I was less convinced by the one with Toby Jones.
C.S Lewis or Aristotle or someone of that kind asks us to distinguish between the plot machinery and the plot itself. It doesn't matter too much if the mechanism by which your hero gets to Mars is plausible if the story was never about the journey, but what he saw when he arrived. We don't have to believe in Delphic oracles, sphinxes or improbable meetings at places where three roads meet: we're interested in how a man would react if he suddenly discovered that the woman he married was his own mother. Folk-singers (and for that matter Mr William Shakespeare) don't really expect us to believe that if a lady-shaped person slips on a pair of trousers, she'll instantly be assumed to be male by everyone she meets, including army recruitment officers and her own true love. We aren't interested in the practical problems faced by 17th century transvestites. "Imagine that a man who robbed at gun-point and the robber turned out to be his own girlfriend!" the singer is saying "Imagine the look on his face when he finds out!"
I forget whether or not Aristotle himself uses the word McGuffin.
If I were to write about The Prisoner, which I probably won't, I would say that in the original version, The Village was pretty obviously a piece of plot machinery, but in the new version The Village is pretty much the whole of what the plot is about. The original version is about the ways in which an exceptionally individualistic person stands up for himself in a society where there are is no such thing as an individual. It's about the relationship of individuals to society and what's so great about being an individual, anyway? It's about that tricks and traps that Number 2 sets to make Number 6 conform, and about Number 6's plans to escape. The remake is about The Village. It's about Number 2 (sorry, "2") who has a back story, a family, and considerably more personality than 6 does. It asks us what The Village is – a real place, the only real place, a dream, a virtual reality? The original only asked us what The Village meant. All sorts of questions which were unanswered and unanswerable in the original version – who did 6 work for? why did he resign? what was his real name? – are neatly tied up. [*]
There are, of course, Portmeirion literalists who try to answer those sorts of questions about the original programme. They are terribly disappointed to discover that English schoolchildren say "break" rather than "recess" so when Number 2 is in the persona of Number 6's old headmaster, he's much more likely to be saying "See me in the morning break!" than "See me in the morning, Drake." But even if you could conclusively prove that the protagonists of The Prisoner and Danger Man were the same person, it's hard to see how that would elucidate The Prisoner.
It occurs to me that a working definition of Science Fiction might be "literature without plot machinery; literature for people who are interested in the plot machinery; literature which tells you how the space-ship works stories where a girl can't pass herself off as a boy without a special sort of bra". Someone in the Grauniad pointed out that Nineteen Eighty-four was certainly not science fiction because it showed no interest in how the Screens worked. (I forget if this was someone who liked Science Fiction very much, but didn't like Orwell, or someone who liked Orwell very much, but didn't like Science Fiction.) Certainly some of the objections to New New Who have been science fictiony nit picks about the plot machinery: Why do the Doctor and the Daleks always meet each other consecutively? Why is the Doctor so confused by money and football and pubs when he's lived on earth for years and usually has no difficulty fitting in on weird alien planets?
We don't care.
It further occurs to me that on this definition I probably haven't read, or at any rate enjoyed, a work of science fiction since Blast Off at Woomera in Miss Walker's class, so you probably shouldn't pay attention to anything I say about the subject. But you probably don't anyway.
[*] SPOILER WARNING: I do give them points for the ending in which 6 takes over from 2 and plans to create a new, happier Village. All the way through he's been saying "I am not a number": although he thinks he's "won", he's only done this by becoming a number, so he's really "lost". That's not a bad reading of the impenetrable final instalment of the original.
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