Friday, June 3, 2016

Portmeirion is the Classic Black, or Thoughts on The Prisoner

 No TV series deserves the title of iconic more than the ITV production of The Prisoner (1967).  Even the theme song, by Ron Grainer, who also wrote the Doctor Who theme, helps raise the paranoia levels and evokes James Bond and 60’s super-spies.  The opening credits set up the premise:  Patrick McGoohan tears down the streets of London in his retro (even for the ‘60’s) Lotus 7 and argues with his boss.  He smashes a teacup (how very British) and hands in his letter of resignation.  Cut to an endless row of file cabinets and a robotic arm updating his file and X’ing out his photo.  Ominous undertakers armed with knockout gas follow him back to his posh flat, he passes out…
And wakes up in The Village…
The Village is the kind of pleasant seaside town that Morrissey was always singing about; a sort of retirement/white collar prison for people possessing “too much information”, where they are expected to live out the rest of their lives amongst penny farthings, beach activities and complete, omnipotent surveillance.  What’s interesting is that this show came out at the height of the Cold War, and yet The Village is international; where British prisoners interact with Russians and presumably Americans.  It implies a world government or a larger Illumanati-type council pulling the strings, a conspiracy arc that was sadly never explored.
Patrick McGoohan is Number 6, the Spy With No Name, though today he could be easily retconned as a corporate executive with trade secrets.  You may remember him as King Edward Longshanks from Braveheart (1995).  No one in The Village has a name; they are all referred to as numbers.  Number 6 is interrogated by a rotating series of Number 2’s, presumably the man in charge though he may merely be a higher-ranking prisoner.  Number 2 always asks the same question: why did Number 6 resign (My favorite Number 2 was Leo McKern, who you may remember as Rumpole of the Bailey).  And of course, Number 6 won’t tell, out of stubbornness and defiance, and spends the rest of the episode trying to escape the Kafka-esque Village.  It is a rare series that asked more questions than it answered, without alienating the audience.
Village security is supplied by Rover, a polymorphous blob played by a weather balloon that predates the black smoke from Lost.  Surreal and unexplained, like The Who’s Mod target come to life, it bounces around the Village and prevents escape by smothering the prisoners.  Even from a modern perspective, as ridiculous as that premise seems, Rover never seems cheap or dated, and remains, along with the penny farthings, a perfect representation of the mystery and malice of The Village.
There are only 17 episodes of The Prisoner over a single season, and that’s all you need.  Any more seasons would only serve to dilute the plot and end up frustrating the audience.  Paranoia grows over those 17 episodes as we, along with Number 6 get to know The Village and its inmates.  The quaint, pre-war exteriors of The Village are smartly juxtaposed against the mod 60’s interiors with high-tech James Bond-style gadgets, but the focus of the show was always on Number 6’s struggle to maintain his identity in this constantly shifting and unexplained world.
The Prisoner set the groundwork for so many shows, from The X-Files to Wayward Pines.  Even modern TV series like Orphan Black or Mr. Robot; any sci-fi show with a far-reaching conspiracy arc can trace its roots back to Number 6.  Of course there was a remake in 2009 with Jim Caviezel as Number 6 and Ian McKellan as Number 2.  I didn’t watch it; I didn’t want to give it a chance.  I can be as stubborn as the original Number 6 when it comes to my favorite shows.


my first novel? thanks for asking:) I wrote a 4 book supernatural martial arts series concerning the ongoing feud between a group of kung-fu killer witches in san francsico’s chinatown.