Tag Archives: Science fiction

THE PRISONER: CHECKMATE

Balladeer’s Blog continues its examination of the 1967 science fiction/ existential drama The Prisoner. For Part One, in which I examined the themes and concepts at play in the series click HERE 

CheckmateEpisode Title: CHECKMATE … In the ongoing debate about the exact numbering of the 17 episodes of The Prisoner I place this as the 4th in the series.

Peter Wyngarde portrays this episode’s Number Two, the rotating series of executive figures running the futuristic prison city called the Village. Balladeer’s Blog’s readers may remember him from my reviews of his shows Department S and Jason King. X-Men fans will recognize him as the obvious model used by Chris Claremont and John Byrne for Mastermind’s “Jason Wyngarde” persona in The Dark Phoenix Saga

Peter Wyngarde without moustacheThe episode begins with the Prisoner witnessing yet another sudden unleashing of “Rover” the bioelectrical synthetic creation which the Villagekeepers use to subdue outbreaks of disobedient behavior among the Villagers. As usual everyone freezes in their tracks, knowing Rover will attack anyone perceived as resisting.

For once, one of the residents shows no fear of Rover. An elderly man with a walking stick (George Coulouris from Citizen Kane) continues strolling along, ignoring Rover, who shows unprecedented deference to the man before moving on to subdue whichever Villager has raised the ire of the Villagekeepers.

Our protagonist is intrigued by this and follows the Man With A Walking Stick. The two share a casual conversation in which each man is wary of the other, given that nobody can ever be sure if a fellow Villager is secretly working for the conspirators behind the Village.

gettyimages-73691209Walking Stick Man invites McGoohan’s character to a game of chess he is heading to. The Prisoner goes along and finds that the game is played with human chess pieces in one of the least subtle of the program’s metaphors.

Walking Stick Man is one of the two “players” who sit above the game shouting their moves through bullhorns. The Villagers serving as chess pieces move accordingly. Continue reading

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THE HAN SOLO OF THE 1930s: NORTHWEST SMITH

Northwest Smith

Northwest Smith

With the movie Solo: A Star Wars Story in theaters now what better time for my profile of the Han Solo of the 1930s. Female author C.L. Moore wrote a series of pulp adventures about her often neglected science fiction figure Northwest Smith.

THE HERO: Space traveling anti-hero Smith was created by the female writer C.L. Moore in the 1930s. Four decades before Han Solo, Northwest Smith was a ruthless swashbuckling smuggler, thief and all-around mercenary. Smith’s less than sterling character made him a refreshing change from the usually wholesome pulp heroes of the time.

THE STORIES: Northwest Smith’s adventures take place in the far future, when regular trade exists between Earth and the native inhabitants of Mars and Venus. The other planets in the solar system have been colonized by those Big Three worlds, providing a backdrop that combines elements of westerns, seagoing adventures and colonial-era war stories.

Wielding a blaster like a six-gun and piloting his deceptively fast and maneuverable spaceship The Maid Smith and his Venusian partner Yarol roam the solar system making a living by plying various illegal trades. Though Northwest and Yarol are career criminals they often find themselves forced by circumstances into taking actions similar to those of traditional heroes. Their motive is usually their own survival rather than altruism. Continue reading

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DYSTOPIA NATION: TECHNO-TYRANTS OF SILICON VALLEY

Mascot sword and pistolHere at Balladeer’s Blog I write plenty of items about myths from around the world. I often mention that my blog posts about figures from the American West are along the same lines to me since I think the exaggerated tales of whatever their real-life stories were originate the same way that many religious fables do: the usual human tendency toward superstition and embellishment.

Dystopian literature is similar but instead of embellishing figures and events from the past this type of fiction involves taking contemporary problems and/ or trends and extrapolating them into larger than life menaces in the near or far future.

Soylent Green did it with overpopulation and food shortages, One Blade of Grass did it with environmental issues and Orwell’s 1984 did it with totalitarian political forces which still threaten to use his nightmarish novel as their road map. Countless other examples could be cited.   

