Prisoner, The (1967)-Number 1: Arrival

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Released 18-Sep-2002

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Science Fiction Main Menu Introduction
Main Menu Audio & Animation
Trailer-Original Episode Trailers
Credits-Alternative Opening Credits
Credits-Textless Opening And Closing Credits
Featurette-Original Production Footage
Trailer-Series Trailer No. 1
Biographies-Cast-Series Trailer No. 1
Gallery-Photo
Booklet
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1967
Running Time 195:03 (Case: 200)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (14:57) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Don Chaffey
Pat Jackson
Patrick McGoohan
Studio
Distributor

Umbrella Entertainment
Starring Patrick McGoohan
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $29.95 Music Ron Grainer
Wilfred Josephs
Albert Elms


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.29:1
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.29:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

   

'I am not a number, I am a free man!'

    The Prisoner is an English television series made in 1966/67, which over the years has become a cult favourite with many websites and societies devoted to it. It was controversial when it first aired because of its very different and confusing approach and especially because of its strange, surreal ending. I will not be attempting to explain what it all means, because fans have been studying the series for years and have argued constantly about that topic. There are many debates which rage about the series, from who the prisoner is, to whether a particular episode was a comment on the Vietnam War and what the various symbols used mean. For the record, I had not seen any of the series before asking to review it. All I knew about it was that it was a cult favourite and the basic outline of the premise. It has been released here in Region 4 by Umbrella/AV Channel and is available either as a box set of 5 discs or as individual discs. For this reason there will be five single disc reviews followed by a box set review, tying them all together, so bear with me. Each disc contains extras but the major extras are contained on Disc 5.

    The basic premise is that a high ranking government employee in London, obviously somehow involved in international espionage, decides to resign and during the credits which start most episodes, he visits his boss in an underground location to thump the desk and hand over his letter. He returns home to pack and get away from England, however, while he is doing so he is gassed and kidnapped. When he awakes he is in a strange place, called The Village, which is really a prison but without obvious guards, fences, wire or locks. He quickly learns that they want to know why he resigned and he is referred to only as Number 6 (Patrick McGoohan). Not being sure who or which side he is dealing with he refuses to tell them anything. The village accommodates many people, all with different numbers, most of whom have given up the information they held and now live as virtual automatons, following the instructions of the chief administrator, Number 2, on how to behave and react to various situations. The show follows the various attempts of Number 2 (played by various actors) to break Number 6 and get him to answer their questions. It also follows various attempts by Number 6 to escape and work out who Number 1 is. Because of Number 6's importance, Number 2's shadowy superiors will not allow him to use risky or destructive techniques to bring Number 6 to heel.

    One of the other notable features of this series is the various symbols and images used, such as referring to everyone as numbers, the penny farthing bicycles, the mini moke local taxi service, lava lamps, the colourful costumes, the local newspaper 'Tally Ho' and many more including the security guard system. The Village is guarded by Rover, a large rubber air filled balloon, who smothers disobedient prisoners, sometimes just disabling them, sometimes killing them. The village is surrounded by impenetrable mountains and monitored by video and audio surveillance constantly. This surveillance is presided over by The Supervisor (Peter Swanwick), one of the few characters to appear in every episode, as does The Butler (Angelo Muscat), a small man who does not speak. His job is to serve Number 2. Number 2 changes to different people (not just different actors) constantly as one Number 2 fails to get information from Number 6 and is replaced. Only two actors appear in more than one episode as Number 2, Leo McKern (3 episodes) and Colin Gordon (2 episodes).

    Another debate that has raged in the intervening years is what is the correct order for the episodes to be seen in. They were shown in the order on these discs on UK television originally, however, it is obvious that they are in the wrong order as in some later episodes Number 6 is referred to as being new to the village. They were shown in a different order on US television (listed in the notes in the box set), however, this is also not considered to be correct. The Region 1 box set has the episodes in the order which has been agreed by the fans as being the correct order, which is Arrival, Free for All, Dance of the Dead, Checkmate, Chimes of Big Ben, A, B & C, The General, The Schizoid Man, Many Happy Returns, It's Your Funeral, A Change of Mind, Hammer Into Anvil, Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling, Living in Harmony, The Girl Who Was Death, Once Upon A Time & Fall Out. I watched them in the order they are in here although obviously the beauty of DVD is that you can easily watch them in whichever order you personally prefer. The episodes on this disc are: (Episode descriptions will be short to avoid spoiling the episode)

  1. Arrival - Number 6 arrives at the village and begins to try and understand his surroundings. He meets Number 2 for the first time (played by two actors in this episode, Guy Doleman & George Baker) and then attempts to escape. A woman, Number 9 (Virginia Maskell), is assigned to 'help' him. An excellent episode.
  2. The Chimes of Big Ben - A competition involving drawing, painting or sculpting is arranged by the village council. A new inmate, Number 8, teams up with Number 6 and they attempt an escape. Number 2 is played by Leo McKern. Another top quality episode.
  3. A, B & C - Number 2 (Colin Gordon) wants to know what secrets Number 6 had to sell and who he was planning to sell them to. A female scientist, Number 14, uses mind controlling drugs to influence his dreams, inserting three different possible people whom Number 2 thinks might have been who the secrets were to be sold to. He refers to them as A , B or C. You may recognise A as he is played by Peter Bowles who later became famous in the series To the Manor Born. Not as strong an episode as the first two but still interesting.
  4. Free for All - In order to appear like The Village is a democracy, elections are organised for Number 2's job. Number 2 (Eric Portman) persuades Number 6 to run against him. This is a bit of a strange episode which has a go at the press and the democratic process in general. Definitely still a worthwhile episode though.

