The Prisoner – A. B. and C.

Episode 3: A. B. and C.

This episode focuses around dream sequences and I really enjoyed it. It certainly feels very different and I think a lot of that is down to the action taking place away from the Village. It gives everything a very different mood.

Throughout this episode we are reminded that Number Two (Colin Gordon) is under pressure to find out why Number Six resigned. At the beginning of the episode Number Two looks apprehensive as he answers a red telephone. He calls the person on the other end of the line “Sir” and says “I know I’m not indispensable“, something we don’t need reminding of considering this is now the fourth Number Two in the series! This Number Two believes Number Six resigned to “sell up” so wants to know “what he had to sell and to whom he was going to sell it“. This is of course something that Visual Mutterings has raised before as it is the most obvious reason for keeping Number Six in the Village.

Number Two rings Number Fourteen (Sheila Allen) and tells her the experiment must be moved forward and we hear her reply that she hasn’t even finished testing it on animals. Number Two insists that it will take place that night. A brilliant scene shows a flash of lightning before cutting to two men wearing wet, hooded black macs. They push a trolley through a set of double doors. We can still hear the thunder and the wind from outside. The lightning lights up blue behind them. A black body bag is on the trolley. The whole look and feel of it is amazing and completely different to anything we have seen in the previous two episodes. An ‘experiment’, a storm, howling winds and creepy-looking men. It’s like we have entered a horror movie. This isn’t what The Prisoner is supposed to be like and so it takes us by surprise.

Two extras do a sterling job at auditioning for the next Frankenstein film.

The trolley is wheeled into a lab and it is revealed, unsurprisingly, to be Number Six in the body bag. Wires and all sorts are hooked up to him. Number Two has narrowed it down to three people, A, B and C, who he believes Number Six was going to sell up to. They all attended parties held by a Madam Engadine and having got hold of some film footage from one, Numbers Two and Fourteen are going to induce a dream for Number Six so they can see what would happen if he were to meet each of suspects.

On a large screen in the lab, Numbers Two and Fourteen can observe Number Six’s subconscious. It plays a loop of the scene from the title sequence where Number Six hands in his resignation letter. Just before a needle goes in, Number Six’s eyes flicker open and he briefly sees Number Fourteen before he’s out again.

My first thought when Number Six appears at the party is that he looks very good in a tux. He looks natural and comfortable. He seems to know a lot of people at the party; as the camera follows behind him, he pats some on the back, nods at some and says hello to several. But then, of course he knows them all. The induced dream is still a dream, which means it draws on his own knowledge and subconscious. His mind is simply putting in place the various faces he would expect to find there.

The party is a rather posh one; all the men are in tuxes and the women are in glamorous dresses, adorned with expensive-looking jewellery. The huge house has large gardens and waiters bring drinks around whilst classical music plays from somewhere in the background. It is lavish and formal. The fact that Number Six appears relaxed here gives us a good indication that he is used to moving in these circles.

Number Six meets the party’s host, Madam Engadine (Katherine Kath), and tells her that he is starting a holiday, “somewhere different, somewhere quiet, where I can think.” Shortly afterwards Number Fourteen inserts the drug that brings suspect A (Peter Bowles) into the dream. A, like B later, has heard about Six’s resignation. Number Six tells A that he’s going to “go fishing“. He will tell B that he doesn’t know where he’s going, just that’s he’s going for a long time and needs to think. It’s quite hard to say when Number Six’s mind believes this party to be taking place. My only conclusion is that he must have told some people that he planned to resign before he actually did. This would make sense as in the title sequence everything is already in place to send him to the Village.

Number Fourteen informs us that A defected about six years ago – remember that the Cold War was on. A tells Number Six “we used to be friends” “we do the same jobs” and Six replies “for different reasons“. Then a rather interesting comment from A: “I see you still overrate absolute truth. Whatever way you look at it, we both want to conquer the world.” This conversation is reminiscent of Number Six’s with Number Two in ‘The Chimes of Big Ben‘ where Number Two argues that “both sides are becoming identical” and are “looking into a mirror“. A may have defected but Number Six’s objection are to A’s motives and the “absolute truth” comment could give us an indication as to why Six resigned. Number Six believes things should be done a certain way. I would take a guess that he believes in freedom, transparency and honesty. Perhaps the organisation he worked for had gone against these ideas for too long and Number Six felt he could no longer be a part of it.

