The Prisoner (TV Series 1967–1968) Poster

(1967–1968)

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You MUST come prepared for this enigmatic classic
David Downing26 October 2003
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 commercial television.

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.
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Astonishingly Original and Intelligent
rlcsljo14 March 2000
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.
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"We're all pawns, you know!"
grendelkhan25 April 2003
Warning: 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.

Spoliers:

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?
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10/10
I find more in it, and it in more, every time I see it....
janemerrow29 April 2003
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. That's 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 wringing 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!
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TV that made you think
lbliss31410 May 2005
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 the show.

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".
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Absolutely essential viewing!
Infofreak19 May 2002
'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!
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An all-time great
RNMorton15 June 2004
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.
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The coolest show of 2004
darienwerfhorst3 December 2004
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!
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A Masterpiece
c1mclaug2 August 2005
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.
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Terrific and unique spy/action/drama satire.
Fedor Petrovic (fedor8)11 January 2007
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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Still unique, alas.
roarshock2 July 2000
Unfortunately, when you see see The Prisoner for the first time at an early age it tends to spoil television for the rest of your life. I was thirteen when I saw it in 1968, and for more than thirty years I keep hoping to find TV shows (and movies and books) that will give me the same rush of seeing vast, unexpected and unexplained vistas for the very first time. Too, too rare. Virtually non-existent. For The Prisoner didn't just present a new 'twist' (rare enough), it was a whole new world, with a wildly different culture, environment and rules, only gradually comprehended, if at all. And yet, strangely, it is more like the "real" world than any other television program, even the news, because The Prisoner doesn't explain itself, it just happens. If YOU want to know what's going on, figure it out for yourself... if you can. You might be right, you might be wrong, but if simplistic explanations are your comfort, you almost certainly WILL be wrong. Just like explorers of old. Just like real life. Though with the increasing homogenization of the world, real life is becoming, alas, more like television.
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9/10
Excellent until the last episode. Still one of televisions greatest moments.
Canvoodoo18 December 2006
"The Prisoner" was an excellent series until the last episode, "Fall Out". It wasn't perfect -- some episodes were better than others, and those that were intended to be part of the abortive "second season" were generally not as good as the first 13 episodes produced (note that these aren't necessarily the first 13 episodes aired...). However, the program was consistently entertaining, interesting, thought provoking, and unquestionably unique. I had watched various episodes of "The Prisoner" over the years (It ran a fair amount on educational television in the 1970s) and was very impressed with what I saw, but I didn't get a chance to see the concluding episode until many years later. To say that I was disappointed is a significant understatement.

The problem of setting up any "mythology" in a show, as Chris Carter found out with the "X Files", is that sooner or later you have to answer the questions that you've raised. That's where the last episode loses it -- it answers nothing about the previous 16 episodes, but rather asks a number of new questions, and then doesn't answer them either!

It would appear that the reason for the odd number of episodes of the Prisoner was that it was cancelled with 16 episodes either in the can, or still in production, and "Fall Out" was written in a great rush at the last minute to close out the series. Although in earlier interviews, MacGoohan said that all the answers were in the final episode, in a more recent interview, he has stated (regarding "Fall Out") -- "If anybody admits to understanding it, then please pass the understanding on to me."

I don't know if there would have been a more coherent ending if the premature cancellation had not occurred, or if original producer George Markstein (who left after the first 13 episodes due to differences with Patrick MacGoohan) had stayed. Overall, it is a pathetic end to an otherwise superb series. Mind you, the fact that there wasn't a coherent ending (plus the presence of lots of symbolism to encourage endless debate on what it all *really* means) is probably the main reason for the cult attraction of the series. Even with the inadequate ending, this series is a highlight of how thought provoking television can be if it's done properly.
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9/10
Not All Prisons Have Steel Bars!
Syl7 September 2014
I assumed this show was about life in the British prison. Boy was I wrong? Patrick McGoohan who should have been knighted is delightful as number 6. The audience nor number 2 and the others don't why he resigned his top secret post. They are clever not to tell the audience rather using the intro montage of back history. We the audience don't know his name as well. He is transported to a self contained and controlled village by the sea. The village is very picturesque with concerts, lovely shops, parks, and culture. This prison doesn't seem so bad after all. The village inhabitants are quite friendly and pleasant. The village symbolizes an ideal utopia community that was tried in communal living during the time period. But 6 wants out ever since his arrival. He is a challenge to the controllers here. The show is beautiful with lovely art direction and costumes. You have to ask yourself what constitutes a prisoner.
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9/10
Want answers? Take a number...
miloc17 August 2008
Montage: a secret agent (Patrick McGoohan) storms into his superior's office and angrily resigns his post, for reasons unknown. A machine files away his Xed-out photo; he speeds away to his home. He enters his house and begins packing for a journey. Outside, a hearse pulls up to the curb. A pallbearer strides to the door. Knockout gas comes pouring in through the keyhole. When our hero awakes the room is the same... but the world outside is not.

