The Prisoner: episode 12 – A Change of Mind – discursion


Yes, this woman is in the Village

A Change of Mind was written by Roger Parkes, and was his first television script (following a tip off from his friend Morris Farhi, writer of the unused The Outsider), leading quickly to a whole host of scripts for other ITV thrillers. It was directed by Joseph Serf, a pseudonym for McGoohan, who again took over the reins after sacking the original Director, who on this occasion only lasted a single morning.
It was the eighth episode to go into production and the twelfth to be broadcast, marking the end (save for the deliberately displaced Once Upon a Time) of the original series plan, and the end of the production team, including Story Editor and co-creator George Markstein.
Like it’s immediate predecessor in both filming and broadcast, It’s Your Funeral, A Change of Mind draws its inspiration from The Manchurian Candidate, this time from the brainwashing aspect. As such, it laid the foundations for a potentially fascinating psychologically-oriented episode.
Unfortunately, A Change of Mind turned out to be one of the poorest episodes of the series, beset by an underlying sloppiness in both filming and scripting, that undermines the best efforts of all to convince, and the overwhelming use of studio mock-ups for Village exteriors – actual location footage being almost exclusively from stock shots – only helps to reinforce the feeling of something tired being churned out.
This suspicion appears in the very first scene, of Number Six in his ‘outdoor’ gym, when the camera work does far too little to conceal that it is McGoohan’s stunt double, Frank Maher, who is doing all the gymnastic work. Believability gets a knife to the throat at the outset.
And the on location double for Number Two in the scenes in the Square are even worse: a double completely unlike the man in hair, face and build, which is shamefully obvious when Number Two is chased back to the Green Dome.
What is worse though is the underlying confusion as to what the story is intended to be. Reading the original script in Robert Fairclough’s The Original Scripts Volume 2 exposes just how much the story was changed between scripting and filming. Not in any dramatic manner: the spine and the sequence of the story remains the same, but emphasises and dialogue are shifted constantly, the characterisations of the two guest stars are changed but running dialogue themes about them is only partially removed, leaving old strands dangling, a scene is cut but its aftermath is allowed to remain and, worst of all, after building up throughout the first half of the story the idea that lobotomy is a serious threat, the filmed version loses its nerve at the crucial point, tips its hand that it’s a con and drastically alters for the worse the meaning of all that then follows.
The guest stars are John Sharp (mistakenly credited as ‘Sharpe’) as Number Two and Angela Browne as Number Eighty Six. As written by Parkes, Number Two was supposed to be a farmer-type, with a face suggesting peasant stock (he even mops his perspiring face with a red handkerchief at one point!). He’s superficially blunt and honest, full of farming metaphors throughout, this leading to Number Six’s satirical jab on the Balcony, deliberately echoing Number Two with ‘The butcher with the sharpest knife has the warmest heart’.
Sharp, in complete contrast, speaks with a very English voice and an effete accent. He is slow and indolent, but easily raised to a waspish fury that is continually directed at Number Eighty Six (out of her hearing) who he despises as a woman. His first ‘farmer’s adage’ is left in but all the others are deleted. Yet Number Six’s line remains, a satire of a non-presence that is strikingly off-key when it appears, distracting the audience into confusion at the emotional climax.
Number Two’s original persona has been wiped out, yet the job has not been completed, as if someone only got so far into revising the script then either gave up or ran out of time.
Incidentally, Sharp’s performance and his unquestionable disdain for Number Eighty Six is once again powerful support for the misogyny argument. Given the context of the time, and the decade still to follow, I can only see it as a not very subtly coded portrayal of a homosexual character, of the stereotypically bitchy, woman-hating type. Which does not improve the episode one iota.
As for Number Eighty Six, the script portrays her throughout as someone passionately interested in Number Six, forever seeking his attention to her ‘as a woman’. Now we know that wasn’t going to fly with McGoohan for a second, and indeed Browne’s performance throughout is clinical, and passionless, until she is drugged into a quasi-hippy, flower power frame of mind.
But there’s a running gag throughout the original script as Number Six tries various ways to attract the Prisoner’s attention only be be rebuffed with ‘If there’s one thing I cannot stand it’s a girl…’ ‘with a fake accent’ (Number Eighty Six puts on a fake Swedish accent in her first scene)/’who wears slacks’ (she switches to a dress).
As with Number Two, these are dropped, but not dropped throughout. Angela Browne still lets her hair down and switches to a totally non-Village, very feminine dress (and looks very good in it too), though the rationale for this has gone, and Number Six still uses the formula of ‘If there’s one thing I cannot stand it’s a girl…’ to justify displacing her as a tea-maker. It’s once again an echo of a ghost element, and it distracts the viewer at the wrong moment.
