this debate although not in The Tally Ho, and if I
have leaned anything from the exercise, one simply has to ignore certain things in favour of others. Which means ‘The General’ precedes ‘A B and C’ simply on the evidence spoken by Number 2 in both opening sequences to these episodes, and that they run consecutively. That in turn creates the notion that together ‘The General’ and ‘A B and C’ serve as one term in office. After what this No.2 has experienced it’s no wonder The Tally Ho headline questioned whether or not this No.2 was fit for a second term in office, and a third episode for Colin Gordon! And as to the fitness of No.2, both mentally and physically, whereas at the commencement of ‘The General, and for much of the episode, he is confident, a man not to be underestimated, and ruthless with it. But by the end of the episode his confidence has taken a bashing, he has failed and cannot understand why. Yet he is not quite the broken man that we see at the end of ‘A B and C.’ As No.2’s term in office turns away from educational experimentation, in ‘A B and C’ he finds himself involved in an experiment of a different kind. No more the confident, ruthless No.2, he’s nervous, afraid, frightened and with good reason. What’s more he’s been given that ridiculous telephone to use! No.2 told No.1 that he’s doing his best, that No.6 is very difficult. I should imagine No.2 found it very difficult this time round! But this time he’s not alone, there’s the doctor-No.14 whom he can kick when No.1 has kicked him! He’ll hold No.14 responsible if the drug doesn’t work, or if No.6 is damaged he’ll see that the drugged is proved on her. Thus the idea of shifting the blame of any possible failure has already occurred to an unconfident No.2. He has three last chances, his term in office has boiled down to three people, A B and C, and he has three shorts acts to see played out in which to determine the reason behind No.6’s resignation. Once No.2 was a man not to be underestimated, he underestimated No.6 once, but did not learn by that lesson. At the end this No.2 is no longer fit for a further term, the events of ‘The General’ have been compounded by the failure of ‘A B and C’ leaving No.2 an exhausted and broken man. And hammers home the reason why ‘The General’ should precede ‘A B and C.’   

Be seeing you


  1. Regardless of which order they were filmed, A B and C must be a very early episode. And above all, it must come before Chimes of Big Ben.

    Reason: #2's plan in Chimes can only succeed if they know that #6 would try to return to his old bosses if he escaped. They can't possibly know that until they can confirm that he wasn't selling out, which was established in A B and C.

    In addition, A B and C feels like a very early episode (#6 is still having anguished dreams about his resignation). The General, on the other hand, feels like a very late episode (like It's Your Funeral, it's one of the ones where #6 is so acclimated to the Village that he practically seems to be running the place). By this time he's largely given up trying to escape and the Village has largely given up trying to break him. Both sides have seen the futility of it.

    As for the "I am #2" vs "The new #2", that's meaningless. If the Quickstart Guide at the beginning of each episode was meant to be taken that literally, half the #2's would sound like Robert Rietty.

    The real clincher as to which Gordon episode comes first can be established simply by asking "After which episode is he more likely to have been given a second chance?" One way or another, we know that he got another chance. So is it more likely that he would he get that chance after a partial success in which he learned the vital fact that #6 wasn't selling out? Or would he get another chance after a total, abject failure, in which #6 destroyed a supercomputer that he should never have been allowed near? Put that way it's almost impossible to imagine #2 getting another chance after The General. As I read it, this #2 was always a Nervous Nelly type, afraid of his bosses, just like Patrick Cargill. He thought his Number was up after A B and C, but when it wasn't, and he actually survived it, he became overconfident.

    1. Hello Graeme,
      I don’t see how putting ‘A B and C’ before ‘The Chimes of Big Ben’ helps the situation with No.6’s plan to go running back to his ex-colleagues. After all it was No.2 who thought No.6 was going to sell out, he wanted to know what it was he had to sell, and to whom he was going to sell it. No.6 wasn’t selling out, and it was that which brought about No.2’s downfall. If ‘A B and C’ was designed to prove No.6 wasn’t selling out, it shouldn’t have been a failure for No.2. Remember No.2 only had three days to prove No.6 was selling out.
      To my mind ‘The General’ and A B and C’ are later episodes which run consecutively. Yes No.2 failed dramatically in ‘The General,’ because of No.6’s intervention. So rather than bring in a new No.2 for ‘A B and C’ why not let this No.2 {Colin Gordon} have a second bite of the cherry and take on No.6 directly and get his revenge. The trouble is No.2 didn’t just underestimate No.6 once, he did it twice, and that finished him for good. In my own personal opinion.

      “As for the "I am #2" vs "The new #2", that's meaningless.” Ordinarily I would agree with you, and had the original line in the opening dialogue “You are our Number Six” been retained for every episode, as it is in the original scripts, there would have been no question. But why would a No.2, who has already appeared in one episode in the opening dialogue of his second appearance say he’s the new No.2? But then a line in ‘The General’ No.2 tells Madam Professor that he and No.6 are old friends, suggesting they have meant before. Seeing as in some respects ‘A B and C’ contradict each other, one has to make ones own choice.

      To have ‘A B and C’ before ‘The General’ doesn’t fit with me because in ‘The General’ No.2 is confident assured. And yet in ‘A B and C’ No.2 is a nervous man having failed once he was afraid of the consequences should he fail a second time, which he did of course. And No.14 didn’t help, had the doctor told No.2 that 6 had opened his eyes and seen her……, and if she had not used that same phrase she used earlier, the one she put in ‘B’s mouth “We all have to make mistakes, sometimes we have to,” things might have turned out differently for No.2, in my personal opinion.

      We might see things differently but that’s the interesting thing about ‘the Prisoner,’ we all have own opinions about the series, and who is to say who is right and who is wrong? Patrick McGoohan once said that one thousand people could each have a different idea of what ‘the Prisoner’ is about and they would all be right. It’s simply a matter of opinion, and that is all anyone is left with. The people who possibly knew any of the answers are long since deceased.

      Best regards
      Be seeing you