The Prisoner intertitle
|Format||Spy fiction, Science fiction, Allegory|
|Created by||Patrick McGoohan
|Theme music composer||Ron Grainer|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of series||1|
|No. of episodes||17 (List of episodes)|
|Executive producer(s)||Patrick McGoohan|
|Running time||approx. 48 minutes|
|Original run||29 September 1967 – 1 February 1968|
The Prisoner is a 17-episode British television series first broadcast in the UK from 29 September 1967 to 1 February 1968. Starring and co-created by Patrick McGoohan, it combined spy fiction with elements of science fiction, allegory, and psychological drama.
The series follows a British former secret agent who is held prisoner in a mysterious seaside village where his captors try to find out why he abruptly resigned from his job. Although sold as a thriller in the mould of McGoohan's previous series, Danger Man (called Secret Agent in its U.S. release), the show's combination of 1960s countercultural themes and surreal setting had a far-reaching effect on science fiction/fantasy programming, and on popular culture in general.
The show was co-created by Patrick McGoohan and George Markstein. Markstein, script editor of Danger Man, remembered that during World War II some people were incarcerated in a resort-like prison. A documented situation with some similarities was Operation Epsilon: German atomic scientists were detained post-war in relatively comfortable isolation in a mansion in England, while their conversations were recorded. Markstein suggested that the Danger Man lead, John Drake, could suddenly resign, and be kidnapped and sent to such a location. Markstein subsequently wrote a novel, The Cooler, in 1974 about such a prison for spies who had suffered mental breakdowns.
This idea was mirrored in an episode of Danger Man called "Colony Three" in which Drake infiltrates a spy school in Eastern Europe during the Cold War. The school, in the middle of nowhere, is set up to look like a normal English town in which pupils and instructors mix as in any other normal city, but the instructors are virtual prisoners with little hope of ever leaving.
McGoohan grafted Markstein's suggestion on to material he had been developing since working on the original version of Danger Man in 1960. An episode, set partly in Italy, simulated that locale by shooting at a Welsh resort. The architecturally distinctive appearance of the place struck McGoohan, who felt that something should be done with the place, something significant, surreal, and allegorical. He spent his spare time during the next several years working up a format. Shortly after filming the fourth series of Danger Man in colour had begun, McGoohan told Lew Grade of ITC Entertainment that he intended to quit. Grade asked McGoohan if he would work on anything else for him, so McGoohan pitched the series, which Grade agreed to in a handshake deal.
Grade bought the show and it was produced for broadcast on ITV and overseas. McGoohan wrote a forty-page show Bible, and wrote and directed several episodes, often under pseudonyms. The exteriors for the series were filmed primarily on the grounds of the Hotel Portmeirion in Penrhyndeudraeth, North Wales, which was the resort used in Danger Man that had partially inspired the program.
There is debate as to whether the series ended by mutual agreement or cancellation.
The opening and closing sequences of The Prisoner have become significantly iconic. Cited as "one of the great set-ups of genre drama", the opening sequence establishes the Orwellian and postmodern themes of the series; its high production values have led the opening sequence to be described as more like film than television.
The series follows an unnamed British agent who abruptly resigns his job, and then finds himself held captive in a mysterious seaside "village" that is isolated from the mainland by mountains and sea. The Village is further secured by numerous monitoring systems and security forces, including a mysterious device called Rover that captures those who attempt escape.
The agent encounters the Village's population, hundreds of people from all walks of life and cultures, all seeming to be tranquilly living out their lives. As they do not use names, they have each been assigned a number. The agent is told by the Village's chief administrator "Number Two", that he is "Number Six", and they are seeking "information" as to why he resigned; the task of doing this is carried by the ever-changing "Number Two", acting as supposed proxy to the unseen "Number One". Though, as the series unfolds, the audience learns that the Village authorities have other interests in Number Six aside from the knowledge he possesses. Interests that often spares Number Six from the more destructive information gathering techniques employed by the Village authorities upon other inmates.
Number Six, distrusting of anyone involved with the Village, refuses to co-operate or provide answers. Alone, he struggles with multiple goals: determine for which side the Village works, remain defiant to its imposed authority, concoct his own plans for escape, learn all he can about the Village and subvert its operation. Some of his schemes, while not resulting in an escape, do lead to the dismissal of an incumbent Number Two on two occasions. By the end of the series the administration, becoming desperate for Number Six's knowledge and fearful of his growing influence in the Village, take drastic measures that threaten the lives of Number Six, Number Two, and the rest of the Village.
The series features striking and often surreal storylines, and themes include hypnosis, hallucinogenic drug experiences, identity theft, mind control, dream manipulation, and various forms of social indoctrination. A major theme of the show is individualism versus collectivism.
Actors who played the same role in more than one episode are:
There have been several spin-offs of The Prisoner in other media, including novels, comicbooks, games and several attempts to make a movie.
A remake, in the works since 2005, premiered on November 15, 2009 as a miniseries on AMC, in cooperation with British broadcaster ITV. On 25 April 2008, ITV announced that a new series of The Prisoner would go into production, and in June 2008, that American actor James Caviezel will star in the role of Number 6, with Ian McKellen taking on the role of Number 2 in all six episodes. As of May 2009 the shooting for the new series was completed with significant plot changes from the original television storyline. The new Village is located in a desert tropical area instead of Wales.
The first home video editions of The Prisoner appeared in the 1980s. In North America, MPI Home Video released a series of 20 VHS tapes covering the series: one for each of the 17 episodes and three more containing an alternate version of "The Chimes of Big Ben", a documentary and a "best of" compilation respectively. In the 1990s the first DVD release of the series occurred in the UK, with A&E Home Video releasing the series in 4-episode sets and a full 10-disc "megabox" edition in the early 2000s; A&E subsequently reissued the megabox in a 40th anniversary edition in 2007.
The Prisoner: The Complete Series was released on Blu-ray Disc in the United Kingdom on 28 September 2009, following in North America on 27 October. The episodes have been restored by Network DVD to create new high-definition masters, of which standard-definition versions were used for The Prisoner: 40th Anniversary Special Edition DVD boxset released in 2007. The US edition, once again by A&E Home Video, includes the first North American release of an alternate edit of "Arrival" (in high definition), as well as the alternate "Chimes of Big Ben" from the earlier DVD/VHS releases (in standard definition due to the degraded source material) and assorted documentaries and behind-the-scenes footage.
The Prisoner is frequently referenced, parodied, and paid homage to in comics, movies and television shows.
The Prisoner was a controversial 1967 UK television series about a man who, after resigning from a government agency, is kidnapped from his London home and awakes in a strange Village, where he is known only by the name Number Six.
|A fragment. From Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell (1846) and reprinted in The Complete Poems of Emily Brontë (1908).|
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In the dungeon-crypts idly did I stray,
The captive raised her face; it was as soft and mild
And I am rough and rude, yet not more rough to see
When, if my spirit's sky was full of flashes warm,
'Yet I would lose no sting, would wish no torture less;
|This work published before January 1, 1923 is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.|