Refracted Input

Clare O’Farrell’s blog on books, TV, films, Michel Foucault, universities etc. etc.

My rating: **
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Back in 1988 when I was working on the manuscript of my first book on Foucault, living in a bedsit in inner city Melbourne, I had the original cult 1967 series of The Prisoner with Patrick McGoohan playing on an endless loop whenever I was having a break from writing. (The local video shop had various volumes of the series on VHS for $1 a week rental.) Some of the same elements that fascinated me about Foucault’s work also fascinated me in The Prisoner.

Just a quick plot summary for those who came late. The central character resigns from an unspecified job, returns to his London flat to pack, is gassed and wakes up in a replica of his flat in a kitsch resort only known as ‘the village’. He is only ever referred to as ‘number 6’ and in each episode a bureaucrat known only as number 2 tries ‘by hook and by crook’ to find out why number 6 resigned. Each episode sees the failure of number 2 and the appointment of a new person to fill that position in the next episode.

But this is not a review of the original 1967 series, it is the beginnings of a review of the 2009 ‘re-imagining’ of the original. I have watched 3 episodes so far and am determined to watch the rest. I was thoroughly expecting to be outraged by the new series but not to be simply bored. Beyond the fact that the characters in the series are given numbers rather than names and the central character, number 6, is ‘imprisoned’ in a place called ‘the village’ and that a bigger and better rover (a big white ball) makes its presence felt, this is where any resemblance between the two series ends. Whereas for all its weird surrealism, the first series made sense and one always had the sense of a strong agenda of social critique, the 2009 series is a confused mess. Any social critique it offers is so contrived as to ring utterly hollow. It is also fairly violent in a way that the original series never was. In the original series the relative lack of overt violence created the effect of a society so sophisticated in its techniques of social control that it rarely had to resort to the end game of blood letting.

More later…

4 thoughts on “The Prisoner (2009)

  1. Zane Trow says:

    I can not imagine that the new version comes anywhere near the original so I have avoided it. McGoohan brought something unique to television, and apart from Denis Potter I can think of nobody who has attenpted to “play” with ideas of power and with TV as an art form in this way. I could be wrong of course….


  2. Clare says:

    The 2009 version is not even in the same ball park as the original. They are doing two very different things. In some ways the series Nowhere Man which was made in the 1990s and which was an unstated ‘hommage’ to McGoohan’s series was more faithful to the original – particularly its ending.

    I have to add Sapphire and Steel to your list as being up there in terms of experimental television – but S&S plays with notions of representation rather than power.

    Odd how my favourite TV series all seem to link in with Foucault somehow 🙂


  3. raenniks says:

    Patrick McGoohan (as actor) in Danger Man has always been my primo anti-hero existential cut-throat Saville Row draped crusader, super-imposing ruthless, pristine, unshakeably RIGHT high temple justice on rotten-to-the-core bad dudes in a rotten-to-the-core world with (paradoxically) near villainous glee and a triumphant inward looking half-smile that suggests reasserting truth to its rightful place in the scheme of things is as easy as sucking on a Sobranie and twirling the Brandy Snifter…

    I have the complete series of The Prisoner on DVD, but am not a sci-fi buff or futurist of any kind (I lack the imagination) and have struggled to get through the whole set. One thing I do appreciate about sci-fi (film, TV, story…) is that it can create an environment which we recognise (and can have some empathy for) but are sufficiently removed from so as to allow us to examine ourselves with a more discerning (critical?) eye.

    I identify with Danger Man but Spock makes me think…

    I think McGoohan is a Walken prototype (timelines aside), although, in my opinion, the former is a purist and the latter a little slutty in his choice of roles (although “there’s nothing wrong with that!).

    Just a few random thoughts.




  4. Clare O'Farrell says:

    Dear Zed

    Thankyou for such an interesting comment. I really should do a proper review of the original Prisoner. Such an interesting series!! I hadn’t thought of a connection between Walken and McGoohan and I have to agree about Walken’s film choices particularly the ones in later years. I think he has more or less retired now, so we don’t see him much on our screens.

    I love the Dangerman series and have it all on DVD as well. Essentially it is the same character in The Prisoner even if McGoohan remains deliberately ambiguous on this score.


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