The Prisoner: The Complete Series – Blu-ray Review

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There are cult series and there is The Prisoner. Over the course of 17 episodes, Patrick McGoohan and his collaborators took television into a bold new direction. Folks accustomed to The Jackie Gleason Show went beyond the moon when The Prisoner took over the Great One’s timeslot for the summer of ’68. What did grandma make of a retired British secret agent being interrogated at a colorful resort community? This was not “away we go” entertainment. Those who stuck around witnessed a drama about a man maintaining his humanity while enduring intense psychological sessions. The Prisoner: The Complete Series on Blu-ray reveals amazing details without giving away all the secrets of the man who refused to be Number Six.

“The Arrival” opens with Patrick McGoohan’s character driving into an underground lair and delivering his retirement notice. While packing for his vacation, agents disgusted as funeral home directors gas his apartment and take off with his unconscious body. He wakes up to what looks like his home, but turns out to be a village filled with other intelligence agents. Nobody in the Village has a name. They are all given numbers. His is Number Six. The official controlling the Village is Number Two. However, McGoohan is not happy being called Number Six. “I’m not a number. I’m a free man” is his protest cry. He does his best to escape with the help of a fellow spy and a helicopter. But he quickly discovers it’s hard to trust anyone in the Village since you can’t tell the staff from the inmates. A little bit of backstory is necessary. For seven years McGoohan had played John Drake on Danger Man (or Secret Agent as it was called in America). He quit that show unexpectedly. The baggage of that former role comes into play in The Prisoner.

Each episode featured a new Number Two brought in to crack Number Six. Each pushed a different technique in the hopes of getting a confession. “The Chimes of Big Ben” has Leo McKern (Rumpole of the Bailey) in the big chair. He allows Number Six to team up with Number Eight. The duo make a boat that’s composed of an abstract sculpture. McKern returns for the final two episodes to be only Number Two to appear in numerous episodes. “A.B. and C.” has the next Number Two using Number Six’s dreams to probe if he was going to sell out and go rogue. “The Schizoid Man” as a lookalike enter the Village. “Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darling” has them switch his body. All Number Six cares about knowing is the identity of Number One. Nobody wants to let that secret slip out.

The final two episodes go from the most intense moments to complete pop surrealism. “Once Upon a Time” gives McKern a second crack at busting up Number Six. McKern goes for regressive therapy to bring the agent from his childhood up to the moment he resigned. They’re locked up in the room with the dimiutive butler (Angelo Muscat) as the only outsider. The tables get turned and Number Six attempts to bust McKern. McGoohan and McKern do not back down from each other. The documentary on bonus DVD lets McKern describe this as a emotional battle. “Fall Out” wraps up the show with a mix of music and insanity that must have completely freaked out Grandma. We get a glimpse of Number One. Does Number Six finally escape? Is there really an escape?

The Prisoner set a precedence as to what could be accomplished on TV. The complexity of the plots and the extremes of the tone set it apart from even Mission: Impossible. This wasn’t feel good espionage. The series dared to probe the nature of torture as the Vietnam War was heating up. How far can you go to mentally break a man? How can they resist? Four decades later and we’re still arguing over the limits when interrogating someone. Over those same decades people have analyzed this series on the same level as a James Joyce novel or a Picasso painting. Now with the clarity of high definition, there’s another layer of detail to investigate as a viewer can almost step into The Village. The Prisoner: The Complete Series on Blu-ray will grow the cult of people wanting to be free men and not merely numbers.

The video is 1.33:1 pillar boxed. The 1080p transfers average 25 Mbps. These are light years ahead of the original A&E DVDs that came out in 2000. There will be plenty of diehard fans who will be freeze framing scenes to pick up clues in the various rooms now that the details can shine. The audio includes a new 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround mix. Rover’s attacks are more menacing. The original mono mixes are also included. The subtitles are in English.

Audio Commentaries are on the following episodes: “The Arrival” with Bernie Williams and Tony Sloman, “The Chimes Of Big Ben” with Vincent Tilsley, “The Shizoid Man” with Pat Jackson, “The General” with Peter Graham Scott, “Dance Of The Dead” with Bernie Williams, Tony Sloman and John Smith, “Change Of Mind” with Roger Parkes and “Fallout” with Eric and Noreen Ackland. There’s plenty of tales from the set.

Don’t Knock Yourself Out (94:49) does not contain Patrick McGoohan spilling all his secrets. It opens with a note from him, “If whatever we wanted to say is not already contained within the episodes of the series then I failed in the production of them and any amount of chit-chat now will not make good that omission.” There is plenty of talk about working with McGoohan. He comes off as a man doing his best to stay in complete control of the show yet not wanting to give away what it’s all about. This was almost an abstract art piece.

The Pink Prisoner (9:23) is an extended interview with Peter Wyngarde. He was Number Two in “Checkmate.” He’s beloved in the campy Jason King. His character was ripped off for Austin Powers. He does a bon vivant discussion of how The Prisoner was different from other shows of the time.

Make Sure It Fits (9:15) has Eric Mival discuss his role as music editor.

Exposure Strips Gallery (10:32) is the single frames from the rushes that were printed in color to give a sense of what things really looked like on the film. The rushes were printed in black and white to save money.

Filing Cabinet Footage (2:29) has the close ups of the filing cabinet with “retired” written in various languages.

Rover Footage (0:25) has the white balloon bouncing on the beach.

McGoohan Montage from Arrival (0:50) are the still photos that were used to show how he’d been under survellience.

Ad Bumpers (0:14) has the bicycle let you know when the show is back.

Promotional Image Gallery (2:17) is a montage of stills from the set.

1967 Press Conference Gallery (2:32) is McGoohan promoting the show inside the trailer cage. This was not the usual press junket.

Production Designs Gallery (0:49) are the sketches for various sets. They look like illustrations for a book.

Arrival Original Edit (50:31) has the first pass of the show that includes Wilfred Joseph’s original score. It was taken from a 35mm source. There’s a bonus feature to demonstrate their restoration of the formerly thought lost episode.

The Chimes of Big Ben Original Edit (50:35) is taken from a 16mm source and hasn’t been restored. You get a great sense of how much love went into the Blu-ray buffing of the series.

Textless Titles (2:53) lets you experience Ron Grainer’s theme music with the scores that weren’t used for the opening scene by Wilfred Josephs and Robert Farnon.

Production Paperwork Archive contains what seems to be every piece of paper produced by the series in a DVD-ROM form. The script from every episode is here along with production notes and press releases.

Trailers for each episode.

Image Galleries for each episode.

AMC’s The Prisoner (0:32) is the reimagining of the series. Strange to think the mini-series will have Magneto trying to break Jesus.

The Prisoner: The Complete Series on Blu-ray is like being let in on a big secret. The 1080p transfer brings out more clues as to what is going on around Number Six. Titles on books are clearly visible. While lacking any input from Patrick McGoohan (he passed away at the start of 2009), the bonus features have enough people telling us stories about him and the series. A cultist has so much to dig through while determining ultimately who is Number One. This is a masterpiece presentation for a masterpiece of a series.


A&E Home Video presents The Prisoner: The Complete Series. Starring: Starring Patrick McGoohan, Angelo Muscat and Leo McKern. Boxset contents: 17 episodes on 4 Blu-ray discs & Bonus Features on DVD. Released on Blu-ray: October 27, 2009. Available at Amazon.com

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