We are in the Village, a picturesque nightmare co-fashioned by Orwell, Kafka, and Carroll. The unnamed agent has become Number Six in a population of equally nameless, creepily cheerful residents, headed by a shifting, and shifty, Number Two. Who is Number One? Well, that's the question, isn't it... In one direction are impassable mountains, in the other the sea -- and on patrol is a bizarre, lethal white balloon that hunts down those unwise enough to dare them.

Viewed today, "The Prisoner" seems so strikingly ahead of its time that one can only regard it as either a visionary masterpiece or a dazzling failure. Either way it is compulsive viewing. Co-creators McGoohan and George Markstein were seemingly at odds about what to make of it all, with McGoohan eschewing conventional James Bondisms for a more surreal, allegorical approach. (He himself wrote and directed some of the series' best and most bewildering episodes.) And truly "The Prisoner" works best when at its least explanatory and most hallucinatory. Not until "Twin Peaks" would another television show dabble this heavily in the logic of dreams.

McGoohan also believed the premise would only hold up over a limited run, and his concern seems justified. A few of the later of the seventeen episodes show desperation: low points include the feebly whimsical "The Girl Who Was Death," the plodding "It's Your Funeral," and "The General," which might as well be -- and nearly is -- an episode of Star Trek.

Yet at its best, in episodes like "Arrival," "Free For All," "Dance of Death," "Many Happy Returns," and the finale (one of the most astonishing hours ever programmed for television), the series achieves something extraordinary. Its influence reaches beyond such obvious successors as "Lost" and "The League of Gentlemen" -- and could you imagine "Brazil" or "The Matrix" without it? "The Prisoner" catches at a thread in our subconscious and pulls it loose; it tells us that something is genuinely wrong somewhere with the Great Big Picture. Its true antecedents are Chesterton's "The Man Who Was Thursday" and O'Brien's "The Third Policeman": nonsense that bleeds into spiritual unease.

It's not hard to understand why the series has a cult following, or why, love it or hate it, it still packs a punch. We are in the Village. Be seeing you...
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10/10
brilliant, disturbing, visionary
winner5523 September 2007
A number of reviewers have said that this series was "ahead of its time". Actually, as with any truly insightful art, it was entirely with it's time, it was all the other shows that were slightly backward.

Because of that, the series has dated in rather odd ways; the use of the Beatles' "All you need is love" in the final episode, for instance, really derives its power from the fact that Lennon and McCartney laced a lot of their songs with the same satirical venom this episode portrays, but much of this was lost on audiences (at least in America) until the release of the White Album. But now, 40 years later, only a handful of "Beatle-philes" remember this, so the edginess of the hallway sequence in which this is played has changed somewhat.

Too, the Theater of the Absurd that functions as backdrop to much of this show has been all but forgotten - Beckett's "Waiting for Godot" still gets revived now and again, but Albee's "Sandlot" never does; Brecht, once thought to be the Shakespeare of Left-wing theater, remains only as an inventive apologist for a failed Stalinism who wrote a few memorable set-pieces.

