Let's Watch (And Discuss) The Prisoner

Re: The Chimes of Big Ben

Great fun. One of the things that solidified during this watch is, I think, one of the reason I enjoy this show so much. No. 6 continues to have a sense of humor (if a bit sardonic), in spite of everything, which is an important aspect I think. The Village is mostly full of dim-witted, humorless followers, whom just don’t seem to “get the joke” in regards to No. 6 attitude, or, in this case, his Art. This sort of high-level humor requires an amount of both intelligence and skepticism of authority distinctly lacking in society (something McGoohan alludes to in the awesome interview linked above). It also serves as a barometer of the Individual. Becoming subsumed by the system, whether it’s in The Village, in Dawn of the Dead, or Invasion of the Body Snatchers, renders one unable to think on their own and appreciate humor. Zombies, pod people, Numbers (or the dead) don’t laugh. Many of the No. 2’s certainly do, though, McKern’s being particularly iconic.

Other things:

I love the radio inside the mini-fridge.

Three cubes of sugar in the tea?

Two cute little baby Rovers!

(edit) I forgot casual No. 6’s stylish wind breaker.

Nice point on the sense of humor. I never really thought of that. I was going to comment on the “three lumps of sugar” moment, but forgot to do so.

There was a part where No. 2 asks No. 6 what he wants and he says he wants to be the first man on the moon. I was like wait, when was this made? Oh it was made before the moon landing, cool!

Free For All

We open on No. 6 waking for the day in a particularly grumpy mood. He receives a call from No. 2 asking him to come to the Green Dome for some breakfast and a little face time, and replies “The mountain can come to Mohammed”. Almost immediately No. 2 is at the door. Breakfast is served to them by No. 58, a new arrival who doesn’t speak English and is sort of childlike.

No 2 gets down to business. Election day is approaching, and apparently his is an elected position. He’s concerned about running with no opposition, and would like 6 to throw his hat into the ring. No. 6 is naturally suspicious, but when he steps outside and into the middle of a demonstration of support for No.2, he gets the idea that perhaps if he wins he can shut the Village down from the inside, and maybe even learn the identity of No.1 He addresses the crowd and tells them that if elected, he intends to separate the prisoners form the guards. Almost immediately a group breaks off and starts demonstrating support for No.6. No 58 is to be his driver and assistant.

While driving to the Village Hall, 6 is joined by a reporter and photographer from the Village newspaper, the Tally Ho, who bombard him with a series of questions, to which he responds “No comment”, and to which they make up their own answers. When he finally tells them to mind their own business, they report that as “No comment”. They leap off the cart, and while they are still in plain sight, the afternoon edition is printed with the story already on the front page.

No. 2 invites 6 to speak before the Village Council who sit silent and expressionless while he lectures them on freedom and resistance. He also refers to them as “cabbages” and “tailors’ dummies”. The lectern starts spinning, and a chute opens beneath him. Sliding down, he finds himself in front of a doctor who offers him a cup of tea. The tea contains some sort of truth serum, as well as another drug, which leaves 6 almost catatonic. The doctor administers a “lie detector” exam, questioning No. 6 on what he hopes to accomplish. No. 6 sits silently while the movement of a sphere and a cube indicate whether the answers he is thinking about are truthful.

P awakens, and, still under the influence of the drugs, throws himself wholeheartedly into his campaign, again assisted by No. 58. Sure enough, he wins the election and is awarded the badge of No. 2. The old 2 leads him to the office, where No. 58 begins gleefully pushing random buttons. This somehow brings 6 around, and he joins in, getting on the Village PA and announcing that he is turning off the security systems and everyone is free to leave. Suddenly 58 turns serious, snaps her fingers, and 6 is under again. She slaps him a few times, which wakes him up enough to make a run for it. He ends up in a cavern under the Green Dome where a de-activated Rover is surrounded by guards, who beat the shit out of him.

They drag him back to the office, where No. 58 is now wearing the badge of No. 2. Speaking perfect English, she tells him this is only a taste of what he can expect, and asks if he’s ready to talk. Without waiting for an answer she has him dragged away and unceremoniously dumped back in his house.

