Review: Unique But Similar – the Prisoner Compared / Author: Andrew K. Shenton / Publisher: Independent Press Publishing / Release Date: Out Now
Andrew K. Shenton's Unique But Similar: the Prisoner Compared aims to fill a perceived gap. Shenton points out the apparent oxymoron that many commentators describe The Prisoner as a unique television event then compare it to other productions such as Life on Mars. In Unique But Similar he has therefore dedicated a whole book dedicated to comparing The Prisoner with other shows in a systematic way.
This is not for the casual fan, nor is it an episode guide. It is an eclectic set of ten essays (plus scene setting) some of which are updates to essays already published on the web. It draws comparisons with programmes transmitted no later than 1987 – the twentieth anniversary of The Prisoner first being transmitted. The style is dry; there are no pictures or art work and each essay is followed by (up to several) pages of references. In the 21st century I feel there must be a better way to do this, though web based companions do require a lot of maintenance.
The book does not cover every episode and the range of programmes picked is meant to entice fans of other shows. To this end we have references to Doctor Who, Mission: Impossible, Children of the Stones amongst other items. The book also suffers from its own conceit: in the writing the point is made that people are good at spotting similarities between any two things no matter how arbitrarily chosen. If you take fans of a cult series such as The Prisoner and twenty years of TV output it is easy to find dozens of apparent similarities. There are only so many stories and plot variations. I could, for example, link Fall Out (the final episode of The Prisoner) to the Genesis album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.
Less than convinced by the premise though I was, I did however find the long essay on Blake’s 7 interesting, and I enjoyed the chapter on Joe 90! As one who does enjoy thinking about science fiction and influences within the genre, I found Unique But Similar interesting enough to read, but wanted more on the shows that came before, the culture of the 1960s and McGoohan himself. I also wanted to read of the connections to more recent shows – maybe a follow up book will appear. Overall this is somewhat niche but will appeal to some readers.