Reviews: BIG FINISH - THE PRISONER SERIES ONE
Reviews by Rick Davy, Alan Hayes, and Anthony Rooney
Review by Rick Davy.
There have been many attempts over the years to 're-imagine''The Prisoner'. Most famously the TV 2009 remake was pretty much universally hated, several printed fiction works have been published, by both amateurs and professionals, to again mixed responses, and with a couple of exceptions, almost every fan-produced spin-off film has been panned.
So it was with a little nervousness that parts of the unforgiving world of 'Prisoner' fandom greeted the news that and audio series was in development. However, as 'Doctor Who' audio stalwarts BIG FINISH had secured the license to produce theaudio drama 're-imagining' of 'The Prisoner', it was clear that such nervousness was a little misplaced. Great pedigree, but would it work for 'The Prisoner'? After all, with no McGoohan to reprise his role, casting would be the first hurdle.
Nicholas Briggs, it was announced, would write and produce (and kindly provide several 'interview sessions' for The Unmutual HERE) the series, and the cast was announced, with 'unknown' actor Mark Elstob in the McGoohan role, and some more famous names (John Standing, Celia Imrie, Michael Cochrane, and Ramon Tikaram) as the Number Twos. Immediately, the internet melted as misinformed and closed-minded folk bemoaned the fact that some creative people were, well, creating something new and different, seemingly forgetting that McGoohan himself spent 40 years post-Prisoner trying to get a remake off the ground with someone other than he in the Number Six role.
I have found the episodes (thanks to Nick for allowing me access to these prior to the launch of the set) to be VERY enjoyable.
The performances are first class, and this is really what sets it aside from fan productions and the like (as one would expect from professional actors). Elstob does a fine job in what is a pretty thankless and impossible task, occasionally dipping into 'McGoohan impersonation mode' but that's to be expected given the brief, and although is not as intense a performer as McGoohan, there's more than enough there for us to believe in him as our hero. The Number Twos are all simply superb, with Celia Imrie perhaps stealing an altogether fine show, with a Mary Morris-esque performance worthy of an episode of the original series. Sara Powell is great as the Caribbean Number Nine (*SPOILERS* a shame she is now unable to reprise the role should there be further sets and episodes), Jez Fielder a very amusing village hairdresser (who reminded me of many of the camp 'turns' in the series, such as Charles Lloyd Pack's painter from 'Funeral', or the 'flower man' from 'Dance of the Dead'), and Helen Goldwyn also effective as the 'Village Voice', capturing some of the 'madness' which Fenella Fielding captured so well in the original.
What also no doubt helps is the fact that it is clear that this series has been made 'from a good place'. Briggs and co clearly care about the original and have not undermined that and have been respectful to the work that went into creating the original series and have remained true to the essence of it. BIG FINISH have taken their 'guardianship' of the series seriously, and as a result have created a believable, recognisable, and effective re-creation of The Village and its inhabitants.
In borrowing much of the original, but tweaking it slightly to make it fresh, Briggs should be congratulated on his writing. Although I knew the original endings of three of the episodes, each has been twisted and made different (and in 'Schizoid Man' actually improved as we actually do get an explanation for who Curtis actually is and how it was all done, the original television episode is one of those rare 'hmmm I don't quite buy that' moments of the series), so that at the end of episode one, in true cliffhanger style, I couldn't wait to listen to the start of episode two. I also enjoyed the injections of humour, often to be found in the original series too, of course, and all felt well-placed ('It's green, and dome shaped' being one chucklesome example).
Briggs' writing particularly comes to the fore in the only entirely 'new' episode, 'Your Beautiful Village', an episode which, whilst slightly more modern (this is not a bad thing), would fit wonderfully in the original 'canon'.
