TV - The Prisoner


There is no scientific formula to prove what is a cult show and what isn't, so we just hope you enjoy our look back at those TV shows we personally think of as cult TV. Steve Taylor-Bryant screams 'I AM NOT A NUMBER! I AM A FREE MAN' and as usual no one listens as he remembers The Prisoner...

Starting in 1967, The Prisoner was billed as a thriller, a spy-drama, much in keeping with the work that its star and creator Patrick McGoohan had previously done, like Secret Agent/Danger Man. But, in reality, this was a science fiction show. After suddenly resigning as a secret agent, our unnamed hero rushes home to pack for what we think will be a holiday. Whilst hastily throwing clothes in a suitcase, a knockout gas is sent through his keyhole and our hero finds himself awaking in a strange seaside village, held against his will by a mysterious administrator known only as Number 2, working on behalf of an unseen Number 1.

The village is cut off from the mainland by sea and mountains and, as everyone who is living in the village is assigned a number rather than a name, the prisoners and the administrators become undistinguishable from each other, leaving no one to trust for our protagonist. Escape is futile and strange white balls come from bubbles in the ocean to stop or kill escapee attempters. Known as Rovers, these plain and ordinary looking bubbles are quite horrific because of the fact they are so plain and harmless looking. Our agent is assigned Number 6 and is constantly pushed by the administration for information, which he refuses to give, and constantly attempts to flee the strange village, stating he is not a number he is a free man.

The concept of the show as it is written above is quite simple, however, when you delve deep into the story lines and performances, this show is way ahead of its time. It deals with social identity at a time when such information wasn't as accessible as it is in our modern technical age. It deals with education, conformity, dictatorship, drug abuse, individualism versus collectivism and espionage whilst remaining incredible fun. The village is a cross between a five star all-inclusive version of Butlins and a cult hangout, think Waco or the like, but in reality was the Welsh coastal resort of Portmeirion.

The actual production and story have long created arguments and controversy amongst fans, with McGoohan stating that Number 6 was not John Drake from Secret Agent/Danger Man but most of the crew, who had worked on both, stating it was in fact a continuation of the early sixties spy drama. McGoohan himself made regular statements that he was trying to base the character of Number 6 on someone else and, when he created the show, he had a different actor in mind to play the part before taking it himself, thereby proving it wasn't John Drake. Who really knows the true story? For my two-penneth? I watch The Prisoner as a standalone series and do not ever think about John Drake.

There are differences of opinions on the length of the show as well. McGoohan always said that 17 episodes was the plan, that he would have stretched the story too thin writing more than that. He also said that when the U.S networks asked for 36 episodes he refused. Television executives, however, tell a different tale and say that the show was suddenly cancelled due to viewing figures dropping off and that McGoohan only had 3 days to write the finale. Whoever is right and wrong really doesn’t matter anymore, 17 episodes of fantastic television is better than 36 episodes of mediocre television.

In 2009 The Prisoner made a brief comeback with Ian McKellen and Jim Caviezel but the show, whilst watchable, failed to produce more than 6 episodes and never returned.

This was sixties television at its very best and a must watch for those who love great TV or classic sci-fi story telling.

Image - IMDb.

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