I became a fan of the brilliant and weird T.V. series, The Prisoner, before I was wizened enough to comprehend just what made it so great. It’s become a classic of Sixties television and the pop culture of that decade although it strained to be not of its time, but outside of it. Irish-American actor Patrick McGoohan had already played a “more realistic” variation of James Bond in the series Danger Man – renamed Secret Agent for U.S. viewers – but he wanted The Prisoner to push hard in the opposite direction, so his ex-secret agent is abducted to “The Village”, an Orwellian mind-control experiment wrapped in the phony elegance of a resort community (the show filmed at a real Welsh beach hotel), employing all manner of fantasy gadgets and bizarre schemes to break his will.
Each of its 17 episodes forced the protagonist, “Number Six” (his real name is never used) to defend his physical and mental freedom from the creepy minions of an unseen interrogator, the inevitable “Number One” – who “only” wants to know why Six resigned, what he knows, and whether he’d be willing to “join the team”. Six wants to escape, to unmask One, and to shut down the Village. Each scheme to conquer him would involve some fantastic device: a machine to televise his dreams; a mind-swap, with another agent; even a double who apes him so well, he is forced to impersonate himself. A giant, roaring balloon enforces “permanent guest” status; it’s called Rover, but this is no playful pet.
Some of the materials may feel like Swinging Sixties artifacts (i.e. the “speed-learning” computer, designed to brainwash Villagers, takes up one entire wall; it would fit on your desktop today) but the ideas discussed have real power, even today. Watch any scene in which a control-room team scrutinizes Six in his dwelling – see if it doesn’t remind you of the current firestorm surrounding corporate and government surveillance of our citizenry. Even the ritual hand salute of Villagers looks somewhat like an eye peering through a keyhole; that surely cannot be a coincidence. In a final twist, Six [REDACTED]… well, as the Villagers are fond of saying: “That would be telling.” You’ll have to watch and decide what happens.