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Since its initial telecast, back in 1967,
this enigmatic classic has evoked every
reaction from awe to contempt. Given
the amount of serious critical attention
THE PRISONER has received, and given that
a whole society has been created in its
honor, I'd say the awe has won out, and
I vehemently agree that THE PRISONER
deserves to be honored as one of the
truly artistic programs created for
However, I can also understand the frustration many viewers have felt. Over the course of its seventeen episodes, this offbeat spy thriller becomes further and further offbeat until it ultimately transforms into surrealistic allegory. I confess I'm not sure whether this transformation was intended as a complete surprise, or whether you were supposed to know where the show was going, but in either case, I think you can better appreciate the series if you can see the earlier episodes as preparation for what's to come.
THE PRISONER's title character is a British secret agent (series creator Patrick McGoohan) who may or may not be SECRET AGENT's John Drake. The story begins with him suddenly and mysteriously resigning, then just as suddenly and mysteriously being rendered unconscious and transported to a place known only as The Village, the location of which is known only to those who run it. The Village is a prison camp, but with all of the amenities of a vacation resort,. Attractive dwellings, shops, restaurants, etc. exist side by side with high-tech methods of keeping order and extracting information from those who won't give it up willingly.
Those who try to escape get to meet Rover, a belligerent weather balloon capable of locomotion, and seemingly of independent thought. It appears (to me anyway) that the authorities can summon Rover, send it away, and give it instructions, but that it acts more or less on its own initiative. Rover deals with fugitives by plastering itself against their faces, rendering them either unconscious or dead, depending on how bad a mood it's in. Twice, we see it haul someone in from the ocean by sucking them up into a whirlpool it creates.
Citizens of The Village, including those in authority, are identified only by numbers. Our protagonist is known only as No. 6 throughout the entire series. The Village is run by No. 2, who in turn reports to an unseen and unidentified No. 1. No. 1 is apparently an unforgiving boss, because No. 2 is always being replaced.
Shortly after he arrives in in the Village, No. 6 is informed, by the reigning No. 2, that he should count on remaining there permanently. If he cooperates, life will be pleasant and he may even be given a position of authority. If he resists -- well, the only restriction they're under is not to damage him permanently. To satisfy his captors, No. 6 need only answer one question: `Why did you resign?' His question in turn is, `Who runs this place? Who is No. 1?'
Most of the episodes deal with No. 6's attempts to escape, and/or his captors' attempts to break him, although there are a few side trips. Several episodes suggest that No. 6's own people may be involved with running The Village. Some of the episodes are fairly straightforward, while others leave you with questions as to exactly what went on. It's important to note that several of the more obscure episodes -- for example, `Free for All' and `Dance of the Dead' -- are among the seven episodes that McGoohan considers essential to the series.
And then we come to the final episode, `Fall Out,' which promises to answer all the burning questions the viewers have been anguishing over for seventeen weeks -- and which so frustrated and angered those viewers back in 1967 that McGoohan had to go into hiding for awhile. Of course, I can't reveal any of the really important details, because, as No. 2 says in the recap that begins most of the episodes, `That would be telling,' and as all of us IMBD contributors know, `telling,' is frowned upon. However, to come back to the point with which I started, you should be prepared for a resolution of an entirely different nature than the one you'll probably be expecting -- a resolution that forces you to rethink your entire concept of the Village, and of the intention of the series. If you aren't ready, you'll be frustrated. If you are, you can accept THE PRISONER is the spirit in which it was offered.
When I saw the first episode of this series, my jaw dropped in amazement.
Here was a TV series that was entertaining and actually made you think.
Nothing was ever what it appeared, no one had a real name, you never knew
who was the good guy or the bad guy (or if they were one in the same!). The
"final" episode was what could only be described as PSYCHEDELIC.
This TV series was, and still is, way ahead of its time.
As a side note, there is a "lost" first episode that is wildly different than the first one generally aired that explains some of the symbolism used in the series.
I hope the movie remake is made and distributed.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Prisoner is one of the greatest sci-fi and philosophical television
series ever. Although it has genre trappings; it transcends the genre
and becomes something else, altogether.
What at first appeared to be a sequel to McGoohan's previous series, Danger Man, turned out to be the most unique idea, ever. A former government agent resigns his job, for whatever reason, and soon finds himself a prisoner in a surreal village. This village is a collage of architecture and holiday trappings, which hide a sinister purpose: to extract information from those who have it. Every resident finds his/her identity reduced to a number. Our hero, Number 6, refuses to give in to this situation. He rebels at every turn, seeking to gain his freedom, or at least throw a monkey wrench into the designs of the village chief, Number 2. Sometimes, he succeeds; at other times, he fails to escape, but he maintains his secrets. Eventually, he appears to escape the village, only to start the cycle anew.