Yet "The Prisoner" survives, and likely will continue to survive, because it demonstrated both the potential power and the ultimate limitations of it's medium. There was never a show like this previous to it, and there has never been a show like it since, because the notion of a political/cultural satire extended for thirteen weeks for a mass audience is really unthinkable in television terms. How McGoohan came up with the idea therefore remains a mystery, but somehow he got it made. That there were millions willing to devote time and the effort of attention to it remains equally mysterious; but I think part of the answer is that at the time, many of us still weren't sure what the "television phenomenon" actually was. We didn't recognize it as mere audio-visual wall-paper, we thought it could be something else; and "The Prisoner" offered us a something else, something in keeping with what we had learned of great satire in letters, such as Swift and Voltaire.

Television as a medium has exhausted itself; it can never escape its economics, and so can never again be thought of a potentially liberating art-form. But there was a time when it was possible to imagine otherwise....

Not every episode is equally good, but "The Prisoner" remains brilliant, disturbing, visionary, and probably will for a long time to come.
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#6 and The Village
domino100317 November 2003
Warning: Spoilers
I just wanted to put in my 2 cents in this cool show from the 60's that even the show "The Simpsons" had to spoof a few times (Even having Patrick McGoohan reprise his #6, being bugged by Homer Simpson!). The show really didn't have to make any sense, because a lot of what happened to #6 didn't make sense, either.

Resigning from the government, he is drugged. When he comes to, he realizes that he is being held at the mysterious Village, where they want INFORMATION. Why? Who exactly is #6 (You never know his name.) and what possible information does he have in his head that he had to be kidnapped for it? #6 spends the series being grilled by #2 (There's a different one every time). It's too bad that the series was so short. The ending is satisfactory, but still many questions remain unanswered. Great show to have in your collection and fun to have if you have a group of friends that debates the ins and outs of "The Prisoner."
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10/10
The Last Episode
Stamp-319 December 2007
The Prisoner may not be the greatest television series of all time, but for me it will do until something better comes along. I was one of the millions of people in the UK who watched the series when it was first televised and sat enthralled every week.

But rather than extol the virtues of the show overall, as many contributors to these pages have done, I would like to voice my love and support for the final episode.

INEVITABLY SOME SPOILERS

I loved the final episode and have watched it many times over the years. The first thing that has to be said, before one gets into its meaning and its relationship with the other episodes, is to acknowledge that it is an absolute virtuoso piece of television. The sheer imagination and creativity of the episode boggles the mind. The dialogue is quite astonishing, it's like avant garde poetry. The energy of the whole piece is staggering.

I believe McGoohan wrote the whole script and knocked it off in about a day. How he did it I do not know, but to say it was inspired is an understatement.

More importantly the episode is of a piece and complements all that went before. Where I think a lot of people have been thrown with The Prisoner… well perhaps that's a bit condescending….the key issue one has to address and acknowledge with the show, is that it presents an allegory of the human condition wrapped up in a fantasy; surreal, almost Alice in Wonderland in style; and then tells the tale using the conventions of a (brilliantly executed) action adventure series.

But you have to accept that it is the allegorical, stylised presentation that drives the show. Therefore one cannot expect a rational, neat conclusion. Who could the people behind the Village be? Who could Number 1 be? The Russians? The CIA, Ernst Stavro Blofeld? It just could not be anyone of these. In the context of the Village, my earlier comparison with Alice makes more sense; Number 1 might just be the Queen Of Hearts.

But the reality of McGoohan's imagination is much more compelling. First of all he took the conclusion and climax in an obvious direction; to move further away from even the notion of reality and to challenge us with ideas. And to express those ideas in the totally bizarre and wonderful setting of trial is quite stunning.

The whole series is about us, about the individual and how we confront the world and the oppressive evil in it; and how we express our own humanity. The Prisoner is about ourselves, the good, the bad; the strong; the weak. And to express that as an allegorical fantasy is, I think, something close to genius.

I think the question one has to ask is who else could Number 1 be, if not ourselves; or because this is a series in which McGoohan is the hero, Number 6. And Number 6 is us; with all our strengths, weaknesses, anger, frustrations and, believe it or not, hope, despite all that outside forces may throw at us.

