REVIEW: Checkmate

  • Broadcast: 27th November, 1967

Character: Number 2


PETER as Number 2.

“In society one must learn to conform.” Number 2

With the dawning of another beautiful day in The Village, the roar of the Village’s inanimate watchdog, Rover causes everyone to freeze in their tracks. Everyone, that is, except an elderly gentleman with a walking stick who pays no heed to Rover as it bounces by. No. 6 is somewhat bewildered by this phenomenon, and follows the old man to The Village green where a crowd is gathering. There he invites him to join in a game of “human chess,” where real people are the playing pieces and the game board is an appropriately marked open lawn. Two masters seated upon high chairs and speaking through megaphones direct the moves. No. 6 is assigned to play the White Queen’s Pawn. The game proceeds smoothly until another player, the Rook, takes matters into his own hands and moves without being ordered by the master – a blatant display of individuality in flagrant violation of Village rules. With alarm, the Control Supervisor sends out an urgent cry over The Village loudspeakers to call the substitute and to “remove White Queen’s Rook to Hospital.” Within minutes, the poor Rook is being whisked away on a stretcher. No. 6 questions the Queen as to the Rook’s fate, and is told that he would be well looked after, that they would get the best specialists to treat him. She explains that in The Village, such individualistic behaviour, the “cult of the individual” is not allowed.

After the game, No. 6 engages in conversation with the winning master, No. 14– the man with the walking stick. He asks why the game was played with real people, and is told that psychiatrists claimed it satisfied the desire for power.

Continuing his query of No. 14, No. 6 asks why players on both sides look alike, and No. 14 explains that one tells the blacks from whites by their dispositions; by the moves they make. “You soon know who’s for you or against you. It’s simple psychology, the way it is in life. You judge by attitude . . . people don’t need uniforms.” He alludes to the fact that at one time he, like everyone else, also had a plan to escape, but adds that all of the plans fail unless one learns to distinguish between the blacks and the whites. And so a seed of an idea is planted.

Until now, the charismatic and debonair “new No. 2” has maintained a passive interest in the daily activities of the charges within his domain, remaining perfectly content to monitor his world from a distance via video surveillance. Out for a morning drive, he chances upon No. 6, and cordially invites him to join him. “Why?” queries No. 6.

“I’m going to the Hospital . . . I thought perhaps you’d like to see our friend the Rook,” explains No. 2.

“Yes,” says No. 6 as he hops into the mini-moke.

At the Hospital, No. 2, No. 6 and a nurse witness the “rehabilitation” of the Rook through a one-way window. The Rook is seated in a wheelchair before four coloured water dispensers. The nurse explains that the Rook had been dehydrated and upon awaking (after an injection), would have an insatiable thirst. The procedure was based upon Pavlov’s experiments with dogs. As predicted, upon awakening the Rook is driven for water. He first tries the yellow dispenser, which is empty. As he reaches for the blue one, a voice commands him to leave it; and when he ignores the order and tries the dispenser, he receives a powerful electric shock. In agony he falls to the floor, whimpering.

With a look of disgust, No. 6 turns to No. 2 and says, “Don’t tell me, it hurts you more than it hurts him.”

Without a shred of compassion in his voice, No. 2 pronounces one of his most memorable, chilling and powerful lines of the episode, perhaps of the entire series, “In this society, one must learn to conform.”


The Rook continues his plea for water as he tries the other dispensers without success and is curtly told he would get water when he obeyed. He is then ordered to go back to the blue dispenser. In fear of receiving another shock, the Rook hesitates, as the voice coldly and sternly demands that he do as he is told, that he has nothing to be afraid of, and to go to the blue dispenser.

Finally, with great trepidation, the Rook obeys and receives water without the electrical shock, greatly pleasing all that were watching. “From now on he’ll be fully cooperative,” proudly croons No. 2.

The next day, in an effort to sort out the prisoners from the warders, No. 6 strolls around The Village taking note of the individual behaviour of other residents and their response to his eye contact. He encounters the Rook, obviously a prisoner, and convinces the man to assist him in organizing an escape from The Village. Together, the two confront various Villagers to find their “reliable men,” determined by each man’s attitude and reactions to questions posed by No. 6.

Back at the Hospital, the Queen is wheeled into an examination room where, under the approving eye of No. 2, a nurse proceeds to hypnotize the woman, telling her that she is passionately in love with the man on the video screen before her . . . No. 6. She instils upon her a desire to follow and protect him, even to a point of betraying him should he try to escape. A locket is then place around her neck, which contains a tiny reaction transmitter, which turns the Queen into an automatic alarm system whereby No. 6’s movements would be tracked without his knowledge. The nurse explains that the procedure is based upon research done with dolphins, and No. 2 is obviously amused and impressed by this latest display of scientific technology.

Up until now, this handsome, cool and charming No. 2 has appeared to be a less than formidable obstacle for No. 6, but he would soon learn differently. Except for the continuing peskiness of the Queen, the plan unfolds and seems to be running smoothly as No. 6 and the Rook assemble the components needed to build a crude radio transmitter. The small band of would-be fugitives assemble at the Stone Boat one dark night while from the beach, No. 6 broadcasts a distress signal simulating an aircraft in trouble and about to go down at sea, which is received by a passing ship, the MS Polotska. The Rook then paddles an inflatable raft and the transmitter out to sea to bring in the ship.


