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The Prisoner
Episode Studies by Clayton Barr

enik1138-at-popapostle-dot-com
The Prisoner: The Chimes of Big Ben "The Chimes of Big Ben"
TV episode
Written by Vincent Tilsley
Directed by Don Chaffey

 

Number 6 makes a friend who may be able to help him escape.

 

Read the complete story summary at Wikipedia

 

Notes from the Prisoner chronology

 

Although No. 6 is already suspicious of everyone in the Village, this is where he really learns to trust no one after trusting Nadia. He realizes here he must always ask himself who is a prisoner and who a warder when dealing with the inhabitants of the Village. This would place the episode in the I'm New Here section of the series.

 

Didja Know?

 

The actress who plays Nadia was actually named Nadia, Nadia Gray.

 

The Number 2 seen in this episode, played by Leo McKern, returns as Number 2 in the final two episodes of the series, "Once Upon a Time" and "Fall Out".

 

The colonel who appears in this episode is not named, but is referred to as Colonel J in the end credits.

 

Didja Notice?

 

As this episodes begins, the opening shot of the Village clearly shows other buildings across the bay in the distance. The shot then zooms quickly into the Village and for a split second a man standing on the balcony below the green dome appears to be Number 6 himself, even though we immediately afterward see that he is still in bed in his apartment! Maybe it was the double of Number 6 seen later in "The Schizoid Man", looking down at Number 6's domicile in contemplation of his upcoming assignment. Or the double briefly seen in "Fall Out"?

beyond the Village

 

The morning announcement in the Village tells inhabitants that an arts and crafts competition is open to all inhabitants who wish to participate. The opening day of the exhibition will be in six weeks. Since we see the exhibition in this episode, we can assume this episode spans the course of six weeks. And we see the same Number 2 throughout the episode. Does this mean that every Number 2 has an assignment in the position scheduled to last at least that long?

 

Number 6's mini refrigerator, as seen at 4:36 on the DVD, is an Electrolux, a Swedish company. Notice, when we get a glimpse inside it, he has an unwrapped chicken and open-ended salami tube...his fridge must stink! Also notice that the entire vegetable drawer appears to be filled with loose peas!

 

Number 2's assistant in this episode appears to be Number 23. The same actor appeared as the Labour Exchange manager in "Arrival" and later appears as Potter in "The Girl Who Was Death". It's unclear whether he's intended to be the same character in all three episodes. And a different Number 23 appears as the doctor who treats Number 56 in the Village hospital in "Checkmate". Not to mention the Number 23 who appears in "Hammer Into Anvil".

 

The old man called the General whom Number 6 plays chess with early in the episode appears to be Number 54, but in "Dance of the Dead", Number 54 was a woman, Number 6's maid. Does anyone know what the ornamentation on his hat represents? I assume it's a military symbol of some kind.

military logo

 

At 6:07 on the DVD, a few notes of "Pop Goes the Weasel" plays over the soundtrack when Number 6 probes the General about what regiment he was in.

 

As the helicopter lands in the Village at 6:08 on the DVD, the bystanders watching it appear to be tourists at the Portmeirion Hotel rather than extras for the shoot because they are not wearing any of the typical Village outfits seen in the series!

 

In this episode, Number 6's file indicates he does not take sugar in his tea. But Number 2's information in "Arrival" indicates he takes two lumps. In "Free for All", it is stated that he has eliminated sugar from his diet on medical advice. Of course, in our current episode, he walks to the serving table and puts three lumps in his tea, just to be contrary to what Number 2 has in his file.

 

Number 2's file on Number 6 indicates he was top of his class in woodwork at the age of 15.

 

At 11:18 on the DVD, it's clearly Number 6 standing on the balustraded balcony overlooking the courtyard of the Village, down the road from Number 2's residence in the green dome. Yet, seconds later, he is seen exiting Number 2's residence from his just-concluded meeting with him. It was probably just a reuse from an earlier-shot episode ("A Change of Mind" seems a likely candidate), but who knows in the Village? It could be the double again from the opening shot of the episode!