Whew. A lot to unpack here. I loved this episode when I first saw it back in the day, but I don’t think it ages well. In 2019 if you produced an episode of a show the point of which is that politicians mutter empty slogans to get votes and the media puts their own slant on the news, you’d get a reaction like “No shit, Sherlock. Now pass the Cheetos.”, but in 1967 this was pretty heady stuff. The biggest problem I have with it is McGoohan’s performance, or rather the tone. In Chimes he came off as mostly bemused, but in this episode he’s either in a trance or pissed off and short tempered. This was the first episode that he both wrote (under the pseudonym Paddy Fitz) and directed, so perhaps the strain is starting to catch up to him. Some other thoughts -

For the first time we see the Village fucking with him just because it can. It’s a theme we’ll return to in future episodes.

The photo on the “Vote for 6” placards is a publicity shot from Danger Man/Secret Agent, further evidence that No. 6 is John Drake. The theory is that McGoohan always denied it because he didn’t want to pay royalties for the use of the character.

Several things happen almost instantaneously throughout the episode, giving it a dream-like quality. Spoiler – no, it isn’t all a dream.

I’m not sure what to make of the guards around Rover. I remember when I first saw it I thought there was a cult-like aspect to it, but it didn’t strike me that way this time.

The Village pub is The Cat & Mouse. How perfect is that?

Now is as good a time as any to bring up McGoohan’s issues with women. Several actresses say that he treated them terribly on set. Four episodes in, and he’s been betrayed by a woman in every one (with more to come), and the “cabbages” and “tailors’ dummies” of the Village Council are all women. Something was clearly going on with the guy.

Next week, Checkmate. Be seeing you.

Yes, the trouble with any shows about politics, even from a few years ago, cannot possibly hold a candle to current events. This episode was very much a product of its time (and also the product of quite a bit of weed if some of those sequences are anything to go by!) but I think it still holds up as a mind fuck. We all know of course that 6 couldn’t possibly have won the position of 2, except for perhaps a brief moment when you consider the possibilities. I’d have liked to see 6 treat the position with a bit of subtlety to lead him on a little more, but I guess they ran out of time and weed.

Rover gets another airing, but I’m hoping he gets a bit more character development next time. The goons sitting in a circle around Rover hinted at something curious, but it could all have been part of the mind fuck they were putting 6 through.

Twice he fell for the old Mickey Finn trick, you’d have thought he’d be more cautious.

I don’t think this is much of a spoiler, but no, Rover isn’t developed any further. I think the idea is to keep the viewer unsure as to exactly what it’s supposed to be.

Maybe Rover is sentient and, in fact, No. 1?

I wasn’t really being serious, I can’t imagine a giant floating ball really has much of a backstory. It seems to be of aquatic origin, but that’s about it really.

To be fair, Rover did go on to a successful career when the show ended. I thought he was great as Wilson in that Tom Hanks movie.


<Note: While all the characters have numbered badges, they are never addressed by number and I couldn’t make the numbers out. In the credits they are referred to as Rook, Queen, etc. so that’s how I’ll refer to them here>

We open on Rover on morning patrol. Al the Villagers are frozen in place, as they tend to be when Rover is around except for an elderly man with a cane who walks right past Rover with no interference. No. 6 happens to see this and follows the man onto the Village Square, which has a checkerboard pattern. The man grabs 6 and asks if he plays chess. 6 says he does, and he is recruited to be part of a human chess set, acting the part of the Queen’s Pawn. Two players are to sit atop high platforms and announce their moves through a bullhorn, with the human pieces moving accordingly.

6 engages the Queen in conversation, asking if she ever resisted or tried to escape. She informs him that everyone resists, but eventually is either broken or dead. 6’s move is announced, and the game proceeds until the Rook makes an unauthorized move on his own. 6 recognizes a kindred spirit in this small act of rebellion, but before he can make contact, the Rook is hauled off to the hospital for “rehabilitation”.

No. 6 catches up with the Queen after the game, and he continues to question her about attempts to escape, but they are wary of each other. No 2 arrives and invites 6 to the hospital to witness the Rook’s “treatment”. The Rook is the subject of a Pavlovian horror show, and is released, bowed and broken.

