Number Six (Patrick McGoohan) is a former British secret agent who resigned in anger over an unstated "matter of principle". He says, "I will not make any deals with you. I've resigned. I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered. My life is my own. I resign."
Immediately afterwards he is kidnapped and taken to The Village, a mysterious seaside prison that looks like an innocent resort town. His captors want information about why he resigned. The Village chairman is called Number Two, and the role is played by a different person in almost every episode. Number Six wants to know which side The Village is on, where it is located, and who is Number One. Each episode opens the same:
Number 6: "Where am I?"
Number 2: "In the Village."
Number 6: "What do you want?"
Number 2: "We want information."
Number 6: "Whose side are you on?"
Number 2: "That would be telling. We want information... information... information."
Number 6: "You won't get it."
Number 2: "By hook or by crook, we will."
Number 6: "Who are you?"
Number 2: "The new Number 2."
Number 6: "Who is Number 1?"
Number 2: "You are Number 6."
Number 6: "I am not a number, I am a free man."
At first Number Six concentrates on escaping and says, "I'm going to escape, come back, wipe this place off the face of the Earth, obliterate it and you with it." Because of the security system that includes huge rubber spheres (Rovers) that patrol The Village this proves impossible. Next he tries to gain knowledge about his captors, then tries to undermine the authority of Number Two. Most neighbours in the Orwellian community are generally complacent. Number Six is determined to be independent and trust nobody.
Plots range from assassination attempts, to recovering secret formulas, to ferreting out double agents. Symbolism is important and in some episodes the stories can only function on that level. Examples are: "Free For All", "Dance of the Dead", and the final two episodes. Everything is designed for the viewer to figure out the significance, and the show holds up very well under intense scrutiny. There is endless speculation on the meaning of THE PRISONER.
Seventeen episodes were produced in colour with a runtime of 52 minutes and a mono soundtrack. THE PRISONER was first broadcast on British TV on October 1, 1967 and in the US on June 1, 1968. The "40th Anniversary Collector's Edition" DVD has all episodes plus a "lost" version of "The Chimes of Big Ben", along with rare original footage of the 1966 location shooting, "The Prisoner Video Companion", original trailers, and other rare stuff.
Patrick McGoohan's role is almost identical to his secret agent "John Drake" role in the SECRET AGENT/DANGER MAN (1960-1962, 1964-1968) TV series. In fact, many of THE PRISONER episodes could have been used on SECRET AGENT virtually unchanged. McGoohan is a charismatic actor, who like many others turned down an offer to play James Bond. Ironically, he was tired of playing spy John Drake, so he switched to ex-spy Number Six.
THE PRISONER is a great show, intelligent, challenging, and original--but it's strangely psychedelic because it was produced in the late 1960's. Sometimes it almost seems McGoohan was on LSD when he created some hallucinatory sequences. There is speculation about it being subversive. As a well made espionage adventure, it functions perfectly on that level. But it has a cult following of intellectual types who are attracted to its pretentious and ambiguous allegories. It is existential and asks more questions than it answers. The show was sold as a spy thriller, but it has 60's counter-culture themes and it is also a sci-fi fantasy. There was a controversy when it first aired because of the bizarre, surreal ending.
Others in the cast include: Peter Swanick (Supervisor), Leo McKern (Number Two), Patrick Cargill (Number Two), Kenneth Griffith (Schnipps), Colin Gordon (Number Two), Bee Duffell (psychiatrist), John Maxim (Number Eighty Six), and many others. The series was written by Patrick McGoohan, George Markstein, David Tomblin, Anthony Skene, Terence Feely, and Vincent Tilsley. Music was composed by Ron Grainer, Albert Elms, Wilfred Josephs, Jack Beaver, and Robert Farnon. The theme music was created by McGoohan, who hummed it to Grainer. Direction was by Patrick McGoohan, Pat Jackson, Don Chaffey, and David Tomblin. THE PRISONER was created by George Markstein and Patrick McGoohan.
In "Many Happy Returns" we learn that The Village is located on an island somewhere near the coast of Morocco, then in the last episode we learn it is located in Wales. Scenes of The Village were filmed at Portmeirion, an eccentric village resort in Wales. Number Six finally learns the identity of Number One. Each time he asks the response is "You are Number Six". The correct interpretation is, "You are, Number Six."