The series was filled with bizarre icons, surreal images, intriguing characters, and witty dialogue. McGoohan had his fingers on every aspect of production, including the theme music! The acting is first rate and the stories equal or surpass the best of television. The series is part Le Carre and Deighton, part Kafka, part Twilight Zone, part Lewis Carroll, and wholely mindboggling.
This was a series that asked more questions than it answered. Why did Number 6 resign, who runs the village, does he escape in the end, what is rover, who is Number 1, is Number 6 actually spying on the village, what does the pennyfarthing bicycle represent, where is the village, are Number 6's former masters looking for him, is Number 6 John Drake? Few of these questions have ever been answered to anyone's satisfaction. McGoohan has stated that the show is an allegory of the struggle between the individual and society. He said the bicycle is an ironic symbol of progress. We know the village scenes were shot at Portmeirion; but, in the series, it is never clear if it is on an island or connected to land. In the final episode, Number 6 and friends escape via a truck. Did they really drive back to London, or were they really on another part of the island? The great thing about this series is you can draw your own conclusions and examine these and other questions to your heart's content.
My personal favorites among the 17 episodes are: Arrival; Chimes of Big Ben; A, B, and C; Schizoid Man; Many Happy Returns; Checkmate; Living in Harmony; Hammer into Anvil; Once Upon a Time; and Fallout. In fact, the first episode I ever saw was Fallout; so you can imagine how confused I was! Thankfully, I found the entire series at a local video store and was able to watch it in its entirety.
Leo McKern, Guy Doleman, Colin Gordon, Georgina Cookson, and Patrick Cargill were standouts as Number 2. Cookson's Mrs. Butterworth is particularly memorable. Alexis Kanner was another notable guest star.
There has long been a film version in development hell; but, I have mixed feelings about it. I seriously doubt Hollywood can do the series justice,even with McGoohan onboard. Still, you never know; the Matrix picked up some of the elements of the Prisoner. Maybe the Warchovsky brothers could lend a hand?
Now, how about a game of chess?
When it premiered in the US as a CBS summer series, no less than Isaac
Asimov wrote an article in TV Guide praising it. So I was primed.
"Arrival" was every bit at interesting as I expected, from the jazzy
music and rapid-edited credit sequence all the way to that strange
bicycle that assembled itself in the closing credits. The Village was
beautiful and charming and hellish, with doors that open for you and
mandatory classical music on the radio. McGoohan was perfect--he kept
his cool but never wavered from his determination to find out who ran
However, the idiots who ran my local CBS affiliate must have gotten calls from perplexed viewers. Next week, I was all set for episode two... and instead saw some crappy conventional syndicated spy show. Grrr. Since this was before cable, I never saw the rest of the series till PBS ran it.
It's hard to believe that any television network would agree to air something this wild. To this day, I can hear "I am not a number! I am a free man!" followed by maniacal laughter....
I loved the humor, too. One time Number Six had a double. His name--Number Twelve, of course. The whole concept of being labelled "unmutual" was worthy of Douglas Adams's "Share and Enjoy".
This has become by far my favorite series of all time, so much so I have
given up watching television altogether and turned to DVD's instead.
not to say it's the best show ever, but it's one of those things you can
watch as fluff action-adventure entertainment one day, or chew down to its
bones, if you like, the next. That is, it doesn't require intelligence and
concentration or an easy day at the office to enjoy, but if you've read a
few books or have philosophical leanings you can amuse yourself by
quite a bit out of it.
On that note, it's especially fun to watch this series in conjunction with Danger Man/ Secret Agent. Although it isn't uncommon to have the same actors work together on different series, there is a town full of spies in DM/SA
referred to as the Village in the episode "Colony Three" which is the center of a debate on whether Number 6 and John Drake are the same. (McGoohan categorically denies this, but Markstein says it's true. Perhaps there is a legal hurdle involved? We will probably never get that information.)
I recommend watching them in order, so you can see Number 6 gradually abandon his open desperation and anger ("Arrival" to "The Chimes of Big Ben") for a cool and calculated needling of the system from within ("A, B and C" to "Hammer Into Anvil"). They try drugs, brainwashing, torture, virtual reality, letting him escape, and even babysitting to get him to talk. Each episode will appeal to someone different, some funny, some aggravating, but they all fit together by "Fall Out"; I have never met anyone who was not surprised at the final episode. It's truly extraordinary!
You will find references to the Prisoner are made constantly in other shows and movies, especially Sci Fi. The character Bester uses the Village greeting on Babylon 5; I have seen Village interrogation methods on the Pretender, John Doe and Farscape (whose leading man has an acting style similar to McGoohan's and a character similar to Number 6, IMHO, especially if you watch "A, B and C"); Number 2's trademark sphere chair is used on everything from Austin Powers to ads for American Idol.
