By Jonathan Morris
It was once pointed out that every 'telefantasy' show has a novelty Western episode, will be usually the nadir of that series. As a rule, it holds fairly true - Doctor Who's The Gunfighters is a chore, as is Gunmen Of The Apocalypse. The Star Trek episode where they did a Western isn't vastly super, nor is the Blake's 7 one. And as for the cowboy episode of Crime Traveller...
It's also said that it's easier to review something you hate. I'm not so sure. If you're simply slagging something off for the sake of cheapness, you tend to sound envious and bitter and like someone who writes TV previews for Time Out.
However, I have to say that this episode is
On paper, it sounds ingenious. The Prisoner does its own Scott of the Sahara years before the Monty Python boys got round to it. An episode of The Prisoner, disguised as an episode of another programme entirely!
However, like many ideas that sound good on paper - such as my own designs for glass-bottomed aeroplanes - the realisation proves somewhat more difficult.
This episode has no opening titles. Instead, we find ourselves in a town where Patrick McGoohan is sheriff. This is a subtle parallel of the normal opening titles. However, this did not occur to me at the time because I was too busy swearing.
Yes, this episode has an innovative premise. It re-imagines The Prisoner as a Western. The problem is, it re-imagines it as a really, really dull one.
The sheriff repeatedly attempts to leave the town. He has some fist fights. He has a shoot out with a handsome youth in a top hat - Alexis Kanner. It's a parade of clichés, left, right, centre, any direction you care to name. Rinky dink pianos. Drinks sliding across bars. It's unthinking, it's flabby and it's drab.
And then after 41 minutes we discover that we're not watching a Western after all. Oh no. This is all part of an attempt by Number 2 to get Number 6 to talk.
Two points here.
What I am attempting to express with my first point is that that is rather a long time to wait before Number 6 discovers that he is surrounded by cardboard cut-outs of horses. First you have to sit through 41 minutes what appears to be the result of a mix-up at the chemists. I believe that when this episode was broadcast in the 80's, it was prefaced by the announcement, "This may look like we've stuck the wrong show on by accident, but we haven't, honestly."
And secondly, with my second point, I am striving to get across my incredulity at Number 2's method of getting Number 6 to talk. Which involves - and let me restate this - building a whole town on the outskirts of The Village, populating it with cardboard cut-outs, and making Number 6 think he is the sheriff. He will then divulge all his secrets - even though no-one actually asks him to divulge them!
But of course Number 2's plan doesn't work, for one simple reason.
In the history of interrogation, no-one has ever got anyone to talk by sticking them in a Western. It's not a recognised interrogation technique. You put matchsticks under fingernails. You deprive people of sleep. You hit with sticks.
You do not, I repeat not, make them sheriff.
However, in the episode, the reason for the plan's failure is not that it is absolute cobblers, but that they 'hurried it'. Apparently - sit down before you read this - it has worked before. This is something they do all the time in The Village! I mean, building a replica London office is one thing but a whole cowboy town!?!?!? Come on! THEY ARE MENTALISTS!
Actually, no, on second thoughts, maybe the problem was that they did 'hurry it'. The first 41 minutes of this episode were so brain-blastingly dull that I would have been willing to admit anything to anyone.
So if ever you think I am withholding any information, threaten me with being made to watch to Living In Harmony again and I will tell you whatever you want to know.
Stop press: Satellite pictures have recently been found of the Guantanamo Bay prison camp. The images aren't clear, but there is what appears to be a replica Western town being built on the outskirts of the prison enclosure…
Shown on BBC Four on 23rd July 2004.