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Patrick McGoohan
Patrick McGoohan, George Markstein, Angelo Muscat, Peter Swanwick, Fenella Fielding
Writing Credits:

No Man Is Just A Number.

Since its CBS debut in the summer of 1968, the masterful British TV series The Prisoner has captivated American audiences. Now A&E presents a definitive aficionado's edition of the cult classic which is considered one of the most innovative TV series ever filmed, for the first time in breathtaking Blu-Ray. Fully restored from the original film elements with newly remixed 5.1 surround sound and featuring hours of bonus material never released in North America, The Prisoner (Blu-Ray Edition) is a fitting tribute to the creative vision of the late Executive Producer and Star Patrick McGoohan.

After resigning from a top-secret position, a man (McGoohan) is abducted and spirited from his London home to a mysterious place known only as 'The Village.' Village Residents, known only by numbers, are held captive because each possesses valuable knowledge. The Prisoner, now known as Number Six, battles to protect his mind - and his humanity - while struggling to discover the identity of Number One and escape captivity.

Rated NR

5-Disc set
Fullscreen 1.33:1
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 881 min.
Price: $99.95
Release Date: 10/27/2009

Disc One:
• Audio Commentaries for Three Episodes
• Image Galleries for All Five Episodes
• Trailers for All Five Episodes
Disc Two:
• Audio Commentaries for Two Episodes
• Image Galleries for All Five Episodes
• Trailers for All Five Episodes
Disc Three
• Audio Commentaries for One Episode
• Image Galleries for All Five Episodes
• Trailers for All Five Episodes
Disc Four:
• Audio Commentaries for One Episode
• Image Galleries for Both Episodes
• Trailers for Both Episodes
• Generic Trailers
• Textless Title Sequences
• “Arrival” Original Edit
• “Arrival” Original Edit Restoration Featurette
• Textless Title Sequences
Disc Five:
• “Don’t Knock Yourself Out” Documentary
• “The Pink Prisoner” Featurette
• “You Make Sure It Fits!” Featurette
• Preview of AMC’s 2009 Prisoner Mini-Series
• “The Chimes of Big Ben” Original Edit
• Exposure Strips Gallery
• Commercial Break Bumpers
• Archive Materials
• Image Archive
• Production Paperwork Archive


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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The Prisoner: The Complete Series [Blu-Ray] (1967)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 28, 2010)

The very definition of a cult classic TV show, The Prisoner comes to Blu-ray via this “Complete Series” set. We find all 17 episodes in this package. I’ll look at them in the order broadcast, which is the same way they appear here. The plot synopses come straight from the Blu-ray’s liner notes.


Arrival: “Shortly after resigning, a man is abducted from his home and spirited away to The Village. It is obviously a prison. Why is he here?”

The series gets off to a fairly surreal start via “Arrival”. While most TV shows would provide gobs of detailed exposition, Prisoner keeps us as confused and off-guard as its lead character. We don’t learn his name, and the circumstances of his resignation from some mysterious organization remain murky. We know even less than he does, which makes his plight all the more unsettling to us.

I don’t know how many answers we’ll ever get from the series; it seems that one of the big reasons for its continued appeal comes from its ambiguity. “Arrival” does set the stage in an intriguing way, partially due to the vagueness of everything. We know that Number Six is in The Village due to his past job, and we also become aware that even if he cooperates with the authorities, he can never leave. The tension will clearly come from his attempts to deal with this eerie Orwellian place and his struggles to escape. “Arrival” brings us into the series in a stimulating manner that makes me curious to see what happens next.

The Chimes of Big Ben: “The Prisoner learns it’s only a matter of time that foils an attempt to trap him.”

Beatles fans will be delighted to see Leo McKern as yet another Number Two; he offers an oddly jolly presence, though I always expected him to chant “go to the WINdow!” While it’s fun to see McKern, McGoohan’s Number Six really starts to take flight here. “Arrival” only hinted at the character’s self-confidence; “Chimes” allows him to show strength and cockiness that will him interesting to follow; it’s a blast to watch him pretend to conform to the Village’s norms while we know he has nothing but subversion in his mind.

A, B and C: “The Prisoner is the subject of an experiment to manipulate his dreams.”

To date, we’ve learned precious little about Number Six’s past. “A” allows us to get some insights into the man he was before he came to The Village. It’s an interesting view, as we get to see him in a different setting – kind of. It’s a clever conceit that the episode explores well.