No 6 catches up to the Rook and they, too, dance around each other on the subjects of resistance and escape., and how to tell the guards from the real prisoners. 6 has the theory that if he approaches someone in an aggressive manor, that person’s response will indicate their standing. Real prisoners will back down, while guards will push back. They test this theory on several Villagers, and soon have gathered a handful of what they believe to be real prisoners, including the Shopkeeper from Arrival.

Meanwhile No. 2 has had the Queen drugged, and has planted a suggestion that she is madly in love with 6. He gives her a locket to wear containing an “emotional transmitter”. If No. 6 tries to escape, or tries anything at all out of the ordinary, her extreme emotional response will be a signal, because, you know, she’s a female. Meanwhile, No. 6 and the Rook are stealing a radio out of a maintenance cart.

The Queen confronts No. 6 on the beach and professes her love for him. He quickly spots the locket containing the transmitter and takes it, so that’s the end of that, I guess.

6 and the Rook take the radio to the beach that night and broadcast a Mayday. They almost immediately get a response from a ship, the Pelotska, and they disguise their broadcast as coming from a downed plane as they assume (correctly) that their transmission is being monitored by Village security.

The conspirators gather after dark. The Shopkeeper is to head out on a raft and signal the Pelotska. At the same time the others take control of the Village lighthouse, also to signal the ship. They then make their way to the Green Dome, where No. 2 has been listening to the radio chatter. They overcome 2 and tie him up when the signal from the ship suddenly cuts off. 6 decides to check it out while the others stay behind to guard 2.

No. 6 returns to the beach to find the raft empty. He sees the ship offshore and swims for it. He boards the Pelotska and enters the control room only to see a video broadcast of a now-free No. 2 alongside the Rook. No 6 and the Rook accuse each other of betrayal when 2 fortunately expositions. Turns out that not only was the Pelotska a Village vessel, but, because of his authoritarian manner, everyone else in on the escape attempt assumed No. 6 was working for the Village and it was all a set-up, so they turned themselves in. The episode ends with the Butler replacing a piece on a chessboard. It’s the Queen’s Pawn.


The chess metaphor has been a running element in every episode so far, and this one really brings it home. Watching it this week, it seems to me it should be earlier in the running order, probably second, as 6 comments several times on being “new” and still seems to be learning his way around. He also thinks conventional spy techniques will lead to freedom.

I wanted to like this episode more than I do. It’s great that No. 6 is brought down not by the machinations of No. 2 or the Village but by his own hubris. On the other hand, whole segments just make no sense. The subplot with the Queen is just silly and seems like filler. And why take the time to incapacitate No. 2 when rescue is just minutes away, when it just increases the risk of being captured? Also why leave everyone to guard 2 when he is already tied up?

Also, 6 heading for the ship on his own and leaving the others behind is kind of a dick move.

That’s 5 out of McGoohan’s “Essential 7”. Everything else other than the final 2 he considered “filler”, which some of it is, but there’s some really good stuff in there as well.

Next week,The Schizoid Man. Be seeing you (twice).

The Schizoid Man

No. 6 is helping No. 24 with her mentalist act. She’s able to correctly identify cards as he looks at them without showing them to her, and they appear to have a legitimate psychic bond. While practicing 6 accidentally bruises his thumb under the nail, and 12 captures it in a photo.

That night No 2’s agents enter 6’s cottage a drug him in what has now become a nightly ritual. The keep him captive for some time, and condition him to change from being right handed to left, and to enjoy flapjacks (pancakes, I guess). They also dye his hair jet black. Several days or weeks must have passed, because we see them reset the calendar to the day after he was abducted. 6 awakens to discover that not only has his hair color changed, he’s also grown a nifty pornstache.

He heads over to the Green Dome because what the fuck? and No. 2 greets him as No. 12. Apparently 12 bears a strong resemblance to 6, and has been brought to the Village to impersonate him, the idea being that if 6 doubts his identity, he’ll break. So the Village is pulling a double switcheroo – convincing No. 6 that he is actually No. 12 who will be impersonating No. 6, while the real No. 12 is impersonating the real No. 6. <For the sake of my sanity I’ll be referring to our No. 6 as 6/12 and the imposter as 12/6>.

