Episode 8: Dance of the Dead
First ITV broadcast: Friday 17th November 1967, 7.30pm [ATV Midlands/Grampian]
Estimated first run ratings: 9.1 million
First CBS broadcast: Saturday 27th July 1968, 7.30pm
For the first time, Number Two speaking in the title sequence is a woman. We have had a couple of female Number Two’s so far. In ‘Free For All‘ it is revealed that Number Six’s maid, Number 58, is the new Number Two and in the previous episode, ‘Many Happy Returns‘, Mrs Butterworth is revealed to be Number Two. Interestingly, both characters appear earlier in each respective episode and both under different names, only being unveiled as Number Two at the end of the episodes. ‘Dance of the Dead’ is the first time we get a female Number Two for the entire episode. Unlike the previous female Number Twos, who both wore skirts and dresses, this Number Two (Mary Morris) is stereotypically masculine, sporting trousers and a jumper, as well as the striped scarf favoured by several previous Number Twos.
The episode starts with an attempt to ‘break’ Number Six, which Number Two interrupts and spouts off the familiar dialogue about wanting Six together. We have heard variations on this several times in the series. Leo McKern’s Number Two in ‘The Chimes of Big Ben‘ says “I don’t want a man of fragments!” It seems unnecessary to repeat this idea so many times and simply wastes time in an episode. However, I am willing to excuse ‘Dance of the Dead’ because that old point of episode order pops up again…
On number occasions this episode tells us that Number Six has not been in the Village very long. Early on he says “I’m new here.” When he meets his friend Roland Walter Dutton (Alan White), Dutton says he has been in the Village a couple of months and Number Six says he got there “Quite recently“, which implies to me that he has been there only a matter of weeks. During the trial Number Two says of Number Six “He is new and guilty of folly.” In ‘The Chimes of Big Ben‘ the Colonel says Number Six has been gone for months, so how can it be only a few weeks here? The episode order is really bodged up. As if The Prisoner wasn’t confusing enough to watch, they throw curve balls like this in.
The plot of this episode is based around Number Six’s discovery of a body washed up on the beach. He finds a wallet and a small radio on the man so decides to insert his photo and a note into the wallet, seal it in a plastic bag, then send it with the man back out to sea, kept afloat by a stolen life ring.
At one point listening to the radio, it sounds like Number Six has picked something up but when Number Two spots it, they can only pick up the local Village radio. Nonetheless, she confiscates it.
Number Six meets Dutton, who we can guess is an old friend or colleague. Dutton has been getting tortured in the hospital and claims he has told them all he knows but they don’t believe him. They have released him for a bit to think things over. Dutton is sure they are going to break him, saying “Soon Roland Walter Dutton will cease to exist.”
There is a carnival, including a party at Town Hall. Earlier in the episode this is announced as “There will be music, dancing, happiness – all at the carnival. By order.” Saying that “There will be […] happiness” seems very odd and makes one think of forced smiles; the smile is there but the eyes show the terror that created it.The last two words emphasise the idea of an imposed joy that I have written about before.
Number Two finds Number Six on the beach early in the evening and I must draw attention to some stunning shots. I have nothing more to say about them other than I think they are absolutely beautiful.
The party is fancy dress and costumes were sent out earlier. Number Six’s is his own tuxedo, as seen in ‘A. B. and C.‘ He stands out considerably amongst the colourful costumes of the others and asks Number Two “Why haven’t I a costume?” She replies “Perhaps because you don’t exist“, reminding us of Dutton’s prediction that he will soon cease to exist.
