Psychedelic, surreal, insane. Compelling and intriguing. The Prisoner was one of the most unique, innovative and influential television series of all time. An icon of Sci-Fi.
The series was the brainchild of star Patrick McGoohan who, along with co-creator George Markstein, wanted to explore spy fiction along with elements of science fiction, allegory and psychological drama.
McGoohan’s previous show, Danger Man, about a dashing British spy, was a huge international success. After the show ended he was offered the role of James Bond but turned it down choosing instead to create a very particular vision.
On the surface the show is straightforward. A British spy abruptly resigns and is promptly knocked unconscious by a strange gas and when he wakes he finds himself incarcerated in a coastal village. Every episode finds the prisoner trying to find out who is in control while simultaneously attempting to escape. But that’s where the show ceases to be straightforward.
The village is populated by hundreds of multi-international people all assigned numbers and living a seemingly tranquil life. McGoohan’s character, Number Six, is continuously placed in strange and increasingly weird situations where various techniques are used to extract information from him. Mind control, hallucinations, identity theft, dream manipulation and many other bizarre psychological torture are used. All the while Six attempts to keep his sanity. Oh and there is a giant floating ball that can kill you.
The series is deliberately obscure and ambiguous. There are no definable beginnings or endings, we are never told who is in charge or why they are really doing what they are doing. Nothing is telegraphed, everything is metaphor and allegory you need to interpret for yourself what the series means. It makes you think.
It is beautiful to look at. It is an action adventure story. It is paranoid and claustrophobic. It is one of the true unique visions ever shown on television.
I first saw The Prisoner on PBS in the late 70s/early 80s when it was shown in a “British Sci-Fi Block” late night along with Doctor Who and Blake’s 7. Of the three The Prisoner had a different vibe to it. As a kid I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. It was weird. It was mesmerizing. It stuck with you.
And that’s why I want to revisit it. It’s been more than 50 years since the show originally aired and more than a decade since I sat down to watch an episode. Does the show still have the impact that it did when I first saw it? Does it still have that beautiful weirdness I remember? We want information.
So, join me here for this bi-weekly experience and let’s find out.
Be seeing you.