6/12 returns to his cottage where he is soon joined by 12/6. Helpfully, 12/6 is wearing a white blazer with black piping, where 6/12 wears the opposite, because the real No. 6 would never wear white after Labor Day. Anyway, they spar verbally for a while, and then decide to settle the matter with pistols at dawn (not really, but that would have been awesome). They do go to the Village rec center, where they compete in fencing and some electronic target practice. 6/12, still not entirely comfortable as a lefty, does not do well, not even in the polite British fisticuffs that follow.

Once again they find themselves back in No. 2’s office, and he proceeds to question 12/6 as if he were the genuine article. With both men claiming to be No. 6 for reals, 2 tries comparing fingerprints, but that proves inconclusive. 12/6 suggests that a more reliable way to tell would be the small mole on the real 6’s wrist. Of course 6/12 has had his mole removed while 12/6 had it added. 6/12 has a better idea – call in No. 24 so he can demonstrate the psychic link. They do, and she gets every card 6/12 looks at wrong, while getting all of 12/6’s correct. So that went well.

That night 6/12 starts getting flashes of his conditioning while sleeping, and 2, observing, takes it mean that he’s about to crack. The next morning 6/12 notices the bruise under his nail and finds the photo taken by 24 earlier. This triggers more flashbacks of the conditioning, and, finally realizing what has been going on. 6/12 decides to electrocute himself, but only succeeds in somehow becoming right handed again.
6/12 heads over to confront 12/6. Pretending to be broken and ready to talk gets 12/6 to lower his guard, so 6/12 can beat the snot out of him. 12/6 gives up the password – schizoid man – that he uses to identify himself to No. 2. While heading to the Green Dome, they are intercepted by Deus Ex Rover, who is clearly confused. Rover finally decides to kill 12/6 because……well, just because.

6 (we can go back to just 6, now) identifies himself to No. 2 as No. 12, tells him the plan failed, and that No. 6 is dead. Rather than checking for that mole, No. 2 takes him at his word, although a couple of parts of the conversation seems to send up a red flag. 6 is packed and ready to be sent home. While getting into the helicopter, No 2 tells him to give his regards to Susan, and No. 6 says he’ll do that. The helicopter takes off so we can think that 6 has pulled it off, but then it lands and No. 2 informs him that Susan is dead. Foiled again.

I thought this was a pretty good episode, although not all of it makes sense. For five episodes he has been fighting the notion of being a number, and here he has to prove that he really is No. 6 I don’t know if the numbers given to the two other featured players were coincidence or meant to be significant, but 12 is of course, 6x2, and 24 12x2.

The reason Rover killed No. 12 is never adequately explained. Surely 6’s bruise would have healed in the weeks he was being conditioned. And for a spy, No 6. Isn’t very good at thinking on his feet. His attempts to cover his slip-ups during the final exchange with No. 2 are clumsy, and when 2 tells him Susan died a year ago, he should have said “Oh HER? I thought you meant Susan Lefkowitz in HR”. Also, betrayed by a woman again. Stupid females!

Next week – The General. Be seeing you.

Heading away for a couple of weeks, might get chance to keep up but probably not post about it. I guess I should say “be seeing you”.

No worries. Since it just seems to be the two of us,I can wait until you are back.

Damn, I’d totally forgotten to watch Checkmate! Has it really been two weeks already? I’m losing it. I’ll catch up by the time I get back.

Just letmeknow when you are ready to move forward.

Right, back home! Saw Checkmate, I actually really enjoyed this despite the potential holes you described @Sonoftgb, perhaps because both the Village and No. 6 seemed to have raised the stakes and their respective games here (no pun intended) compared with previous episodes. Perhaps this is why it’s later in the running order? Some of these holes can be explained I think by the fact 6 is being a dick (leaving the others behind - he realised he might lose his chance if he went back for them). Visiting 2 to gloat was the reason he gave (and to be honest quite consistent with his character I thought) but it seemed like he had another plan in mind (fiddling with the control console), which was interrupted by the signal suddenly stopping.