Free for All: “The Prisoner stands for election as the new Number Two, but finds even a candidate for this top position has no freedom of speech.”

The Prisoner seems even more surreal than usual with the downright bizarre “Free for All”. It nicely lampoons elections, as it depicts a campaign in a pretty darned totalitarian society. This puts Number Six through the looking glass even more than normal and creates a consistently enchanting – and strange – episode.

The Schizoid Man: “Attempts are made to split the Prisoner’s personality to make him believe he is someone else.”

In a series that specializes in mind games, “Schizoid” cranks things up a notch. It boasts a clever concept that works especially well due to the fact that the show doesn’t telegraph its path; we’re in the dark just as much as Number Six is. It’s a deep episode.


The General: “Who is The General? Only when he can discover the identity of this unseen figure can The Prisoner prove that knowledge is not wisdom.”

This episode provides a smart critique of rudimentary educational regimes. It equates rote memorization with brainwashing, and that’s not a bad concept; as one who works in education, I see too much focus on basic facts/”teaching to the test” and too little concentration on broadening minds. “The General” also offers an intriguing mystery, so it’s another solid program.

Many Happy Returns: “The Prisoner escapes and succeeds in getting back to London. Yet there us still no freedom…”

16 minutes: excluding the dialogue during the opening credits, that’s how long we wait to hear any speech in “Returns”. And even when someone speaks, it’s in German! Later sequenced provide dialogue in Romany; we don’t hear English until almost 25 minutes into the show, and the whole shebang remains very light on dialogue.

Which makes “Returns” pretty cool. I thought the “silent movie” side of things might make the episode feel gimmicky, but that never becomes an issue. Instead, the program gets points for its unique vibe, and it offers a clever form of visual storytelling.

Dance of the Dead: “Death lurks amid the gaiety of a carnival and The Prisoner is put on trial when he makes an audacious bid to foil his captors.”

After the inventiveness of “Returns”, “Dance” feels a bit stale. The best episodes keep us off-guard but intrigue, whereas this one never really gets going in a satisfying way. We wait for a good twist that never quite arrives. This doesn’t make it a bad episode, but it’s less involving than usual.

Checkmate: “A queen is the pawn in a game of love aimed at breaking The Prisoner.”

Given the fact that most episodes of The Prisoner feature the same basic plot – ie, Number Six’s attempts to outwit his captors and escape – it’s astonishing how much variety the series develops. That shows up again in “Checkmate”. While elements of the show seem familiar, the program develops them in new ways and always keeps us interested. It offers a good rebound after the less enthralling “Dance”, although it doesn’t answer the most pressing question: what’s up with all the eyeliner sported by this episode’s Number Two?

Hammer Into Anvil: “The Prisoner, seeking to avenge the death of a persecuted girl, plays a cat and mouse game with Number Two.”

One of the many clever aspects of The Prisoner: the constantly changing roster of Number Twos. Like other components of the series, this could play as a simple gimmick, but instead, it makes things exciting. It allows for a variety of personalities to toy with Number Six and keeps that relationship from becoming predictable and stale.

This also means that the methods Number Six uses to work against Number Two constantly change and evolve, and “Anvil” develops this well. After all the psychological games played against him, Number Six gets revenge here; he manipulates the paranoid system to turn tables on Number Two. The revolving door of Number Twos means there won’t be a lasting impact in terms of the series’ arc, but it’s awfully fun to watch.


It’s Your Funeral: “The Prisoner is tricked into ‘discovering’ an assassination plot – but who is going to be killed?”

What I don’t quite understand: why someone would bother to attempt to assassinate Number Two. His/her identity changes constantly – who cares if one of them dies? Yes, this program tells us that it presents the “real” Number Two and the others were just fill-ins, but we remain unconvinced; we still view Number Two as totally disposable. That conceptual flaw makes “Funeral” less effective than I’d like. The story itself has some good moments, but I think the basic plot lacks enough logic to really succeed.

A Change of Mind: “Can science change a man’s mentality? The Prisoner is the subject of a sinister plan to transform his mental processes.”

While virtually all episodes of The Prisoner involve various forms of mind games, “Change” explores something it rarely touches: peer pressure. Normally we see official attempts to alter Number Six, but “Change” plays up the social components; can even a rebel like Number Six deal with being ostracized? That gives it a good twist, one that it explores in a positive way along with some more aggressive psychiatric techniques.

Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling: “The Prisoner undergoes a transformation which transmits his mind and personality into another man’s body.”