But even having taken this line, McGoohan surely does not leave the "rationalists" empty handed. There is a conclusion, they do escape (albeit in a surreal way, bursting out onto the A2 – incidentally try driving down the A2 at 70 mph today; that would be surreal!),

And even the ending, with the Hearse driving up again and the compressed air "swoosh" of his house door opening, tells you the dark side may yet win.

The whole episode is perfect, and more importantly, to repeat myself, is a totally satisfactory ending to what has gone before.

Incidentally, as a coda, one comment on the whole series. Look at many of the episodes again, and evaluate the underlying themes of the whole series. Take away the sixties style and look, and doesn't the show resonate even more today than it did even then. What The Prisoner is fighting is more terrifying now than ever. And we are losing the battle with ourselves and letting it happen
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A Prisoner Guide; or, How to Get It
Ephraim Gadsby21 October 2004
Warning: Spoilers
HERE THERE BE SPOILERS

"The Prisoner" is a deliberately obscurantist series. It has "late '60s" written all over it; though it seems to have tried to go for a look of its own it drips with the period it was made. The scripts are sometimes difficult to follow the first time through. It purports to tackle serious issues of personality, man's place in society, the nature of society, etc., though it plumbs these depths so superficially the idea that its "exploration" of serious subjects screams "ad campaign". The very fact that it has become a cult (in that frightening way cults edge into religious mania) tends to turn off normal people. Yet the illusion of depth is maintained by gimmicks, such as never mentioning "the prisoner's" right name (though implying, with sometimes Abby-Road-Paul-is-dead implications that he is the lead character of "Danger Man"); never saying "which side" sponsors the Village (presumably in the Cold War) or whether it's a joint effort; etc.

What is usually overlooked is the fact that "The Prisoner" is fun! It always has good sense of humor. It has as many fistfights as any good 1960s action series. Its claims to great themes doesn't stand up well to examination, so the best way to watch it is as well-written and well-acted eye candy. Patrick McGoohan is a great actor and he had to be matched by good actors as number 2 (Leo McKern, Colin Gordon, Anton Rogers, Peter Wyngarde, etc.). Familiar faces(Peter Bowles, John Castle) pop up from time to time, as well as the forgotten (remember Jane Merrow?).

The show is a cardboard construction that collapses if you think too hard at it. Consider "Rover", the guard that keeps prisoners from escaping, for instance. It's a big, white balloon. Call it what you like, it's a big, white balloon. Taking it seriously requires a radical suspension of disbelief. But "Rover" (as well as the series) does work within that context. Consider also the numerous discrepancies from one episode to the next (no matter how one adjusts the running order, the flat contradictions remain). And the sillier the show gets, the more the fun. In one episode, the setting is a western that starts out with a wild west version of the typical opening and carries on straight-faced from there. Another episode, "The Woman who was Death", grows wackier and wackier as it lurches into inanity, until a tacked-on ending that gives it the pretense of an explanation (though here, as with so often with the "depth" of the series, the emperor has no clothes). I won't even bother delving into the two-episode finale that explains nothing, but which treats the viewer to a good time getting there.

Its fans (and its makers) advertise "The Prisoner" as high-brow and deep. But like most facile thinkers they confuse profundity with the merely bizarre. They've thrown a lot of juvenile nonsense in the pot and when it's simmered down they make believe it's substance. Despite all its pandering to the cognoscenti, "The Prisoner" is a simple story of a man who is (as the title implies) held prisoner, and who either makes "Gilligan's Island" attempts to escape, or who tries to best his ever-changing masters while maintaining his identity and his integrity. The clothes, the symbols, the weather balloons, the wackiness, the midgets -- these are paraphernalia to disguise the fact that it's a carnival of entertaining '60s adventure shows.

The episodes vary in quality, but they always have a twinkle in their eye.

Be seeing you!
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8/10
McGoohan did it first
Sabrejetp1 November 2006
Warning: Spoilers
No 6 is an individual who's previous employment was highly classified and is now at odds with his conscience. THATS why he resigned.(in one old interview McGoohan describes No. 6 as being a former government scientist) What he knew was too valuable to the state so he couldn't be left to continue has a free man, he had to be kept a prisoner by his former employers in the interests of the state, a less generous nation that Britain might have killed him.. or maybe they just hope to win him back one day. Or at least that's how I think George Markstein thought the show was about, and that was fairly subversive for mid 60's TV.

