Written by: Patrick McGoohan, George Markstein, et al.
Directed by: Patrick McGoohan, Don Chaffey, et al.
Starring: Patrick McGoohan, Angelo Muscat, and Peter Swanwick
- Production Notes
- Interview with Production Manager Bernie Williams
- Rare location footage with commentary by Bernie Williams
- The Prisoner Video Companion
- Trivia games
- Alternate version of episode The Chimes of Big Ben
- Promotional trailer and gallery of other promo materials
- Production stills gallery
- Interactive map of “The Village.”
Released by: A&E
Anamorphic: N/A; presented in original full-screen TV format (1.33:1)
My Advice: Own it.
[ad#longpost]The Prisoner stands as one of the most unusual and interesting things ever produced within the medium of television, though perhaps one of the more obscure to American audiences. Its story of a top secret agent attempting to retire from the spy business, only to be captured and deposited in an idyllic yet psychologically brutal prison known only as “The Village,” is certainly well out of the mainstream. The show operated on several levels, mixing narrative, allegory, and pure surrealism with glee. This DVD set presents all seventeen original episodes, in what is believed to be the proper viewing order, as well as an alternate version of the episode The Chimes of Big Ben.
For those unfamiliar with the series, here’s a brief sum-up: Patrick McGoohan plays a secret agent who, in the opening credits, delivers his resignation angrily. His employers, not wanting a man with so many sensitive secrets in his head to just wander out into the public, capture him and take him to The Village, where he is known only as Number Six. And all this happens before the credits stop rolling. In The Village, everyone is known only by a number. And it quickly becomes clear that all of them are prisoners of some kind, or tools of the prison itself. The situation is put forth to Six quite simply: tell us everything you know, and we’ll let you go home.
But Number Six doesn’t want to talk to anybody. He doesn’t trust anybody, chiefly because he doesn’t know who any of them are, and they could very well be agents of some new enemy. And since they won’t talk, neither will he. What ensues is seventeen hour-long episodes of Number Six attempting to outwit, outlast, and escape the prison, while the powers that be, headed up by the protean Number Two, constantly concoct new ways to mess with Number Six’s head and force him to cough up what he knows.
The series is brilliantly imagined and very well executed, with just about every shot in the series containing some tiny little nugget in the dialogue, background details, or camera angles that coaxes the viewer deeper into the bizarre world of this village. The signs scattered about the village force a constant reminder of the Village’s psychological hazing. “Questions are a burden to others, answers a prison for one’s self.” The plots of the various episodes are absolutely labyrinthine, but well worth piecing together and puzzling out. Highlights include “Free For All,” in which Number Six runs for the office of Number Two in hopes of finally getting a meeting or at least an identity for Number One, and “The Schizoid Man,” in which Number Six is brainwashed into believing he is Number Twelve, and then hired by Number Two to impersonate the “real” Number Six. Confused yet? It doesn’t get simpler. The final episode, “Fallout,” left so many things unclear that McGoohan fled the public eye for nearly twenty years to avoid confused or outraged fans.
If you’re already a fan of the series, this set is a no-brainer. We’re not likely to see a more comprehensive and well-presented collection of The Prisoner, period. The only thing that could possibly have made the set any cooler would be to pry McGoohan loose from whatever hole he’s been hiding in since Braveheart, and get him to talk about the series, either in interviews or commentary tracks. But as legendarily close-mouthed and reclusive as McGoohan is, it’s hardly any skin off A&E’s nose not to have dragged him out of his cave. (Widge’s update: since this set was released, a 40th Anniversary Megaset version was released that contained, to our knowledge, no new DVD content but instead a new booklet. And slimline cases, it appears. I’ve also heard that other regions may have had additional features on their versions, but since we haven’t seen any of those, we can’t comment–if you want to tell us what you know in the comments, that would be very helpful. Thanks!)
The only other downside is the occasionally spotty image quality, though I suspect that can be attributed to the age of the originals. Without digital remastering, there are spots of color flickering or hues being shifted slightly off true colors. The sound crackles a bit, as it, too comes from quite the dated recording. This is not to say that it dampens the viewing experience, as the quality still holds up to any broadcast version of a series of similar age.
- Click here to buy this version of the set from Amazon. Though out of print, it’s still available used for a reasonable price.