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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As I write this, a remake of the television classic 'The Prisoner' is
nearing completion. Those of us who remember the original view the
prospect with some trepidation. How many great movies/T.V. series have
had their reputations sullied by remakes? Too many to name. Even the
B.B.C. have gotten in on the act with 'Survivors', loosely based on
Terry Nation's classic show.
With 'The Prisoner', its more worrying because the opportunities for failure are greater. Have they chosen the right man to replace Patrick McGoohan? Will the new location work out? Will the plots be dumbed down? Ah well, questions are a burden to others as someone once said, so let us wait and see.
The first episode of the original was aptly titled 'Arrival', and it was written by George Markstein and David Tomblin. An unnamed British secret agent resigns, and is swiftly abducted by unknown forces. He wakes up in a strange place known only as 'The Village'. Here other ex-agents have been incarcerated and are forced to live out their lives though with numbers in place of their names. Our hero finds himself lumbered with the number Six.
Attempts to escape from The Village usually end in failure. strange balloon-like creatures called 'Rovers' emerge from the sea, roaring like demented lions, to pursue and in some cases suffocate would-be runaways.
Number Six is told by the Chairman of The Village - Number Two - that he has only a short time to willingly co-operate, such as stating his reason for resigning, and that if he fails to do so, the information will be forcibly extracted from his mind. The local hospital is a front for a brainwashing centre. Number Six witnesses first-hand the horror of seeing people reduced to gibbering imbeciles.
The first part of 'Arrival' is devoted to setting up the premise of the show. The beautiful Portmeirion location contrasts magnificently with the cold and clinical interiors. Patrick McGoohan is, as you would expect, simply brilliant. His performance encompasses anger, confusion, wry amusement, and defiance. 'Number Two' is initially played by the late Guy Doleman ( 'Colonel Ross' in Michael Caine's 'Harry Palmer' films ) but half-way through the episode another actor - George Baker - assumes the role. Doleman's 'Number Two' is charming and polite, but Baker's is an altogether more unpleasant character. On a sad note, Virginia Maskell, who plays 'The Woman', committed suicide a short time after this was broadcast.
The second part deals with an attempt by Number Six to escape from The Village in a helicopter. Having managed to obtain an electro-pass from a woman who was emotionally attached to an old colleague called 'Cobb' ( Paul Eddington ), Number Six flies off, but as this is only the first episode it is reasonable to assume he does not get far.
'Arrival' presents us with a world where nothing is what it seems and where no-one can be trusted. Even the maps on sale in The Village shop do not tell the truth. On arriving in The Village, Number Six repeatedly bumps into the same man ( Oliver MacGreevy ) in different guises. No matter what Number Six does or where he goes, he always seems to find himself right back where he started.
I expect the new version to simplify the original's complexities, meaning it will probably not gain a cult following nor be the subject of discussion in thirty years' time. Superbly written, acted, edited, and directed, 'Arrival' is one of the greatest openings to a television series ever. If you only decide to watch one episode of 'The Prisoner', make it this one.
Be Seeing You!
First episode of the classic British series that stars Patrick McGoohan as a mysterious British secret agent who, as the opening credits show, angrily resigns from service for undisclosed reasons, but it because of those reasons that he finds himself knocked out by a gas, then taken to a remote and regimented place called the village, where he is told by number two(who can change without notice...) no one has names, but numbers, and he is assigned the number six, which he utterly rejects, and vows to escape from this "prison", but that will prove to be most difficult indeed... Solid way to begin the series establishes "Six" quite well indeed, with fine acting and atmosphere throughout, creating true viewer interest in what this is all about.
Patrick McGoohan plays Number Six. We don't know his real name, just that he is high profile spy who has chosen to "resign." Whatever the reason, he is drugged and placed in a kind of Club Med resort area which is actually a prison. There is a control center where Number Two watches over him with his cohorts. Being kind of a James Bond type, Number Six does what he can to escape but is unable to break the barriers. Everything is local and any conveyance for getting beyond the property is under the thumb of the authorities. We don't know their true motives, other than they want to know why he retired. He does everything any self-respecting Type A personality would do. He wrecks things, runs away, abuses people, but to no avail. The perimeter is patrolled by a gigantic white beach ball that has deadly capabilities. At one point he is captured by the thing and ends up in the hospital where he meets up with a former colleague. We are introduced to the participants in this drama which only ran for a single season. I watched it faithfully in the sixties and am excited to have another look.
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