By Jonathan Morris
My Prisoner watch has taught me something useful.
The Boer war lasted from 1899 to 1902.
The General is an unremarkable episode, because it's so... obvious. I mean, I don't mind predictable television, it has a soothing, untroubling quality. I've watched some Jon Pertwee Doctor Who stories all the way through.
But this is the sort of story you'd expect to find in the 1967 Prisoner annual.
(Did they do Prisoner annuals? I can imagine the board game they'd have on the inside back cover. "You have been recaptured by Rover the bouncy fun-bag. Go back to square 1". "Your housekeeper drugs you, miss a turn." "Your helicopter lands back in Portmerion, roll again." "Swap brains with the person sitting to your left." "The horses in the cowboy village are cardboard. Roll a six to continue."
In fact, if it was like The Prisoner there wouldn't be an ending. You'd land on the final square, and it would say, "You have escaped from the village. But you can't escape from your own Kafka-esque psychosis! Go back to square 1.")
What is this episode's anti-establishment message? Education, right, is just verbatim regurgitation. We only learn what They want us to learn. And, like, education is the means of controlling our brains. So, like, don't bother getting any qualifications, because that way you can sit in your attic reading Alan Moore comics all day.
But who is this mysterious General pulling the strings from behind the scenes like some sort of mysterious puppet master?
Oh, sod the Spoiler Alert. This programme was broadcast thirty years ago, for goodness' sake.
The General is... a computer!
Well, that's a novel twist. That's not been done before.
Except in that Star Trek episode where a computer is recreating Greek gods. And that Star Trek episode where they're all ancient Romans. And that Star Trek episode about the Coms fighting the Yangs (now there's a show that knew how to do subtle political allegory). And that Star Trek episode where it's all corridors because there wasn't a job lot of historical costumes available that week. And that Star Trek film which is impossible to watch all the way through.
Number 6 defeats the computer by posing a conundrum that it cannot solve. What is the imponderable? What does he ask the computer that causes its spools to unwind and its transistors to explode?
"If the next thing I say is a lie, but the first thing I said wasn't true -would you believe me?"
"If I said you had a beautiful body would you hold it against me?"
"Divide infinity by zero."
"Explain the plot of 'The Schizoid Man?"
"Which number episode is this?"
"How soon is now?"
"How much wood would a wood chuck chuck if a wood chuck would chuck wood?"
"Look, this can't be difficult. There's eleven of us, if we split the bill equally how much is that each? Oh, and Steven didn't have the wine, and Peter didn't have the mixed starter, and Rob hasn't got anything smaller than a twenty."
"Why does God allow bad things to happen?"
"What is the ultimate Question of Life, The Universe and Everything?'"
"Near a tree by a river there's a hole in the ground where an old man of Aran goes around and around?"
No, what Number 6 asks the computer is this:
Very 60's. Very counterculture. Very Sergeant Pepper.
But not, it has to be said, very climactic.
No, but, right, because education is about people not thinking for themselves, right? And like 'why' is like the question that can't be answered, right, because it's like, really unspecific, And like that's the - yeah mum I'll be down in a minute I've just to got to finish reading V For Vendetta.
Repeated on BBC Four on 25th June 2004 at 11.50pm.