Review – The Prisoner (TV Show 1967)
I just watched The Prisoner for the first time. Wow. What a ride. The Prisoner is one of those shows that I had heard about for a long time, it has a cult following which is still trumpeting its virtues, and I never made the time to find a copy. Now that I have, I must say I can see how the show has remained evergreen for more than 50 years.
The Prisoner is a British TV show from 1967 starring Patrick McGoohan, created by Patrick McGoohan and George Markstein.
McGoohan plays No. 6, a secret agent who resigns from Her Majesty’s Secret Service and is abducted. He awakes to find himself a prisoner in a small coastal village, surrounded by hundreds of people who refer to each other, and him, only by numbers. They try to get No. 6 to tell them why he resigned, on the basis that once he tells them that, they will be able to extract whatever they want. Drugs, lies, and scifi brain rays are used in the pursuit of cracking No. 6. Are they British agents or foreign agents? Will No. 6 break? What craziness will happen next?
A simple synopsis of the show does it little justice. Each episode is a psychological examination of either social, political, or ideological ideas. As a whole, the show’s underlying message is that the individual should retain their own will, and not submit to blindly to any ideology. No. 6’s strength to resist the constant coercion is the struggle that we all must face. Society is both overtly and covertly always trying to mould us into being a part of society and smooth over our individual tendencies.
For a show more than 50 years old, the episodes still hold up. It shows the value of telling stories with timeless themes. The Prisoner is told in a world framed by the cold war, but it never connects to it in a way to date the stories. Instead, it refers to “Our side” and “Their side” or similar terms. For someone who was 4 when the USSR dissolved, I know nothing about living under the threat of the cold war. The episodes might connect on another level for people who did, but living through it or not, the way that the story frames enemies as in-group and out-group makes the story universal.
The remastered version of the show that I watched looks great. I don’t usually pay much attention to aesthetic, but in 1967 this would have been airing around the same time as Jon Pertwee’s first season of Doctor Who and in comparison The Prisoner knocks the production value out of the park.
The Prisoner is a fantastic show. I would say that it is essential viewing for every human, and definitely must-see for any writer as an example of how to write themes.