Anyway, I did enjoy this one, including the very 60’s style fisticuffs (I was half expecting “KAPOW!” to appear on screen). It seemed the Pavlovian subplot was put in there because this was still considered high science at the time, and regardless of how this dated things it did at least show a little more of the machinations and motivations of the “hospital” we hadn’t seen before.

Still, yet another episode where Rover is the Deus Ex Machina. These days he’d get his own spin-off series.

I’ll try and watch the next episode tonight or tomorrow.

Glad you enjoyed it. i’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts on Schizoid Man, and then we’ll move on.

Ok, Schizoid Man, another enjoyable episode. None of it was really a mystery, other than why No. 12 (the real 12) looked so remarkably similar to 6. They just hand-waved that away. I guess cloning as a plot device hadn’t been discovered by then. What I loved about this episode was the dialog between 6 and 12 particularly when they first met, great writing. I was also extremely impressed at how great the split-screen effect was, for a show shot in the 60s this was more impressive than many later attempts at doing it. The shot where 6 offers 12 a drink is amazing, he actually moves across the screen that’s occupied by 6 a few seconds later, I guess it’s a split screen technique where they moved the split. The shots with the body doubles were less convincing.

I agree though, why was 6 so determined to be a number, and not a free man? It didn’t quite make motivational sense particularly after the last episode, but it wasn’t a biggie. And I agree, his flubs at the end seemed uncharacteristically un-6-like. But I guess he couldn’t get away quite so easily, yet.

Rover again playing a pivotal role, though why he killed 12 (especially after the correct password was given) isn’t clear to me. Rover hasn’t killed escaping prisoners before, that I can remember.

Kudos for the bruise on his finger moving down the nail indicating some time had passed (due to conditioning). At first I thought it was a mistake, but then realised it wasn’t.

So I’m caught up! Onward!

Incidentally, I’m disappointed that only you and I are having a great time watching this, for the reason that everyone else is missing such a great show.

Yeah, I’m disappointed too :).

I don’t think 12 was supposed to be a clone (which I don’t think most people have even heard of back then). Someone once said that everyone has a twin somewhere, and I think that 6’s working for the Village is just supposed to be coincidental.

Rover has killed before, though here it makes no sense. Rover shouldn’t have killed No. 6, and had no reason to kill No. 12.

And it wasn’t all split-screen. Many of the scenes included McGoohan’s stunt double.

Well it’s Sunday, so it seems the right time for the next episode to get us back on schedule!

I’m curious to see what you thought of The General, because it didn’t really work for me at all. :) I mean, there was none of the cerebral central conflict going on here, no sense that No. 6 was trying to escape, in fact it didn’t really make much sense at all. What on earth was going on with the Professor’s wife creating a facsimile of him lying in bed… which No. 6 dutifully smashed? That entire thread seems to go nowhere. And what’s with No. 6 trusting the highly suspect No. 12 with his plan? Speaking of No. 12… didn’t we just have No. 12 last week doing… no wait, never mind.

The final act devolved further into an Adam West Batman parody. Why is everyone wandering around in top hats and dark glasses, other than to give No. 6 a reason to go unnoticed? It was borderline farce, including the notion that they’d arrest No. 6 and - moments later - allow a saboteur with a clear motivation to destroy the system to input an unchecked question into their fantastic machine. I guess someone watched Star Trek’s Ultimate Computer episode for the conclusion to this one.

The other thing that annoyed me was the long drawn-out anticipation of the Professor’s lesson… which was meant to last 15 seconds, and actually took 37 seconds. Details like that annoy me. ;)

I missed Deux Ex Rover.

This definitely felt like a very non-essential filler episode. The low point so far, hopefully next week is an improvement.

I agree with you 100%. And since it just seems to be the two of us, I guess I can skip the recaps. :)

It definitely just felt like filler, and it’s never made entirely clear why this was supposed to be such an evil plan on the part of No. 2. I guess it’s supposed to be a test of a system to be used for mind control or some such, but that’s sort of handled as an aside. Also the depiction of the computer doesn’t age very well, but was typical for the 60’s I guess.

A, B & C, coming up next, is considerably better.