McGoohan wanted to get more out of it, and he prototyped, as a TV show the kind of stories Philip K Dick was then writing and would eventually be successfully realised in stuff like the Truman Show, but he lost his way before he could write a proper finale. Nowadays on shows like 'Life on Mars' teams of writers and producers plot complex story lines that tease us and ultimately pay off.

The Prisoner is a cult because its great but never quite fulfils its promise. We keep watching just in case it'll work better next time.
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7/10
you had to be there...
A_Different_Drummer6 April 2014
Warning: Spoilers
I can't believe I just started a review with an excuse, with an apology, but that is the only way to explain this series. It was the 60s.(A smart reviewer would end the review after that simple 3-word sentence, but I can't, IMDb has minimums, and you don't mess with their rules.) The spy thing had more or less peaked by 67, but McGoohan's street cred was still amazingly high. Of all the spy guys, he was the only one that had insisted (Danger Man) that violence be kept to a minimum and guile to a maximum; he was the only one to have achieved such a strong international demand that a UK production actually was being repackaged (with a new name and theme song) for American audiences (Avengers notwithstanding, save that for another review!); and he even snagged a middling role in an international movie entirely on the basis of his spy "persona" -- ICE STATION ZEBRA. Well, against this backdrop of success (and, I repeat, IT WAS THE 60s!) Patrick pulled a "Tom Cruise" and put together his own production, based on on his own idea, and starring (surprise!) himself. It was quite successful. Never mind that no one completely understood whether the story was to be taken literally or allegorically - the last episode ended with the head of the village revealed to be a simian! -- and never mind that it was PAINFULLY obvious from day #1 that he was never going to escape (otherwise, what is the point?), the series snagged both a mainstream AND a cult following (wow) and remains both popular and enigmatic to this day. Now, if you have read my other reviews, you know that this is the point in the review where I usually explain why a series like this was so oddly successful, in spite of the terminal gloominess, the repetitive plot arcs, and the fact that even McGoohan's charisma has its limits...? Three 3 word answer? It was the 60s.
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Pure Genius
thecomposer21 February 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Even today, this series rings profound truths. This show was and still IS well ahead of it's time. When Patrick said in the first episode "Who runs this place?....you never wondered?....you never tried to find out?" brought out instant goose-bumps and wide eyes. The connotation of us being on an island called EARTH...and really, a prisoner in it.....and asking those questions, hit me hard. Are we all not prisoners put here without our consent? I can't believe the lack of insight the studio had to cancel this series and letting some fodder go on for years. I can watch the episodes over and over and always enjoy them. McGoohan's performances are intimidating and brilliant and I salute him on a mountain top for creating this masterpiece! With only 6 episodes left of 17 to watch, my greatest fear is ..what then? To me this is exactly the stuff legends are made of, and Patrick and the crew have made a deep impression on me and likely anyone who watches. Be seeing you.
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5/10
Be seeing you, indeed
mfisher4524 November 2008
Warning: Spoilers
The Cold War years of the 1960s were the "golden age" of James Bond and the espionage genre. On TV, there was "The Man From U.N.C.L.E.," "Mission: Impossible," even "Get Smart" and some other shows best forgotten, such as "Mr. Terrific" and "Captain Nice." I first saw Patrick McGoohan when he played the dour, grim spy John Drake in "Secret Agent," a slightly modified version of "Danger Man" from Lew Grade's ITC. Sometime in the late 1960s, we saw McGoohan again---even grimmer and more dour, if possible---in a bizarre British "spy" series: "The Prisoner," also from ITC.

We Americans didn't see the same show the Brits saw. In those days, a typical season ran 13 weeks. "The Prisoner" was 18 hours long (16 hour-long episodes and a final 2-parter). A run of "The Prisoner" would always omit several episodes. Neither did we see complete shows, because each episode's running time was longer than U.S. shows owing to shorter and less frequent commercial breaks in the UK, so the episodes that did air were trimmed. The entire series was broadcast in later years, most notably on commercial-free PBS stations in the early 1980s. Even then, we didn't see quite the same show: The British PAL broadcasting system, with its higher number of lines, has a sharper picture and cleaner colors than the U.S.'s NTSC system. With the advent of all-digital and high-def TV, this difference may disappear. But what about the show itself?

