Where am I?
In the Village.
What do you want?
Whose side are you on?
That would be telling. We want information. Information.
You won't get it.
By hook, or by crook, ... we will.
Who are you?
The new Number 2.
Who is Number 1?
You are Number 6.
I am not a number; I am a free man!
In 1966, Patrick McGoohan, a bright star in the television firmament,
quit his starring role in
and convinced Lew Grade, the head of the British television company ATV
(later called ITC)
to bankroll a new series he wanted to make. He had seven stories
written, which he envisioned as being the entire lifetime of the show.
His backer argued for a more marketable 26 episodes, and they
compromised on 17. The series was called The Prisoner.
The backstory is simple, and is explained in the wordless opening
sequence. A high-level British secret agent, played by McGoohan, abruptly
resigns from the agency he works for. As soon as he gets home, the
sinister man following him gasses him. Unconscious, he is spirited
away to a tiny town, totally isolated geographically, surrounded by
formidable mountains on all sides except for the seacoast. (It may be
on an island, but the few times a location for it is mentioned or
implied all give contradictory answers.) He wakes up in what appears
to be his home, but a look out the window shows The Village, and a
phone call inviting him to breakfast with Number 2, where the above
dialog takes place. The information that his keepers want is, Why did
There is a story that McGoohan got
the idea for the series when, during a
conversation at a party, somebody asked
"What happens to retired spies?"
He quickly learns that The Village is where people are put
who know too much
to be allowed to live normal lives, and it gradually becomes
apparent that many of the residents are guardians rather than
prisoners. In fact the ratio is probably pretty high, and
sometimes it seems that, apart from four or five episodes involving
a temporary co-conspirator, Number 6 may actually be the only real
prisoner there. In any case, he is (almost always) the only one
who hasn't resigned himself to
the futility of escape, and integrated
himself into the strange society. None of these other characters is in
more than one episode. In fact, Number 6 and the butler to Number 2
are the only characters who are in every episode. Number 2 himself, as
evidenced in the above dialog (which was at the beginning of each of
the first season's thirteen episodes), was a different person each
week, with the exception of one that lasted two weeks and another that
was recalled to the position at the end of the series. Mostly it was
not mentioned why there was a new Number 2, though it is hypothesized
that each one is replaced when his plan to get information from Number
6 fails; indeed, some of them are seen leaving The Village at the end
of the hour, and not in good graces. The opening dialog each
week is done in the voices of Number 6 and the new Number 2.
The Village is a strange, surreal place. None of the residents has a
name; instead everyone is known by a number. They all wear a badge
with their number on it, except for Number 6. He does not wear his, as
a sign of his non-submission, though he does answer to the title.
(There is one episode, The Schizoid Man, involving a
lookalike planted by the authorities, in a plot to
make Number 6
doubt his identity. He wears the badge throughout that episode, as
does the impostor, and ironically, in the inevitable confrontation
where they are both claiming to be the same person, he loudly insists
I am Number 6!) The entire populace is under
video surveillance at all times, and everyone acts as though their
existence is perfectly normal. Many people are always seen carrying
bright red, blue, and yellow umbrellas (though it never rains), which
match cloaks that many others wear. In almost every episode there is a
small brass band marching through the streets. People usually walk wherever
they want to go, but a person of a mind to ride can call a taxi. (The taxis
were Mini Mokes (kind of like large golf carts) with a cheerful red and white striped canopy.) But remember, local service only!
There is some kind of
an economy: there are shops to buy things, and occasionally people are
seen to be working. Everybody gets paid once a week. Number 6 is never
seen to have a job, though I got the impression that he was quite well
off. Though generally upbeat, there is also often a 1984ish cast to the
background seen in posters on walls bearing propagandistic
sloganeering. People often part with a gesture like an OK
sign with the thumb and forefinger circled in front on one eye which
turns into a salute, accompanied by the ritual valediction.
As humorously alluded to in the opening dialog, it is never
stated who is in charge of The Village, or even if it's the
West or the East (remember, the Cold War was very
cold at the time the series was made); sometimes there are even hints
that it's a joint project between them.
Most of the episodes involve either an escape plot by Number 6
(juvpu fbzrgvzrf jbexf ng gur raq vg vf frra gung ur jnf nyybjrq gb rfpncr, naq gura oebhtug onpx)
or some scheme involving drugs,
electronic gizmos, or clever mind games by Number 2 to
try to get Number 6 to divulge his secret, or a morality play
exploring conformity, duty to society, and individualism . Some of them
are just entertainment and playing with the viewer.
While Number 6 seems to be the most important prisoner — in several
episodes, Number 2 is heard telling the underling doctor (or whoever)
to back off, because they can't risk anything going wrong with Number
6 — there appears to be no hierarchy implicit in the numbering of
people. Number 31 doesn't seem to be any more or less significant than
Number 223. However, there is never an appearance by Numbers 3, 4, or
5. Nor by Number 1. Number 2 is in control of The Village, and Number
1 is implied to be the ultimate boss (back in the real world). Several
episodes into the series, Number 2 starts occasionally to talk on a
big red telephone to someone clearly in authority over him but who is
Often seen is a science fiction-y (from a 1960s viewpoint) hi tech
view of the means by which The Village is controlled. In the Control
Room, staffed by people doing the bidding of Number 2, is The
Supervisor, the chief of the actual surveillance and action teams. At
his disposal are input from cameras and microphones all over, radar,
and whatever doohickey is required that week. In the middle of the
Control Room is a seesaw holding at each end a technician facing
outward and peering into a small video screen, while the seesaw slowly
rotates about its center. These people never speak or give any
information during the whole series.
McGoohan is said to hold the opinion that man has gone too far too
fast with his technology, and to advocate a slowdown or even
retrenchment in "progress". Some say this is why the symbol of the
series is a penny farthing bicycle; pictures of them are often seen
in the background (for example, on the label of the food cans in the
market (all of which are the same brand, Village Foods)), and it appears on the ID badges that everyone wears.
There is one standing in the back of Number 2's
office, but curiously, only once is anybody seen riding one, and he's
only on screen for a second or two.
Wondering how it all turns out? Well, Fall Out, the seventeenth episode,
vf ernyyl fvyyl naq cnegvphyneyl jrveq, ohg qbrf frrz gb raq hc jvgu
rfpncvat — sbe erny. Jvyy ur erznva serr?
Be Seeing You :)