I enjoyed the episodes so much that, in finding criticisms as one needs to do as a reviewer, I struggled to find anything substantially negative to say. The only gripes I have are minimal and barely need a mention; Cobb sounded more like a furniture removal man from Bow rather than a secret agent (imagine the 'cor, this one's a weight' chap from the original series' version of 'Chimes' and you won't be far off), the 'breaking the arm of the taxi driver' sequence felt a bit needless, and I'm not fully convinced by the sound effects of the skimmer copter, it sounded at times like they were in the middle of a spin rinse of a washing machine, but for me to be picky like that only shows what a fine job has been done, as those sorts of things are really inconsequential to the overall enjoyment I took from the episodes. I could find just as many gripes, if not more, with the original TV episodes, I'm sure.
The music, all original but very much created in the style of the series, is appropriate and fitting, and the effects (copter aside) all very good - Rover being much improved from their prototype version thanks to a chance conversation at one of their recording sessions. It feels in tune with the original series, but is different enough to be original, and that is perhaps how I would sum up my feelings on this audio set!
It is the first decent 'original version of The Prisoner' since the series itself and Briggs and his colleagues should be congratulated. Is it as good as the original? No, but it doesn't need to be. Is it to sit alongside the original? No, but it was never meant to, as it is a re-imagining to stand up on its own merit, and this it certainly does. Is it good, entertaining, drama, well acted and produced, with cliffhanger endings, and audio excitement? Yes, and that's the point.
People who have long been interested in the original series will ask the usual questions, such as 'Number Six wouldn't kiss anyone?' (answer: well yes, he would, it's only McGoohan that didn't want to kiss anyone on screen, but the 'Chimes' hair touching scene was clearly a 'seduction technique', and we see the character actually kissing in 'Do Not Forsake'. People REALLY need to separate McGoohan from this to get the full enjoyment here, as producer Nick Briggs himself said 'imagine you're in a parallel universe where The Prisoner is an audio series starring Mark Elstob as Number Six'), or 'why is there a Number 27 in the series when no number 7s appear anywhere in the original series?' (answer: Number 73 in 'Hammer Into Anvil' anyone?).
I can hear the same old tired minds and tired faces of 'Prisoner' fandom bemoaning this release, as they did when it was first announced. They are missing the point. This was never meant to be 'Patrick McGoohan as Number Six in some new audio adventures', so to say 'it isn't as good and that's why it's not very good' is not a valid criticism. It isn't pretending to be a straight remake, and doesn't need to be - that's not what BIG FINISH are about, they don't pretend their audio 'Who' episodes are 'The Caves of Androzani' any more than they are pretending 'Departure and Arrival' is 'Arrival'. This was never meant to be a remake. It was meant to be, and is, an enjoyable, quirky, fun, and entertaining re-imagining of the series.
I thoroughly look forward to the possibility of a second series of episodes.
Rick Davy, December 2015.
Review by Alan Hayes.
Having picked up the first volume of Big Finish’s “The Prisoner” at their event in Slough on 16th January 2016, my wife and I have now taken our first steps into the world of Number Six on audio…
To begin with, long before we got home from the event, I had completely fallen in love with the set on an aesthetic level. The package is presented beautifully in a lavish book-style affair complete with an outer thick card slip – so much thought has clearly gone into the design of this ‘book’. It really is a thing of beauty. But appearances can be terribly deceptive… can’t they?
When I’d first heard of the idea to adapt “The Prisoner” for audio, I had – as a fan of the series of some 34 years standing – been perhaps understandably a little sceptical about the idea. I was familiar with the work of Big Finish and Nicholas Briggs, who was announced as being the writer of the audio version, but I wondered whether anyone could take this classic, nigh on perfect series and reinvent it successfully for a new medium. How could it be done without Patrick McGoohan, the maverick genius behind the 1967-68 original? I doubted whether it was actually possible. I was reassured though that if anyone could make it work and be faithful and respectful to McGoohan’s groundbreaking original, it was Big Finish.
