The Prisoner Episode 2: “The Chimes of Big Ben”


Directed by Don Chaffey

Written by Vincent Tisley

Original Airdate: October 6, 1967

“The Chimes of Big Ben” opens with Number Six adjusting to life in the village while remaining ever defiant towards his captors.  A new Number Two (the first of many) played by Leo McKern aims to break Number Six through kindness and gamesmanship. There’s little menacing about Number Two, he seems cultured and polite, but would turn out to be the most difficult adversary for Number Six.

The episode begins with Number Six getting a new neighbor named “Number Eight,” a woman of Eastern European origin.  She informs him she’s not Russian but Estonian to which he replies, “You’re Russian,” with a bitter Cold War certainty.  Eventually they get along and plan an escape.

As a ruse Number Six enters an art contest and submits an abstract sculpture. In each episode he takes on a different role, in this case an artist.  When his art project wins first prize in a satiric scene on the pretentiousness of modern art, a raft made out of a tree, he explains the piece was created as a metaphor for the village.


Number Six explains his art project


As an ironic trick, they use a symbol of freedom to literally liberate them from the village. Number Eight believes the village is somewhere near Lithuania and that she has contacts who will get them to London.  They sail away,  avoid the rover, and appear to be back in the “real” world.  Eventually both arrive at what they think is Intelligence Headquarters in London.

Number Six’s superiors suspect him of being a double agent for the “other side” and demand to know the reason for his resignation.  As he’s about to explain Number Six realizes the chimes of Big Ben are going off at the wrong time.  He runs outside and realizes he’s back at the village, and number eight stands with number two.  She was working for the village all along. Betrayed again.

“The Chimes of Big Ben” raises even more questions about the village.  Is it connected to the British government?  Or is the village part of some secret alliance between the superpowers? Can Number Six trust anyone at the village?  Apparently not.  The mystery also deepens as to why they are targeting Number Six. What threat does he present?  Is the whole thing part of some vast psychological experiment? Does the village represent something more vast and complex than the Cold War itself?

A solid episode from start to finish, McGoohan develops his character even further while introducing more intrigue.  “The Chimes of Big Ben” features one of the great buzzkill endings of all time.



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