the review site with a difference since 1999
Reviews Interviews Articles Apps About

A&E Home Video presents

The Prisoner: Set 1—Vol. 1& 2 (1967)

"A lot of people are curious about what lies behind your resignation."- Number 2 (Guy Doleman)

Stars: Patrick McGoohan, Eric Portman, Mary Morris, Leo McKern, Guy Doleman
Other Stars: Virginia Maskell, Paul Eddington, George Baker, Angelo Muscat, Nadia Gray, Finlay Currie, Richard Wattis, Rachel Herbert , George Benson, Duncan Macrae, Norma West, Bee Duffell, Alan White, Aubrey Morris
Director: Don Chaffey, Patrick McGoohan

Manufacturer: DVSS
MPAA Rating: Not RatedRun Time: 03h:24m:00s
Release Date: 2000-10-31
Genre: television

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B- B+B-B- A


DVD Review

It is rare to find a television show that attracts the description of "philosophic." Often shows deal with questions of ethics and occasionally a show deals with metaphysics. There have been rare shows that ask questions about the nature of existence. Star Trek and The Twilight Zone are two that come to mind. It is no coincidence that those are two shows that can bear repeated watching. The Prisoner is another such program.

Conceived by Patrick McGoohan, following on his success in Secret Agent, The Prisoner had a run of 17 episodes and has had a distinctive cult following ever since. The long-rumored Prisoner movie, with McGoohan's involvement, is reported to be nearing production. The Prisoner Appreciation Society, dubbed "Six of One" is a popular web site devoted to "Prisonerabilia."

There is much controversy among devotées about the true order of episodes in the series. Supposedly McGoohan planned to make seven episodes. His financiers insisted on more and they compromised for 17. Arrival is almost universally accepted as the first episode. The name of the prisoner is never revealed throughout the series, although there is a school of followers who consider him to be Drake, McGoohan's character from Secret Agent. But, as with much in The Prisoner, nothing is certain and much is open to varied interpretation.


"We have a saying here: A still tongue makes a happy life."
- Number 6's maid (Stephanie Randall)

Arrival opens with a montage that shows a man driving a Lotus into London and purposefully entering a building where he offers his resignation. The mechanics of bureaucracy is represented as we see a robot arm drop his papers into the "resigned" file. The man then is followed as he heads home, and while packing his bags, presumably these followers inject a sleeping gas into the room and he is knocked out.

The man wakes up in a place called "The Village." Part of the mystery of the show is that very rarely do we know more about what is going on in the plot than the prisoner does himself, and often less. He tours The Village and we see that it is a very odd sort of resort town and the people all seem to be participating in some sort of life there. The prisoner is informed that his designation is now "Number 6" (which corresponds to the address of the residence where he woke up). He is called on the telephone and invited to meet with "Number 2".

At Number 2's residence, the jarring transfer from the kitsch of the seaside resort environment into the high-tech secret world behind the scenes occurs as Number 6 enters the drawing room. Here the prisoner has the first of many encounters to come with different Number 2s. Ostensibly, the thrust of the story is outlined as superiors in some secret service are concerned with the implications of Number 6's resignation and want him to give a full accounting as to the circumstances of that act.

Number 6 does not accept this and shows that he sees other possibilities: The Village could be an enemy location where spies are taken and broken, in order to make them reveal their secrets—there is the possibility that this is all in his own mind. Certainly he feels that his own freedom of choice and individuality are threatened. In this opening episode we are introduced to many of the conventions that we will come to know in the series. There is the goofy robotic obedience of his fellow Village inhabitants; we meet different people the prisoner encounters, by accident or design, who seem to enter into his plans of escape; we see the mysterious balloon that serves as the final warder in the case of attempted escape.

Some moments of The Prisoner are quite bizarre and Arrival contains several of those. It is an essential episode for anyone interested in unraveling the intricacies of the story. Some elements are frankly difficult to follow and soon a viewer is in no better position than Number 6 in not knowing what or who to trust. Even though Arrival contains a large part of exposition pertaining to the series as a whole, it is an interesting and exciting episode in its own right.

Free for All

Number 2: Are you going to run?
Number 6: Like blazes the first chance I get
Number 2: I meant run for office.
Number 6: Who's?
Number 2: Mine, for instance.
Number 6: You have a delicate sense of humor.
Number 2: Naturally. Humor is the very essence of a democratic society.

Free for All was written (as Paddy Fitz) and directed by Patrick McGoohan and ranks as one of the most politically satirical episodes in the series. Number 2 (Eric Portman) invites Number 6 to run for office and promises that ultimately he would be in control of The Village. Aided by his enthusiastic maid (Rachel Herbert) and news coverage by the village newspaper, "Tally Ho," Number 6 embarks on a popular campaign as a progressive candidate against the more conservative rule of the current Number 2. In a meeting with the outgoing council, Number 6 breaks the rules and is subjected to a "Truth Test" that is combination lie detector and electroshock treatment. He is affected badly by the treatment and attempts an exciting speedboat escape. Brought back in by the balloon warder, Number 6 continues his campaign and The Village heads to the polls with the chant "Six for Two!"