Despite this, when I heard the teaser trailer that was released towards the end of September 2015, the scepticism bit me somewhat more deeply. Parts of it felt rather overplayed, and I was on the point of thinking “this is not for me. I have the television series, and that’s all I really need”. A second trailer did little to to change my mind. However, what began to shift my perception was the half-hour extract of “Departure and Arrival” issued as a free download on Christmas Eve. Hearing a lengthy section of the first episode made me realise that the trailers were not really representative of the finished product, and it drew me in very quickly. A series of promotional video featurettes were then released over six days, counting down to the day that the first volume was to be published – appropriately the sixth day of the first month (six of one!) 2016. The featurettes gave me an insight into the thinking behind the release, with interviews with the likes of Nicholas Briggs, the new Number Six – Mark Elstob – and other people involved in the production. These gents said the right things, hit the right notes… Maybe, just maybe, this could be rather special…
By the time that Big Finish Day 8 came, I was practically champing at the bit to get hold of “The Prisoner” on audio, so while one must question the choice of clips used in the trailers, Big Finish’s marketing of this release eventually drew me in and had me on tenterhooks, desperate to hear the finished product.
Upon returning home from the event, we sat down to listen to the first CD, “Departure and Arrival” (based on the opening episode of the television series, “Arrival”). We slotted the CD into the player, fired up our vintage 1977 analogue amplifier (you really have to do these things in the right way, you know!), hit ‘play’ and, 78 minutes later, we both professed to being rather blown away by what we had heard!
On the evidence of “Departure and Arrival” alone it was clear that Nicholas Briggs and the team had truly delivered. It's a bold reimagining, with some novel tweaks. There's enough of the original for it to feel familiar and authentic, but enough of the new to keep the listener guessing, intrigued. The innovations even extended to wrong-footing us both – we ‘knew’ the ending, or at least we thought we did, as Briggs has very cleverly turned this first episode and its successor in this set into a two-part story, introducing characters from the second (and third) episode into the first, giving it a serial form. Perhaps one of the few weaknesses of the original series is that you rarely got the feeling of there being a narrative progression, something very much “of its time” in terms of film series production in the Sixties. The original series could be shown in more or less any order, as long as “Arrival” was placed first and “Once Upon a Time” and “Fall Out” at the end; the audio series is designed to be listened to in a definite order (after nearly 50 years of debate about the most appropriate running order of the television series, it is perhaps a relief that the audio version will generate a lot less confusion in this area!).
The second CD, a new adaptation of Terence Feely’s “The Schizoid Man”, continues on directly from “Departure and Arrival”, harking back to the last time these two episodes were sandwiched together – in 1982 for the Precision Video VHS release of these episodes, which Nicholas Briggs credits as part of his inspiration for including the episode so early in the series. “The Schizoid Man” ordinarily appears fifth in the running order, but Briggs clearly likes to keep us on our toes and plays with the sequence of episodes to good effect.
As this second episode unfolds, we soon realise that there has been some clever thinking going on regarding Number Nine (Sara Powell), who is first heard in “Departure and Arrival” (originally “The Woman” played by Virginia Maskell on television). This character continues into “The Schizoid Man”, assuming the function of Alison (Jane Merrow) from the original version, therefore becoming an integral part of the doppelganger story. Once again, Briggs successfully revisits and remixes this classic episode, and – somehow – pulls off what might seem impossible, to successfully translate a very visual concept, that of a man set against his duplicate, to the audio medium. It’s bonkers, but it works. In many ways it actually adds an additional layer of disorientation for the listener, who comes to question which ‘Number Six’ is which (something which does not happen in the television version, as the duplicate wears a piped blazer that is the negative image of that worn by the real Number Six).
The third episode, arguably the most tantalising since it is the only completely original story included in the set, is titled “Your Beautiful Village” and uses the audio medium to its full potential. This is a story that would scarcely be possible to mount on television, since for the greater majority of the narrative Number Six is plunged into complete darkness. As the story progresses, we realise that all of his senses are being suppressed – and at times the listener is as much in the dark as Number Six, to paraphrase “Hammer into Anvil”. The tone of the piece is as sombre as the lighting, and the script – which presents a torture as disturbing as any explored in the television series – pushes Number Six to the extremes of emotion. It is a strong episode that stands up well against the adapted classics that precede and follow it. Nicholas Briggs is to be congratulated for devising an imaginative scenario which fits seamlessly into the series thematically and exploits the audio medium brilliantly.
