My wife and I have been watching Mad Men on AMC, so we were exposed to the commercials for the remake of the classic 60s British TV series The Prisoner. I had always been aware of The Prisoner, but from a distance, had only seen part of one episode once, a long time ago, and have heard for years from all sorts of people about how good it was, how smart, how surreal. I set my DVR to record the new show then got a text message from Wizards of the Coast art director extraordinaire Matt Adelsperger cluing me in to the fact that AMC was running the entire seventeen-episode run of the original series on On Demand.
Well, heck, I had to at least watch the first one, so I did, and I’ve been working my way through them, an episode a day for the last week. I’m not all the way through, so no spoiler comments, but so far I’m loving it.
What a remarkable mix of the sort of UK spy stuff that Austin Powers was based on, with a definite SF edge, and utterly oddball touches, like the giant white balloon that chases people down, seems to engulf them, and deliver them back to the “safe” confines of the Village.
The Village itself is this beautiful, pastoral little place that just looks lovely. I want to live there. Seriously. Turns out it’s a real place, not just the world’s most elaborate TV set. The village is called Portmeirion, and is a resort in Wales. It’s now on my list of places to someday visit. They should hold an SF convention there.
But there’s more to The Prisoner than the sets and the balloon. To me it’s one of those irrepressible documents of a now-bygone era. In an email exchange with my current editor and former boss Peter Archer, I noted that I was worried that the remake couldn’t stand up to the original if for no other reason than that there’s no way, in 2009, to recapture that hyper-romanticized Cold War mentality that infuses the series. I won’t know for a while if I’m right—I’m going to watch all of the original series before watching the remake.
Surely Patrick McGoohan, credited as producer—and the writers—were familiar with the writings of Ayn Rand. McGoohan’s Number Six might be the ultimate Objectivist Hero, imprisoned by it-doesn’t-matter-who for it-doesn’t-matter-why and resisting if for no other reason than because he doesn’t feel as though they asked him nicely enough. If you’ve restricted my freedom in any way, to hell with you. He doesn’t assume that it’s the Soviets who have him—it could be the British. He resigned at the beginning of the series—repeated at the start of every episode in one of the coolest opening sequences ever—for reasons still left unknown at least through episode eight.
Where am I?
In the Village.
What do you want?
Whose side are you on?
That would be telling. We want information . . . information . . . information.
You won’t get it!
By hook or by crook we will.
Who are you?
The new Number 2.
Who is Number 1?
You are Number 6.
I am not a number, I am a free man!
The Prisoner—yeah, one of my new favorite TV series of all time.
Why? Because it’s science fiction that isn’t afraid to take a shockingly rigid stance—set aside whether or not I would take that same stance myself—and isn’t the slightest bit afraid to think big and go weird.
And there’s this McGoohan guy. What a strange little badass he is. A man’s man—for men in London in 1967, anyway—who seems to have built his own car, literally marched in and quit his job, and seems unwilling—not unable, mind you—to keep one of his eyes all the way open. That look kills me.
I’m going to go back to the mirror and keep practicing it.