Even for The Prisoner, “Forsake” provides a trippy episode. We barely see/hear McGoohan, as we get an alternate actor as Number Six. This gives the show an unusual bent, but I must admit I’m not sure what purpose the story serves. Maybe I missed something, but I couldn’t figure out what good it did Number Six’s captors to have him out and about in a different body. I guess it was an attempt to lure the genius scientist who came up with the mind-swap technique, but it never quite makes sense. Still, it does turn into a compelling story.

Living In Harmony: “The Prisoner finds himself in a Western township and is tricked into becoming the Sheriff.”

And the trips get even trippier in this strange episode. We know a twist must eventually emerge, but the show plays it straight; though we can see the town of Harmony as a stand-in for the Village, it takes a long time for the program’s intentions to reveal themselves.

Which leaves “Harmony” as a pretty simple Western at heart – and not an especially memorable one. Alexis Kanner’s creepy performance as mute weirdo sharpshooter The Kid leaves a strong impression, whereas McGoohan’s Gregory Peck-ish take on his character doesn’t. “Harmony” works better as an offbeat concept than as a show, though it still has enough interesting moments to make it watchable.

The Girl Who Was Death: “The Prisoner acts out a fairy tale with a difference and meets a girl who believes they were made for each other!”

Like “Harmony”, “Death” offers another surreal fantasy story. Unlike “Harmony”, however, “Death” moves at a brisk pace and keeps us even more off-guard than normal. The weirdness factor and lots of action ensure that we remain absorbed by this freaky show.


Once Upon a Time: “The Prisoner faces ruthless interrogation, taken to the extreme degree.”

A normal series would use its penultimate episode to simply lay pipe for its conclusion. Which “Time” does – sort of. It brings back probably the best Number Two (Leo McKern) and creates an intense psychodrama that leaves us somewhat perplexed but nonetheless intrigued to move on to the finish – and presumably finally meet Number One.

Fall Out: “Surviving the interrogation, The Prisoner is offered the chance to meet Number One and gain his freedom.”

If you expect “Fall Out” to offer a neat ‘n’ tidy resolution to The Prisoner, then you’ve clearly not paid attention to the prior 16 episodes. It does give us a happy ending, but it takes a weird path to get there. To some degree, it seems a bit anti-climactic, but that was virtually inevitable after all the build-up. While not a perfectly satisfying conclusion, “Fall Out” still wraps things up well.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture A-/ Audio C+/ Bonus A

The Prisoner appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on these Blu-ray Discs. Though not literally flawless, these shows looked much better than anyone could’ve expected.

Sharpness usually appeared excellent. The Blu-ray exhibited terrific fine detail much of the time, as many elements looked remarkably concise and tight. Occasional soft shots occurred, but those were inevitable given the nature of the production. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and I noticed no edge haloes.

I would expect many source flaws from a TV series shot more than four decades ago. While some defects emerged, they remained quite minor. Occasional examples of specks and spots cropped up, but these were infrequent and not much of a distraction. Overall, the programs were clean and without notable problems.

Colors were a joy to observe. The Prisoner enjoyed a palette that veered toward psychedelic at times, so the episodes usually enjoyed lively hues. The Blu-ray replicated these with excellent accuracy. The tones were always vivid and dynamic. Blacks seemed dark and firm, while shadows were clear and smooth. The occasional source flaws and mild softness kept this an “A-“ transfer, but if I rated the shows based on expectations, it’d be an “A+”; this was a simply stunning presentation.

While the Dolby Digital 5.1 sound of The Prisoner was less impressive, that was inevitable, as it’d be very difficult for 40-year-old audio to really dazzle. The quality of the source material remained fairly ordinary. Speech was a little edgy and rough at times, but the lines usually appeared reasonably concise, and they suffered from no problems with intelligibility. Music could be somewhat distant, and the score didn’t feature great dimensionality. Still, the music was acceptably clear and without significant problems.

Effects fared a bit better. They didn’t get a lot of play, and they didn’t display terrific power. Nonetheless, they offered decent heft at times, and they displayed the elements in an appropriate manner.

Don’t expect much breadth from the 5.1 soundfield. For the most part, the soundscapes came across as “broad mono”. Music showed mushy delineation; the score spread to the sides but failed to display any distinctive imaging. Effects were more engrossing, though. They did focus on the front center channel much of the time, but they occasionally emanated from the side and rear speakers. This added a bit of involvement to the piece.