If the episode has a weakness, then it is that the means of Number Six’s sensory deprivation is never adequately explained. Indeed, it is not entirely clear where hallucination ends and reality begins, and this brings one to question whether or not the whole episode takes place in Number Six’s mind.
I considered that perhaps the extra running time afforded to the final episode, “The Chimes of Big Ben” (which clocks in at 78 minutes), might shed some light on the questions arising from “Your Beautiful Village”, but despite some episode-to-episode continuity (a welcome facet of the release as a whole) they were not addressed. I suspect that a further listen and a read of the script – included in the downloadable bonus content available to those who purchase through the Big Finish website – might bear fruit.
Despite my (minimal) disappointment on this front, “The Chimes of Big Ben” proved to be a fine conclusion to this first volume. The adaptation, for the most part, adheres to Vincent Tilsley’s original script a little more closely than “Departure and Arrival” and “The Schizoid Man” do to their own source materials; it is only the conclusion of the episode that deviates markedly from the familiar television version, with other changes being mainly for reasons related to the transition to audio. Far be it from me to spoil the ending for anyone, but suffice it to say that it is imaginative and effective.
The sound design of “The Prisoner – Volume 1” is rich, definitely on a larger, more cinematic scale than your average BBC Radio 4 drama. The soundscape plants you firmly in the Village, complete with authentic sound effects and atmospheres and a to-die-for theme and incidental music score by Jamie Robertson. The composer riffs on familiar “Prisoner” themes, to the point where not only does he succeed in creating a recognisable, if subtly tweaked, soundscape complete with little audio triggers that delight the ear of at least this die-hard fan, but he also makes it fundamentally clear that he has done his homework. It is a fine work in its own right – and it is worth noting that purchasers who order “The Prisoner – Volume 1” direct from www.bigfinish.com receive an exclusive digital download of Jamie’s original soundtrack, running to more than 150 minutes, as well as other downloadable goodies including the aforementioned scripts. (And this is in addition to the documentary, “By Hook or By Crook”, which is included on the fifth CD in the set; also very well put together.)
One particular innovation that is arguably very much in keeping with McGoohan’s vision is the incorporation of modern-day technology in the audio series (which remains set in 1967). While this might initially seem a radical thing to do, the original series clearly employed imagined technology of the future in the hands of the Village controllers, and the inclusion of tablets, Wi-Fi and the like is merely an extension of that, implying that Number Six’s captors had access to cutting edge, developmental technology that wouldn’t be released to the wider world until much later. It is of course something that could only have been included with the benefit of hindsight, but it’s an interesting idea regardless.
I had a few very minor reservations about these productions – I felt that Number Six as depicted is too quick to resort to or threaten violence, often against those weaker than him; the “Village Voice” (Helen Goldwyn) is directed to be rather too manic and irritating and therefore doesn’t really capture the honey-dripping, gaily delivered public addresses heard in the original series (voiced there by Fenella Fielding); and perhaps too many voices are provided by a single actors, meaning that some characters are a little stereotypical (Cobb becoming a gruff Cockney, for instance) – but none of these is sufficient to spoil the listening experience. Overall, “The Prisoner – Volume 1” was a joy to listen to – something evidenced by the fact that we devoured the whole set within a week (ordinarily with this sort of thing, we can go for weeks between episodes). With Volume 2 a year away – No! Say it isn’t so! – we really should have paced ourselves, but it was all so entrancing that patience, virtue though it may be, quickly became a stranger.
Briggs’ reinterpretation of the series has plenty about it that is of itself rather than of the original, sufficient to make it work on its own terms, independent of the original. The audio version doesn't replace or slavishly copy the classic, iconic original – it breathes new life into what we as fans of “The Prisoner” have become perhaps overly familiar with over the course of dozens of repeat viewings, and offers a fresh take that promises to be successful and entertaining in its own right.