 

At 13:04 on the DVD, what appears to be a TV antennae is seen on the roof of a Village cottage. Antennas of that type are normally for long range reception, so why would it be in the Village where the powers-that-be certainly wouldn't want inhabitants receiving anything beyond local broadcasts. It's probably just the antenna of one of the local residents of Portmeirion, inadvertently caught in the shot.

TV antenna

 

Number 6 actively refuses to give Number 8 his name. Why? If he is so dead set on being contrary to his confines, both physically and psychologically, wouldn't he want to be using his name instead of his assigned number? Especially since he keeps telling Number 2 he is not a number and he actively refrains from wearing the Number 6 badge assigned to him in "Arrival". Is he keeping his name to himself with the same rationale he keeps his reason for resigning from them?

 

Number 8 tells Number 6 she is Estonian. If this is true, it would indicate that the Village houses government workers of opposing nations since Estonia was part of the communist Soviet bloc at the time, while, of course, Number 6 was a member of British (Western) service. This seems to be supported by Number 2's later conversation with Number 6, in which he celebrates the building of this international community, a blueprint for world order.

 

Number 8 tells Number 6 her name is Nadia Rakowski. This does not sound like an Estonian name; I presume her family is of another ethnicity, living in Estonia. Later, Number 2's file on her states that she was an Olympic bronze-medalist at the age of 17. The modern Olympic Games (inspired by the ancient Greek Olympics c. 776 BC-393 AD) began in 1896, featuring amateur athletes engaged in numerous sports competitions in representation of their home countries. Of course, no one named Nadia Rakowski has ever won a medal in the Olympics.

 

At 14:25 on the DVD, notice that two older gentlemen are building a miniature sand fort on the beach and playing with a toy boat in it. It seems a rather childish pastime. Is it an indication of mental degradation that takes place the longer one remains in the Village? Or maybe they are modeling out an escape plan?

 

Notice also in the scene mentioned above that an open umbrella is floating upside-down and unattended in the water behind the two men.

 

Number 2 tells Number 6 that it doesn't matter which side runs the Village. "...both sides are becoming identical. What, in fact, has been created, an international community. A perfect blueprint for world order." To which Number 6 responds, "The whole Earth as the Village?"

 

At 18:09 on the DVD, it's clear that the beach upon which Number 8 has been deposited by Rover is a set and nothing like the beach seen in the previous shot.

 

Nadia appears to be stunned and unconscious, even though her eyes are open, when Rover brings her back to the beach after her attempt to escape by swimming out to sea. Does Rover somehow drug its victims after capturing them?

 

At 20:39 on the DVD, the same female Control Room operative, Number 114, is seen who was present in "Arrival".

 

When Nadia is startled by the rotating Greek busts in the woods, Number 6 remarks, "They can see us, but they can't hear us. You can talk freely." How does he know they can't be heard?

 

Nadia claims that from the file on the Village she saw in her government job, the Village is located on the coast of Lithuania, just 30 miles from the Polish border. Lithuania is the largest of the Baltic states of Europe, on the Baltic Sea (as is the previously-mentioned Estonia), bordering Poland, and part of the Soviet bloc at the time. Learning that they are in Lithuania, Number 6 declares they would have to sail to West Germany or Denmark to escape, a journey of at least 300 miles. Actually, it would be quite a bit more than 300 miles to get to either location. But why does he seemingly rule out neighboring countries? I suppose he does not want to go to escape to any of the Soviet bloc countries, but why not a trip to Sweden? Although Sweden was neutral during the Cold War, it unofficially had close ties to the Western powers and its large island possession of Gotland was closer than either West Germany or Denmark to Lithuania. I suppose he might have been figuring on staying near the coastline for safety's sake, necessitating a Western destination of his mentioned two countries.

 

Nadia says they could go to Danzig, Poland or Braniewo, a fishing village where they are resistant to the current rulers and where she has a contact man who will help them. Danzig is now known as Gdansk, a city on the Baltic coast. Braniewo is also a real world town in Poland. Poland, at the time, was another Soviet bloc country.