Enemies should always meet over champagne

A believes Number Six must be selling information and offers to buy from him. Number Six tries to walk away from A but ends up bundled into a car. He remarks that “Paris hasn’t changed much, has it?” It cannot have of course because the Paris he is seeing in the dream is based on his own memories. Perhaps Number Six expected it to have and this is the first indication that he suspects something isn’t right. When they get out the car there’s a fight, a proper fight! This is the first time in the series we’ve been able to see Number Six show off his skills and he does a brilliant job of knocking about A and his assistant. As he walks away, he says “Be seeing you” showing that the Village’s phrase has started to become a part of him.

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The next morning Number Six opens his front door and sees Number Fourteen outside. He looks at his wrist and sees a needle mark. He realises that something happened to him in the night. He speaks to Number Fourteen later. “How does one talk to someone that one has met in a dream?” and tells her “Last week Number Fourteen was an old lady in a wheelchair. You’re new here. And you’re one of them.” Number Six is catching on to things in the Village. He is being observant and trying to work out when he can trust people. Number Six goes to see Number Two, solely to let on that he knows something, just to rattle him a bit. It works. When Number Six leaves the red phone rings and Number Two says he will have something “within two days“. The pressure is on from above.

That night Number Six drinks from a teacup on the bedside table. He drops the cup and slumps to the floor. So now we know how they got Number Six to the lab without waking him! Number Six appears at the party again and it’s the same party, indicated by Madam Engadine asking “Where’ve you been, darling?” He seems confused and when she asks what happened to A, Number Six simply says “Gone.” It doesn’t make sense because he can’t remember how he got back to the party. Yet in a way it does make sense because it’s a dream and dreams don’t make sense. Does that make sense? In a dream we are not usually aware of having skipped bits. In the course of a dream we might suddenly find ourselves somewhere different but our subconscious tries to make sense of it and we are not allowed to dwell on it long enough to realise what has happened.

The B drugs goes in and a maid brings a letter for Number Six. Throughout all the dreams sequences, the script does a good job of avoiding use of Number Six’s real name, being only obvious here. The maid (Bettina La Beau) gestures at Number Six, saying “It’s for…” Madam Engadine is keen to know who the letter is from. “She’s an old friend” Engadine sees that there is no name signed. “Old friends don’t need names.” Does that say something about the Village, a place where no one has a name?

Number Six meets B (Annette Caroll) in the gardens, telling her “you are still the most intriguing spy I have ever met.” They dance to the music that can still be heard. It’s just the two of them and it seems they really are dancing as friends, not lovers. Things aren’t moving fast enough for Number Two and so Number Fourteen decides to get into the dream by speaking through B.

Providing the voice for B

Despite being unconcerned by Number Six’s warnings earlier, B now wonders aloud whether she will be killed. She tells Number Six that they want to make a deal with her, they want to know why Number Six resigned. “Are you shocked?” she asks. “I’m surprised. I can’t believe it’s you.” he responds. He genuinely can’t and it quickly becomes apparent that this interference in the dream has been a very bad move. “Have you the feeling you’re being manipulated?” Number Six asks her. “You are not who you pretend to be.” Some men show up and we get to see Six’s hand-to-hand combat skills again. A man holds a gun to B’s head but still Number Six tells her “I don’t believe in you.” He decides to test her: “How long has your husband been dead?” The information is in Number Two’s files. It’s been four years. “How old is your son now?” There is no record of any son in the file. She can’t answer and Number Six walks away. It may seem absurd to say it, but our dreams have to credible. There has to be an element of reality in them. Ridiculous and fantastical things can happen in our dreams. Yet if someone in your dream claimed to be your mother and clearly wasn’t, you would become very suspicious. You may even realise that you are dreaming. There are some things we remain very certain about, even during our dreams, and for Number Six it is the personality of his old friend.

Number Six is now very suspicious and the next day he follows Number Fourteen. He gets into the building through an air vent, a feature of buildings that I have only ever seen in film and television. I am half convinced that they were invented by the industry in order to provide escape and entry routes for characters that couldn’t get through locked doors. Number Six makes his way into the lab where he has been hooked up to monitors and drugs for the past two nights. He examines the equipment and switches on a monitor that shows the film footage of the party. He looks through Number Two’s folders on the three suspects, handily labelled ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’. Finally he finds the one remaining hypodermic needle containing the purple liquid he has been getting injected with. He empties most of it and replaces it with water.

That night he finds a cup of tea left out for him (tea has featured in every episode so far) and pours it down the sink. He has a glass of water instead and smiles to himself, thinking he has got one over on them. He hasn’t. He collapses. Clearly all bases had been covered.

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On the lab’s screen the camera is showing Number Six’s point of view. The camera is all over the place. It’s like he’s drunk or on drugs. Number Six passes by a woman and remarks “Haven’t they killed you yet?” The classical music has been replaced by more modern and upbeat 1960s’ music. It’s quite hippie and would have been very appropriate for a student party whilst someone passed a spliff round. The party has got a lot more raucous and the guests are laughing loudly, whilst some are feeling each other up in the background.