The Village itself has appeared in tribute episodes of the Invisible Man and, of all things, the Simpsons ("The Computer Wore Menace Shoes"). Rover has actually appeared on the Simpsons twice!
I believe it's a classic that shouldn't be missed for anyone who ever feels trapped by rules that make little sense. If you like quoting Brazil and Office Space you'll find plenty of quotes to add to your collection here. My friends and I have even started referring to each other by number at work!
Be Seeing You!
Geez I just did another Imdb review listing some of the top ten tv shows of all time (in my opinion) and I plum forgot this one. It qualifies. 18 hourly episodes about attempts to pry information from taciturn retired spy McGoohan, kidnapped and held in an isolated village peopled by, well, we're not sure who else. There's maybe one bad episode in the whole lot; many shows have you wondering who are the captors and who are the captives among the village's inhabitants. Not sure it's explicitly stated but McGoohan's character could be a carryover from his Secret Agent Man, an earlier series also starring him. McGoohan is exquisitely perfect in the role, a bit eccentric, sometimes almost precious, athletic when necessary, crisply precise and (understandably) paranoid. Occasionally things go over the top, particularly in the final two episodes, but you certainly can't accuse them of playing it safe. Unique, inspired, insightful, distinctive, unparalleled.
Who would think that the coolest show of 2004 would have been the
rebroadcast of this 1960's British classic?
When I lived in the U.K. I heard about this show a lot, and when I went to Wales was told about the town where it was filmed, but I had no idea why people were so durned excited about it.
It can be murky and deliberately obscure, but I'm not sure I've ever seen a show as creative and bizarre....and you have to love the fact that No. 6 always looks so dammed serious!
Seriously, it's worth watching, if only to remember how important good writing and unique ideas used to be in television!
'The Prisoner' is one of those things that inspires either absolute devotion or utter confusion. There are no halfway reactions to this TV series. Many consider it to be the most imaginative and original TV show ever, and I'm inclined to agree with them. Nothing until 'Twin Peaks' came close to competing with it. However unlike 'Twin Peaks', 'The Prisoner' knew when to stop. There is hardly a bad episode in the whole series, and the final show is perfect. Patrick McGoohan will always have an important place in not only television history, but pop culture as a whole, from his involvement with this stunning and unforgettable show. To me it gets better and better as the years go by. If you haven't ever seen it make sure you do so! You don't know what you're missing!
Just watched Once Upon A Time which for me is the best and most
important episode in the series, the interplay between Patrick McGoohan
and Leo McKern is quite simply brilliant. As for the series like many
others I remember first seeing the show as a 10 year old, it left an
indelible impression on me then and with time that impression hasn't
faded one bit, I still consider it one of the finest television series
ever created. I hope Hollywood nor anyone else attempt to remake it, it
would be like a sad photocopy of the Mona Lisa, leave it alone please.
To Patrick McGoohan and all those involved in creating it I'd just like
to say 'THANK YOU'
For those who ask what the series is all about, I'd say watch it, and make your own mind up don't just accept my opinion on it, 'think' for yourself. Be seeing you.
The best non-comedic TV show I've ever seen, and certainly one of the
most unique TV shows of any genre. A terrific blend of Kafka's
drama/satire, fantasy, and spy action/thriller. There is also a healthy
dose of humour in it, but nothing over-the-top like we have in today's
TV shows. Although it consists of 17 episodes, I would consider the
first 12 to be the core of the series. After those 12 we have mostly
filler episodes, like the dull one in the Wild West, or the one in
which McGoohan barely even appears. The last two episodes, the
less-than-grand double-episode finale, are a bit too abstract and quite
tiresome at times even. From the last 5 episodes I would only name "The
Girl Who Was Death" as being quite good.
The best/most fun episodes are "Arrival", "Dance of the Dead", "ABC", "The General", "A Change Of Mind", and "Hammer Into Anvil". From the first 12, I would only single out "Schizoid Man" as being much weaker than the others.
Several things went into making this show so much fun. First of all, the location, the Welsh village. Secondly, having McGoohan in the lead; I cannot possible imagine any other actor playing Number 6 in the excellent, off-the-wall yet controlled manner in which he plays him. McGoohan hits all the right notes; his performance is just as eccentric as it needs to be. (For the uninitiated, he was among the 2 or 3 main candidates to be the first James Bond, but refused the role.) Thirdly, the highly unusual, original scripts. Fourthly, the series was filmed in the mid-60s, and the visual quality of TV shows from that decade is superior to anything that came before or after. And fifthly, the acting from all the others was on a high level.
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