The plot: A high-ranking British secret agent, whose name is never revealed, barges into the agency offices. He is indignant. There is no audio, but he appears to be telling his superior why he is fed up or outraged before he slams a letter of resignation down on the desk. But no, he hasn't said why. He goes home and packs for a trip, presumably to get away from it all. However, he knows too much for his own good, and mysterious forces are at work: While packing, he is knocked out by gas. When he awakens, he finds himself a resident on an island inhabited by others like himself: They possess information that makes them too risky to allow to return to a normal life. What looks like a beautiful resort is actually an elaborate, Kafkaesque prison called simply "The Village." The inmates do not have names, only Numbers. The protagonist is Number 6. (We never meet Numbers 3, 4 or 5. I speculated that future Number 2s are brought in at Number 5 and advance to 4, 3 and then 2 as each successive Number 2 bites the dust from week to week.) Escape is nearly impossible. The administrator of The Village is Number 2. (The identity of Number 1 is revealed---after a fashion---only near the end of the final episode.) In every episode, Number 2 devises an intricate scheme to induce Number 6 to reveal why he resigned, and in every episode, he or she fails and is replaced with a new Number 2. Number 6 is The Village's most strong-willed, stiff-necked, recalcitrant inmate, foiling every episode's plot to get him to submit, outwitting his captors in every way except one: His every attempt at escape ultimately fails. Every episode's opening credits end with The Prisoner shouting defiantly at his warders: "I am not a number! I am a free man!"

This, of course, is the theme of the show. The Prisoner's reason for resigning, with which his captors are obsessed, is merely the "gimmick," or what Hitchcock liked to call The MacGuffin, i.e., a plot device that motivates the characters or advances the story, but the details of which are of little or no importance otherwise. Like the world of George Orwell's "1984," The Village was a vehicle for McGoohan's musings on the modern conflict between totalitarianism, soulless conformity and regimentation on one side and personal identity, freedom, democracy, and the uses of education, science, art and technology on the other. McGoohan succeeded in creating a watchable imaginary world, with Orwellian dialogue and a visual style slightly reminiscent of early Fellini, at the same time as the plots and plot devices were often sublimely silly verging on nonsensical. The main piece of silliness is that never once does The Prisoner say his own name. Nor does anyone else! There is even one episode where he manages to escape back to London (before being tricked back onto the island), and the script contortions that ensue so that none of the other character says his name either are truly ridiculous. In the 2-part final episode, Number 6's captors acknowledge that he has maintained his individuality despite all their attempts to wrest it from him, and grant him what he has sought from the beginning: To find out who is the true master of The Village; to meet Number 1. This episode abandons all pretense at realism and becomes an often nightmarish roller-coaster ride through a succession of images that leave the viewer wondering just what in the world is going on. In the end, "The Prisoner" lets the viewer down. McGoohan seems to have run out of ideas and could not figure out a way to end the series convincingly, so he resorted to surrealistic silliness and hoped that everyone would be so dazzled by it that they wouldn't turn off the TV at the end thinking, "Makes no sense at all."

Now that "The Prisoner" is available on DVD, I would recommend that if you're interested, you should watch it once just to see what all the fuss is about.
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9/10
Are you a number? Or a free man?
Artimidor Federkiel20 August 2013
This is the one. The show that everyone thought would be just another special agent series when it aired, and it wasn't. Far from that. The show with an extreme sixties look and feel, while at the same time injecting futuristic ideas, all around alternative, bizarre and psychedelic, even or especially when seen in the 21st century. Among its stars: a water filled balloon, named Rover, that substitutes for a special effect. This is the show that turned out to be labelled postmodern, broke its format and demanded from its viewers to think as individuals, not to be a number among numbers in the mass audience of mindless watchers out there. The show that forced its creator and lead actor to go into hiding after the final episode aired. A series that was way ahead of its time as they say and that still yields a thousand different interpretations in a thousand different people. This is the one. The cult show that is "The Prisoner".