A woman gives Number Six an earring and tells him to bet it on the roulette table (because that is just how posh this party is). Glancing at the numbers, she says “6 – I’m sure it’s your lucky number“. Number Six wins a key. Clearly everything has become a bit more allegorical.

It turns out the Madame Engadine is C. “It’s a one way journey. You have the fare?” The fare is in a plain white envelope that Number Six keeps in his jacket. “If you want to go back you can. Back to the party. Back to your life. Once through this door you can never return.” She also has a key and along with Number Six’s, it opens a door in the gardens.

They drive off to meet her boss and stop at a set of stone double doors. She leaves Number Six there and when he goes through the doors the wind can be heard blowing and church bells ring out. Number Six meets a man whose face is covered with a thick black stocking. You can just about make out that the man wears glasses.

Number Six won’t hand over the papers. “I want to know who I’m selling out to. We must all know” he says, smiling. Number Six is very happy through this whole scene. The man refuses to reveal his identity but Number Six is in charge of the dream now. He turns the man away from the camera, rips off his hat and stocking. “I knew of course. Now show them” and Number Six spins the man back round to face the camera. It is Number Two. “Your drug failed!” Number Two tells Number Fourteen. “No. He succeeded” she says.

In the dream, Number Six walks into the lab. Instinctively Numbers Two and Fourteen look at the real doors but Number Six isn’t there – only on the screen. In the dream, Number Six gives Number Two the white envelope. He quickly tears it open only to find it’s full of travel brochures for Greece and Italy. “I wasn’t selling out. That wasn’t the reason I resigned.” In the real lab, the red phone rings ominously.

Having failed to trick Number Six in real life into telling them why he resigned, this Number Two decided to try a mind trick. This episode is an interesting look at Number Six’s life outside of the Village. The party is in Paris so we know he gets to travel. He meets several spies so if we weren’t already certain before, I think we can say for definite now that Number Six was a spy before he came to the Village. We also know that he didn’t resign in order to sell information. His subconscious would have betrayed him if he had been planning to.

One point I would like to raise about this episode is a problem of continuity. The party takes place at night. It is dark in the gardens. When Number Six gets in A’s car it is clearly dark outside. When he gets out of A’s car it is suddenly daylight! The same thing happens when Number Six goes in Madame Engaldine’s car. When they arrive at the double doors it changes to daylight. She even talks about getting back to the party. Are we supposed to believe that they drove all through the night? She says she “can’t be gone too long“. When Number Six pushes the doors open, the other side is in darkness. When we cut back for his reaction shot, it is still daylight behind him. I am willing to give some of this the benefit of the doubt, due to it all being part of a dream. Dreams do sometimes get things mixed up.

However, in my heart of hearts I know that this is down to the difficulties of filming in the 1960s. Filming at night was hard and the alternative did not produce great results. This can be seen clearly in episodes of The Saint from the same period where scenes set at night would be filmed in daylight but a dark filter would be put onto the film, in order to give the impression that it was nighttime or dusk. This effect is also used in the James Bond film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969). In The Saint, the easiest way of spotting this effect it that the supposed nighttime scenes would have shadows in them created by the sun.

Finally, the voice of the man with his face covered that is revealed to be Number Two sounds nothing like Colin Gordon. There is no credit for the voice at all. He has a foreign accent and his voice reminds me slightly of that of Emilio Largo in the Bond film Thunderball. A bit of research reveals that the voice for Largo was provided by Robert Rietty, who was Italian. He provided various bits of voice over for The Prisoner but I can find no credit or reference to him working on ‘A. B. and C.’

Be seeing you.


  1. Anonymous

    This episode is out of order, I think. (My DVDs are in another country, so I can't check right now.) Didn't Colin Gordon do two episodes as Number 2 and this was the second one, where the heat from above got turned up for him?

    I thought we were already certain he was a spy of some kind from "Arrival" but I supposed I'll have to go back and watch it again to be sure.

    This was certainly one of the more sci fi episodes of the series, since controlled dream manipulation is still not a reality, as far as I know. (Rover is a sci fi element in many episodes but always peripheral.)

    I like your comment about the air ducts. There was a great scene in the short-lived TV series "The Middleman" in which a character comments about the size of the air ducts and is given a comicbook/sci-fi explanation which fits the TV series reality and is very funny.

    In spite of this episode's good points, it has never been one of my favorites. I'm not sure why. You did a great job in your review, however.

    Be seeing you.

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