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The Prisoner

Updated on September 5, 2013

I AM NOT A NUMBER, I AM A FREE MAN! .... you are number 6.....

THE PRISONER was a television series that ran in Britain from 1967 to 1968.  Most of the series was created, written and directed by Irish actor Patrick McGoohan. This was one of the first television shows to become a cult classic. Some people hated it because they couldn't understand it and a lot more people loved it for that exact reason.

Cable channel AMC produced a miniseries/remake, filmed in Namibia, Africa, which starred Jim Caviezel and Sir Ian McKellan. The show was broadcast in 2009, and can now be watched on DVD. it makes quite a few changes from the original, but keeps a lot of the relevant paranoia and updates it for the modern age.

This lens will let you explore the history of the Prisoner and details some of the more popular facts and trivia.

How I Found THE PRISONER

It was 1991 and the tv show TWIN PEAKS had just ended. I was working swing shift, doing light-industrial assembly at my second post-college job. I was on the line one night, lamenting to one of my co-workers how frustrating I'd found the end of the Twin Peaks series.

"Oh man," my friend Dan said, "you've never watched THE PRISONER...." He told me it was a show from the UK and that the San Jose PBS station KTEH was about to run the entire series again. He said I'd really "get off" on the weirdness and the psychological angles. The man knew how to recommend something so that it sounded very appealing to me.

I went home that night and looked at the TV schedule. Due to my swing shift employment, this was going to have to be a VCR-assisted effort. And for the next few months, I'd set a tape every Tuesday before going to work, and then race home that night to watch the next episode. I felt hooked just after watching "Arrival" the very first episode. I had terrible trouble sleeping on a swing shift schedule, and this show sure wasn't helping, but I didn't care. Not one bit.

Each Wednesday Dan and I would try to get some time on the same production line next to each other so we could talk about the show, or he'd find me during breaks. I could tell he was enjoying watching me get pulled into the show. I have to admit, still to this day, it was one of the best TV recommendations I've ever been given.

Finally, one Tuesday he said to me "It's the last episode tonight, huh?" "Yeah..." I answered. He just smiled back at me.

He found me shortly after we came on shift that following day. "Well," he asked, "how did you like THAT ending?" I admitted that I'd loved it, as much as it had confused me. And I felt a lot better about how Twin Peaks had ended too. And I was about to run the entire thing over again now that I had it all down on tape.

Guides to THE PRISONER

Here are some books that gather production info and explore the creation and fandom of the series. This is one of those tv shows where it can really be of benefit to have a guidebook or two to help puzzle things out.

The Official Prisoner Companion
The Official Prisoner Companion

This is the book that I have in my collection. It's an episode guide with some other reference and production notes.

 

The Premise of THE PRISONER

The opening credit sequence at the start of each episode sets up the basic premise of THE PRISONER. We see a man, resigning from his job, which appears to be for the government. He goes home to his house, he's obviously packing to leave. We see gas coming into the house from under the door and he collapses, unconscious. When he awakes he is in the Village where he is informed he is number 6.

And really, that's it for the background. For the entirety of the 17 episodes, we never learn this man's name. We never learn just what his work was about, or what it is that he knows that made his superiors send him here instead of letting him resign. In fact, for the entire run of the show, Number 6 tries to learn who contols the Village and how to escape, while those who do run the Village try to learn what it is that Number 6 really knows.

The closest we get to seeing who is "in charge" is a succession of people in the role of Number 2. Each one winds up engaging in a psychological battle of wills with Number 6. As the episodes progress, the methods used on Nubmer 6 escalate and border on torture, but he always prevails.

As far as Number 6's physical attempts to escape go, he's always thwarted a large white ball controlled by the warders that can travel over land or water. The residents of the Village refer to this device as "Rover." Although Rover kills a few others who attempt to escape, Number 6 is too important and he's always brought back unharmed.

Be Seeing You! - that phrase was the customary Village farewell saying

One of the most debated points of the series is the episode order. Everyone agrees that "Arrival" is the first episode, and that "Once Upon A Time" and "Fall Out" are the 16th and 17th ones. However, the original ITV viewing order and subsequent television showing have differed.

Patrick McGoohan originally envisioned the series as just a set of seven episodes and these are considered the most important by fans. They are (in his order) Arrival, Free For All, Dance of the Dead, Checkmate, Chimes of Big Ben, Once Upon A Time, and Fall Out.

You can find lists of suggested episode order on many of the fan sites listed under "Explore the World of THE PRISONER."

THE SIMPSONS Parody THE PRISONER

The TV show THE SIMPSONS has parodied THE PRISONER not once but twice.

In the episode, The Joy of Sect, Homer and the family join a religious group called the Movementarians. Only Marge is suspicious, and when she escapes the compound, she is chased by a large white ball that comes up out of the river, much as Rover in the Village came up out of the ocean.

In the episode The Computer Wore Menace Shoes Homer sets up a web page and runs stories of town gossip that he's made up. When his revelation that flu shots encourage holiday spending turn out to be true, he's gassed and brought to "the island" which is a replica of the Village. He manages to escape by popping Rover, but once at home, the dog gasses the whole family and they all get sent to the island. Marge's comment is "Once you get used to the constant druggings, this place isn't so bad." The video clips below are from that episode, and feature guest star Patrick McGoohan providing the voice for none other than Number 6.