It is to Mark Elstob’s credit that he completely convinces the listener despite being presented with the sort of challenging material which could stretch any actor, particularly in “Your Beautiful Village”. He does a fine job playing Number Six across the four plays on this set. In many ways, one might have thought that he was on a hiding to nothing – the comparisons to McGoohan were inevitable, and McGoohan, as creator of the role and to a great extent the series itself, will always be regarded as the definitive Number Six; what room in the series is there for a young pretender? Despite the magnitude of his task, Mark Elstob has imprinted his mark on the role very, very quickly, and with great assurance. At times it's uncanny - while it's certainly not a vocal impression of McGoohan that Elstob delivers, there are moments when you really can hear Patrick's spirit coming through in Mark's performance which captures the great man’s clipped delivery and rhythm of speech. It is quite remarkable – and, I must be honest, thrilling to hear – but the actor and Nicholas Briggs have been clever enough to bring some facets to the character and performance that are entirely Elstob-Six rather than McGoohan-Six (not least of which are the character’s more natural disposition to female characters!).
There is also a superb line-up of star name actors taking turns to assume the mantle of Number Two. Celia Imrie turns in a fine performance slightly reminiscent of Mary Morris (“Dance of the Dead”) and presents a definite change of tone after John Standing’s rather jovial and almost chummy turn in “Departure and Arrival”. Ramon Tikaram makes his mark also in “Your Beautiful Village”, his interpretation adding considerably to a very disconcerting episode. My favourite of the four though is definitely Michael Cochrane, saved up until the set’s final episode. With Leo McKern’s interpretation so familiar and impressive, I didn’t expect to “settle in” with this Number Two quite as quickly as I did. I am so unfaithful. Punish me now… for Cochrane pushed my memory of McKern to one side almost instantly, grabbing the part with gusto and a vocal performance that is a true highlight of the set; fruity and gloriously lascivious. I hope, like McKern did in the original series, Cochrane returns to contest another battle of wills with Number Six – and I would also welcome return engagements by Celia Imrie and John Standing (this is not a slight on Ramon Tikaram as listeners will ultimately realise) though obviously some new “new Number Twos” would be very welcome in the next boxset too!
Beyond the “headline acts” taking turns to wear the Number Two badge, there are also two performances of particular note from first Sara Powell as Number Nine, complete with her delicious Caribbean accent, and then Kristina Buikaite, apparently the only Lithuanian actress working in the UK, supplies an authentic voice for Nadia Racowsky in “The Chimes of Big Ben”. Both greatly enhance their respective episodes, and one wonders whether they will feature again. The clues are there to suggest that they may well do so.
Finally, there’s a ‘documentary’ disc in the set – called “By Hook or By Crook” – but this isn’t so much a documentary as a behind-the-scenes production diary. Running to a whopping 74 minutes, this gives a fascinating glimpse into the making of the plays in this first volume. A worthwhile and welcome bonus to round off the set.
To sum up, I’m delighted that Nicholas Briggs and the Big Finish team have managed not only to do something I considered near to impossible – to live up to and be true to one of the greatest television series ever made – but they have done so in great style. It’s familiar and yet different; faithful and yet experimental; authentic and yet remarkably imaginative.
It is everything I hoped it might be – and then some. It is quite possibly the best thing that Big Finish has ever produced. It won’t win over every fan of “The Prisoner”, but it has certainly won over this one. Bring on the next volume… and more!
Review by Anthony Rooney
to keep this review as spoiler free as possible, except where I think you'll
already know the televised versions of the episodes well enough not to. If
in doubt though, probably best to read no further...
In the days before video recorders and DVD players, when dinosaurs roamed the Earth (and so did I), I used to preserve my favourite TV shows by recording their soundtracks on C-60 audio tape. Holding my little tape-recorder’s condenser microphone to the television’s set’s speaker, and keeping one hand free to gesture my family to be silent should anyone dare to make a sound while I was recording, I would record theme tunes and, if I had the tape to spare, sometimes whole programmes. To this day there are still episodes of certain TV shows that I can recite line-for-line thanks to these primitive recordings. Thankfully the Big Finish audio-adaptation of The Prisoner is a long way removed from that.
