Recreating a well-defined classic cult show such as The Prisoner is an invidious task; stay too close to the original and you get accused of adding nothing, drift too far and you get accused of losing something essential. With The Prisoner: Volume 1, writer and director Nick Briggs has the unenviable task of keeping true to the original (unlike the 2009 remake), making something relevant to a new audience and allowing room for new ideas to flourish. We’re pleased to say this has largely been achieved.
True to the TV series, the boxset starts with Departure and Arrival (the TV series started with Arrival) and brings us Mark Elstob’s take on the classic Patrick McGoohan character of Number 6. It also paints an audio picture of The Village and starts to introduce the many and varied staples of the show’s DNA. The plot is mostly that of the original with some embellishments, including Nick Brigg’s focus on the advanced technology being used to control the lives of those exiled to The Village. Mark Elstob convinces from the first line, and the role of Number 9 blossoms with the performance of Sara Powell. The episode has a lot to do and manages it all. We even get to meet Rover, the seemingly intelligent white ball security guard.
Next up is a reimaging of the episode The Schizoid Man (it was the fifth episode of the TV run) and The Village feels well established, which is just as well given this is about doppelgängers and misdirection. Mark Esltob plays Number 6 and a look-alike (Number 12), but there is twist layered on twist. Nick Briggs has cleverly replaced the Number 24 of the original with a return for Sara Powell’s Number 9. In a single stroke this gives the listener a firm anchor as they attempt to navigate a complex story.
Third is Nick’s entirely original Welcome to Your Beautiful Village, and this is a surreal three-hander concerning what happens when Number 6 experiences almost total sensory deprivation and has only a call in the dark from Number 9 to help guide him. Meanwhile, what is Number 2 up to, and could it be he needs Number 6’s help? This is a superb piece of writing, well-performed and seems to go to the heart of some of Nick Brigg’s ideas of the essence of The Prisoner without making any definitive statements on what is precisely going on. It is a story designed for audio and a great addition to the canon.
The set ends with a version of Chimes of Big Ben in which Number 6 appears to escape The Village in the company of beautiful Lithuanian Number 8 (Kristina Buikaite). This was originally the second TV story but works well as the final instalment of this first boxset. Even knowing the original this is a hugely enjoyable tale.
Two other aspects need mention: first the various actors playing Number 2; second the soundscape.
The part of Number 2 is pivotal to The Village and Big Finish has cast a great set of actors in this role (which changes every story). Between them, John Standing, Celia Imrie, Ramon Tikaram and Michael Cochrane each brings something special to the part and set a high bar for future casting. The sound captures many of the tonal elements of The Village from the 1960s, the music is as it should be. One complaint though – the TV show had a classic beginning with snips of dialogue over the theme tune; although the theme tune is there, the voice over isn’t. Maybe that would take re-imaging too close to imitation, but it is missed!
While it will never be possible to please every fan of the original in every detail, this is a rich retelling replete with potential and on the strength of this boxset, there is plenty more to look forward to, and this should include more wholly original material.
THE PRISONER: VOLUME 1 / DIRECTOR & AUTHOR: NICK BRIGGS / STARRING: MARK ELSTOB, JOHN STANDING, CELIE IMRIE, RAMON TIKARAM, MICHAEL COCHRANE, SARA POWELL, KRISTINA BUIKAITE / PUBSLIHER: BIG FINISH / RELEASE DATE: JANUARY 6TH