The Prisoner. A classic slice of British television that aired from 1967 to 1968. And was recently butchered by the Americans, but they butcher every foreign remake, so no surprises there. What is a surprise is that I’ve never seen The Prisoner. Hey, it aired 22 years before I was born! But I have seen clips. It was a television phenomenon. About a mysterious prison island with a giant monster and strange goings on. You could say it’s a bit like Lost – after all, the people who made it said they were inspired by The Prisoner. But, unlike Lost, The Prisoner was actually good. It certainly says a lot about Lost when The Prisoner is easier to understand. But this show was not some cheap gimmick. It was thoughtful and heartfelt. And it had a giant sentient bubble! What more do you want?
An unnamed British agent resigns from his job. He goes home and packs a suitcase when gas starts pouring in to the room (this happened quite a lot). He is rendered unconscious and wakes in a beautiful seaside town known only as The Village. Now a captive, along with many, many more. Monitored, drugged and gassed relentlessly. Held by a multitude of security systems including a giant white bubble, known only as Rover, that kills or recaptures those who try to escape (clearly the prisoners had no sharp objects). But this is no normal prison. The residents are living a life of tranquillity and calm. They appear happy with the idealistic village they are held prisoner in. They are not named but given numbers instead. Our British agent is known only as Number Six. You don’t know what and who you can trust. But one thing is for sure – Number Six is not a happy bunny.
He repeatedly tries to escape, refusing to acknowledge his new existence. He and the other prisoners are treated as a collective, not as individuals. The only spark of individual character is that the lower your number, the ‘better’ you are – the ‘more’ you are. These prisoners aren’t people, they are numbers. As Number Six often said:
“I will make no deals with you. I’ve RESIGNED. I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, de-briefed, or numbered. My life is my own.”
I am not a number. I am a free man. Whilst The Prisoner may have been a bit kooky and ‘out there’, it does ask us incredibly interesting questions. Are any of us truly free? Or are we part of a system we can’t control? And if so, is that really freedom? Are our lives our own? It was a lot to take in the swinging sixties. If you weren’t high all the time, you were watching The Prisoner and probably felt high.
Our world and that of The Prisoner share an alarming number of elements. Like them, we are monitored relentlessly. The UK has more security cameras than any other nation. Our phone calls, texts, emails, internet history, and Facebook and Twitter messages are all stored on government databases. We are relentlessly harassed by government bureaucracy in taxes and new laws that make no sense. Constantly cutting budgets making life almost unbearable. Institutions such as libraries and community centres are closing each year in their hundreds, leaving us with work, television, sleep, more work and nothing more. Turning us in to mindless drones being watched 24/7 by Big Brother. Our world and that of The Prisoner are uncomfortably close. Are any of us truly free or are we just a number?
Well, we might not be being gassed through keyholes, but that question is much more difficult to answer than first seems…
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