The 17 episodes, are introduced by footage of the prisoner/Number 6 (Patrick McGoohan) driving past the landmarks of London in his distinctive Lotus 7 sport car, handing in his resignation and on returning to his flat is gassed and taken away in a funeral hearse. He wakes up, and metaphorically resurrects in a surreal seaside village, which keeps all its occupants prisoners from the outside world.
It was easy for viewers to assume that Number 6 was a continuation of McGoohan’s secret agent character, who starred in the highly popular (and conventional) Danger Man TV series.
If it was down to his main collaborator, George Markstein, who had been story editor on Danger Man, it might have been a more traditional spy thriller of the Cold War era. Like a man possessed by the spirit of the 1960s, McGoohan cast that all aside to produce a series that challenges us about the nature of reality, our individuality, our politics, science, human interactions and our perceptions of the world. Are we all numbers or are we free? And, what does it mean to be free? Heady questions, indeed.
Even today such a programme would shake our senses, back in the 1960s it was astonishing. McGoohan threw himself into the series as star, producer, writer and director to create a television milestone that still sends its reverberations through popular culture.
British filmmaker Alex Cox proves to be an insightful guide to the enduring enigma of The Prisoner. He was transfixed by it when it was first broadcast and he has viewed it repeatedly since then, using this knowledge and the original screenplays along with other archive material, he looks at the significance and information given by each episode to build up a picture of who is Number 6 and who or what is Number 1?
To weave his merry way through this cultural landmark Cox studies each episode in the order it was made, rather than in the order it was actually broadcast. This helps unravel some of this tangled web but are his interpretations correct? Cox certainly adds lots of insights into what went on behind the scenes and the processes involved in making such a series.
If this doesn’t encourage you to watch The Prisoner again, or for the first time, nothing will.
I AM NOT A NUMBER: DECODING THE PRISONER / AUTHOR: ALEX COX / PUBLISHER: KAMERA BOOKS / RELEASE DATE: 9TH NOVEMBER