THE TECHNO-TYRANTS OF SILICON VALLEY – The modern-day versions of the disgusting old Robber Barons might well be the corporate fascists aka techno-fascists in assorted tech industries, not just regarding Silicon Valley but also  privacy-violating rich pigs at Facebook and elsewhere.

In fact, you could make the case that people like Mark “Skippy” Zuckerberg and his fellow corporate fascists are even worse since I don’t recall bloated rich pigs like E.H. Harriman or Cornelius Vanderbilt trying to police other people’s every thought, word and deed. The invasive and ever-expanding tentacular reach of techno-fascists or in this fictional case Techno-Tyrants would make these villains a very credible threat to political freedom and freedom of expression. Continue reading

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THE PRISONER (1967): THE CHIMES OF BIG BEN

Balladeer’s Blog continues its examination of the science fiction/ existential drama The Prisoner. For Part One, in which I examined the themes and concepts at play in the series click HERE  

Chimes of Big BenEpisode Title: THE CHIMES OF BIG BEN. In the ongoing debate about the exact numbering of the 17 episodes of The Prisoner I place this as the 3rd in the series. Any comments that I have regarding the Alternate Chimes of Big Ben will be made in this same post.

Leo McKern makes the first of his three appearances as one of the Village’s rotating series of Number Twos. Despite his villainous role he gets the audience on his side right off the bat. He does that while watching the surveillance video of Number Six as he wakes up for the day and voices his observation that the Prisoner “Can make even the act of putting on a dressing gown seem like a gesture of defiance.”

Leo McKern as Number TwoLeo McKern’s character’s verbal fencing with Patrick McGoohan is as much fun to watch as Columbo’s cat and mouse games with the murderers on his show. (And yes, I know McGoohan was no stranger to Columbo, both the 1970s series and the later revival.)

The part where the Prisoner intentionally adds three lumps of sugar to his tea just because Number Two says his file reflects that he takes NO sugar is particularly enjoyable. It’s also one of those scenes that is not appreciated by people who don’t have a nonconformist bone in their body.   

McKern as Number Two also proves to be the most informative of those rotating Village executives. His attempts to persuade our protagonist to just tell the Villagekeepers why he resigned and then join their conspiracy go beyond just admitting that he, too, tried to resist when he was brought to the Village.

Prisoner and McKernLeo makes it clear that the Village represents the model for the Earth of the future as pursued by highly-placed elements from both sides of the Cold War. He paints a picture of inevitability for the Prisoner in hopes that he can make McGoohan cave in while retaining his sense of personal honor. If a Global “Village” is inevitable there’s no shame in surrendering to it. Continue reading

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THE TIMES’ SONG “I HELPED PATRICK MCGOOHAN ESCAPE”

Balladeer’s Blog’s Give Them A Shoutout Before They’re Dead strikes again with this tie-in to my ongoing examination of Patrick McGoohan’s science fiction/ existential drama The Prisoner. The video is quintessential 1980s cultural kitsch and was filmed at the Portmeirion Resort for Village authenticity. 

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STAR WARS MEETS GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY: THE MICRONAUTS

Micronauts 1May the 4th live long and prosper … or something or other.

With this Star Wars festival rolling around once again, I figured a look at The Micronauts would be appropriate.  

The Micronauts was one of those oddly-conceived Marvel Comics titles from the late 70s and early 80s that were about forcing a continuing storyline around an already-existing toy franchise. (Rom: Spaceknight was another example of this ultimate in ass-backward storytelling.)

And a young Joel Schumacher mused "Nipples on black armor, eh? Hmmmmm."

And a young Joel Schumacher mused “Nipples on black armor, eh? Hmmmmm.”

The above example of Six Degrees of George Lucas or whatever you want to call it was just my odd way of pointing out my reasoning for posting this item on the 4th of May.