None of this made the 5.1 tracks much above average, though. The audio was perfectly serviceable and that’s about it. The discs also included the original monaural sound, and that’s the path I’d take. Occasionally I find multichannel remixes that impress me enough to prefer them to the original audio, but that wasn’t the case here. The 5.1 tracks were fine, but I’d go with the mono.

Quite a few extras flesh out the package. We get audio commentaries for seven episodes. We hear from a mix of participants across the shows:

“Arrival”: production manager Bernie Williams and film librarian Tony Sloman. They cover sets and locations, props and production details, cast and performances, some story areas, and elements that now seem prescient. Overall, the track has good moments, though it tends to be a bit dry. Still, we learn some nice facts here; it’s not a great commentary, but it keeps us interested most of the time.

“The Chimes of Big Ben”: writer Vincent Tilsley. This piece looks at how Tilsley got the gig, story/character elements, changes made to the script, and a few technical tidbits. We do learn some useful nuggets about the script, but the commentary seems mediocre overall. There’s just not enough worthwhile material to sustain it over the episode’s 50 minutes, so it’s an inconsistent listen.

“The Schizoid Man”: director Pat Jackson. While not a very screen-specific commentary, Jackson does give us a good look at some topics. He tells us a lot about his relationship with McGoohan and how he came to the series, and we get some episode details as well. The information proves to be consistently useful.

“The General”: director Peter Graham Scott. This track looks at cast and crew, general thoughts about working on the series, and episode details. Scott tends to focus too much on basic story ideas and not enough on behind the scenes areas. Oh, he does give us a reasonable amount of information, but I can’t say that we learn a ton from him.

“Dance of the Dead”: Williams, Sloman and editor John S. Smith. They cover sets and locations, music and editing, costumes and other production elements, and a few additional tidbits. Some good notes emerge here – such as the news that Trevor Howard once planned to play Number Two – but the track also sags at times. This makes it inconsistent and less than satisfying.

“A Change of Mind”: writer Roger Parkes. He discusses his career, how he came to the series, and his work on this episode. Parkes makes this a consistently good chat. Although he fades toward the end, Parkes provides a nice glimpse behind the scenes of the series and turns this into arguably the best of the Prisoner commentaries.

“Fall Out”: music editor Eric Mival and editor Noreen Ackland. In addition to music and editing, the pair discuss other aspects of the production as well as aspects of its finale. Mival carries the load here; when Ackland speaks, she usually does so due to prompting from her partner. Despite the lopsided nature of the track, we get a lot of good details and learn a reasonable amount about the show.

Across the first four discs, we find trailers for all 17 episodes. These deliver short ads that each run about a minute. Movie trailers are a common extra, but TV series promos are less typical, so it’s fun to get them here. Note that Disc Four also includes two “generic trailers” for the series

In addition, we get image galleries for all 17 episodes. These come as running compilations accompanied by Prisoner music. You won’t find montages for the various episodes presented on their own; instead, each disc provides one collection that gives us production and publicity stills from its programs. You can jump from one episode to another with the chapter search button, though. Disc One’s set runs 19 minutes, 24 seconds, Disc Two’s goes for 12:21, Disc Three’s fills 17:59 and Disc Four’s 12:12. We find quite a few good photos in these nice compilations.

Disc Four contains some additional goodies. It includes an alternate version of the series’ premiere episode. We discover the Original Edit of “Arrival”. This 50-minute, 38-second show provides a different score and other changes. Note that you can watch this cut of “Arrival” in a “music-only” version as well.

For information about how this version, we go to a featurette called ”Arrival” Original Edit Restoration. It runs three minutes, 59 seconds and doesn’t actually tell us anything about the restored episode. Instead, it just shows a split-screen with “before” and “after” shots from the program’s opening; these intend to depict the improvements made for the restoration. That’s fine, I guess, but the lack of information makes the featurette less useful.

Disc Four concludes with some textless title sequences. This silent 10-minute, 35-second reel is actually something of an oddity. It shows some of the expected title sequences without words, but it also throws in outtakes, foreign language shots and photos.

