The Prisoner (series) * George Markstein & Patrick McGoohan

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‘Where am I?’ – ‘In the village.’
‘What do you want?’ – ‘We want information.’
‘Whose side are you on?’ – ‘That would be telling.’
‘We want information. Information, information’
‘You won’t get it!’
‘By hook or by crook, we will’
‘Who are you?’ – ‘I’m the new Number Two.’
‘Who is Number One?’ – ‘You are Number Six’
‘I am not a number. I am a free man!’
(manic laughter)

The Prisoner TV series are so old that you have to look for people to remember them. The series was first broadcasted in 1967 en 1968. In came in a flood of secret agent series such as The Saint or The Avengers and after Danger Man in which Patrick McGoohan also played a very special secret agent. Apparently McGoohan wanted something more, since he is not only one of the inventors, but also a director for the series (the last episode, the strangest of them all). I never really knew about the series even though it was smacked around my ears constantly. The “The Girl Who Was… Death” cd of Devil Doll is one big The Prisoner ode and this was even mentioned to me once. Colleagues mentioned it and eventually Collin Cleary wrote a lengthy review of the series in Tyr journal volume one of 2002 that I only got this year. That was the limit, I started to look around and bought myself the series. You can get a pretty expensive American box, an also pretty expensive UK box and the also pretty expensive separate five DVDs. The first four DVDs (I got the separate ones) contain four episodes each, the last DVD the last episode, an alternative version of another episode, a documentary and some other things. The other DVDs have some extras as well.
To the series then. Patrick McGoohan is a nameless secret agent who resigns. This is shown at the beginning of every episode. Because of his resignation, McGoohan is kidnapped and brought to “The Village”, a community seemly with the only purpose to get information from people (mostly secret agents who resigned). In The Village people have no names, but numbers. Number 2 is the outwardly leader of The Village and a new number 2 appears in (almost) every episode. The Prisoner is number 6. In every episode the leader of The Village comes up with a new way of trying to get “the priceless information” from number 6’s head. This mostly involves psychological experiments involving futuristic machines, drugs, hypnosis, etc. This results in marvelously weird situations in which number six always comes out as ‘the winner’. Therefor in the end, he is granted “the gift of individuality”.
In the series you can clearly see some critical views on modern society, democracy and science. Cleary has written magnificently about various elements in The Prisoner. There are -by the way- many strange elements to the series, such as a big white ball that comes out of the sea to punish people, the fact that you never get to know “who are the prisoners and who are the warders”, the strange machine in the control room, the eye-like cameras, weird characters, etc., etc. I think for these things the series have been seen as The X-Files and Twin Peaks of earlier decades. I don’t really agree with this, because The Prisoner is quite different from either series. The strange elements and sometimes the atmosphere (and characters) may remind especially of David Lynch’s masterpiece, but The Prisoner looks much more like James Bond to me than like Twin Peaks.
In any case. Even though the series are considerably older than myself, they are in colour and look “fresh as ever”. They are wonderfully shot, didn’t get oldfashioned and still highly enjoyable today. It is a series that make you think, “what do they mean”, “who is number 1”, “why doesn’t he just…”. They got a great sense of humour, recognisable situations, but also completely over-the-top scenes, philosophy and action. You can lend it to you parents who may watch it as James Bond, you can discuss it with your friends or on the many internet sites dedicated to The Prisoner. It seems that after the DVD release the popularity is raising a little and not without reason. The Prisoner is a magnificent, 17 times 50 minutes of TV. In my opinion maybe not as good as Twin Peaks, but probably a very agreeable second personal place in TV history. Buy and enjoy!

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