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Classic TV | The Prisoner | Episode Guide
The Girl Who Was Death

By Jonathan Morris

This is an unusual one. I'd seen this episode before, as part of TV Heaven, in which Frank 'tortoise-in-a-dicky-bow' Muir introduced repeats on Channel 4. At the time, I thought it was terribly good.

I've since revised my opinion. It's fantastic. It's the best episode of The Prisoner.

Unfortunately, it isn't an episode of The Prisoner at all.

It has nothing to do with The Village, or Rover or people wearing stripy shirts and white-trim black blazers. Its only concessions to being an episode of The Prisoner are the device of having Number 6 narrate the story to some kids (storybook illustrations cover the commercial breaks - with a helicopter journey illustrated by a picture of an aeroplane!) and the final scene where number 2 and his assistant turn out to resemble characters from the 'story within the story'.

Which doesn't make sense, of course. Unless Number 6 is, in some way, satirizing Number 2 and his assistant. Which would tie in with Fall Out - the Number 2 character from The Girl Who Was Death returning in that episode, which also features a rocket. But how would number 6 know about the rocket?

No, that makes even less sense. That's the problem with trying to explain The Prisoner. The more you try to fit the pieces together, the more you realise you are working with the jigsaw of a loon.

What the Alan Moore fan in the attic doesn't appreciate is that it's really rather easy to write ambiguous stories that are left open for the reader to interpret. All you have to do is not bother about making sense. What is difficult is writing stuff that does make sense, where it all fits together. That's proper writing.

Anyway, this episode takes the form of a chase. McGoohan's some sort of secret agent investigating an assassination at a cricket match where a Colonel with a terrifically big moustache was fatally maimed by an exploding googly. Having received some information and a shoe-buffing from Henry Gordon Christopher Benjamin Jago, McGoohan decides to investigate - in disguise.

i.e. he wears a terrifically big moustache.

It transpires that the assassination was the work of The Girl Who Was Death, a kookie Sixties chick with oriental eye make-up and a white fur collar. She leads McGoohan on a merry goose chase, providing clues which lead him into a series of increasingly bizarre death-traps.

In a word, she's kinky.

I mean, we've all met girls like that, haven't we? One minute you think everything's going fine, she's laughing at your jokes, then next thing you know you're tied to a bench in a sawmill with a blade heading for your googlys.

Speaking of romance, one of my little Scottish experts informs me that Patrick McGoohan has never kissed anyone on screen. Apparently, when a director once asked him to kiss an actress, he said, 'Kissing? The only person Patrick McGoohan does that with is Mrs McGoohan.'

By which I presume he meant his wife, not his mum.

Anyway, TGWWD invites McGoohan to a pub where he is served a pint. As he drinks it, the words 'You have just been poisoned' are revealed.

Which is a) the second coolest thing in the episode (and possibly in the whole of The Prisoner) and b) a little silly, because if he'd held the glass the other way round it would have read `poisoned been just have you'. Which wouldn't make sense, unless you're Yoda.

The coolest thing in the episode (and possibly in the whole of The Prisoner) is how McGoohan stops the lager from poisoning him. He drinks everything behind the bar and then chunders the lot up! Excellent! Just as Alan Partridge fans have been known to drink "Ladyboys", I hope all the members of the Prisoner fan club get together on their weekends in Portmierion to re-enact this scene and get manged off their faces on "The Girl Who Was Death"s.

It's the Sixties, so we don't bat an eyelid when our inebriated hero then goes to a Turkish bath dressed as Sherlock Holmes. He is, after all, completely out of his hole. We should bear in mind that our hero has been drinking a vast amount of alcohol by this point - it will make much of what follows that much clearer.

Oh no! He's been locked inside his steamer with his head under a fishbowl!

This is not implausible. We've all been on disastrous blind dates where, within fifteen minutes, the girl is thinking up a series of bizarre and painful deaths for the person she is with. It's happened to me. Admittedly I've never ended up locked in a steamer with my head under a fishbowl, but I put that down to mere luck.

But that's the 'theme' of this episode. It's the most disastrous Blind Date in the world. She takes him to the pub, the fairground, the Tunnel of Love... and at each step of the way, just as he thinks he's about to get some TGWWD action, there's an ominous rumble and spikes start to descend from the ceiling.

McGoohan continues to wear his terrifically big moustache and Sherlock outfit. Why? Because Patrick McGoohan wouldn't film any of the fairground location sequences.

'Film fairground location sequences? The only person Patrick McGoohan does that with is Mrs McGoohan.'

We get a mish-mash of location footage featuring someone else dressed in deerstalker and terrifically big moustache, together with cutaways to Patrick McGoohan in front of a back projection. In a way, it highlights the subtext of the episode - what is reality, after all, but a vast back projection? Aaaah.

Still mashed out of his arsing brains, McGoohan decides to go for a drive. But - and let this be a warning to all potential drink-drivers - the road starts to spin! I have never taken the wheel under the influence of a "Ladyboy", but if I had, I imagine it would be something like that.

She's definitely one of those 'blowing hot and cold' types. She invites him back to her place for coffee, he thinks his luck has changed, only for 'her place' to turn out to be a deserted town filled with insane booby-traps. And I thought that date where the girl said she had to leave because she had an early start the next morning AFTER FIVE MINUTES OF SPEAKING TO ME had gone badly.

Funnily enough, she also had a bazooka.

McGoohan is locked in a room with exploding candles releasing arsenic, or cyanide, or something like that. His escape plan is utterly ingenious. If you haven't seen it, I'll spoil it for you by saying the words 'big bellows'.

Where next? It's merely a short helicopter / aeroplane ride to - and by this stage McGoohan is so absolutely titted, he's hallucinating - a lighthouse. A secret passage leads to a room full of Napoleon regalia.

Maybe there is a Freudian subtext to this episode. It's about a man who is attracted to a woman but repelled by her. He's afraid to get too close - maybe he has a fear of intimacy? Plus there's all the phallic imagery - the bazooka, the candles, the terrifically big moustaches. And then there's an embarrassing climax where a rocket goes off prematurely. Interpret that how you will.

Anyway. It turns out that TGWWD is the daughter of Schnipps, a strange, short, shouty man who intends to destroy London with his big rocket. Which has been disguised as a lighthouse - the same lighthouse from one of the earlier episodes - maybe Number 6 remembered it and decided to incorporate it into his story?

Oh, where have I seen the actor who plays Schnipps before? It's going to distract me if I can't remember.

Anyway, McGoohan is locked at the top of the lighthouse oh what was he in and Schnipps and his daughter start the countdown oh it's on the tip of my tongue and she makes a gag about 'hitting town' oh god this is unbearable what was it what was it and then they start the launch countdown oh god what was he in what was he in and the villain is a bit daft because he's decided to pack after starting the countdown, that's poor time management oh what was it what was it-

"Are you telling me I don't know my own brother?"


And with that almost orgasmic release, my attention returns to the action on the screen, where McGoohan is fighting with various henchmen.

In many ways, the episode is a precursor of 70's James Bond. Indeed, some parts of it are virtually indistinguishable from (my favourites) Moonraker and The Spy Who Loved Me. Like that bit where Number 6 is making his way to the lighthouse, I can easily imagine Roger Moore in the secret passage.

'Roger Moore in the secret passage? The only person Patrick McGoohan does that with is Mrs McGoohan.'

Shown on BBC Four on 30th July 2004.

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