Monday, 15 January 2018

Danger Man, Colony Three (1965)

I’m about to watch The Prisoner again and before doing so I thought the logical thing would to take another look at Colony Three.

Colony Three is a 1965 episode of Danger Man. This was the later hour-long version of the series which was known in the US as Secret Agent. The episode was written by Donald Jonson.

Colony Three is also a fascinating anticipation of The Prisoner. Many of the themes that ran through The Prisoner can already be found, albeit in a less developed form, in Colony Three. There’s also a remarkable similarity in tone and in the overall approach to the subject matter.

There’s been an extraordinary jump in the numbers of Britons defecting to the Soviet Union. They then disappear completely. British spy John Drake is assigned to take the place of a defector to find out what is going on. What he finds is very odd indeed. After a long journey in a sealed railway carriage he and two other British defectors, Randall (Glyn Owen) and Janet Wells (Katherine Woodville), find themselves in the middle of nowhere. The train is met by a London bus. An actual London double-decker bus. The bus then takes them to a small English village called Hamden. But Hamden is not in England. Hamden is in a very remote part of the Russian countryside.

Hamden is in fact a Soviet spy school. The idea is to allow Soviet spies to immerse themselves completely in English life so that when they are sent on a mission to England they will blend in perfectly.

There are two classes of people in Hamden. There are the trainee spies and then there are the residents. The residents are English communists who volunteered for the job in order to serve the Revolution. When they arrive they discover that their residence in Hamden is going to be permanent. Like the village in The Prisoner Hamden has no walls or fences and there are no armed guards in evidence but escape is impossible. Entirely impossible.

Drake, along with Randall and Janet Wells, is to be a resident.

Hamden is a pleasant enough place if you don’t mind not being able to leave, ever. Since escape is impossible the obvious thing to do is to make the most of the situation and adapt to it. Drake of course is confident that if the people he works for in the British intelligence service could get him into Hamden then they can get him out again. For the other residents there seems to be no option but to adapt. But some people cannot adapt.

This story offers some interesting insights into the psychology of British communists and their reaction when they confront the reality of Soviet communism, and it offers some observations of the nature of loyalty and betrayal. And as a straight-out spy thriller it’s excellent.

The chief interest though is the number of parallels with The Prisoner. There are so many such parallels that it is absolutely certain that Colony Three was one of the major inspirations for The Prisoner. There are striking similarities of theme, and of tone.

It doesn’t have the overt surrealism and the visual inventiveness of The Prisoner but it does have some moments of very subtle surrealism. And a London bus trundling across the Russian steppe is a pretty memorable image.

There is a battle of wits between John Drake and Soviet spy John Richardson (Peter Arne) that will to some extent remind fans of the similar struggles between Number 6 and Number 2 in The Prisoner. In fact Peter Arne would have made a splendid Number 2! Interestingly enough though in Colony Three it’s Randall rather than Drake who proves to be the openly rebellious one.

This is one of several episodes of Danger Man in which Drake clashes with his superiors in London. This adds weight to the theory favoured by some fans of The Prisoner that Number 6 is actually John Drake. Certainly Drake is a man who could plausibly decide to resign on what he saw as a matter of principle, he does display signs of rebelliousness in a couple of episodes and he does have the same sort of perverse stubbornness as Number 6.

Colony Three is clearly of enormous interest to fans of The Prisoner. It’s also one of the best Danger Man episodes and it’s superb television in its own right. It really is a must-see.

2 comments:

  1. I've always said - If you cross "Colony Three" with "The Ubiquitous Mr. Lovegrove" (s1e18), you've pretty much got "the prisoner".

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Now I'll have to re-watch The Ubiquitous Mr Lovegrove.

      Delete