 

The chimes of the Village clock, calling curfew, occur just as Nadia tells Number 6 she is wishing to hear the chimes of Big Ben.

 

At 29:13 on the DVD, besides the banner declaring the arts and crafts exhibition, there is a sign to the left of the entrance declaring a display of mime and movement. There is also a sign for a concert of some kind.

 

At the arts and crafts exhibition, notice that most of the entries feature the likeness of the current Number 2. Even the General's carved chess set features a king in the likeness of Number 2.

 

During the exhibition, Number 2 refers to Number 6 as "our very own Epstein". This is most likely a reference to Jacob Epstein, a British sculptor (1880-1959).

 

When the judging committee of the exhibition asks Number 6 what his artwork means, he replies, "It means what it is." This phrase might be intended to apply to the Prisoner TV series itself!

 

Two of the exhibition judges are seen to be Number 50 and Number 22. Another Number 50 appears in "Hammer Into Anvil".

 

Number 38 wins the exhibition award in the over 60 group for her tapestry of Number 2.

tapestry of Number 2

 

Number 6 wins the exhibition's top award for the best work of any of the five groups. If his work is the best of any of the five groups, then does that mean he also won the award in his group (presumably an age group)?

 

Throughout the sailing scenes on the boat with Number 6, Nadia changes her seating position between the long distance and close-up shots.

 

Upon seeing that Number 6 and Nadia are about 30 miles away on their boat, Number 2 tells the Supervisor to contact Post Five "just in case". This implies there are Posts One-Four, if not more, beyond the typical range of the Village. Presumably, they are all intended to stop attempted escapes.

 

The Supervisor's announcement of "orange alert" in this episode sounds rather like the voice of Mel Oxley as SID in episodes of the later British TV series UFO. Listen: orange alert by Supervisor  red alert by SID

 

A man is waiting to meet Nadia and Number 6 on the Polish coast. But would he have known to expect them? How would Nadia have gotten a message to him from the Village? This should have been an immediate clue to Number 6 that Nadia had betrayed him and it was all a ruse.

 

Nadia and her contact speak Polish with each other. Can any PopApostle readers translate what they are actually saying? Write me at the email address at the top of the page!

 

This is the only episode in which we see Rover fail to retrieve its target.

 

Nadia's contact explains they will go to Danzig and then, by air, to Copenhagen and London. Copenhagen is the capital of Denmark and London the capital of the United Kingdom.

 

During the trip by sea, packed in a couple of crates, Nadia asks Number 6 if he has a wife in England and he answers "no". While technically true, why does he neglect to tell her about his fiancé, Janet, later revealed in "Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darling"?

 

At 39:59 on the DVD, notice that one of the decorations in Fotheringay's office is a lion statue on a shelf in the background. This same statue is seen in Number 6's apartment in the Village (borrowed or copied from his old London home, as we see in "Many Happy Returns").

 

The crates holding Number 6 and Nadia are seen on a British United flight. British United was a UK airline from 1960-1970.

 

When he gets Number 6 alone in his office, the Colonel says, "Well, the return of the prodigal son," and Number 6 responds, "I don't see any fatted calf." Both phrases are from the New Testament of the Bible, where the fatted calf is a livestock animal that had been kept on a diet that fattens it up and makes it particularly flavorful, often slaughtered only on the event of a very special occasion such as the return of the prodigal son in the Gospel of Luke.

 

The Colonel asks Number 6, facetiously, who was Nadia before she left Peckham Rye for the Bolshoi Ballet. Peckham Rye is a public park in the borough of Southwark in London. The Bolshoi Ballet is one of the premiere ballet companies in the world, based in Moscow, Russia. The Colonel's remark seems to be merely sarcastic, as if he doesn't believe whatever she's told Number 6.

 

This episode confirms, according to the Colonel's dialog, that Number 6 had refused to give his reasons for resigning from his position with the government.

