The Prisoner. Remade?

Published on 17 November 2005 in ,

It’s one of those news stories that just makes me shake my head and ask… why? For today I read that Granada are planning on remaking The Prisoner.

For those that don’t know, The Prisoner is a quite frankly legendary ITC programme from the 1960s, which was created by and starred Patrick McGoohan as a secret agent – known only as Number 6 – who was held captive in a place known as The Village.

Using the Welsh village of Portmeirion as it’s backdrop, it lasted for 17 episodes and is legendary for having ended with the most confusing and incomprehensible final episode of a TV programme ever written – claimed by some to be done so confusingly because Patrick McGoohan was only given a weeks notice that it was due to be canned, and this was his revenge.

Very little of the programme ever makes sense and sometimes its hard to watch it with a straight face (especially when you’re re-watching it).

Patrick McGoohan’s acting is quite frankly amusingly wooden in parts, and half the time you have no idea what’s going on. This is a programme where the main baddy (Number 2) changes every week, and about the only constants in the entire show are McGoohan himself, a bald man in glasses and a Number 2’s butler who is silent and on the short side. Oh and there’s the big weather balloon called Rover who captures people who try to escape.

Most of the early storylines revolve around Number 6 trying to escape from the village, and almost all are him pitting his wits against the latest Number 2. In later episodes it gets more surreal – probably because they realised there’s only so many times you can write a storyline where you try to escape from a village and are prevented on being so by a big white balloon.

There’s an episode where Number 6 finds himself changed to be someone else whilst someone else is playing the part of Number 6. The episode where he is swapped into someone elses body and has to go to Switzerland (completely bonkers until you realise that McGoohan was busy working on a film at that point so couldn’t appear in that episode). The episode where Number 6 manages to break Number 2. And the quite frankly appalling episode where Number 2 attempts to break him by putting Number 6 in a wild west mockup and giving him psychotropic drugs.

The Prisoner is such a masterpiece of television – so individual, so unique, so brilliant, so bonkers. It is McGoohan. It is Portmeirion. It is 12 good episodes, 4 okay ones and one bad one. So with that in mind, you have to ask the question, why on earth are they trying to redo it? And without McGoohan. And without Portmeirion.

More importantly, what is it with this constant lack of new, original ideas from television? Why continually rehash the past, and probably annoy fans of the originals? Especially when 9 times out of 10, the remakes are pretty dire. Okay, how anything could be as bad as The Avengers movie, I don’t know, and there are rare successes – the Reeves and Mortimer remake of Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) is a firm favourite of mine, despite my love of the original. Doctor Who I discount because it never really went away – just got put on hold for a few years.

So far there’s no time scales, no broadcaster. The article in Broadcast which I read about this in, says that Granada are talking to Sky One about it. I have to say I do hope it never goes off the ground, but if it does, there’s a big part of me that it is crap and hopes it flops. Some things should just not be messed with. The Prisoner is one of them.

Incidentally that’s a passionate view from just a casual fan of the show – I don’t even own a Number 6 jacket, and have never even been to a Prisoner convention. I have been to Portmerion, but that was before I’d ever watched the show.


  • astounded says:

    one could have expected hollywood to remake
    a series; as it is a cultural vacuum bereft of any
    good original ideas, at least in recent years.
    the italian job, the primrose hill gang and shortly the dambusters with flying fortresses no doubt.
    it will be interested to see a british cgi-laden effort which will introduce us to the same path
    read a book instead.

  • I have to agree with you – the prisoner was such a one-off, such a jaw-droppingly brilliant idea, that it seems ridiculous to attempt a remake, particularly in view of the fact that it’s creator, Patrick McGoohan, has recently died. Just look what Hollywood did to The Wicker Man, another stunningly original piece of work that ended up as compromised tosh when reinterpreted.
    There are so many great ideas out there and as a writer myself, I do get annoyed when film and television can’t seem to raise its sights beyond retreads of already familiar ideas.