The village loudspeakers announce the
beginning of the "Professor's" lecture on history. Everyone rushes
away, apparently keen to hear the lecture. No.6 speaks to
No.12, the only person who remains outside. They see a helicopter in
the sky and No.12 explains that they are probably after the
professor. We see that the professor is apparently running across the beach, pursued by villagers. No. 6 follows at a distance and finds a tape recorder in the sand. It seems to contain a warning but No.6 is taken back to his house by guards before he can listen to the full message. The professor eventually appears on
television to introduce his lecture on "Europe since Napoleon". The lecture is delivered hypnotically in a few seconds.
No.2 comes to visit No 6 as he suspects he has the professor's tape recorder. During the conversation, No 2 casually asks him historical dates. No 6 is astonished to hear himself giving all the correct answers, answers he previously had no knowledge of. Obviously the lectures and the learning process are highly effective. When night falls, No.6 goes back to the beach to retrieve the tape recorder and finds No.12 with it. While No 12 is obviously a guardian, he allows No 6 to listen to the message which is from the professor and which tells the intended listeners to "Destroy the General" if they wish to be free.
It appears that the lectures are a test for a new process called "Speedlearn" which imprints information directly into the listener's cerebral cortex. The information, which could of course be anything the Village chooses, is compressed and sent subliminally and the recipient has no control over it. The experiment is run by "The General", whose identity is unknown. No.12 and No.6 plot to broadcast a subversive message by substituting the message for the next lecture.
A disguised No 6 infiltrates the Town Hall where No 2 and other members of the Village council are gathering to organise the broadcast of the next lecture. He manages to access the projection room, overpower the operator and install the message capsule but only seconds before the message is to be broadcast, he is discovered, captured and the real lecture is broadcast. No.2 interrogates No.6 who refuses to reveal who helped him. No. 2 decides that they should consult "The General" who turns out to be a giant computer, capable of answering any question. No. 6 forstalls No.2 who is about to discover who helped him, by saying that there is one question the machine cannot answer. No. 2 is intrigued enough to allow No. 6 to demonstrate. Going to a typewriter, No. 6 types four letters on a sheet of paper and has the computer operator convert it to a punched card which is then fed into the "General". The machine whirrs and buzzes for a while, overheats and finally explodes, killing both the professor and No. 12. When asked what was the question, No.6 answers : "It's insoluble, for man or machine ...
W-H-Y Question mark : Why ?"
Joshua Adam (Writer)
Colin Gordon (Number 2)
John Castle (Number 12)
Betty McDowall (Prof's Wife)
Peter Swanwick (Supervisor)
Conrad Phillips (Doctor)
Michael Miller (Man in Buggy)
Peter Graham Scott (Director)|
Keith Pyott (Waiter)
Ian Fleming (Man at Cafe)
Normal Mitchell (Mechanic)
Peter Bourne (Projection Ops)
George Leech (Guard)
Jackie Cooper (Guard)
For the first time we see the metal corridors which lie beneath the Village and the silent white-helmeted military police who re-appear in the final episodes. There are lots of bizarre touches in this episode including the strange predilection to wear overcoats, top hats and sunglasses inside the town hall. This is never explained and not repeated in other episodes as such, although there are occasional glimpses of the men in their overcoats in other episodes as "stock shots". The effect of these strangely garbed men marching through endless corridors seems very Kafka!
The clutching hand device which takes the town hall entry token is a novelty money-box, widely available in toy shops and sold as an "Addams Family" tie-in. It was supposed to be "Thing" - the disembodied hand from the TV show. Placing a small coin on the slot completes an electrical circuit which activates the hand via a small motor. It emerges from the box (a coffin!) and the coin is gripped between the fingers. A spring snatches the hand back into the box complete with the coin, breaking the circuit and de-activating the motor.
By today's standards, the computer is quite amusing - as with all fictional computers of the time, it's enormous, it's analogue, it whirs and buzzes a lot, it accepts input via punched cards apparently created by a typewriter and photocopier and petulantly self-destructs amid enormous amounts of smoke the second it can't understand a question, selfishly electrocuting anyone within range while doing so. The writer for this episode was Lewis Greiffer under the pen name of Joshua Adam. Greiffer was a prolific writer and often adopted pen names for his TV work.
People ask from time to time if Ian Fleming, the "Man at cafe" in the episode, is the famous creator of James Bond. Well, not unless they dug him up first. No, it's the same name, but no relation. This Ian Fleming was born in 1888 and appeared in 87 film and TV productions, including The Prisoner at the splendid age of 79.
Production date: April 1967