You know, I’m going to try to stop using the words ‘remake’ and ‘reimagining’ for what Big Finnish have done. It’s not that those descriptions are incorrect but I think they might be off-putting to Prisoner fans still smarting from the awful 2009 AMC reimagining. Writer/director/producer Nicholas Briggs is a fan of The Prisoner himself, and what he has done is far more faithful to and respectful of the source material than AMC’s misbegotten endeavour. The other problem with remakes and reimaginings is that there is something vaguely dismissive of the original about their very existence – “Yes, yes, that was good in its day but we think we can do better with plastic young actors and CGI effects” - something sure to upset the fans of the original (and set them at odds with fans of the newer incarnation if it takes off). So it’s possibly better to think of this project in the same way as the various iterations of The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – radio series, novel, TV show and stage plays (erm, best to forget the awful movie) that manage to coexist quite comfortably alongside one another. The Big Finish Prisoner is like that, it’s not trying to replace Patrick McGoohan’s masterpiece but instead to adapt it for the audio medium. It’s not a slavish recreation but a lovingly crafted adaptation with some clever and quirky twists of its own that I think will surprise and delight fans of the original.
The Prisoner’s pulse-pounding opening title sequence has never been bettered for setting up a show’s premise each and every week. There is no opening narration like some TV shows (“Steve Austin, a man barely alive…”), instead The Prisoner’s titles show rather than tell the story of Number Six’s resignation and kidnapping. Nick Briggs’ opening script, Departure and Arrival, deals with that by rolling back Number Six’s story to events taking place just prior to the resignation – a controversial move but, personally, I think it pays off. When Patrick McGoohan and George Markstein were piecing together the jigsaw-puzzle that was The Prisoner, they were also, so to speak, painting the picture on each individual piece as they went along. Nicholas Briggs has the advantage of having the full 17-episode picture to look at, so the pre-resignation sequence is able to include characters and elements from Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling. Our hero, played by Mark Elstob, goes by codename ZM73 as we see – er, hear - him heading to Belgium to meet up with Janet, now an agent herself, who has been working on the Seltzman case. Danvers, a very minor character in DNFMOMY, is fleshed out into a grovelling toady, sucking up to ‘Control’ (pretty clearly Sir Charles Portland in character if not name). Arrival’s Cobb appears in this scene as ZM73’s contact, and seems to have mutated into a cross between a poor-man’s Artemis Gordon and Callan’s Lonely (with Janet remarking on his body odour)…which kind of works, actually. With the hint of possible body-swap shenanigans, our hero’s real-world antics are intriguing enough even before he is abducted to the topsy-turvy wonderland of The Village.
The Big Finish Village is very much the same Village we saw on television. Listening on earphones with my eyes closed, the images conjured up are very much Sixties era Portmeirion. Mini-Mokes whizz about while inane statements issue from the speakers dotted about the place (Helen Goldwyn does a fine job standing in for Fenella Fielding as the endearingly batty Village Voice).
Our hero’s arrival in The Village is narrated for us by Number Two, watching events unfold on the Green Dome’s viewscreen, he takes great delight in the new prisoner’s disorientation. Veteran actor John Standing is perfectly cast as the first Number Two, as charming in his own way as his on-screen counterpart Guy Doleman was, but Standing’s age allowing him to play the role like a slightly mischievous older uncle.
The new Number Six’s confusion turns to outright anger as the villagers he meets fail to give him any straight answers. If anything, Elstrob’s Number Six outdoes McGoohan’s in the anger stakes as he threatens outright bodily harm to the people he meets. All trace of the charming and business-like ZM73 gone now that he is on the back foot in this strange new world.
