The Prisoner (1967) – Arrival, and The Chimes of Big Ben

The Prisoner is a series I had long heard about, but, for some reason known only to some deep, dark corner of my psyche, I had never watched. Everything I heard about it suggested I would enjoy it, that it would be right up my alley. But I never dug in and screened it…

… until now.

Written by George Markstein and David Tomblin, this trippy, cult-fave series first debuted on the BBC on 29 September, 1967. We are introduced to an unnamed agent (Patrick McGoohan), who, during the opening titles sequence, whips through London in his little speedster, enters a secret building and delivers his resignation by slamming it down on the desk of his superiors.

He’s followed home, gassed, and wakes up in The Village. Despite it’s pleasant trappings, it’s clear from the off that this is a prison, and this skilled agent, who is pretty handy with his quips, is being held there, and is told that sooner or later, they will get the answers from him that they want.

There are strange manners, hallucinogenic sets, a strange, bouncing, large white balloon that has the abilities to trap and incapacitate prisoners, and their are eyes and ears everywhere. The only maps that exist are of the Village, everyone has a number, our hero is given Number Six, and his tour of The Village is alternately delightful, and unnerving.

When he stumbles across someone he knows, he is denied the chance of garnering information, because his friend quickly ends up dead, and his next connection is merely a pawn in the organization’s attempt to manipulate and control him.

And while they don’t condone his attempts at escape, they learn more about him with each move he makes, and think that sooner or later, they’ll break him… because there is no way out of The Village.

For a first episode, I loved it, the production design is top notch, and I love the control center set. There’s so much going on here, and so many WTF moments that are just bizarre, all of it keeping the viewer off guard. The production design, the location, the tight pacing of the script, and McGoohan’s performance, all of it works like gangbusters, and must have truly been something to see when it first aired.

It must have created a lot of talk for those who saw it.

The Chimes of Big Ben was written by Vincent Tilsley and first went on the Beeb on 6 October, 1967. We learn that there are residents in The Village from all nations, and a new one has just arrived, a Estonian named Nadia (Nadia Gray), who is quickly given the designation, Number Eight.

Six is intrigued by her, even as the new Number Two (Leo McKern) attempts to get more information from Six about his resignation, the whys and wherefores.

As Six converses with Nadia (and begins to have a few romantic intentions), he discovers that she knows the location of The Village, and if they know where they are, they know where they can escape to, if they can find a way out. Nadia/Eight attempts to swim out, only to be captured by the large white balloons, but Six may have a plan.

Using the Arts & Crafts exhibition as a cover, Six creates a sculpture that they can transform into a boat. There are connections to be made on the mainland that Nadia can make, and then they can escape to London, where Six can be debriefed, and resume his life, all to the sounds of Big Ben.

So even as spooky and unnerving things continue to be revealed about The Village, Six is able to escape and return to England…

… or is he?

As the episode unfolded I was shocked to learn he escaped as quickly as he did, we’re only on episode two (!), but then the twists, turns and reveals kept coming, and, of course, Six never got to leave The Village (!). It was all a plan to get information from Six.

The psychedelic angle of the series adds a large measure of enjoyment, leaving one to constantly wonder what to believe, and who to trust…

I guess I’ll find out (or not ) when I explore the next two episodes of the cult classic series, The Prisoner!

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