The Micronauts (First Issue: January 1979) was mostly a strained imitation of the Star Wars universe but also had a few similarities with Marvel’s ORIGINAL Guardians of the Galaxy. Those Guardians – Vance Astro, Charley-27, Yondu and Martinex – were freedom fighters waging a guerilla war to free 30th Century Earth from the dictatorial rule of its alien conquerors, the lizardlike Badoon race.

Baron Karza horseThe Micronauts was set in the Microverse, a sub-atomic universe which was being ruled by the evil, black-armored Baron Karza, one of the most blatant Darth Vader ripoffs this side of Japan’s Swords of the Space Ark movies. Karza could detach his arms and legs and could transform the lower half of his body into that of a black horse (think of Centaurs) for no better reason than the fact that THAT was the gimmick of the Baron Karza toys. Kids could move around the arms and legs or replace his regular body with the horse-like lower body. Oh what fun! (?)

The Lawnmower Strikes Back!

The Lawnmower Strikes Back!

Karza’s power to perform those questionably useful acts was explained in the comic books as being part of his scientific enhancements from his Body Banks labs and from his abilities as a master of the Enigma Force. No, not The Force, which was part of the Star Wars universe. The Enigma Force was what Karza controlled, so you can see how it’s a whole different thing, right?

The Micronauts themselves were freedom fighters waging a guerilla war to free the Microverse from the dictatorial rule of the thoroughly evil Baron Karza. That rule was enforced by his Dog Soldiers, his obedient … uh … troopers … who were such blatant imitations of Imperial Troopers that George Lucas probably wept tears of blood every time a child bought a Dog Soldier action figure instead of an Imperial Trooper one.

At any rate, permit me to introduce you to the rag-tag rebels trying to bring down Karza’s empire of evil. Continue reading

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THE PRISONER (1967): DANCE OF THE DEAD

Balladeer’s Blog continues its examination of the science fiction/ existential drama The Prisoner. For Part One, in which I examined the themes and concepts at play in the series click HERE 

Prisoner Dance of the DeadEpisode Title: DANCE OF THE DEAD

In the eternally-open debate about the exact order of the 17 episodes of The Prisoner I unashamedly hold with those who place Dance of the Dead as Episode Two. My main reason is the fact that the Prisoner himself and other characters bluntly state he is new to the Village.

Plus this episode features him betraying so much lack of awareness of the Villagekeepers’ Head Games and their placement of cameras everywhere that to me Dance of the Dead only makes sense coming immediately after the first episode, Arrival.

Mary Morris as Number TwoMary Morris as this episode’s Number Two is one of the most memorable Number Twos in the rotating series of those Village executives. As we all know Trevor Howard was originally slated for this episode but Morris is a more than welcome change.

The title is perfect for anyone with the Prisoner mindset. So-called “mainstream society”, including its bizarre rituals which so many willingly and mindlessly play along with, truly is a Dance of the Dead. Today Facebook and Twitter and social media in general take the whole concept beyond the point of parody.  

To me part of the argument for placing Dance of the Dead as Episode Two comes from the way it embodies the television industry problem called Second Episode Blues in which a strong opening episode is often followed by one that is a bit aimless compared to that debut.

Dance of the Dead‘s storyline – fragmented though it may seem – features a nice selection of elements that show up in various combinations in nearly every subsequent Prisoner episode: 

“THIS MAN HAS A FUTURE WITH US” – On the literal level it IS true that a talented former Intelligence Agent like Number Six could be an asset to the conspirators behind the Village.

On the allegorical level, the leadership in even the most conformist and oppressive societies stays on the lookout for capable recruits. It’s often the most efficient way of co-opting individuals whose abilities might otherwise lead them to establish rebellions. The Powers That Be can even dangle the carrot of certain privileges not enjoyed by the rest of the population as an added incentive for talented individuals, enticing them to sell out and come over to the side of the ruling class.     Continue reading

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