Don’t expect events in the audio version to follow on exactly as they did on screen. For instance, some characters are amalgamated into one, such as Number Nine (Sara Powell) who is also the waitress and maid (she’s - sort of - Alison in The Schizoid Man too). Speaking of multiple characters, Briggs takes the idea of duplicate villagers we saw on the television Prisoner to its ultimate conclusion here, so that we have Helen Goldwyn playing various clones. Goldwyn is extremely good at conveying the different personalities of these clones who perform different functions in The Village (one of which is ‘Operations Controller’ – a job so similar to the television Supervisor that the change of title seems unnecessary…minor quibble, sorry). I suspect the different varieties and personalities of the Goldwyn clones could become quite a highlight of this series.
If I’m being honest, I didn’t like the manner in which Number Six discovered that Number Two changes – I felt the way it was done kind of robbed the revelation of its dramatic impact…but others might disagree, and that’s fine, it’s just a point of view. If John Standing was the ‘good cop’ Number Two then Celia Imrie is very much the ‘bad cop’ take on the Village administrator. The woman just oozes menace from beneath an extremely thin layer of civility. Imrie is sort of an amalgamation of George Baker and Anton Rogers’ Number Twos as she crosses over into the second story, The Schizoid Man.
When I heard that The Schizoid Man was being adapted for audio I was dubious that it could be done. Could the tale of two Number Sixes be made to work without the visuals? The answer, surprisingly (to me, at least) is: yes! Mark Elstrob gives an acting masterclass as both Number Six and Curtis. I doubt many of us would enjoy meeting our own mirror image and having our flaws held up to us as starkly as happens to Number Six in this story. The hatred these two versions of the same man have for one another is explosive. The fight scene works amazingly well - no gentlemanly contest down at the gym, these two really want to hurt one another. Curtis’ coldly sarcastic taunt of ‘Number Fake’ to the original is a neat little addition that I hear in my head whenever I think about this story. Brilliant, but Briggs might have made a rod for his own back with the suggestion that the Village boffins can create a two-way telepathic link between anybody they choose. In the TV version it was more ambiguous, because we never really knew if Alison was gifted telepathically or as a card-counter, that was left up to the viewer. At a later date, Nick Briggs might need an explanation as to why anyone interrogating Number Six isn’t given the same telepathic link.
Your Beautiful Village is the third story in the set and the title plays on the constant repetition, in these audio plays, of the word ‘beautiful’ to describe the Village and things in it. It’s a clever story and one that makes good use of the audio medium, so much so that it would be almost impossible to ‘reverse engineer it,’ if you will, for television. I’m not going to go into detail about this story simply because it’s a brand new episode of The Prisoner and I have no wish to spoil it (but, oh how wonderful to be typing the words: 'a brand new episode of The Prisoner' ).
The Chimes of Big Ben is my favourite story from the set. If Mark Elstob had his work cut out for him stepping into Patrick McGoohan’s sizable deck shoes, then Michael Cochrane had almost as formidable a task reinterpreting Leo McKern’s Number Two. For my money, Cochrane rises to the challenge magnificently and he almost steals the show from Elstob (I’m already anticipating these two actors going head-to-head in their own version of Once Upon A Time). Really, the ‘rightness’ of the casting for this box-set is absolutely spot-on. Kristina Buikaite is terrific as a more vulnerable take on Nadia. As a listener I warmed to Buikaite’s Nadia in a way I never did to her television counterpart (which is no insult to Nadia Grey, who I think is terrific, but very different – almost a female version of Number Six). It’s precisely because Kristina Buikaite’s Nadia is so sympathetic that the conclusion to this adaptation is all the more painful – and kind of haunting.
Yes, there *are* changes to accommodate the audio medium but, in my mind’s eye, Nicholas Briggs' take on The Prisoner transported me back to the Village that McGoohan and Markstein created. If the sales of this first volume are good enough to warrant a second then I hope we’ll see more original stories from Mr. Briggs (maybe save the adaptations of television episodes as special ‘treats’?). I know that I, for one, will be keeping my fingers crossed for more tales from the Big Finish Village.
Be hearing you! (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)
Click HERE for an additional review by Ed Watkinson at Planet Mondas!
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