    The series which runs for 17 episodes, each of approximately 50 minutes, was originally envisaged by the star, Patrick McGoohan (who even came up with the theme tune), but his original idea only included 7 episodes. The studio wanted to make 26 episodes because they felt this would be easier to syndicate, however, after much negotiation 17 were agreed upon. Patrick McGoohan has steadfastly refused to explain the series during the intervening years, going so far as to say 'I suppose that The Prisoner is the sort of thing where a thousand people might have a different interpretation of it...that was the intention'.

    My overall impression of this series is that the premise is a very different and excellent one, slightly (but only slightly) spoiled by too many episodes being made, some of which really did not add to the story and at least one which is just silly. The series obviously has political overtones and various interpretations include it being a statement about the rights of the individual and how they should be balanced against the rights of society, a reaction to the socialist leanings of the British politics at the time, a comment about the cold war, a show about a person's inner struggle or a combination of all of the above. It does not really matter, as it is certainly fascinating to watch and some of the episodes are brilliantly conceived, such as Once Upon a Time. There is no way that a series like this would be made today as any studio or television network funding it would demand a more obvious and coherent ending, however, this is why the series has been a favourite for so many years and why people are still interested in it today. A group called The Prisoner Appreciation Society still hold annual conferences at the original location used for the village, a hotel at Portmeirion in Wales.

   Highly recommended if you don't mind having to think.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The video quality is excellent. A wonderful job has been done in restoring the video presentation. It is not without problems, however compared to footage from the series in some of the extras and documentaries, the difference is quite amazing.

    The feature is presented in a 1.29:1 aspect ratio non 16x9 enhanced which is the original aspect ratio.

    The picture was surprisingly clear and sharp throughout considering the age of the material, with no evidence of low level noise. The shadow detail was decent but certainly nothing special.

    The colour was generally very good, however I did notice some chroma noise from time to time.

    Considering the age and television source of the material, artefacts have been kept to an absolute minimum but they are certainly present. From a film artefact perspective, there were occasional specks and lines although all things considered these were quite minimal. There were also occasional jumps in the film but these were not regular and not really badly noticeable. From a film-to-video artefact perspective there was some regular mild aliasing throughout on car grilles, windows (e.g. 4:21 Ep 1), scales (e.g. 6:38 Ep 1) and more. There was also some edge enhancement which occurs regularly. I also noticed some tape tracking errors but these were very irregular. From an MPEG artefact perspective there was also some macro-blocking to be seen such as in the clouds in the credits and here and there during the episodes. None of these artefacts could be considered overly significant and considering the age of the original series, the overall video quality is excellent.

    There are no subtitles which is a shame.

    The layer change occurs at 14:57 in episode 3 and is not very noticeable.
    

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The audio quality is good and in the original mono.

    This DVD contains an English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack encoded at 192 Kb/s.

    Dialogue was clear and easy to understand throughout. Audio sync was an issue in two episodes but was generally fine.

    The music in the series includes the excellent theme as hummed by Patrick McGoohan to Ron Grainer who then took the original idea and developed it into a full theme. Other incidental music was by Wilfred Josephs & Albert Elms. Generally, the music is excellent, weird, effective, surreal and interesting.

    The surround speakers and subwoofer were not used.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    The significant extras are on Disc 5 but each disc also contains some other extras.

Menu

    The menu included an intro, stills, music, dialogue and the ability to select scenes and episodes.

Original Episode Trailers

    These are the original television trailers for each of the episodes on this disc including:

Alternative Opening Credits (2:54)

    A different version of the opening credits with different music and some changes to the images. Video quality is poor.

Textless Opening Credits (2:57)

    The opening credits without the titles or audio.

Textless Closing Credits (0:55)

    The closing credits without text or audio.

Original Production Footage (8:39)

    8mm footage taken behind-the-scenes at Portmeirion during the shooting of Arrival with no audio. Certainly of interest to fans.

Series Trailer No 1 (1:26)

    Original television trailer for the entire series.

Number 2 Profiles

    Text profiles for the five actors who play Number 2 in these episodes; Guy Doleman, George Baker, Leo McKern, Colin Gordon & Eric Portman.

The Tally Ho Photo Gallery

    13 stills from the show, behind-the-scenes and publicity photos.

Booklet and Case Notes

    This disc includes a booklet which has essays on the locations, production, press previews, props and a map of the village.

Censorship

    There is censorship information available for this title. Click here to read it (a new window will open). WARNING: Often these entries contain MAJOR plot spoilers.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    I will cover the Region 4 vs Region 1 differences in the box set review as the sets are reasonably different. There is no direct comparison for each individual disc as the Region 1 set is spread over 10 discs. Smaller sets were released earlier with two discs each, however, the spread of episodes is quite different.

Summary

    A intriguing, weird, surreal and political television series made in 1966/67 that could not possibly be made today.

    The video quality is wonderful considering the source.

    The audio quality is good.

    The disc has a selection of extras which would interest fans of the show.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Daniel Bruce (Do you need a bio break?)
Thursday, April 07, 2005
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV667A DVD-V DVD-A SACD, using Component output
DisplaySony FD Trinitron Wega KV-AR34M36 80cm. Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL). This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 576i (PAL)/480i (NTSC).
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationPioneer VSX-511
SpeakersBose 201 Direct Reflecting (Front), Phillips SB680V (Surround), Phillips MX731 (Center), Yamaha YST SW90 (Sub)

Other Reviews
Michael D's Region 4 DVD Info Page - Drummond G (Don't read my bio)
The DVD Bits - Damien M
DVD Net - Terry O
Jeff K's Australian DVD Info Site - Justin D

Comments (Add)
The seven key episodes, and audio sync - REPLY POSTED
R2 box set audio-sync - REPLY POSTED