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The Prisoner

When The Prisoner first aired, I was 10 years old. It scared the shit out of me! The floating balls, the quaint European village that's actually a prison, the various forms of psychological torture, and the over-all surreality was "all too much for me to take." But, I couldn't stop watching it! It haunted the rest of my childhood, as I would often remember certain scenes and dialog. I started asking people if they remembered the show and what it had meant to them. Most people knew or cared little about it, beyond: "that was REALLY weird" and "what WAS that all about?" It wasn't until 1981 that I finally saw the entire series again. I couldn't believe how powerful it was and how well it had held up over time. Even the mod dress (which is perhaps the most dated thing in the show) was enjoying a comeback. Here in 1991, the show is still fresh and relevant (and readily available for rental or purchase on videocassette.)

Here is a list of all 17 episodes. I have put them in the order in which they were supposed to have been released. In Britain, they appeared in a slightly different order due to problems with shooting. When the series was first proposed, McGoohan wanted to do only 7 episodes. They made him agree to 26 and then cut him down to 17. Episodes that have an asterisk in front of them are considered by McGoohan to be the seven "important" ones:

1) Arrival*
A secret agent who resigns is kidnapped and taken to a remote village. The village is run by someone called Number 2. Everyone is stripped of their name and given a number. "You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave." Why?

2) The Chimes of Big Ben*
Number 6 plans and executes a daring escape only to discover that he had, in fact, done exactly what the wardens wanted him to do. The escape was all a fabrication.

3) A.B. & C.
Scientists in the village develop a drug that allows them to "enter" and manipulate people's dreams. They try it on Number 6 in an attempt to discover why he resigned.

4) Free For All*
Number 2 resigns and "elections" are held for the new Number 2. Number 6 is put in the race. He is told that if elected "Number 1 will no longer be a mystery to you." A political morality plan about the meaninglessness of electoral politics in the media age.

5) Schizoid Man
Using drugs, behavioral reinforcement, and Pavlovian techniques, the warders try to confuse all of Number 6's character traits. Then they create a double (Number 12) who claims to be Number 6 while insisting that Number 6 is actually an agent (Number 12) sent to break the real Number 6 (Number 12! Whew). This deliciously confusing episode is a vicious attack on Skinnerian Behaviorism.

6) The General
An attack on speed learning and the idea that facts are more important than wisdom and imagination. Number 6 destroys the computer (The General) by asking it one question "Why?" Kind of silly and dated, but fun.

7) Many Happy Returns
Number 6 wakes up to find that the village is deserted. He builds a raft and sets out to sea. He is rescued and taken back to London where he finds his old superiors and tells them about his captivity. He and a pilot take off in an attempt to locate the village. When they find it, the pilot ejects him, and he is back where he started.

8) Dance of the Dead*
An exceptional and complex episode. It's basically a surrealistic overture of the main themes of the show: justice, democracy, the structure of authority, conformity. Some people claim that this was supposed to be the second episode, but for some reason it got pushed deep into the broadcast order.

9) Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling
Number 6's mind is placed in someone else's body.

10) It's Your Funeral
A rather weak episode concerning the issue of if/when violence should be used in revolt.

11) Checkmate*
The classic Prisoner episode with the human chess game.

12) Living in Harmony
A send up of spaghetti westerns.

13) A Change of Mind
Concerns issues of conformity, group think, and lobotomization and aversive therapies.

14) Hammer into Anvil
A power war of will between Number 6 and Number 2. Number 6 breaks him in the end.

15) The Girl Who Was Death
A total throw away episode.

16) Once Upon a Time*
Number 2 and Number 6 enter "Degree Absolute." The two of them are locked in a room for seven days. An intense interrogation of Number 6 ensues using psychological and regressive techniques. It's a battle of wills to the death.

17) Fall Out*
Due to his victory over Number 2 in the previous episode, Number 6 is offered the choice to leave the village or to lead it. He, the Butler, the old Number 2, and the hippy, start a revolt as all hell breaks loose. Number 6 confronts Number 1, unmasks him, only to find himself staring back. He and his comrades escape, or think they do. The closing shot shows the front door of his house closing automatically as the doors in the village do. Has he escaped or is it just another level of the game?

