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
All 17 episodes of the Kafka-esque cult 1960s sci-fi telefantasy. In 'Arrival', a government agent henceforth known as the Prisoner (Patrick McGoohan) is rendered unconscious in his London apartment after handing in his resignation. He awakes in the Village, a self-contained, remote society run by Number Two and the never-seen Number One. Upon being told that he is now Number Six, and that he will remain in the Village until the authorities have ascertained the reasons for his resignation, the Prisoner determines to escape. 'The Chimes of Big Ben' sees Number Six hatching a plan for escape with his new neighbour, Nadia, which seems to go very smoothly. But is all as it seems? In 'A. B. and C.', Number Two (Colin Gordon) uses a wonder drug to try and tap into Number Six's dreams, in an attempt to find out why he resigned from the British government. 'Free for All' sees Number Six persuaded to stand in the election for a new Number Two, but finds himself subjected to 'the Test' after angering the current incumbent (Eric Portman). In 'The Schizoid Man', Number Six awakes to discover that he is now Number Twelve - a new man with a new identity and appearance - and that a doppelganger of his original self has been brought to the Village to try and break him once and for all. 'The General' sees the Village community ordered to attend the 'Speedlearn' classes of the Professor, which can help them attain a University degree in three minutes. In 'Many Happy Returns', Number Six makes his escape after waking up to find the Village deserted. He makes his way back to his London home, only to find it occupied by a Mrs Butterworth who has a surprise planned for Six's birthday... 'Dance of the Dead' sees Number Six attempting to send an SOS out of the Village using a corpse he discovers on the beach. However, Number Two (Mary Morris) has been informed of Six's movements by Dutton, a treacherous former colleague. In 'Checkmate', Number Six is invited to take part in a human game of chess. However, his attempts to elicit information from the Queen are initially unsuccessful. 'Hammer into Anvil' sees Number Six determined to gain revenge on the latest Number Two (Patrick Cargill) after the latter drives an innocent girl to her death. Six sets about driving Two insane by pretending that he is a spy sent to keep Two under surveillance. In 'It's Your Funeral', Number Six finds his reputation smeared in an attempt to prevent him foiling an assassination plot. 'A Change of Mind' sees Six forced to turn to the Village doctor after being declared 'unmutual'; in an attempt to avoid drug and soundwave treatment, Six attempts to turn the tables on the latest Number Two. In 'Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darling', the Prisoner awakes in his London home to discover that his mind is now in the body of another man, and heads for Austria to find the only man who can reverse the process. 'Living in Harmony' is a western spoof which sees Number Six trapped in a town called 'Harmony'. The authorities want the Prisoner to become the new sheriff, but he is reluctant to accept the post due to the fact that he would be required to carry a gun. In 'The Girl Who Was Death', the Prisoner seems to be back in his old job as a secret agent, becoming involved with a mad scientist and his daughter, Death, in his attempt to track down the killer of Colonel Hawke-English. 'Once Upon a Time' sees Number Six subjected to 'Degree Absolute' interrogation by a returning Number Two (Leo McKern). In 'Fall Out', the Prisoner wins the right to his individuality after surviving 'Degree Absolute', and finally gets the chance to meet Number One. However, his escape from the Village is not what he expected. Also included are an alternative, American press review edition of 'The Chimes of Big Ben' and the American documentary 'The Prisoner Companion', which attempts to answer the many questions posed by the series.