 

The Colonel implies that it's suspicious that Number 6 vanished for months before they received a message that he was coming back from the other side of the Iron Curtain. This tells us that Number 6 has been in the Village "for months". "Iron Curtain" was a term used to describe the boundary between the Western-allied countries of western Europe and the Soviet Bloc during the Cold War.

 

When Number 6 denies having gone over to the communist powers, the Colonel mockingly says, "Nyet!" This is Russian for "no".

 

Number 6 realizes he's been tricked about arriving in London when Big Ben chimes for 8:00 by his Polish-set watch, when it should be an hour behind, 7:00, in London. It is true that Poland's time zone is one hour behind that of England.

 

Notes from the original edit of "The Chimes of Big Ben" on the Blu-ray boxed set of The Prisoner

 

    Number 6 uses a triquetrum in an attempt to locate the Village's location on Earth. A triquetrum is a real world device for measuring the parallax of stars or other astronomical objects, which can reveal an approximate distance of said object in relation to others or, as Number 6 attempts here, allow one to estimate their location on Earth. Presumably, he built the device himself from his own knowledge since it's doubtful the powers-that-be would allow such an instrument there. In fact, it's odd that Number 2, or some other official doesn't take it from him seeing as how Number 6's porch area, where he has the device set up, is seen to be under camera surveillance in this very episode!

    In a graph paper notebook, Number 6 is seen drawing an astrological constellation which he has labeled Ursa Minus and Ursa Magor. This is an unusual spelling, but I assume he is referring to Ursa Minor and Ursa Major, two actual constellations visible in the northern hemisphere of Earth, implying that the Village lies in the northern hemisphere.

   In the Don't Knock Yourself Out making of The Prisoner documentary on the Blu-ray series set, Prodution Manager Bernie Williams states that the shot of the night sky during the triquetrum scene was surreptitiously leant them by a member of the effects crew shooting 2001: A Space Odyssey on the stage next door to them at MGM's Borehamwood Studios facility!

 

This version reveals that the official known as Fotheringay went to school with Number 6.

 

As in the original edit of "Arrival", the end credits here do not close out with the familiar ending shot of Rover emerging from the sea and taking off across the waters. But the closing images are a bit different as well from those seen in the aforementioned "Arrival" edit. Here, the same painted image of the Earth against the background of the universe is seen, but instead of it becoming an image of the universe and Earth as the wheels of the penny-farthing, the Earth zooms into the lens and then the word "POP" fills the screen in white letters on a red background! Weird. (In "Once Upon a Time", during the grueling psychological battle between Number 2 and Number 6, Number 6 begins to repeat, "Pop. Pop. Pop." over and over it is suggested it stands for a driving force in his life, "Protect Other People".)
Earth, universe, wheels Earth and universe Earth zoomed POP

 

Unanswered Questions

Number 6 comments on the cost of certain items in the Village in "work units". It's unclear whether everything costs some amount of work units. But Number 6 does not seem to do any work for the Village, so how does he get work units? He received a small amount of work units when he was discharged from the hospital in "Arrival". Is he still spending that? Is a small amount given automatically to each inhabitant on a regular basis? Will Number 6 be required to work at some point?

Is the Village really located on the coast of Lithuania? The claim came from Number 6's co-conspirator Nadia, who was later found to be working for the Village, so it might have been possible to fool him during the rigged escape as to their location upon escape. In "Many Happy Returns", Number 6 and his cohorts allegedly locate the Village off the coast of Morocco, southwest of Portugal and Spain. And yet again, "Fall Out" suggests the Village is on the coast of England. Are any of these locations the true one? Does the Village move around the globe (like the island in the much later TV series Lost?)

Memorable Dialog

good morning.wav
escape and come back.wav
come and have lunch with me.wav
a perfect blueprint for world order.wav
the whole Earth as the Village.wav
his egomania has, if anything, increased.wav
the whereabouts of the Village.wav
till curfew the minutes are five.wav
it means what it is.wav

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