The Prisoner

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The Prisoner

The Prisoner intertitle
Format Spy fiction, Science fiction, Allegory
Created by Patrick McGoohan
George Markstein
Starring Patrick McGoohan
Theme music composer Ron Grainer
Country of origin  United Kingdom
Language(s) English
No. of series 1
No. of episodes 17 (List of episodes)
Executive producer(s) Patrick McGoohan
Producer(s) David Tomblin
Running time approx. 48 minutes
Original channel ITV
Audio format Monaural
Original run 1 October 1967 – 4 February 1968

The original The Prisoner is a 17-episode, British television series which was first broadcast in the late 1960s.


[edit] Description

Starring and co-created by Patrick McGoohan, it combined spy fiction with elements of science fiction, allegory, and psychological drama.

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.

A remake, a TV miniseries from AMC, is slated to air in 2009[1] and Christopher Nolan has been widely reported to be considering a film version.[2]

[edit] Origins and production

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 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, "Colony Three",[3] Drake infiltrates a spy school in Eastern Europe during the Cold War. The school, in the middle of nowhere, is staffed by instructors who are themselves virtual prisoners with little hope of ever leaving.[4]

McGoohan grafted this on to the material he had developed in the intervening years and pitched it to Lew Grade of ITC Entertainment.[5] Grade bought the show and it was produced for broadcast on ITV and overseas. McGoohan wrote a forty-page show Bible,[6] and wrote and directed several episodes, often under pseudonyms.[7] The exteriors for the series were filmed primarily on location "in the grounds of the Hotel Portmeirion, Penrhyndeudraeth, North Wales", according to the location credit in "Fall Out," the 17th and final episode.

The series was originally broadcast in London 1 October 1967 through 4 February 1968.[8][9] There is debate as to whether the series ended by mutual agreement or cancellation.[10]

[edit] Opening and closing sequences

The Opening and closing sequences of The Prisoner have become significantly iconic. Cited as "one of the great set-ups of genre drama,"[11] the opening sequence establishes the Orwellian and postmodern themes of the series;[12] its high production values have led the opening sequence to be described as more like film than television.[13]

[edit] Plot

The series follows a British agent who abruptly resigns his job and then finds himself captive in a mysterious seaside "village" whose leader tries to find out why he quit. Throughout the series, the unnamed prisoner, labelled "Number Six" by his captors, tries to escape while defying all attempts to break his will. He also tries to discover for which "side" his captors work and the identity of the never-seen "Number One", who presumably runs the Village. Number Six often thwarts the various individuals serving as the Village's chief administrator, "Number Two." As the series reaches its climax, Number Six's indomitable resistance and mounting blows against the administration threaten the viability of the Village itself, which forces its desperate warders to take drastic action. 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 is individualism versus collectivism.

[edit] Cast and characters

Actors who played the same role in more than one episode are:

[edit] Crew

[edit] In other media

There have been a number of spin-offs of The Prisoner in other media, including novels, comicbooks, games and several attempts to make a movie.

[edit] Documentaries

  • Six into One: The Prisoner File, 1984, a 45-minute docudrama presented by Channel 4 after the series rerun. With its central premise to establish a reason why Number 6 resigned, the presentation anchored around a new Number 2 communicating with staff (and Number 1). It reviewed scenes from Danger Man and The Prisoner, incorporated interviews with cast members (including McGoohan), and addressed the political environment giving rise to the series and McGoohan's heavy workload.
  • The Prisoner Video Companion, 1990, a 48-minute American production with clips, including a few from Danger Man, and voice-over narration discussing origins, interpretations, meaning, symbolism, etc., in a format modeled on the 1988 Warner book, The Official Prisoner Companion by Matthew White and Jaffer Ali.[14] It was released to DVD in the early 2000s as a bonus feature with A&E's release of The Prisoner series. MPI also issued The Best of The Prisoner, a video of series excerpts.
  • American public television station KTEH (San Jose, California), re-ran the series in the early 1990s accompanied by commentary from critic Scott Apel before and after each episode. Clips of some of Apel's commentaries may be found on YouTube.
  • Don't Knock Yourself Out, 2007, a feature-length documentary issued as part of Network's official 40th Anniversary DVD set, featured interviews with around 25 cast and crew members. The documentary received a separate DVD release in November 2007 accompanied by a featurette, Make Sure It Fits, regarding Eric Mival's music editing for the series.

[edit] Television remake

A remake, in the works since 2005,[15] is now slated for release in 2009 as a miniseries on AMC, in cooperation with British broadcaster ITV.[16][17][18] 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 Sir Ian McKellen taking on the role of Number 2 in all six episodes.[19][20][21]

[edit] Awards

The final episode, "Fall Out", received a Hugo Award nomination for Best Dramatic Presentation in 1969, but lost out to 2001: A Space Odyssey.

In 2002, the series won the Prometheus Hall of Fame Award.

In the May 30 – June 5 2004 issue of TV Guide magazine, The Prisoner was voted #7 of the 25 top cult shows ever.

In 2005, readers of SFX magazine awarded the series fifth place in a poll of fantasy television programmes.

A 2006 survey of leading rock and film stars by Uncut magazine ranking films, books, music or TV shows that changed the world, placed The Prisoner at #10, the highest for a TV show.

[edit] References to The Prisoner in popular culture

The Prisoner is frequently referenced, parodied, and homaged in comics, movies and television shows.