Over on Disc Five – a standard DVD, not a Blu-ray Disc - the main attraction comes from a feature-length documentary called Don’t Knock Yourself Out. During this one-hour, 34-minute, 50-second program, we hear from Scott, Parkes, Williams, Tilsley, Sloman, Mival, Smith, Ackland, 2nd unit camera Bob Monks, producer Lew Grade (via archival footage), script editor George Markstein (archival), Portmeirion Limited CEO Robin Llewellyn, director Don Chaffey (archival), producer David Tomblin (archival), art director Jack Shampan (archival), writer Lewis Greifer (archival), editor Eric Boyd Perkins, assistant editor/story writer Ian Rakoff, and actors Anton Rodgers, Peter Bowles, George Baker, Wanda Ventham, Sheila Allen, Robert Rietti, Peter Wyngarde, Derren Nesbitt, Fenella Fielding, Leo McKern (archival), Katherine Kath, Jane Merrow, Annette Andre, Alexis Kanner (archival) and Mark Eden. “Knock” looks at the career of Patrick McGoohan and the development of Prisoner, sets and locations, cast, character and story issues, music, designing/executing “Rover”, episode specifics, the series’ conclusion, and its legacy.

Despite the notable absence of McGoohan – who never liked to discuss the series - “Knock” delivers a terrific overview of the show. It certainly doesn’t stick with happy talk; we get a frank discussion of the different aspects of the production, and we hear many comments about how difficult it was to work with McGoohan. I like the logical structure of “Knock” and think it educates and entertains.

For something quirky, we go to the nine-minute, 24-second The Pink Prisoner. In this, Peter Wyngarde offers a self-scripted collection of remarks accompanied by mumbled “questions”. Some of his notes actually show up in “Knock”, where they come across as more conventional interview responses; here we get a weird monologue of sorts. It’s self-indulgent but moderately interesting.

You Make Sure It Fits! lasts nine minutes, 16 seconds and offers statements from Mival. He discusses his work on the series and challenges related to the show’s music. Unlike “Pink”, this is a traditional interview clip, and it works well; Mival ladles out a good overview of his job.

Next we discover a Preview of AMC’s 2009 Prisoner Mini-Series. This clip fills 32 seconds and is nothing more than a really short ad. I admit I’m going to be curious to see the 2009 version when it hits home video. I have a preconceived idea of how it’ll differ – much less weird, much more action – so I’ll be interested to judge it. The “Preview” doesn’t betray much about it.

A companion to the alternate version of “The Arrival” on Disc Four, we get an Original Edit for “The Chimes of Big Ben”. It goes for 50 minutes, 35 seconds and alters the episode in a variety of ways. Since I’m far from being a Prisoner expert, I’ll leave it to you to find details elsewhere on the Internet. I can say that “Chimes” looks pretty awful, though.

A few odds and ends fill out the rest of Disc Five. An Exposure Strips Gallery holds 200 photos and runs 10 minutes, 32 seconds. An intro tells us that the series’ dailies were printed in black and white to save money; the “exposure strip” would show one frame from each scene in color to make sure that the color and exposure were correct. That sounds dull, but actually is pretty intriguing. The gallery includes subtitles to tell us what we see, and occasional shots from deleted scenes appear. Those make this a compelling little collection.

At a mere 16 seconds, Commercial Break Bumpers doesn’t last long. It shows two animated images of the series’ iconic bicycle; these were used before/after ads. Obviously it’s good the Blu-ray episodes lack them - they’d become very annoying – but it’s fun to see them here.

Textless Titles comes in three flavors. The three-minute reel offers three variations on the series’ main theme. Obviously, it shows Number Six’s resignation and capture without words, and that makes it a curiosity. The three different theme songs is the more intriguing aspect of the presentation.

Already seen as part of Disc Four’s “Textless Title Sequences”, the two-minute, 29-second Filing Cabinet Footage doesn’t show us much. We see the “Resigned” card from the title sequence translated into different languages. Yawn!

More silent material shows up under Rover Footage. This gives us 25 seconds of the bouncing balloon. Again: yawn! The 50-second McGoohan Montage from The Arrival simply shows still photos of the actor; there are also found elsewhere.

Three galleries finish the package. We get Promotional Image Gallery (2:17), 1967 Press Conference Gallery (2:32) and Production Designs Gallery (0:49). The first is fairly ordinary, but the other two prove to be compelling.

More than 40 years after it originally aired, The Prisoner remains clever, stimulating, provocative and downright odd. The series forced the viewer to remain alert and expect the unexpected, all of which made for very good TV. The Blu-ray presents stunning visuals, average audio, and a solid complement of supplements. This set does right by The Prisoner and becomes easily its best home video release.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.6666 Stars Number of Votes: 6
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Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main