With the piss-poor 2009 US TV version from AMC and recent flurry of ho-hum plays from Big Finish as rather sorry evidence, it can only be concluded that ‘re-imagining’ The Prisoner for the screen or audio is a charlatan’s folly best left these days to talented comic book writers and artists. Like Shattered Visage, DC’s elegiac mini-series from 30 years ago, Titan’s 50th anniversary (of the US TV screenings) take from veteran writer Peter Milligan (Hellblazer, Shade the Changing Man) avoids lazily fetishising the TV series or Patrick McGoohan himself (as Big Finish does), instead shaping a new and intriguing scenario that expands upon a classic, existential 60s nightmare with the same maverick spirit.
In 2018, the mysterious Village has become a secret intelligence legend. British agent Breen is assigned a unique mission by his Jacob Rees Mogg-alike boss: to get himself abducted there in order to rescue its latest prize prisoner who also happens to be his former colleague and lover. Having furnished himself with a suitably desirable load of top-secret knowledge, he’s soon captured and is tumbling down a rabbit hole more terrifying than anything McGoohan had to deal with. The Village, as you might expect, has by now embraced advanced VR and hologram technology and is using this with a heightened, almost murderous relish. The theme of an agent testing his own reality under advanced sedation was explored in the classic TV episode A, B & C, but Milligan mines darker dramatic possibilities in an escalating series of face-offs between new Number 6 Breen and Village controller Number 2, culminating in a gasp-inducing cliffhanger where our hero appears to blow his own brains out. Like we said: darker.
Fans will be delighted with an update that manages to explore and even explain some of the key questions posed by the TV series (that automated punch-card scene in the title sequence takes on a huge significance) while only adding to the inherent mystery. We experience a host of new dimensions to the Village’s operation, all of which connect beautifully to things sometimes only hinted at before - a scene where Number 6 escapes capture by following Rover under the sea to his ‘birthing chamber’ is an absolute delight that forefronts artist Colin Lorimer’s confidence in extending the classic iconography of the TV series.
It’s a far more action-oriented take than the 1988 DC comic series, breathlessly so in fact, and could have done with a couple more issues to explore all of Milligan’s ideas and new characters, but this is the real deal from a writer who has absolutely nailed the renegade DNA of a brilliant and timeless concept. As a wise kid once said: born all over.
THE PRISONER - VOLUME 1: THE UNCERTAINTY MACHINE / WRITER: PETER MILLIGAN / ILLUSTRATOR: COLIN LORIMER / PUBLISHER: TITAN COMICS / RELEASE DATE: 13TH NOVEMBER