So I showed you last week’s installment to show you this week’s. You’ll see why later.
Although Danger Man was actually a successfully show, Patrick McGoohan wanted to do something else. He had a surreal sci-fi-ish show in mind that he and George Markstein has put together. Leaving a successful show is quite the gamble to jump into a brand new series. Lucky for McGoohan the gamble paid off in one of the most popular shows to come out of the UK and one that still finds its way into pop culture. That show was The Prisoner, a show that actually started airing in Canada before hitting the UK.
While still playing a secret agent we never learn the real name of Number Six, as he tries to escape the Village. The Village is a place where former agents are brought to be debriefed in a rather odd manner. Are they from his government, curious why one of their best agents suddenly up and quits? (That’s something else we’re never told.) Or is it a foreign power hoping to steal a bunch of secrets that he’s privy too? That’s one of the questions he has to answer as well as figuring out who, if anyone, he can trust.
And it all starts with the first episode, as we see how Number Six first arrives in the Village and a basic idea of what he’s up against.
No, we will never learn what side the Village is on. The ending…is a topic all it’s own. In an interview McGoohan said that Number One represented the evil side of all of us or something, but for the most part ambiguous seems to be the way to go here. But the show’s part in science fiction is obvious. From homages to Rover, to Six’s speech about not being “pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered” being quoted in many different genres, The Prisoner remains a part of pop culture. AMC attempted a rebooted miniseries but I never saw it. There was also an audio drama remake by Big Finish, the same group that does the Doctor Who and spinoff audio dramas. I also thought I remembered Christopher Eccleson leaving Doctor Who because he had a chance to be in a Prisoner remake, and him being more into that show than Doctor Who but I couldn’t find that quote, and if that was the case it wasn’t in this one. So I could be wrong.
And don’t get attached to any Number Two. When they fail to break Six, they end up with a short lifespan.
…part of Markstein’s inspiration came from his research into the Second World War, where he found that some people had been incarcerated in a resort-like prison called Inverlair Lodge. Markstein suggested that Danger Man’s main character John Drake (played by McGoohan) could suddenly resign and, consequently, be kidnapped and sent to such a location.] McGoohan added Markstein’s suggestion to material he had been working on, which later became The Prisoner. Furthermore, a 1960 episode of Danger Man entitled “View from the Villa” had exteriors filmed in Portmeirion, a Welsh resort village that struck McGoohan as a good location for future projects.
According to “Fantasy or Reality”, a chapter of The Prisoner of Portmeirion, The Village is based, in part, on “a strange place in Scotland” operated by the Inter Services Research Bureau (ISRB), wherein “people” with “valuable knowledge of one sort or another” were held prisoners on extended “holidays” in a “luxury prison camp”. The Prisoner’s story editor, George Markstein, this source contends, knows of “the existence of this ‘secure establishment.” However, this “Scottish prison camp, in reality was not, of course, a holiday-type village full of people wearing colorful” clothing.
Further inspiration came from a Danger Man episode called “Colony Three”, in which Drake infiltrates a spy school in Eastern Europe during the Cold War. The school, in the middle of nowhere, is set up to look like a normal English town in which pupils and instructors mix as in any other normal city, but the instructors are virtual prisoners with little hope of ever leaving. McGoohan also stated that he was influenced by his experience from theatre, including his work in the Orson Welles play Moby Dick—Rehearsed (1955) and a BBC television play, The Prisoner by Bridget Boland. McGoohan wrote a forty-page show Bible, which included a: “history of the Village, the sort of telephones they used, the sewerage system, what they ate, the transport, the boundaries, a description of the Village, every aspect of it…”McGoohan wrote and directed several episodes, often using pseudonyms. Specifically, McGoohan wrote “Free for All” under the pen name ‘Paddy Fitz’ (Paddy being the Irish diminutive for Patrick and Fitzpatrick being his mother’s maiden name) and directed the episodes “Many Happy Returns” and “A Change of Mind” using the stage name ‘Joseph Serf’, the surname being ironically a word meaning a peasant who is under the control of a feudal master. Using his own name, McGoohan wrote and directed the last two episodes—”Once Upon a Time” and “Fall Out”—and directed “Free for All”.
So these came together to form the show. It was actually filmed in Portmeirion so they did get to use the area.
Now what about the Danger Man/Secret Agent connection? Beyond leaving that show to start this one, one fan theory about Number Six’s identity is that John Drake WAS Number Six. Supposedly Markstein had wanted it to be the same character but royalties would have to be paid to Danger Man‘s creator Ralph Smart, and a number of writers who crossed over from that show had it in their head cannon that it was. However, McGoohan has stated numerous times that Number Six is NOT John Drake, and originally he wanted someone else to take on the role. So much for that idea.
If you want to see more, The Prisoner is available from Shout Factory on home video–at least I think it is but I can’t find it on their website even though it’s on their YouTube channel–or streaming at Shout Factory TV (that I found a link for). And next week we’ll try to do something they don’t have, lest you think I’m being paid for this. (I wish I was. Hey, Shout Factory!)