The Prisoner: Set 3 & 4

The Prisoner: Set 3 & 4 (1967)
A&E Home Video
Cast: Patrick McGoohan
Extras: Bernie Williams Interview, Interactive Map, Photo Gallery, Trivia Game, Trailers

Following the success of his previous television series, "Secret Agent," Patrick McGoohan decided to try something very different. The result was "The Prisoner," a 17 episode series that first aired on British television in 1967. The very unusual nature of the show led to poor ratings and, after the initial run, it wasn’t seen again until 1974. Since then, "The Prisoner" has achieved something of a cult status although it is still seen only very rarely on broadcast television. Fortunately for fans, A&E has stepped in and is now issuing their third and fourth sets of this landmark series on DVD.

The first thing to understand about this extraordinary series is that it raises far more questions than it answers. In fact, the viewer never even learns the name of Patrick McGoohan’s character and comes to know him only as Number 6. The opening titles show the lead character driving a very sporty Lotus through the streets of London, eventually arriving at a nondescript government office building. In a heated exchange that the viewer cannot hear, he tenders his resignation and storms out of the building. Next, a robotic arm is seen winding its way through a maze of filing cabinets and depositing a card stamped "Resigned" into the mystery man’s file. On his way back home, the man is followed by an unmarked van and, while packing his bags for a hasty retreat, sleeping gas is injected through the keyhole of his flat. When he awakens he finds himself in a place called simply The Village. What ensues is a cat and mouse game between Number 6 and his captors as he tries to learn where he is and what it is they want from him.

For their DVD release, A&E has decided not to present the episodes in the order in which they originally aired. Heeding the advice of fans, the episodes are now placed in a chronological order in which the occurrence of events and identity of characters in the show are used to determine where each episode should fall. After the entire series has been released viewers will obviously be free to watch the episodes in whichever order they prefer.

Episode Guide
Set 3
The Schizoid Man
As the title implies, this episode focuses on the attempts of the highest official in The Village, Number 2, to force Number 6 into an identity crisis. After undergoing hypnotherapy, Number 6 wakes up sporting a new hairdo, mustache, and a badge that says his name is Number 12. He is told that he is an agent sent to The Village to learn Number 6’s secrets. When Number 12 (the real Number 6) meets Number 6 (the real Number 12…stay with me here) they engage in a battle of wits to determine who is who and the real Number 6 comes very close to losing his mind. Storylines don’t get much loopier than this but "The Schizoid Man" is able to keep everything straight and stands as one of the best episodes.

Many Happy Returns
Awakening one morning, Number 6 finds that the entire Village is deserted — even the Rover is nowhere to be found. While he knows that this is most certainly a trap, Number 6 nevertheless attempts to escape by building a raft and heading out to sea. After a particularly perilous voyage, Number 6 arrives back in London and tries to convince his old superiors that The Village exists. But is this really London and if it is, can Number 6 ever really be free of The Village?

It’s Your Funeral
A change in command of The Village occurs as the old Number 2 gives way to a new Number 2. But the succession isn’t a smooth one and Number 6 becomes involved in a plot by the new Number 2 to assassinate his predecessor and prevent him from leaving The Village.

Set 4
A Change Of Mind
Still refusing to conform to Village life, Number 6 is dragged before a committee and declared an "unmutual" outcast and sentenced to an "instant social conversion" — a pre-frontal lobotomy. But, as in everything else in The Village, nothing is quite as it seems and Number 6 is able to turn events to his advantage and undermine the new Number 2.

Hammer Into Anvil
After Number 2 blames Number 6 for Number 73’s suicide, the two men engage in a battle of wills and Number 6 soon realizes that Number 2 is nothing more than a spineless coward. Taking advantage of the situation, Number 6 hatches a plan to convince Number 2 that he, No. 6, is really an agent sent by Number 1 to spy on Number 2.

Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darling
The Village is trying to ascertain the whereabouts of one Dr. Seltzman whose mind-swapping machine is now in their possession. While able to use the machine to swap minds between two people, they are unable to reverse the process. Knowing that Number 6 was friends with Dr. Seltzman, Number 2 has him swap minds with a man named the Colonel and he is sent to London in this other man’s body in the hopes that he will seek out Seltzman to reverse the process. Finding Seltzman, both men are captured and returned to The Village where Number 6 and the Colonel undergo the reversal process. But which mind ends up in which body is anybody’s guess.

Living In Harmony
This episode opens in the Old West with a man trying to ride out of a town named Harmony. But the townsfolk and the local judge refuse to allow him to go and instead demand that he remain their sheriff. Grudgingly accepting the job as a way to buy some time, the man eventually finds himself in a firefight and is himself shot and seemingly killed. Coming to his senses, Number 6 realizes that the surroundings are all fake and that this whole episode has been nothing more than a ruse by Number 2 to force him to lower his mental defenses.

"The Prisoner" is presented in its original <$PS,full frame> format with an aspect ratio of 1.33:1. These episodes all look a bit better than those in the previous two sets. Whereas the earlier shows had too much edge-enhancement and shimmering, these later episodes were transferred with much more care and exhibit a sharp, stable picture that benefits greatly from excellent color balance and accurate black levels. While the picture does exhibit a few physical imperfections and blemishes here and there, these episodes of "The Prisoner" look remarkably good.

As in the video department, audio too has seen a subtle improvement. While the basic mono mix is fairly flat and lifeless, it exhibits no distortion and is always clearly audible. Episodes on the Set 2 discs suffered from some severe audio warbling but Sets 3 and 4 are free from any such problem and sound about as good as one can expect from a 1960s television production.

As for extras, Set 3 includes a nice map of The Village, production photos, trailers, and an entertaining trivia game but the primary bonus feature is a new 20-minute interview with production manager Bernie Williams. The interview offers some nice behind-the-scenes information on what went into creating this very unique and quite improvisational show and more such insightful extras would be most appreciated.

Set 4 includes only the standard map, production photos, trailers, and trivia game.

"The Prisoner" is a very entertaining series that certainly stretched the boundaries of what a television show could attempt to achieve. While the show never really answered any of the questions it raised, it also didn’t keep going for years afterward beating the same ideas to death. What we are left with is a very succinct show that is more like a classic movie serial than a traditional television program.

In addition, much of the charm of "The Prisoner" is due to the very 1960s vibe it exhibits. From the mod look of the costumes to the contemporary soundtrack, "The Prisoner" is very much a product of its times.

A&E Home Video is clearly including episodes in these sets in such a way as to wind up with five sets containing two DVDs each. What this means is that every odd-numbered set includes three original episodes and an additional bonus feature while even-numbered sets include four shows but no real extras. While I can see the logic in all of this I can’t help but feel that releasing the entire 17-episode series in a single set ala "The X-Files" would have been the best solution.

Nevertheless, fans of the series will certainly be pleased with these new DVDs while those with any interest in intelligent, thought-provoking television — with a dash of 60s style and wit — should really give "The Prisoner" a look as the remastered video and audio have really made these episodes shine on DVD.