Brainchild of Patrick McGoohan who was fed up with doing just another typical agent show and even rejected the Bond role, opted to go for something fresh, but used the metier he was already familiar with to convey his ideas. As in real life McGoohan's alter ego resigns from being an agent, only to find himself trapped in 'The Village', referred to only as No. 6. He is kept in check by mysterious people headed by a constantly changing No. 2 who want 'information'. Possibly there's an even more enigmatic No. 1 pulling the strings in the background... It's a great premise, and that's just the beginning. Shot on location at the unique Welsh seaside resort of Portmeirion the choice of the place alone already mixes a-historical beauty with sharp irony when seen in conjunction with the background story. Also "The Prisoner" doesn't shun from heading in entirely different directions episode by episode: it's action packed and cool, however substantial, chock-full with philosophical issues and features mostly brilliant allegorical storytelling ranging from psychological warfare, brainwashing, reality games, even a fairy tale and a western are in the mix and surrealism at its absurdest but most effective. It should be pointed out that the series is groundbreaking in many respects and yet far from perfect. That however is part of its appeal. What initially was planned only as a series with a handful of episodes by McGoohan and producer Markstein was blown up to 17 very uneven segments. A curse and a blessing indeed, as there are parts in it that work like a charm and others that appear tedious and strained. But all in all "The Prisoner" is the perfect thinking man's buffet to pick from and start discussions, with the episodes serving as the springboard. Most of all the series offers insight in what stands between man and his freedom, it even finally provides a definitive answer to the always present question: "Who is number 1?" If you don't know yet, or need a reminder: Be seeing you - in the village!
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10/10
Stranger in a stranger land...
poe42629 July 2014
Warning: Spoilers
In ARRIVAL, the initial episode of THE PRISONER (Patrick McGoohan's brilliant teleseries), our hero learns when he hands in his resignation that there's no such thing in his profession (he's apparently a secret agent). He's gassed unconscious and later wakes to find himself a prisoner in The Village, an idyllic NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUResque little hamlet. When he walks into a small shop looking for a map, the proprietor peers at him through fingers that form a "lens" and says, "Be seeing you." The implication is clear: The Prisoner is under constant surveillance. His designation turns out to be "Number Six." He meets Number Two, who informs him that (like the members of the current U.$. $urveillance $tate), "One likes to know Everything." Six explodes: "I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered! My life is my own!" To which Two calmly responds, "Is it?" During a tour of The Village, Six sees another man trying to escape; the man is chased (and eventually overpowered) by a large white balloon ("Rover," the surreal guard dog of The Village- and one of the greatest Fantasy constructs ever conceived). When a new Number Two arrives, Six tells him: "I'm on OUR side." Two refers to Six AS "Six." "I am not a number," he counters: "I am a person." "Six of one, half a dozen of another," the New Two grins. THE PRISONER remains one of the high water marks in televised Science Fiction/Fantasy. If only one in a hundred were THIS good...
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Fall Out!
philkessell11 June 2005
It really does beggar belief to think that the channel that originally commissioned this is now showing 'Celebrity Love Island'. This says more about the intellectually vapid times we live in than almost anything else around. I wish I had been an adult in 1967, so I could have explored what else was out there from that time.

Whole books have been written about this so I'll keep it brief. You can watch this as entertainment; it WILL keep your interest if you have anything like a brain. It will not if you find anything beyond 'Coronation Street' too taxing/boring/challenging etc.

You can watch it as allegory; this will be particularly effective if you are at heart a non conformist who can see the incremental suppression of the individual being undertaken by stealth all around us with no one doing anything about it (identity cards, CCTV everywhere, the rabid tabloid press the contemporary equivalent of the 'Tally Ho', the blind, unknowing, uncaring, pliable mass of 'villagers' watching Big Brother) etc. The ideas expressed here would have seemed fanciful in 1967. The worrying thing is that things can only get worse.

Or you can just see it as pioneering TV; something different from people prepared to push the envelope.

I see it as all three. Be seeing you.
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