The Prisoner DVD Megaset - explore the entire series

The Prisoner: The Complete Series (40th Anniversary Collector's Edition)
The Prisoner: The Complete Series (40th Anniversary Collector's Edition)

With the megaset, you can watch in whichever episode order is your preferred favorite! Having the entire series on DVD really allows for a complete exploration of the show.

 

The New Number Two

One of the main questions that Number Six has about the Village is "who is Number One?" He doesn't get an answer to his question until the final episode.

The person he most puts this question to most often, and who is in charge of the Village, is Number Two. This character changed from week to week, providing a new foil for Number Six regularly. Each Number Two had their own way of trying to crack Number Six. Some play to his hopes and then dash them. Some play psychological cat and mouse. In the end, Number Six manages to endure or outwit them all.

The various actors who portrayed Number 2 are listed below along with the episode titles. (in original US broadcast order)

1. Guy Doleman - Arrival

2. Leo McKern - The Chimes of Big Ben

3. Colin Gordon - A. B. and C.

4. Eric Portman - Free For All

5. Anton Rodgers - Schizoid Man

6. Colin Gordon - The General

7. Georgina Cookson - Many Happy Returns

8. Mary Morris - Dance of the Dead

9. Clifford Evans - Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling

10. Derren Nesbitt and Andre Van Gysegham - It's Your Funeral

11. Peter Wyngarde - Checkmate

12. David Bauer - Living In Harmony

13. John Sharpe - A Change of Mind

14. Patrick Cargill - Hammer Into Anvil

15. Kenneth Griffith - The Girl Who Was Death

16. Leo McKern - Once Upon A Time

17. Leo McKern - Fall Out

SHATTERED VISAGE - The Prisoner "Sequel" - a graphic novel continuation of the tv series

DC Comics put forth a curious trio of issues that had a female government agent stranded in the Village, obviously many years after it's abandonment. What happened to #2 and #6? What was the purpose of the Village? Did this woman just get lost and find the Village by concidence, or was she sent there on purpose as she was about to retire from a sensitive government job?

The Prisoner: Shattered Visage
The Prisoner: Shattered Visage

I found this story and exploration very interesting, although I will say, it raised as many questions as it answered. It fleshes out some of the threads left dangling at the end of the last episode of the tv show, but still remains as elusive and mysterious.

This is the bound edition of all the comics.

 

Your Village

Your Village
Your Village

Life In The Village

The day to day routine in the Village had some specifics and peculiarities to it. All telephone and taxi service was "local" only. Residents were encouraged to be social, with strong individual tendencies frowned upon. Those living in the Village had a variety of activities and amusements with which to pass the time.

  • Art Show - In "The Chimes of Big Ben" the Village is having an art show with many residents participating. Interestingly, every single one of them except Number Six makes some piece of art that has Number Two (Leo McKern) as the subject matter.

  • Chess - There are a lot of residents who like to play chess in the Village. In addition to the coventional board game version, the Villagers also play chess on a field in the town square where humans take on the various roles of the chess pieces. The episode "Checkmate" not only takes its name from the game of chess, but the human-sized version features prominently.

  • Kosho - this is a very bizarre game/sport/martial art unique to the Village. Two opponents are on trampolines on either side of a tank of water in a narrow space and they attempt to knock each other into the water. It is seen in the episodes "It's Your Funeral" and "Hammer Into Anvil."

  • Masquerade Ball - In the episode "Dance of the Dead" the Village has a masquerade ball, which they call a "carnival." Number Six wear a simple tuxedo, and winds up looking exactly like the lead character from Patrick McGoohan's previous tv show, SECRET AGENT. Number Two, who is a woman in this episode, dresses like Peter Pan. The show script notes say that if a man had been cast as Number Two for this show, his costume was to have been Jack The Ripper.

The Ball Chair of #2

This is the type of chair that #2 has in the Village control room at his desk.

Ball Chair by Eero Aarnio 1966
Ball Chair by Eero Aarnio 1966

Is your chair comfortable, number 2? The classic ball chair from the tv show is still available!

 

THE PRISONER Videos

Interviews with series writer/director/actor Patrick McGoohan, clips from the show and film taken in Portmeirion, Wales. See the Village in Second Life!

Experience The Village

Want to experience the Village? Take a real or virtual journey as you wish.

THE PRISONER Miniseries

After a lot of on-again/off-again reports, the remake of the Prisoner is underway. It will take the form of a miniseries and is currently in production in Namibia. (you know, that country where Angelina Jolie hid to have her first baby with Brad Pitt)

Number Two will be played by Sir Ian McKellan.

Number Six will be played by Jim Caviezel

Be seeing you!

So, do you love THE PRISONER? Hate it? Just confused as all heck?

Messages from the Village

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    • profile image

      cloverlettings 8 years ago

      Great site. Like the simpson Parody, nice touch.

    • profile image

      inkedskin 8 years ago

      I can't wait for the remake.

    • FriendsTreasure1 profile image

      TwoFriendsTreasures 8 years ago from S.E. Sussex County, Delaware

      Great lens on one of mine all favorite shows - The Prisoner - been a fan since it aired in the US - in fact just watched two episodes tonight on DVD. Keep your eye on The Butler!

    • Elares profile image

      Elares 5 years ago

      Loved The Prisoner!! We just re-bought on Blu-Ray. Fantastic series!

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