[edit] Footnotes and references

  1. ^ AMC Originals - The Prisoner
  2. ^ Child, Ben (Thursday 12 February 2009). "Nolan signs to take Inception from script to screen". The Guardian. 
  3. ^ First aired in 1964: Cult TV by Jon E. Lewis and Penny Stempel, published by Pavilion Books Limited
  4. ^ overview of Danger Man episode Colony Three
  5. ^ Cult TV (UK): "An Interview with Patrick McGoohan", conducted by Warner Troyer, March 1977: "I'd made 54 of those — there were thirty-nine half-hour episodes and forty-seven hour long segments of Danger Man and I thought that was an adequate amount. So I went to the gentleman, Lew Grade, who was the financier, and said that I'd like to cease making Secret Agent and do something else. So he didn't like that idea. He'd prefer that I'd gone on forever doing it. But anyway, I said I was going to quit." "So I prepared it and went in to see Lew Grade. I had photographs of the Village… So I talked for ten minutes and he stopped me and said, 'I don't understand one word you're talking about, but how much is it going to be?'… I told him how much and he says, 'When can you start?' I said 'Monday, on scripts.' And he says, 'The money'll be in your company's account on Monday morning.'"
  6. ^ Cult TV (UK): "An Interview with Patrick McGoohan", conducted by Warner Troyer, March 1977: It included a "history of the Village, the sort of telephones they used, the sewerage system, what they ate, the transport, the boundaries, a description of the Village, every aspect of it…"
  7. ^ Specifically, McGoohan wrote "Free for All" as Paddy Fitz (Paddy being the Irish diminutive for Patrick and Fitzpatrick being his mother's maiden name) and directed "Many Happy Returns" and "A Change of Mind" as Joseph Serf. He wrote and directed the last two episodes — "Once Upon a Time" and "Fall Out" — and directed the aforementioned "Free for All" under his own name, though he had considered putting "Archibald Schwartz" on the script of "Once Upon a Time".
  8. ^ As noted in Matthew White and Jaffer Ali's 1988 The Official Prisoner Companion book, the first UK premiere was 29 September 1967 on ATV Midlands and the last aired on 4 February 1968.
  9. ^ The world broadcast premiere was on the CTV Television Network in Canada on 5 September 1967.Toronto Star, 5 September 1967, p. 22
  10. ^ In a 1977 interview McGoohan said: "I thought the concept of the thing would sustain for only seven, but then Lew Grade wanted to make his sale to CBS, I believe, and he said he couldn't make a deal unless he had more, and he wanted 26, and I couldn't conceive of 26 stories, because it would be spreading it very thin, but we did manage, over a weekend, with my writers, to cook up ten more outlines, and eventually we did 17, but it should be seven…" According to The Prisoner: The Official Companion to the Classic TV Series by Robert Fairclough, the series was indeed cancelled, forcing McGoohan to write the concluding episode, "Fall Out", in only a few days. In the 1977 interview McGoohan contradicts this: "…it got very close to the last episode and I hadn't written it yet. And I had to sit down this terrible day and write the last episode…"
  11. ^ Mike Patterson. "The Prisoner - the classic British TV series". 
  12. ^ Sardar, Ziauddin (1998). Postmodernism and the other: the new imperialism of Western culture. London: Pluto Press. pp. 1-3. ISBN 9780745307497.,M1. 
  13. ^ Cole, Tom (2009-01-15). "Patrick McGoohan, TV's 'Prisoner' Number Six : NPR". Retrieved on 2009-03-11. 
  14. ^ It was released in 1990 by MPI Home Video, then the licensed label for both/all three series in the USA. The copyright notice (the only credit) is ascribed to Maljack Productions, apparently the real company behind the name MPI. Jackson v. MPI Home Video
  15. ^ It was announced in late 2005 that Granada would revive the series for Sky1 in 2007. BBC News: Remake for cult show The Prisoner Christopher Eccleston was initially rumoured to be considered for the title role, and it was reported that the series would be titled Number Six instead of The Prisoner.
  16. ^ In December 2006, The Hollywood Reporter reported that the American cable TV channel AMC was co-producing The Prisoner with Sky1, and that it would run at least six to eight episodes, beginning in January 2008 (both in the UK and USA).ICv2 News — AMC Remaking 'The Prisoner'
  17. ^ In May 2007 it was reported that Sky One had pulled out of the re-make due to a disagreement with their AMC. In August 2007, Richard Woolfe, head of Sky One, stated: The Prisoner is not happening. It's a very quintessentially British drama and there were too many creative differences trying to share it with an American partner. I didn't want to be responsible for taking something that is quintessentially British and adapting it in a way that I didn't feel was reflective of the way people would remember it and the way people would want it to be. So we called time on that.Digital Spy: Q & A with Sky One head Richard Woolfe
  18. ^ In October 2007, British broadcaster ITV stepped in to replace Sky One as co-producer with AMC. ITV to step in and save Prisoner remake.
  19. ^ "Prisoner series set for remake". 2008-06-30. Retrieved on 2008-07-01. 
  20. ^ "Ian McKellan cast in The Prisoner". BBC. 2008-07-01. Retrieved on 2008-07-01. 
  21. ^ "The Prisoner: McKellen and Caviezel Signed for 2009 Mini-Series". TV Series 2008-07-02. Retrieved on 2008-07-02. 

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