Number Six sneaks off, stealing a doctor’s white coat and a woman, also in a white coat, hands him a piece of paper. It’s a “termination order” and is needed for Number Two urgently. Number Six opens it up and finds Dutton’s name on it. Entering a room he finds green cabinets and proceeds to open the drawers to each. We are not shown what is in them but later find out that it is a morgue. Number Two appears with a black cat. Number Six had taken in the cat but Number Two reveals that the cat is hers. Number Two reveals that they will amend the man that Number Six sent out to sea. “So to the outside world-” “Which you only dream about.” “I’ll be dead.” “A small confirmation of a known fact.” Number Two is really messing with Number Six’s head here. The outside world no longer exists and he is dead. There may as well no longer be any outside world because he is never going to see it again. His life in the outside world is over because he can never reach it again. His life in the outside world now only exists in his dreams.
They head back to the party/cabaret evening. The music, dancing and happiness have stopped. There is silence. Number Six is to be put on trial for possession of the radio. Number Six has had an Observer watching him during this episode, Number 240 (Norma West). Observers were mentioned in ‘Arrival‘ but haven’t really been touched on since. Number 240 is to be prosecuting and Number Two, dressed as Peter Pan, is the defence. Three judges have been appointed. They are not named but are dressed as Elizabeth I, Horatio Nelson and a Roman emperor, who I think is supposed to be Julius Caesar. I have to admit I am basing this solely on him being dressed similarly to Kenneth Williams in Carry On Cleo (1964).
It’s a kangaroo court. They claim Number Six has broken the rules and when he asks “Has anyone ever seen these rules?” he is ignored. Number Six wants a character witness and asks for Dutton. Number Two fetches him and we see he is dressed as a jester. He is the saddest, most miserable looking jester I have ever seen. Number Two sits him down and lifts his chin. The man looks broken. He says nothing. Roland Water Dutton no longer exists.
Unsurprisingly, the judges find Number Six guilty. Caesar reaches for a black cap. “The sentence is death. We sentence in the name of the people, the people carry it out in the name of justice.” Number Six gets a few seconds grace to walk through the crowd, then he runs as they run after him. They seem mad and animal-like. Number Six finds a trapdoor in the morgue, runs down, then back up some stairs. He enters a room that was locked before and finds a machine typing away. It is either sending or receiving some sort of information. Number Six wrecks it and the typing stops. He turns and sees the people through a window.
“It’s a mirror” Number Two tells him. “Why are they trying to kill me?” “They don’t know you’re already dead. Locked up in the long box in that little room.” Number Six tells her “You’ll never win” and she replies “Then how very uncomfortable for you, old chap.” Number Two laughs manically as the machine starts typing again.
This episode feels like a filler episode. Not a lot happens to move the plot of the whole series along. It is just another way for a Number Two to show Number Six how much control they have over the Village. The inhabitants are controlled to the extent that when ordered, they will attempt to kill a man because he possessed a radio. That is certainly a little scary. But we have seen this sort of thing before by now and as with the ‘breaking him’ scene, I feel we have seen enough by now. This episode should definitely have been a lot earlier.
We pick up some more Village Info. Number Six says to his new maid “The maids come and they go” and shortly afterwards says “I’m new here“, which seems contradictory at first. How can he know that the maids don’t stay very long if he hasn’t been there long? But perhaps they really are changing very rapidly, only staying a week at a time say.
There’s a force-field around Town Hall at one point that stops Number Six getting in. A passing man tells Number Six “It’s fussy about who it lets in.” Even for The Prisoner, the idea that the building is sentient seems a bit too far-fetched. Instead, we can surmise that it is being watched from a control room and a force-field can be turned on or off. The idea of a force-field is interesting though and I would be curious as to the extent it can be implemented in the Village. Why don’t they simply place a force-field around the whole Village, including the sea? This would have stopped any attempts to escape out to sea and reduce the need for Rover. But perhaps the force-field capabilities are limited and can only be applied to buildings.
Whilst dancing at the party with Number Six, Number 240 says “This place has been going for a long time” but when Six attempts to question her “Since the war? Before the war? Which war?” she only replies “A long time.” This tells us, er, precisely nothing. The Village has been there for a long time. How long is a long time? Three years? Five years? 10 years? 50 years? I have no idea. Make your own minds up how long a long time is. The Village must keep some mysteries.
Be seeing you.