Part action series, part psychedelic fantasy, part allegory, Patrick McGoohan's masterpiece, The Prisoner
, was initially touted as a sequel to his earlier spy series, Danger Man
. But when it was first broadcast in 1967 TV audiences were puzzled; when the show was cancelled 17 episodes later due to declining viewing figures, no one was any the wiser. Shot in the picturesque surroundings of Portmeirion in North Wales, whose architectural fantasies provided an ideal backdrop for the show's surrealism, The Prisoner
has subsequently been recognised as one of the most innovative and thought-provoking series ever to be broadcast. Despite the primary-coloured flower-power look, the show's bold ideas haven't dated at all, proving that The Prisoner
was simply years ahead of its time.
McGoohan is Number 6, a man whose resignation from the secret service (seen every week in a montage title sequence--itself an impressionistic TV landmark) triggers his abduction and imprisonment in "The Village", a sort of open prison for spies where everyone has a number not a name. It's a pretty comfortable place and the other inhabitants all seem passively to accept the situation, allowing the Village authorities to control and limit their actions without protest (escape attempts are thwarted by mysterious bubble-shaped guards called "Rovers"). Number 6, however, is an indomitable freedom fighter whose refusal to accept the status quo is a metaphor for the individual ego struggling against the forces of social conformity: "I am not a number I am a free man" is the series' most resonant catchphrase.
The Village's allegorical microcosm of society is presided over by Number 2, played by a different actor every week, with whom Number 6 clashes repeatedly in a battle of wills as he continually questions the authority that has imprisoned him ("Who is Number 1?"). In turn the Kafkaesque authorities try to discover the reason why he resigned. His trenchant refusal to provide any reason at all is itself a powerful assertion of individual freedom. The series culminates in perhaps the most bizarre and psychedelic TV episode ever made, "Fallout", in which Number 6's revelatory discovery of the real power that keeps him imprisoned raises more questions than it answers. --Mark Walker
The collected legendary cult TV series starring Patrick McGoohan. The Prisoner centres on a British Intelligence agent (McGoohan) who is kidnapped from his London home and taken to a strange island village, where he's subjected to a brainwashing programme by an unseen foe. His new identity as 'Number Six' is confusing at first, giving way to anger and frustration along with a great desire to get away. Various agents of the mysterious regime that run this island, invariably called 'Number Two' seem intent on finding out why he resigned his covert post in the intelligence service. Number Six gamely attempts to resist the brainwashing of the omnipresent yet unseen 'Number One' whose voice booms at him from every corner of the village and whose eye appears to see all. Number Six's futile attempts at escape only intensify the sensory barrage (including hypnosis, hallucinogenic drug experiences, identity theft, mind control and dream manipulation) of Number One. The series was filmed on location in the rather spooky grounds of Clough Williams-Ellis' Italianate Hotel Portmeirion in North Wales.