Category Archives: Prisoner (tv series)

THE PRISONER (1967): THE CHIMES OF BIG BEN

Balladeer’s Blog continues its examination of the science fiction/ existential drama The Prisoner. For Part One, in which I examined the themes and concepts at play in the series click HERE  

Chimes of Big BenEpisode Title: THE CHIMES OF BIG BEN. In the ongoing debate about the exact numbering of the 17 episodes of The Prisoner I place this as the 3rd in the series. Any comments that I have regarding the Alternate Chimes of Big Ben will be made in this same post.

Leo McKern makes the first of his three appearances as one of the Village’s rotating series of Number Twos. Despite his villainous role he gets the audience on his side right off the bat. He does that while watching the surveillance video of Number Six as he wakes up for the day and voices his observation that the Prisoner “Can make even the act of putting on a dressing gown seem like a gesture of defiance.”

Leo McKern as Number TwoLeo McKern’s character’s verbal fencing with Patrick McGoohan is as much fun to watch as Columbo’s cat and mouse games with the murderers on his show. (And yes, I know McGoohan was no stranger to Columbo, both the 1970s series and the later revival.)

The part where the Prisoner intentionally adds three lumps of sugar to his tea just because Number Two says his file reflects that he takes NO sugar is particularly enjoyable. It’s also one of those scenes that is not appreciated by people who don’t have a nonconformist bone in their body.   

McKern as Number Two also proves to be the most informative of those rotating Village executives. His attempts to persuade our protagonist to just tell the Villagekeepers why he resigned and then join their conspiracy go beyond just admitting that he, too, tried to resist when he was brought to the Village.

Prisoner and McKernLeo makes it clear that the Village represents the model for the Earth of the future as pursued by highly-placed elements from both sides of the Cold War. He paints a picture of inevitability for the Prisoner in hopes that he can make McGoohan cave in while retaining his sense of personal honor. If a Global “Village” is inevitable there’s no shame in surrendering to it. Continue reading

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THE TIMES’ SONG “I HELPED PATRICK MCGOOHAN ESCAPE”

Balladeer’s Blog’s Give Them A Shoutout Before They’re Dead strikes again with this tie-in to my ongoing examination of Patrick McGoohan’s science fiction/ existential drama The Prisoner. The video is quintessential 1980s cultural kitsch and was filmed at the Portmeirion Resort for Village authenticity. 

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THE PRISONER (1967): DANCE OF THE DEAD

Balladeer’s Blog continues its examination of the science fiction/ existential drama The Prisoner. For Part One, in which I examined the themes and concepts at play in the series click HERE 

Prisoner Dance of the DeadEpisode Title: DANCE OF THE DEAD

In the eternally-open debate about the exact order of the 17 episodes of The Prisoner I unashamedly hold with those who place Dance of the Dead as Episode Two. My main reason is the fact that the Prisoner himself and other characters bluntly state he is new to the Village.

Plus this episode features him betraying so much lack of awareness of the Villagekeepers’ Head Games and their placement of cameras everywhere that to me Dance of the Dead only makes sense coming immediately after the first episode, Arrival.

Mary Morris as Number TwoMary Morris as this episode’s Number Two is one of the most memorable Number Twos in the rotating series of those Village executives. As we all know Trevor Howard was originally slated for this episode but Morris is a more than welcome change.

The title is perfect for anyone with the Prisoner mindset. So-called “mainstream society”, including its bizarre rituals which so many willingly and mindlessly play along with, truly is a Dance of the Dead. Today Facebook and Twitter and social media in general take the whole concept beyond the point of parody.  

To me part of the argument for placing Dance of the Dead as Episode Two comes from the way it embodies the television industry problem called Second Episode Blues in which a strong opening episode is often followed by one that is a bit aimless compared to that debut.

Dance of the Dead‘s storyline – fragmented though it may seem – features a nice selection of elements that show up in various combinations in nearly every subsequent Prisoner episode: 

“THIS MAN HAS A FUTURE WITH US” – On the literal level it IS true that a talented former Intelligence Agent like Number Six could be an asset to the conspirators behind the Village.

