"It ends this week..... the nightmarish cat-and-mouse game of spirit sapping tortures, subtle, scientific brainwashing and malignant mind probing."
Such was the description written by Anthony Davis for an article written for the TV Times, published in 1968, which went on........ "The last episode of the Prisoner, the most bizarre thriller series ever, is at an end. The moment when viewers will expect the answers to the questions they have been asking since this intriguing, two level blend of special agentry and science fiction began, sixteen curious episodes ago.
The Prisoner is Patrick McGoohans series. He devised it, after the original idea of George Marksteins which he also shared. He was executive producer, starred in it, wrote some of the episodes, had a hand in direction and even helped with the composition of the music. Never before, or since, has one man been so responsible for a television series, let alone a television series as remarkable as the Prisoner. Before it all began McGoohan said "If people don't like it, there is only one person to blame - me!"
So with that in mind its not so much a question of the Prisoner-No.6 behind the bars, but of Patrick McGoohan himself, having made himself a prisoner because of the television series he created. When asked about the Prisoner Patrick McGoohan could be the most exasperating man. Volunteering little or no information, answering laconically, or with one or two questions of his own for the one question asked! When asked what his feelings were now that the series has come to an end? McGoohan responded "I've done a job. I set out to make a specific number of films. I've made them. The series has come to an end. It's just the end of a job, that's all."
Well I can see where McGoohan was coming from, because that's just how members of the cast treated it, the majority of whom perhaps only worked on the Prisoner for a couple of days. After they had filmed their scenes, actors, actresses simply moved onto the next job. It is the fans who have made the Prisoner special, and they would have to figure it all out for themselves. It is very intersting to read of McGoohan underplaying his hand in the Prisoner, after all at the time there was nothing special about the series. Although McGoohan was trying to make people sit up, to make them angry, and ask questions, well television viewers certainly did that, there was a good deal of anger about the series at the time. Perhaps at the end of the day, Patrick McGoohan had put too much of himself into the character of the Prisoner-No.6. Had driven the production crew too hard, and himself even harder.
Did Patrick McGoohan, at the end, achieve all that he set out to achieve, when he embarked on the Prisoner project? Well it is certainly a controversial series. At the time, you either loved or hated it. But love and hate are but different sides of the same coin. "If it failed in some respects then that's a pity" McGoohan once said "But I don't think it has." Although letters received by McGoohan at the time were not at all complimentary regarding the series, but the pros did outweigh the cons. Was Patrick McGoohan simply stirring up contraversy, and was that his main aim? Well I would have to say yes. But as McGoohan said to Anthony Davis Who said so? Pat demanded. "Are you saying or asking? Oh, you're asking." But it was the Prisoner that was asking the question. "Has one the right to tell a man what to think, how to behave, to coerce others? Has one the right to be an individual? The series was meant to get people talking about it, love it or hate it, say what you want, but get people talking about it, which of course they did, and complained at the time to ATV. With the Prisoner McGoohan provoked people, he made them angry. People argued, discussed the series, and would continue to do so, for years and years after the original screening. Patrick had made Prisoners of us all, Prisoners of the Prisoner as the term has been coined. There is no continuity between the episodes, there is no logical pattern either. But if it's logic you're looking for, then the Prisoner is the last place you'll find it! What Patrick McGoohan had to say on the matter of logic was this, to ask yourself two questions; "You're living in the world? To which you must answer yes. Do you always find it logical? No. And that is your answer to that." And when it comes to answers, brings one clear answer at least from McGoohan. He envisaged it from the beginning. "In a series like this, you have to know at the outset what you're aiming at. You have got to know the ending before you begin. So I had the idea for the final episode first of all and took it from there." The only trouble is, McGoohan had no idea how the series would end. He told Lew Grade as much during the production of the series. McGoohan met with Lew Grade, telling him that he'd lost his way, and could not find an ending. So much for knowing at the outset how the Prisoner was to end!
But what of the riddles, would the final episode provide all the answers? "What riddles?" was McGoohan's demand to Anthony Davies. "Those who run the village, where the village is located. Who is No.1? Why did the Prisoner resign? Which side was No.6 on? "No, no it doesn't" said McGoohan. Which was about as straightforward an answer anyone at the time was likely to get from Patrick McGoohan.
In fact the answers are there, in the Prisoner, all one has to do is ask the right questions. We may all not arrive at the same understanding of this remarkable series. But we can all agree simply to watch and enjoy.
As a footnote, when Patrick McGoohan was asked by Anthony Davies "Will the Prisoner ever return?" McGoohan's answer was a simple one "Definately not."
I'm Johnny Prisoner