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A worldwide chorus of excited squeals and agonized groans greeted the recent announcement that Britain's Sky One network was remaking the 1967 cult series The Prisoner. The 17-episode original, starring Patrick McGoohan (who also conceived, co-wrote, produced and occasionally directed the series) is both a dense political allegory and a rollicking bout of secret-agent entertainment. The Prisoner brutally satirized Western institutions, but it also featured a giant white balloon named Rover that liked to pounce on miscreants.

Whether a remake of a series so tied to the climate of the '60s will work remains to be seen. But the original, which arrives next week in a gun-jumping 40th anniversary edition, deserves to be seen.

McGoohan plays a nameless British spy who, in the opening credits, stormily resigns from the secret service. We see him being followed home, gassed in his London apartment and falling to the bed. When he awakes he is in The Village, a leafy little town (filmed at a holiday resort in Wales) from which there is no escape.

But unlike the modern TV drama Prison Break, escape is only part of what drives McGoohan's character. Referred to only as Number Six, he is constantly sparring with Number Two, played by a different actor in almost every episode. Number Two wants to know why he resigned. Number Six wants to know where he is and who is Number One?

Part of the masochistic pleasure of the series is that most questions are never answered. Google search The Prisoner and you'll find appreciation societies (``fan clubs'' does not do justice to their enthusiasm) still debating finer plot points and larger themes of the mind-bending series. Is it a celebration or a cynical refutation of individual rights? Is Number Six the same character played by McGoohan in the show Danger Man? Who is Number One?

There is little official material from the show, and this new box set duplicates the bonus features from a 2001 edition, including the 45-minute Prisoner Video Companion featurette, which discusses some of the show's themes, and some early location footage taken at Portmeirion. (About 10 per cent of guests at the Welsh resort now come specifically because The Prisoner was shot there.)

New is a striking colour map of The Village (one of the first things Number Six does is try to plot his way out on a map, which shows him hemmed in by ocean and mountains) and a comprehensive written guide by Roger Langley, who also runs the Six of One Prisoner appreciation society.

But the old charm of the series is still its chief selling point. Certainly, McGoohan's cry of ``I am not a number; I am a free man!'' still resonates today. And the jaunty phrase ``be seeing you,'' accompanied by a brisk salute with thumb and index finger joined (said to be an ancient Christian greeting), still separates mere fans from the truly appreciative.


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This site is an unofficial guide to Dangerman (1960), The Prisoner (1967) and The Prisoner (2009). Images and text are copyright their respective owners, portions owned by Granada Media, Granada International, American Movie Classics Company LLC and Other content Copyright © 2006-2013, may not be reproduced without permission.
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