On the allegorical level, the leadership in even the most conformist and oppressive societies stays on the lookout for capable recruits. It’s often the most efficient way of co-opting individuals whose abilities might otherwise lead them to establish rebellions. The Powers That Be can even dangle the carrot of certain privileges not enjoyed by the rest of the population as an added incentive for talented individuals, enticing them to sell out and come over to the side of the ruling class.     Continue reading

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THE PRISONER (1967): ARRIVAL

Balladeer’s Blog continues its examination of the science fiction/ existential drama The Prisoner. For Part One, in which I examined the themes and concepts at play in the series click HERE  

ArrivalEpisode Title: ARRIVAL 

Fans of The Prisoner know that the exact order of the 17 episodes is up in the air since not even Patrick McGoohan, the show’s creator, star and prime creative force, was certain. However, there is no doubt that Arrival is the very first episode of the show (for obvious reasons).

The opening credits sequence is repeated for each episode (except for variations for Living in Harmony and for the very last episode, titled Fallout). That sequence presents our protagonist, the Prisoner (real name never revealed), disgustedly resigning from the Intelligence Service. Back at his home he is gassed into unconsciousness and awakens in an isolated, high-tech and dystopian prison-city that is called the Village.    

The program’s nature as a Kafkaesque tale with science fiction trappings is established in this debut episode. The Prisoner is taken aback by the seemingly cheerful and storybook surface nature of the Village and the way that surface is at odds with the underlying air of fear and paranoia.

Prisoner psych wardAll inhabitants/ captives of the Village are either former Intelligence Operatives like himself, or scientists or figures from the government or military. And from all around the world, too, not just the West.

In the Cold War attitude of the time the Prisoner is obsessed with finding out “which side” the Villagekeepers are on, but as the series progresses it becomes clear that the Free World vs Communist World paradigm is merely part of the deception being played on the Village’s prisoners. And possibly the world at large, intriguingly enough.    Continue reading

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THE PRISONER (1967): MORE RELEVANT THAN EVER BEFORE

Prisoner 1Regular readers of Balladeer’s Blog are very familiar with my high regard for Patrick McGoohan’s 1967 science-fiction/ existential drama The Prisoner. Over the many times I’ve referred to this 17-episode program I’ve heard back from a few readers here and there saying they have heard of the show but never saw any episodes and don’t understand its appeal.

I’ve decided to do an in-depth look at The Prisoner, episode by episode, for the benefit of readers who’ve never seen the show and in the hope of reigniting interest among Prisoner fans who mistakenly feel the program’s relevance ended with the Cold War. Actually, The Prisoner is more relevant than ever, in my view, what with its brilliant blend of Orwell and Kafka plus its foreshadowing of shows like Twin Peaks and Lost.

Prisoner 2The premise of The Prisoner reflects Patrick McGoohan’s disillusionment and disgust with the way pop fiction romanticized Intelligence Agents, who are actually just government thugs, not heroes. From interviews McGoohan did over the years he seemed to feel a certain sense of personal guilt over his own contribution to that romanticized image, especially from his successful run as Intelligence Operative John Drake on Danger Man and Secret Agent. (His acclaim from those programs was such that Patrick was supposedly approached to play James Bond in Dr No. He declined.)

LET’S GET THIS OUT OF THE WAY: Many Prisoner fans still engage in a fairly pointless argument over whether or not Patrick McGoohan’s never-named character on The Prisoner is supposed to be John Drake from his earlier series. IT. DOES. NOT. MATTER.  (And in one oft-cited episode another character rather clearly says “break” not “Drake,” but there’s no convincing the pro-Drake crowd.)

Prisoner 3Either way, John Drake or not John Drake, the point is that McGoohan portrays a Secret Agent who resigns from the Intelligence Services in disgust. Soon after, he is gassed into unconsciousness and abducted.

He comes to in an isolated, high-tech but dystopian community known only as The Village (or “The Island” if you’re a fan of The Simpsons episode that parodied The Prisoner.)  Continue reading

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