The Prisoner Handbook: An Unauthorised Companion
By Steven Paul Davies
Published by Pan MacMillan, September 2007
Review by Mark Yon / Hobbit
It was a shock to me recently to realise that 2007 is the 40th anniversary of the first showing of The Prisoner on British TV.
This enigmatic programme, starring Patrick McGoohan, only lasted 17 episodes. Yet its importance in British TV and the SF genre is repeatedly revalued. In the UK at least it is regarded as one of the most important television events of the Sixties, up there with The Beatles and the moon landings. The national outcry shown at the end of the series, partly due to the somewhat bizarre last episode, was so unnerving that the series’ star, the highest paid TV actor in the UK at that time, had to leave the country to avoid persistent questioning.
It has been heralded as both absolute rubbish and the work of a genius, and yet its controversy has paved the way for work as diverse as Lost and Babylon 5, as well as being referenced by The Simpsons. It is currently being remade for 2008 in 6 episodes by Sky TV and is rumoured (though details are appropriately sketchy) to involve recent Doctor Who Christopher Eccleston.
This book is a reprint edition; first published in 2002, this is updated to include brief details about the new series. The updating is a little uneven though: film director Alex Cox boldly states in his 2002 introduction that “The only Prisoner film I will ever see is one directed by its creator, Patrick McGoohan!” whereas the book later mentions the new version in about eight lines.
The bulk of the book mainly consists of detailed episode guides. There are plot synopses and cast lists, details on directors, writers, key plot links, location details (some of it was filmed in the fabulous village folly of Portmeirion, one of my favourite places in Wales) and trivia. A lot of the book is based around the work of the Six of One appreciation society, who have kept interest in the series going since the late seventies.
Around this there are details of the development of the series: its origins and impacts as well as the growth of the series’ enigmatic mythology. There are interviews with members of the cast and crew, information about its problematic production (which further suggest that Mr McGoohan is not a person to upset) and its appearances on UK television since 1968.
What this book also does is try to suggest why the series has such a devoted following; what the enigma of Number 6 still has to say today in 2007 with its issues of freedom, entrapment and isolated society. What is clear from this book is that The Prisoner, as we see it, for good or bad, is predominantly the vision of Patrick McGoohan himself, the lead actor, writer and director of the series.
The book has a rare transcribed interview from 1967 with Patrick. Since 1968 he has remained enigmatically elusive, particularly about The Prisoner. The comments by him and those around him involved in the programme show him in turns to be disarming and friendly, yet close-lipped and dogmatic, even aggressive in dealings with The Prisoner. It is difficult to determine whether Patrick is fiercely proud or embarrassed that people are still asking about the programme after all this time. Perhaps it is this that has maintained the series’ interest. However the book, in all its facets, shows that there is still an interest after all this time.
Clearly a fan book, a little uneven in its execution, but a good summary of what makes The Prisoner iconic. To someone new, it’s a pretty good start, and may persuade those who have not seen the series to watch it. Be seeing you!
Mark Yon / Hobbit, August 2007
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