The campaign is played out against the backdrop of the continuing efforts of "them" to obtain information. Number 6 matches their machinations with his own opportunistic schemes to effect escape from his captivity. This is a particularly enjoyable and exciting episode with plenty of action and humor. The absurd world of The Village people is a significant character in this episode as they participate in the "election/interrogation" of Number 6.

This was the second episode filmed, although it was originally broadcast fourth.

Dance of the Dead

"If you insist on living a dream, you might be taken for mad." - Number 2

This is a very complex and entertaining episode full of various levels of action and reality. The show begins with Number 6 undergoing some "medical treatments" that seem to be relatively controversial at The Village. There is a female Number 2 (Mary Morris) and Number 6 is under close observation by a watcher and a black cat. His emotions are severely tested as he finds a dead body washed up on a beach and, using a stolen life preserver, sends it back to the ocean, carrying his wallet in a possible attempt to make contact somehow with a "message in a bottle." With a radio he found on the body, he attempts to find more information about where he is. Number 6 also learns that an acquaintance is being tortured to get information about him.

This all takes place against preparations for Carnival at the Town Hall. It is a costume ball that quickly devolves into a trial as Number 6 is once again accused of breaking the rules.

One bit of trivia for this episode is the character of the Town Crier. He is played by Aubrey Morris who also was Mr. Deltoid in Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange.

According to the keepcase, this episode was filmed fourth and originally screened eighth in the UK. In this re-release, A&E has placed it third. Along with Free for All, it is part of the original seven that were conceived by McGoohan and some listings have the two as interchangeable.

Unusual for a television show, there are moments in The Prisoner where the viewer literally does not know what is going on and truly does not know what is going to happen next. It is quite enjoyable to watch an episode again and, even though one does know what the actual events of a scene are going to be, it is very easy to see them in different ways, in different viewings. The elements of satire and irony provide a multi-layered intellectual experience for the viewer.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Arrival, Free for All and Dance of the Dead are in great shape although there was obvious lots of work to do in cleaning up the aging original. The juxtapositions between light and dark, inside and outside, and the all-too-real and the surreal all look great. One look at the alternate version of The Chimes of Big Ben gives a quick clue of what it could be like to watch the show without the fantastic restoration work.

Image Transfer Grade: B-

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: Audio plays a crucial part in the storytelling of The Prisoner. The music and sound effects set the scene and give us clues to events and actions. This mono transfer is mostly very good. In some cases it seems to reveal flaws in the original source. Television shows of the 60s seems to revel in that jarring, jangling sound at the end and beginning of scenes. There were a few times that I had to turn up the sound to hear all-too-crucial dialogue, only to be jammed by this twanging music. As in the case of the video, one quick look at what is left of the soundtrack of the alternate version of The Chimes of Big Ben gives a great appreciation for the work done on the main episode.

Audio Transfer Grade: B- 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
3 TV Spots/Teasers
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. "Your Village" Interactive map
  2. Rare Alternate Footage
  3. Photo Galleries
  4. Trivia Games
  5. DVD Credits
Extras Review: "The Chimes of Big Ben" (alternate version)

This alternate version of one of the most highly-regarded stories is less than a second episode on the disc and more than just an extra for volume 1. The pressures and difficulties of making The Prisoner caused problems in production. This alternate version has different music, an added scene with Number Six devising a method of locating where The Village is and alternate titles. But overall, it is not substantially different from the official version.

Alternate Chimes, as it is called, is difficult to watch due to the poor quality and the dialogue really gets worse towards the end. In the final analysis, it emerges as more a completist curio rather than a fantastic addition to the set. There are rumors of an alternate version of Arrival, but no version on video exists.

The Interactive Map of the The Village on both discs is nice but not very interactive. You can scan around it see the various parts but that is it. I tried to click on buildings and such, but no information was forthcoming.

The Rare Alternate Footage is one Volume 1 and is very interesting. It includes the entire intro and outro of the series without sound or titles. Focusing on these scenes enhances the understanding of how important they are to setting the tone for each episode. Also included are alternate versions of the scene where the robotic arm drops Number 6's credentials into the file cabinet. Each version has the word "Resigned" in a different language.

The Photo Gallery on Volume 1 features 10 episode and production photos from Arrival. Interestingly, they are numbered 1 through 10, except for number 7, which is numbered 51. Volume 2 has 10 pictures from each episode. Number 7 is once again numbered 51 and number 17 is numbered 89. I am still pondering those anomalies— why is there no 7 or 17 to be found in the series? There is a nice conceptual drawing of Number 6 meeting the outgoing council in Free for All behind number 19 that can be compared to a still of the same scene behind number 20.

The Trivia Quiz on both discs are quite fun and include some very good trivia bits.

Extras Grade: A

Final Comments

I enjoyed The Prisoner immensely when I saw it on TV as a child. Having caught bits in the various airings over the years, I had thought that perhaps my memory would be better than the actuality of sitting down and watching these episodes. I was wrong. The Prisoner is an exceptional piece of television. Provoking, amusing and maddening all at the same time, the show is a slice of time with its oh-so-Sixties elements ( dig those lava lamps!) and a timeless classic of speculative fiction. Highly recommended for any DVD fan who wants something different....very different.

Jesse Shanks 2000-10-16