In his chambers within the Green Dome, No. 2 is seated cross-legged on the floor beside the control console, deep in meditation and dressed in a white tunic; before him is a plank of wood set between two bricks. The phone rings and after a brief pause, he answers, chastising the caller for disturbing him against his orders. The Control Supervisor on the other end reports that the search light crew in the tower had just been attacked (by No. 6 as it turns out). In a lightning swift display of martial arts prowess, accompanied by a ritual karate cry, No. 2 deftly snaps the plank in two with a single chop. He then rises gracefully to take charge of the situation.

Now alerted to trouble, No. 2 begins monitoring the distress signal and seems almost unsurprised when he is confronted and subdued by No. 6 and his small band of fugitives. In fact, he offers no resistance whatsoever. When the signal suddenly stops, No. 6 leaves the others to investigate. He finds the raft and radio washed up on the shore and no sign of the Rook.

A ship approaches, and No. 6 paddles out to bring her in. Once on board, he begins to explain the situation to the captain when No. 2 appears on the TV screen in the ship’s cabin and smugly informs No. 6 that the MS Polotska belongs to The Village. The Rook is standing alongside No. 2, and No. 6 learns of a “slight misunderstanding” on the part of the Rook. It seems that the Rook applied to No. 6 his own tests and became convinced that No. 6 was actually a warder out to trap him. When No. 6 asks No. 2 what had become of the rest of his men, he replies that they would be back tomorrow on the chessboard . . . as pawns. No. 6 then smashes the TV screen, disables the crew in a violent scuffle, and takes command of the MS Polotska. Unfortunately, The Village’s unique policeman, Rover, has already been activated by No. 2, and escorts the ship and its prize prisoner, No. 6, back to The Village. In the closing scene, set to some rather ominous music, the silent, black-gloved Butler places the White Queen’s Pawn back into its proper square upon the chessboard before No. 2.


The Prisoner is an allegory . . . there is no defined meaning to any episode and the interpretations offered by viewers are as varied as the people who make them. A particular scene from another episode, Arrival, comes to mind while viewing Checkmate, and could well have been a precursor to this episode. That scene opens with the old admiral seated before a game of chess, awaiting a partner. He addresses the woman who has just tried to help No. 6 escape, and asks her if she plays chess. When she says no, he replies, “You should learn . . . we’re all pawns my dear.” In Checkmate, it could be stated that No. 6 and all the players in the human chess game are merely pawns of the masters who shouted the moves through their megaphones. Just as it is in life, everyone takes orders from someone else. When the Rook made his unauthorized move, retribution was quick and absolute. When one breaks the law and gets caught, the reaction is also swift. “One false move and he’ll be wiped out,” states No. 2. How true!

It seems that No. 2 had the most profound lines of this episode. His proclamations are relevant to all mankind and world order. “In this society, one must learn to conform,” can be applied to many present-day situations. The hippies of the 1960’s, the bizarre fashions and hair styles which have been in vogue with every generation, even slang expressions in use today raise the eyebrows of the conservative populace. The individual who fails to conform to the ways of the majority, will remain outcast until he submits. That is precisely the message transmitted to No. 6 when the Rook made his unauthorized, individualistic move upon the chessboard. “The cult of the individual,” was simply not allowed. In today’s society, individualistic behavior is often frowned upon or viewed with suspicion. For example, persons who choose to live alone are often viewed as being slightly odd, regardless of the circumstances. The cult of the individual . . . .

There is another underlying theme, which prevails throughout The Prisoner, taken from a line in The Schizoid Man, whereby No. 6’s double, No. 12 pronounces that “the trouble with science is that it can be perverted.” Two scientific methods were employed in Checkmate, methods applied for sinister, almost sadistic purposes. The Rook was subjected to a perverse form of the Pavlovian experiment of conditioning as a way of making him conform to the rules of Village society. The Queen ironically became another pawn when her emotions, through hypnosis, became yet another tool of Village surveillance. She was provided a locket containing a tiny transistor, given to her, she was told, by No. 6; and in the name of love she began a relentless pursuit of No. 6, much to his chagrin. Again, the Queen’s emotions were considered a small sacrifice by Village authorities. Scientific methods are only as good (or as evil) as the men who make use of them. This has been proven time and time again looking back through history. The closing scene of the black-gloved Butler placing the errant pawn back into its proper place perhaps symbolizes the fact that everyone has his own place in the scheme of things; that there is always someone waiting to put us back where we belong if we get out of line. Follow the rules, play the game, and society will welcome you into the fold; but disobey, and in the words of No. 2, “one false move and (you’ll) be wiped out.”

“He’s just a pawn; one false move and he’ll be wiped out.”


Looking at PETER WYNGARDE‘s portrayal of No. 2, we see a shrewd, cool and calculating man in complete control yet seemingly content to let nature take its course. He didn’t see it necessary to become unduly concerned with the day-to-day comings and goings of his charges; but chose instead to keep an eye on things from a distance, waiting until something happened before taking any action. “No need to get excited” would probably have been his motto. Yet his rather passive disposition was merely a mask for a devilishly cunning administrator who probably had No. 6’s anticipated behaviour pattern in any given situation committed to memory. He seemed to be merely amused rather than distressed by the escape attempt, which he knew was doomed to failure before it ever got started. He was toying with No. 6 from the very beginning, and enjoyed every minute of it. His one brief display of anger when he snapped a wooden board in two with one swift karate chop was the only hint of any violent tendencies or temper, which might be lurking beneath the surface of this No. 2’s handsome façade. In my mind I’ve tried to envision a weakness by which this No. 2 might be dethroned. So far, I’m still trying–he’s one tough No. 2!

© Copyright The Hellfire Club: The OFFICIAL PETER WYNGARDE Appreciation Society:



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