Back in the 1960s a TV series started that created a sensation, nothing of the like had been seen before and it quickly became a “cult programme” particularly amongst the young.
It was on once a week on Friday nights and for those of us who became “fans” all life stopped so that we could watch it. All social engagement were put on hold as we sat transfixed by this weird programme called “The Prisoner”
“The Prisoner” tells the story of an unnamed spy who resigns his position and is then gassed in his apartment as he packs his bags. He wakes up in the Village, a resortlike community that is actually a high-tech prison. In each episode, No. 6 struggles with the camp authority figure, No. 2, who pressures him to say why he resigned. No. 2 is played by a different actor each time. In the first episode “Arrival” he tells us that he will not be “pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered! My life is my own.” Fourteen episodes open with his proclaiming, “I am not a number! I am a free man!”
“The Prisoner” remains “one of the most enigmatic and fascinating series ever produced for television” the Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago said on its Web site, adding that some critics believe it to be “television’s first masterpiece.”
“The Prisoner” is a unique piece of television. It addresses issues such as personal identity and freedom, democracy, education, scientific progress, art and technology, while still remaining an entertaining drama series. Over seventeen episodes we witness a war of attrition between the faceless forces behind ‘The Village’ (a Kafkaesque community somewhere between Butlins and Alcatraz) and its most strong willed inmate, No. 6. who struggles ceaselessly to assert his individuality while plotting to escape from his captors.
Fans sat transfixed week after week to see how No.2 would attempt to get No.6 to explain why he “resigned” as a secret agent but without any success. However, if you are expecting a “nice closed ending” forget it.
To this day, “Fall Out” is considered the most controversial and outright bizarre series finale of a television show ever produced. The episode literally broke ITC’s phone system after it was overwhelmed with calls from confused viewers. The Prisoner creator and star Patrick McGoohan had to go into hiding for several weeks after the episode’s airing because people kept coming to his house to demand that he explain it to them.
So if you want to spend some time being challenged, infuriated, amazed, amused and at times totally bemused, then watch the full series of The Prisoner and prepare to be “blown away” by the final episode which will keep you awake at nights trying to figure out what it is all about.
I remember coming out of the cinema after seeing Kubrick’s 2001, A Space Odyssey and a friend saying, “what the hell was that ending about? and I simply responded, “who cares?” as we had just witnessed cinematic history, magnificent storytelling, challenging ending and stunning cinematography by Douglas Trumbull.
I feel the same about The Prisoner.