Danger Man: s03 e13 – The Man Who Wouldn’t Talk


danger

I think it’s pretty clear by now that the third series of Danger Man doesn’t stand up to the second. There are far too many episodes that are poor or, in the case of ‘The Man Who Wouldn’t Talk’, just ordinary. Or, to be a little more specific, like the curate’s egg, in that there are some excellent moments in service of a standard Cold War plot, but in isolation, not strung together, as well as elements that are not properly integrated into the story.

This starts with the superficially clever open. A man sits in a passenger lounge at Istanbul Airport, fiddling with a transister radio. Drake arrives and sits down with a similar radio. These are walkie-talkies enabling the two to converse and brief the audience. Station Chief Meredith (Norman Rodway) has gone into Bulgaria to try to shore up his network there but has been captured and is enduring intense interrogation, of the flashing lights and sleep deprivation kind. Drake’s mission is to get him out of there. The other agent is confident Meredith won’t talk. Cynically, or rather realistically, Drake observes that he will. Sooner or later they all do.

So far, so good. A neat way of informing everyone what the episode’s to be. The touch that the agent can’t speak freely because he’s being shadowed is also clever, but the whole thing is over-egged when, after leaving Drake’s passport and papers as James Garnett, reporter, in a rubbish bin to be collected, the agent is followed outside, unto dark night streets, all shadow and treachery, the perfect spot for a blown agent to be killed – only he hides, surprises and knocks out his nemesis and disappears and that’s it, he’s gone from the story, without follow-up. The escape dangles.

The rest of the episode is set in Sofia, Communist Bulgaria, replete with all the mid-Sixties cliches that, from everything I understand about the period, were firmly based in reality. The waiter, Peter (Simon Brent), is part of Meredith’s network. He’s in it for the money, he’s an information peddler not an action man and he’s pretty bloody nervous, a weak reed that Drake scarcely trusts – he’s very much in grim cynic mode this week – but who is bullied into helping by being ready with a getaway car.

All this time we’re cutting to Meredith, in a turtleneck pullover, sweaty, unshaven, rocky, kept on his feet under flashing lights whilst an interrogator drones on repetitively. Rodway doesn’t have much to work with, no dialogue and a static role, but he does a good job of convincing us of the determination by which he’s resisting being broken.

And we have that staple of the era, the over-helpful local guide. This is the only way we’re going to get a female presence into this overtly masculine episode, and it’s the delightful Jane Merrow, always a pleasure to see even when she’s being hampered by Communist country unflattering dresses with low hemlines – decidedly not Swinging – as Lydia Greshnova, guide, interpreter and all-round functionary who fills the foreign visitor’s every waking second with virtuous visits to practical developments demonstrating that the Communist system is vastly superior to the Capitalist one, and that the people are very happy.

Drake has no intention of spending even one minute on such activities and makes it plain in a manner that is less being unsubtle than waving a red flag (personally, if I had Jane Merrow haranguing me to spend the day following her around, I’d be there ten minutes before we were due to start but then I’m not an Agent of M9 operating in Opposition territory). It comes over as unwise: yes, Drake cannot spare any of the time but his mixture of directness and evasion might be calculated to arouse the semi-lovely Lydia’s suspicions, and it’s pound to a penny she’s damned smart because otherwise she wouldn’t be in this role.

Anyway, ingeniously, Drake invades Military Headquarters and escapes with the pretty much done-in Meredith, but the escape route, by garage owner Demeter (Mike Pratt in another supporting role) is initially closed off, forcing Drake to take Meredith back to his hotel and, with Peter’s still reluctant assistance, keeping him comfortable and concealed there whilst Drake unblocks the blockage (basically, Demeter, who’s in it for the cause not the money, has gotten scared of exposure, just like Peter, and is talked/threatened back into line).

So much of what follows, until Drake and Meredith get away, is almost bog-standard cat and mouse stuff that, whilst tense enough, is uninspired. Where the episode tries to rise above this is in showing the effects interrogation have had on Meredith. Having been tormented by flashing lights, the episode makes a point of surrounding Meredith with flashing lights, signs going on and off. You’re waiting for Meredith to kick off big time, but that’s mostly a tease. When it’s not, the programme allows the point to be blurred.

Meredith wakes up whilst Drake is gone. The hotel name is flashing on and off. He sees Peter watching him. The episode implies he kills the luckless Peter, and indeed his crumpled body is in the bottom of the wardrobe, to be seen impassively by Drake and later, her angry suspicions rising like Mont Blanc, by Lydia, just before Meredith grabs and gags her (notice it’s Rodway who gets to handle Merrow, not McGoohan). We’re meant to read this as Meredith being unreliable, suffering from paranoid fugues arising from his treatment, and indeed that’s consistent with the rest of his behaviour.

But the episode undermines itself by having Meredith state, with absolute conviction and confidence, that Peter was not one of his network but a plant, forced on Drake to monitor him. On any second watching I’d go with the intended realisation that Meredith is off his head but on first watching, eyes open and looking for twists, the manner of Meredith’s self-justification threw me into taking his claim as a potential reality.

So. Good bits and bad bits, and overall one of those episodes which crammed a long story into a short space, tricking you into thinking the conclusion must be close at hand when there’s fifteen minutes yet to go, which is never bad, but more and more as the series moves into its back half it’s getting easier to see what McGoohan was getting at when he walked off only two episodes into series 4. And I mean no disrespect to Danger Man if I say, thank Yog-Sotthoth that he did.

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