I mentioned above a deleted scene, whose aftermath still appears. I mentioned in the synopsis that, after returning from the terrace café where he has been shunned, Number Six arrives dishevelled and sweaty, his hair messed up and falling in his face. Surely it’s not that long a walk back? Especially after the Doctor told him he’s in such good condition.
The answer is that the original script had a scene prior to Number Six’s return home, in which he was followed by the Villagers offended by an Unmutual, and then forced into a scuffle with several ‘socially concerned’ Villagers. Hence his appearance.
Whether the scuffle was shot than cut, or whether the later scene was filmed with appropriate continuity prior to the decision to cut, it’s another example of the sloppiness afflicting this story. Its effect is reminiscent of the strange decision made by ITV when showing Chinatown on TV for the first time when, instead of showing the scene where Jack Nicholson’s character got his nose ripped by a knife, they cut to adverts in mid-scene and returned to the film for the next scene.
It was as if the film itself had been left to run whilst the credits were being shown, but the worst of it was that for the rest of the film Nicholson appeared with bandaging, or prominent stitches, for a wound that had not been seen being incurred, undermining the very reality of everything thereafter.
Going back to the original script again, it’s very clear that the intention throughout is to make the viewer believe that not only has Number Six undergone the lobotomy, but also that Number Six believes he has gone through the operation. The influence of the drugs, on top of what he has ‘seen’ and ‘heard’ in the operating theatre, has a very strong effect on Number Six, who only gradually starts to resist, as the effect of the drugs wear off, and whose rehabilitation is only confirmed in the second fight with the two jerks.
Instead, the episode bottles out and shows us that the equipment is turned off before it can do any damage. The viewer is in on the plot, and is only waiting for Number Six to snap out of it. And I’m bound to say that McGoohan’s performance from this point onwards does nothing to convince even the dullest viewer that it might have been real.
He can’t keep himself from roaring out odd words, in anger, from restless prowling, from beating a fandango on the kitchen worktops. He’s suspicious of Number Eighty Six, insistent in overriding her  and making tea. It’s obvious that the supposed operation hasn’t had any effect on him and the mystery is why the Village gets no further than Number Eighty Six being suspicious. Number Two, of course, is oblivious and blames any slippage on the stupid woman making mistakes.
So, instead of Number Six coming alive and truly realising that he’s still himself in the woods with his two punching-bags, we are just waiting for him to punch them out again because we, as an audience, have never been allowed to think that something really might have been done.
It’s a massive failure on the part of McGoohan as Director and is of the primary cause for the many revisions made to the script.
Another interesting aspect is the conclusion. Already, it’s concerning that Number Eighty Six, instead of being sedated by the Nytol like Number Six, seems to have her brains run out of her ears and turn into a near-drooling idiot (misogyny). But her appearance in the finalé, denouncing Number Two in a firm voice, calling him Unmutual and demanding Social Conversion, is far from enough.
Her voice alone is presented as enough to overturn the entire Village, to rebel against Number Two, to challenge the system and make him run (terribly unconvincingly) away. It’s a non-ending, a non-sequitor, covered up by the final image of the silent Butler and his umbrella. At a stroke, the entire purpose of the Village vanishes, Number Six wins, spectacularly! And no-one seems to recognise this.
Because overall A Change of Minds is the episode that is the harshest of them all on the Villagers themselves. Ironically, in the immediate wake of an episode that introduces a substrata of Villagers who resist, who interfere, who plot and Jam, the very next episode portrays them as being, in their entirety, weak-minded, slavish conformists, in thrall to cheap sociological patter, the model of the ‘Sheep’ and ‘Rotted Cabbages’ that Number Six has insulted them as being.
Because that’s why the ending doesn’t count, or work. Slavish, blind receptiveness to the authority of Number Two and the Village can be overthrown at a single voice, and the easily-swayed Village turn on Number Two because a pretty girl in a frock with a clear voice tells them to. It’s a deeply cynical, or else lazy and unthought out idea that tries to get a neat ending for free, and hang any kind of consistency with the rest of the series.
Immediately following this episode, the series would continue with the three ‘filler’ episodes required by Lew Grade to flesh out The Prisoner to the new seventeen episode length. Though hastily conceived, cast and filmed, with a brand new production team, and ever more tangential to the theme of the series, they each had more about them than A Change of Mind, which contributes more than it should to the overall feeling of growing desperation about the series that would, in an unplanned but ergonomic manner, contribute so much to the ending of the series.

4 thoughts on “The Prisoner: episode 12 – A Change of Mind – discursion

  1. No, the message of defiant individuality that I get from The Prisoner hasn’t been matched by anything else I’ve seen.

    Haha, my site’s not everyone’s cup of tea but it keeps me amused. 😀

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