Also available on videocassette is an alternate version of The Chimes of Big Ben. It has different theme music and a visual "explanation" of the penny-farthing bicycle logo.

An excellent source of information on The Prisoner is Matthew White and Jaffer Ali's The Official Prisoner Companion. It contains a detailed episode guide, lots of gossip and insider talk, a fairly intelligent discussion of the deeper meanings of the show, and even excerpts from the shooting scripts. There are also several novels that take place in the world of The Prisoner. Thomas Disch's The Prisoner (New English Library) is by far the best. There is also Hank Stine's A Day in the Life (New English Library) and David McDaniel's Who is Number Two? (New English Library) The Prisoner fan club Six of One has published a novel called Think Tank (Escape Publications) by Roger Langley which I have never seen. DC Comics has a horrible graphic novel by Dean Motter and Mark Askwith which should be avoided at all costs.

(G. Branwyn)


The Prisoner on video
MPI Home Video
15825 Rob Roy Dr.
Oak Forest, IL 60452

The Official Prisoner Companion
Matthew White and Jaffer Ali
Warner Books, 1988.

Six of One
PO Box 172
Hatfield, PA 19440

Here is the TEXT POPUP for Prisoner...

Feel free.
-Number Two

Number 2: Why did you resign?
Number 6: Why did you accept?
Number 2: You resigned.
Number 6: I DON'T accept.
Number 2: You accepted before you resigned.
Number 6: I rejected.
Number 2: Who?
Number 6: You.
Number 2: Why me?
Number 6: You're big.

(dialog in the Embryo Room as time runs out for Number 2)

Questions and Answer's from ITC's press information booklet about The Prisoner:

Q: What does The Village represent?
A: The Village could be the real and unconscious world of civilization today. We are all prisoners without bars.

Q: What do the numbers - Number 6, Number 2, and so on - symbolize?
A: We live in a dehumanizing society, where the individuality of man is being submerged, and the computerization of man has taken over.

Q: The ever-present eye? Is the world and its people being watched just like the inhabitants of The Village?
A: Not yet. Not completely. Not everyone. But the danger is omnipresent.

Q: Is there no trust in The Village?
A: What has happened to trust among nations?

Q: Can science interpose into an individual's dreams?
A: Number Six says no. This spirit of the individual is supreme. The possibility is haunting, though. How many Number Sixes are there in the world?

Q: Is the whole world a flim-flam for "happiness"?
A: To all the inhabitants of The Village it is. Answer for yourself the compromises you make for "happiness."

Q: Kid me not. Votes are important. Democracy is not a sham. What are McGoohan's beliefs?
A: We do not query McGoohan, but in The Village elections are a platitudinous sham, full of empty, cynical promises.

Q: Where are passion, love, kisses, in The Village?
A: In the Village there are pleasantries, the only level of passion automatons are capable of.

Q: What happens to fun at The Village?
A: There is plenty of fun at The Village, all manufactured.

Q: Is there anything in existence like the balloon - Rover?
A: Only in the mind's eye.

Q: What is the meaning of Rover?
A: Rover symbolizes repression and the guardianship of corrupt authority, which, when corruption is finally overcome, disintegrates.

Q: Does Number Six finally become Number One? Is this the be-all and end-all of his rebellion?
A: In the last episode, "Fall Out," he assumes the seat of Number One, only to give it up voluntarily. The Prisoner may have a yen to be the warden, but in his saner moments he would rather not live in a prison environment.

Q: What is the meaning of the "shouting down" of McGoohan by the hooded assembly in the last episode?
A: The inability of the ordinary man to make his voice heard - to put forward his viewpoint to the world.

Q: What about the theme of "love, love, love" in the last episode, amidst all that terror?
A: This is a protest against the paradoxes that exist in modern civilization. Man preaching love, love, love while wars and hate persist.

Q: Who is really that charming "hippy" character?
A: He symbolizes youth in rebellion against the Establishment. The young man is seen trying to thumb a lift first in one direction and then in another on a highway. He represents youth not knowing or caring in which direction it goes.

Q: What about the penny-farthing symbol?
A: That represents the slowness of progress in our modern civilization.

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© 1998 The Computer Lab
Gareth Branwyn -

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