The Prisoner is a 17-episode British television series first broadcast in the United Kingdom from 29 September 1967 to 1 February 1968. The premiere was 29 September 1967 on ATV Midlands and the last episode first aired on 1 February 1968 on Scottish Television. The world broadcast premiere was on the CTV Television Network in Canada on 5 September 1967. 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 coastal village resort where his captors try to find out why he abruptly resigned from his job. Although sold as a thriller in the mould of the previous series starring McGoohan, Danger Man (1960–68), 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 TV miniseries remake aired on the U.S. cable channel AMC 15–17 November 2009. In 2009, Christopher Nolan was widely reported to be considering a film version.
The series follows an unnamed British agent who abruptly resigns his job, apparently preparing to go on a holiday. While packing his luggage, he is rendered unconscious by knockout gas in his apartment. When he wakes, he 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 balloon-like device called Rover that recaptures - or kills - 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. They do not use names but instead are assigned numbers, which give no clue as to any person's status (prisoner or warder). Potential escapees therefore have no idea who they can and cannot trust. The protagonist is assigned Number Six, but refuses the pretence of his new identity.
Number Six is monitored heavily by Number Two, the Village administrator acting as an agent for an unseen "Number One". A variety of techniques are used by Number Two to try to extract information from Number Six, including hallucinogenic drug experiences, identity theft, mind control, dream manipulation, and various forms of social indoctrination. All of these are employed not only to find out about why Number Six resigned as an agent but to extract other dangerous information he gained as a spy. The position of Number Two is filled in on a rotating basis; in some cases, part of a larger plan to confuse Number Six, while other times as a result of failure in interrogating Number Six.
Number Six, distrusting of anyone involved with the Village, refuses to co-operate or provide answers. Alone, he struggles with multiple goals: determining for which side the Village works, remaining defiant to its imposed authority, concocting his own plans for escape, learning all he can about the Village, and subverting its operation. His schemes lead to the dismissal of the incumbent Number Two on two occasions, despite their failure to facilitate his escape. By the end of the series the administration, becoming desperate for Number Six's knowledge and fearful of his growing influence in the Village, takes drastic measures that threaten the lives of Number Six, Number Two, and the rest of the Village. A major theme of the show is individualism versus collectivism.
According to author James Follett, a protégé of Prisoner co-creator George Markstein, Markstein had mapped out an explanation for the Village. In George Markstein's mind, a young John Drake, the lead character in the television series Danger Man, had once submitted a proposal for how to deal with retired secret agents who posed a security risk. Drake's idea was to create a comfortable retirement centre where former agents could live out their final years, enduring firm but unintrusive surveillance.
Years later, Drake discovered that his idea had been put into practice, and not as a benign means of retirement, but as an interrogation centre and a prison camp. Outraged, Drake staged his own resignation, knowing he would be brought to the Village. He hoped to learn everything he could of how his idea had been implemented, and find a way to destroy it. However, due to the range of nationalities and agents present in the Village, Drake realised he was not sure whose Village he was in – the one brought about by his own people, or by the other side. Drake's conception of the Village would have been the foundation of declaring him to be 'Number One.' However, Markstein's falling out with McGoohan resulted in Markstein's departure, and his story arc was discarded.
According to Markstein: " Well, 'Who is No.6?" is no mystery - he was a secret agent called Drake who quit." "The Prisoner was going to leave the Village and he was going to have adventures in many parts of the world, but ultimately he would always be a prisoner. By that I don't mean he would always go back to the Village. He would always be a prisoner of his circumstances, his situation, his secret, his background… and 'they' would always be there to ensure that his captivity continues."
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 "The Alternate Version of 'The Chimes of Big Ben'", a documentary, and a "best of" retrospective. In the 1990s the first DVD release of the series occurred in North America/Region 1, with A&E Home Video releasing the series in four-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 A&E issue included "The Alternate Version of 'The Chimes of Big Ben'" and the MPI-produced documentary (but not the redundant "best of" retrospective) among its limited special features.
Numerous editions of The Prisoner were, meanwhile, released in the UK/Region 2 by companies such as Carlton. These editions differed from the Region 1 release in their special features, including one release that included a recently discovered alternative version of "Arrival".
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 were 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 alternative edit of "Arrival" (in high definition), as well as "The Alternate Version of 'The 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.
Season One Episodes
|1.02||The Chimes of Big Ben|
|1.03||A. B. and C.|
|1.04||Free for All|
|1.05||The Schizoid Man|
|1.07||Many Happy Returns|
|1.08||Dance of the Dead|
|1.10||Hammer into Anvil|
|1.11||It's Your Funeral|
|1.12||A Change of Mind|
|1.13||Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling|
|1.14||Living in Harmony|
|1.15||The Girl Who Was Death|
|1.16||Once Upon A Time|