The Man From U.N.C.L.E. seems particularly well suited to crossover stories with other universes. (I've previously discussed the Man From U.N.C.L.E./Professionals crossover story "Incident in a Stairwell," you may recall.) To my delight, I have found over the years two thoughtful crossovers between The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and The Prisoner -- a brilliant series that, if I were forced to make a choice, I might well name as my very favorite of all time. (Incidentally, I'm very interested to hear that Powys Media is to be publishing six new novels based on The Prisoner in the near future.)
The fit is a natural one. Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin are agents of the international organization known as U.N.C.L.E. (or the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement); No. 6 was once a British secret agent, though his captors imprison him in the mysterious Village after he attempts to retire. There the wardens seek to break him by any means and obtain the information he learned during the course of his former career. The implication is chilling, that public servants might become the prisoners of those they served (or, perhaps, their enemies) if they survive and of do their job a bit too well.
I don't wish to oversimplify either of these stories by suggesting they are different sides of the same coin, but their commonalities suggest that I should discuss them more or less together. Both assume that the Number Six of The Prisoner is the man who was once John Drake of Danger Man (U.K.)/ Secret Agent (U.S.) (who likewise was portrayed by Patrick McGoohan). Both tell their tales from the perspective of a female U.N.C.L.E. agent who goes into the Village with Illya Kuryakin. And both include a bit of romance and action/adventure in the telling of their psychological tales. There the likenesses end. So without further ado...
Title: The Village Affair
Author: by Eva A. Enblom
Warning: violence, non-explicit past het sexual situation
Availability: Online at EvA's Fanfic Page.
In this dark novella, an U.N.C.L.E. agent named Sonya partners with Ilya Kuryakin to infiltrate the Village. Their purposes are twofold: to rescue John Drake, now Number Six, with whom Sonya has worked in the past; and to discover what forces are behind the the Village itself. This story stands out for several reasons. First, Enblom offers a wrenching portrait of a Number Six who fades in and out of awareness, at times very much the prisoner we know, at other times quite fey and mad. He has not broken as much as he has crumbled, and his present state is effectively contrasted with his past self through Sonya's eyes. Second, Illya is treated to psychological torture similar to what Number Six has endured, which conjures images of his abandonment by Waverly and his murder by Napoleon. (When Illya says "They are going to take my life.... Or my sanity," the reader believes.) Third, Enblom offers terrific insights in her characterizations, managing to give a mostly-absent Napoleon moments to shine, and both the past John Drake and the present Number Six truly memorable scenes. Enblom even makes Illya's unrequited love easier to swallow than it would be in the average "Mary Sue" tale.
The most impressive part of this novella is its ambiguous, bleak ending (in the tradition of The Prisoner itself). The agents determine that although the Village has THRUSH ties, it is not solely a THRUSH production. Those responsible for the Village are, like the Village itself, shadowed in secrecy and thus difficult to fight. Moreover, the agents fail to rescue Number Six, who in the final scene apparently has fallen deep into his madness, childlike and simple. Whether this is true insanity or just a clever performance might be debated, but either way, Number Six is very much a prisoner still, and the agents' failed mission has produced more questions than answers.
The Supervisor gave him a strongly disapproving look. "Is that wise, No 2?"
No 2 laughed, spreading his hands in delight. "But it is most wise, my worrying friend! What could be better?"
The bald little man coughed. "May I point out that the nurse's report indicates a heightened level of awareness in No 6?"
No 2 leant forward out of his chair, almost surreally reminiscent of a young cobra just out of its egg. His eyes were shining. "Ah, but that is the beauty of it, my friend! I don't expect it to last, but if he had to revert to his former self for a while, it couldn't have happened at a more convenient time! Call the Hospital and tell them they have No 2's permission to bring these two patients together - at the staff's discretion of course; the talks should be alternated with No 26's treatment, not replace it."
The Supervisor bowed, fractionally. Then he said, "May I ask what you hope to accomplish with this, No 2?"
No 2 smiled - the way a sentient serpent might smile. "The breaking of an U.N.C.L.E agent, my friend. Nothing more, nothing less. And No 6 shall be my secret weapon."
Title: "The Prisoner Affair"
Author: by Lin Cochran
Format: short story
Availability: In the printed zine The Kuryakin File #15, published by NorthCoast Press. Currently in print.
Lin Cochran's vision in the end is more optimistic than Eva A. Enblom's. It begins on a dark note, however, with the introduction of Grace Templar, former U.N.C.L.E. agent (and widow of another), whose personality has fractured and split thanks to U.N.C.L.E.'s rather cruel and psychologically messy "detraining" procedure -- in itself, a form of the Village. Grace Templar, though a member of the walking wounded, joins with former colleague Illya Kuryakin to find Napoleon Solo when a coup within U.N.C.L.E. unseats him from the organization's head and leaves him imprisoned in the Village. Grace encounters Number Six and, after tense distrust on both sides, joins forces with him to rescue Napoleon and escape. The three U.N.C.L.E. agents flee successfully thanks only to Number Six's last-minute choice to sacrifice his own chance at freedom and distract pursuers.
Somewhat smoother than The Village Affair, "The Prisoner Affair" pulls out a happy ending at the last. Not only do the readers get to see a liberated John Drake, but they also witness a cleaned and righted U.N.C.L.E. that, under Napoleon's leadership, does away with the "detraining" procedure just as it destroys and empties the Village. If Enblom's novella ends on a note from The Prisoner, Cochran's story leaves the reader with more of an U.N.C.L.E.-esque flavor. Highlights of this terrific story include a sarcastic, painfully bitter Number Six instantly recognizable from the series, an original female lead who steals scenes with multiple personalities as fascinating as any character in the tale, and a compelling picture of an aging Napoleon who is alternately vulnerable and steely in convincing proportions and, once returned to his position, a worthy successor to Alexander Waverly.
Shoving me ahead of him, Number Six maneuvered us into an empty alley between a tobacco shop and an Italian villa. He pushed me into a shadow, blocking my escape with his body.
I looked up at him defiantly. "Is this where you rape me?"
"American in outlook as well as accent," he said dryly. "No, this is where I offer you advice."
He loomed over me, tall as Alan, dark and threatening. I held his eyes with mine. "Okay. Shoot."
"First, no one here has a name. Only a number. Mistake number one was telling me your name, Grace." He was deadly serious and yet he seemed to savor my name.
I glared at him, unwilling to give him a response to work against.
"You are here to rescue Number Nine."
"Napoleon," I said.
"I don't care who he thinks he is. You might as well give it up. No one has ever escaped from the Village." His eyes flashed across a memory. "It's been tried."
(For past reviews, including stories from the Enterprise, Star Trek: The Original Series, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Man From U.N.C.L.E., and Professionals universes, see my LJ's Memories section.)