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“The Prisoner: The Complete Series”- {Blu-ray}
Reviewer:
Wayne Klein
Studio: A&E
Genre:
TV-Series
Release Date:
10/27/09
Special Features:

Commentary tracks, documentary, featurettes, production notes, still galleries, trailers, episode bumpers ---

Review:

Pretentious allegory or bizarre surreal TV at its finest, either way you look at it “The Prisoner” became the first TV series to push the boundaries beyond traditional narrative TV and also became the first TV series with a clear beginning, middle and end. The show ran a brief 16 episodes on CBS as a Summer replacement series in the U.S. There’s misinformation in some other reviews by those who don’t quite know the series all that well suggesting it was cancelled; co-creator, star, producer and frequent writer/director Patrick McGoohan always planned for the show to run a limited span of episodes. In fact, McGoohan and company had to create additional shows from the outline for the series to make it possible for ATV’s Sir Lew Grade to sell the series internationally so that the show could get funding from America. Where do I have this information from? Why from the horse’s mouth the star Patrick McGoohan when I discussed it with him back in 1983. ***

McGoohan essentially plays the same character John Drake that he played in “Secret Agent Man” a hit already in the UK and the US a sort of brainier version of James Bond. In fact, McGoohan was the original first choice for Bond (disregard rumor that it was Roger Moore; he was the second choice and although Moore later claimed credit for suggesting Sean Connery it was, in fact, McGoohan who suggested Connery for the role). The opening credits tell us all of the prehistory of McGoohan’s character and the Secret Service—he drives to the office, storms in, gives his letter of resignation without ever saying exactly WHY he is resigning. He returns home and a mysterious car pulls up in front of his flat. He’s gassed in his home and when he awakens he arrives in the multi-national hide-away for all spies too sensitive for any nation to let them come in from the cold—The Village. This seaside hideaway assigns numbers to all of the occupants and The Village is presided over by Number 2 which varies from episode to episode as each tries to unsuccessfully try and break him; they want to find out WHY he resigned the last secret this agent refuses to share with anyone. Number 2 tells our hero at the beginning of every episode (with the voice over dialogue replaced by which ever actor is playing Number 2 that week) that John is Number 6. Occupants are prevented from leaving The Village by Rover (played by a giant weather balloon) that guards the edges of The Village. The more that Number 6 learns it seems the less he really knows one thing that he does discover over the course of the 17 episodes are that HE ultimately controls his own fate. ***

From the use of primary colors to the clean design “The Prisoner” looks like a relic from a different age and that only adds to the timeless quality of the show; old and new mingle interchangeably on the show and the episodes flirt with various science fiction themes as Number 2 tries to break our hero stripping him of his humanity by stripping him of his one final secret. It’s a marvelous series and can’t be taken literally so it’s no wonder that the show which aired during the same time as the more adventure driven counterpart ABC show “The Avengers” failed to make the Nielsen’s spin wildly out-of-control; the narrative has more to do with the aforementioned use of allegory having more in common with Orwell’s “1984” than “Star Trek”. As with Orwell’s novel, “The Prisoner” was every bit about the 1960’s but like all good allegories it manages to transcend its limitations because of the universal themes of theft of identity and the impersonal world that we live in. That along with the limited life span of the show only added to the allure of the series and it remained popular after it aired; unlike most shows that only run a single season, “The Prisoner” captured a new audience in the 70’s when it began airing on PBS drawing in college students, the disaffected and anyone interested in a TV show that had more to do with literature than with pulp fiction. To be sure, both have their place and “The Prisoner” took the elements of pulp fiction, turned them on its head, using these elements to examine important questions in our culture over the course of its brief run on TV. ***

For all of this McGoohan was the center of “The Prisoner” universe; the co-creator of “The Prisoner” George Markestein (who also co-wrote the pilot episode) had heard of a place where “retired” spies were sent so that no sensitive information ever escaped providing McGoohan and Markestein the springboard for a new series to follow up on “Secret Agent Man” (which was called “Danger Man” in the UK). Filled with a wry, dry sense of humor “The Prisoner” could only have happened in 1967—it inspired other shows as well (“Nowhere Man” being one of them). ---

Image & Sound:

A brilliant, bold looking presentation “The Prisoner” appears in the US for the first time in a transfer sourced directly from the 35mm elements. Using the same transfer as the UK Network release “The Prisoner” looks better than ever. The previous DVD was sourced from older 35mm elements (and in the case of some episodes 16mm elements). Color and detail are remarkably sharp. ***

The show is presented with its original mono soundtrack intact along with a nice 5.1 mix that does open up the sound a bit. Optional English subtitles are included. ---

Special Features:

We get seven commentary tracks from people actually involved in the production on the show sadly, though, the late McGoohan is not among them; he chose to let the series speak for itself. We do learn quite a bit of trivia from those involved in a variety of capacities. Not a surprise that star McGoohan could be difficult and demanding at times; he was, after all, a perfectionist. There is also a discussion as to why one episode where No. 6 finds his mind transferred to someone else’s body was created—it’s because McGoohan was busy fulfilling his obligation shooting “Ice Station Zebra”. ***

The excellent documentary “Don’t Knock Yourself Out” brings together all those who worked on the series and allows them to share their stories of shooting the series. Conspicuous by his absence is McGoohan himself who makes it very clear at the start of the documentary (in a note he wrote to the producers) that the series does, indeed, need to stand on its own without his explanation adding more allure to the mythology of the series. ***

“The Pink Prisoner” allows episode co-star Peter Wyngarde to answer questions about his work on the series. “Make Sure it Fits” allows music editor Eric Mival to discuss his music for the show. We also get various trims for the opening sequence shot for the international market with notes in various languages, deleted/unused footage of Rover and a montage of shots of McGoohan tied into “The Arrival” the pilot episode. ***

As with previous sets we get the alternate version of “The Chimes of Big Ben” which is sourced from a 16mm print that has survived. We also get a restored edit of the longer version of “The Arrival” pilot episode along with a music only track. ***

We get image galleries for a variety of episodes, a promo for the 2009 remake from AMC, bumpers, trailers for each episode as well as production archive material from the series. This doesn’t include everything that was on the previous A&E release but its darn close to it. MIA is of course the book that came with the previous edition of the series (which was the second reissue of the series as a boxed set) and the book that evidently comes with the Network edition of the series in the UK. ---

Final Words:

Allegory, satire and pulp entertainment all rolled into one, “The Prisoner” might be the type of TV show that Alfred Hitchcock might have made if he had been allowed to do one focusing on one of his favorite pastimes—spies. McGoohan who co-wrote 6 episodes and directed 4 (under a variety of pseudonyms) did a terrific job of making a series that was both intriguing and intelligent. Could “The Prisoner” be pretentious at times? Certainly but the show had far more ambitions and usually realized them than other shows airing in 1967. Today you might be able to get away with this (look at J.J. Abrams stuff or, before that, David Lynch & Mark Frost’s “Twin Peaks”)but even those shows usually turn their episodes into conventional narratives something that McGoohan, Markestein and associate producer/writer/director David Tomblin weren’t willing to do; they knew they were making something unique that would be able to withstand the unforgiving scrutiny of time. As with No. 6 himself fans may have finished watching the series but never truly escaped The Village.

 

 
 
 
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