The Prisoner: Episode 01: Arrival
The first episode magnificently sets up the situation and tone for the other 16 episodes of this 60’s cult classic. It really is a ripper; action, intrigue, suspense, bouncy balls… And we also get an extended opening sequence not seen in any other episode.
Thunder booms! A yellow roadster races towards us, and then through the streets of London. The driver, dressed in black, parks inside a dark tunnel, then enters a door labeled “Way Out.” He strides with great purpose down a corridor, flings wide-open an office’s doors, then inaudibly berates what appears to be a government official. He leaves, drives off, and most ominously, a hearse follows. A typewriter types XXXs through a headshot of the man. A robotic arm on conveyor belt drops the picture, now on a punchcard, into a filing cabinet marked RESIGNED. He goes home, hurriedly prepares luggage, gets passport ready, and packs his travel brochures. Out of the trailing hearse emerge suspicious and sinister undertakers. Is there any other kind?
A gas sprays through his keyhole, and as if in a very drunken stupor, he falls unconscious. And I thought they were only there to read the meter.
THE MAN wakes up in what appears to be his swinging London pad. However, looking out the window it’s abundantly clear that we’re not in Kansas anymore. Is this the vacation he so richly deserved? Ah, not that we were in Kansas before… *Note to self: must buy atlas* Actually, it looks more like Fantasy Island…
He, puzzled (it won’t be his last time, or ours) wanders the beautiful and quaint looking “holiday resort” he’s abruptly found himself in looking for answers – with its strange eclectic mix of architectural styles, the town could be everywhere and nowhere, or most probably someplace else…
At first the streets of the village are deserted, but as a bell tolls others in queerly garish uniforms slowly appear. The displaced man seeks answers… Unfortunately, while the locals are exceedingly relaxed and friendly, they aren’t of much assistance. Are they purposefully evasive, ignorant, scared, confused, or all of the above?
…As we learn later in the episode, two prominent village axioms are “A still tongue makes a happy life,” and “Questions are a burden to others, answers a prison for oneself.”
He asks a waitress in a café for the name of the place, but is only offered, “The Village” in response. He finds a strange public telephone under a “For Information” sign. It is completely cordless which clearly puzzles the man. He picks up the futuristic wireless technology, and the operator tells him he needs “a number” to make a call – go figure. However, the “mobile” phone is for local calls only (it’s actually not a telephone number that he needs, but another kind of number).
A small buggy of a taxi (called a mini-moke and rather like a golf cart) appears; the taxis are also only local. The oriental driver speaks to him in French which he finds curious; as she explains, the Village is very cosmopolitan. He then enters the General Store. The shopkeeper is speaking in some foreign tongue, but when he addresses The Man, the shopkeeper has a perfectly common English accent.
HE asks for a map in order to determine his whereabouts, but they only carry local maps – the Village and its surroundings: mountains and sea border it. (Note to self: must buy larger map). The friendly shopkeeper utters, “I think that will show you everything,” then bids him adieu with “Be seeing you” coordinated with an unusual salute which the taxi driver recently offered, much to The Man’s surprise.
A Village authority (Number 2) requests his Presence at No. 2, The Green Dome. Entering the grand palatial building he is met by a grim Tatooesque butler (somewhat Tatoo-like in stature anyway) who leads him into a futuristic circular chamber.
In the 60’s futuristic meant automatic doors, cordless telephones, swivelling globe-shaped chairs, eerie synthesised music, psychadelic view- screen images, groovy lava lamps, things that go whir, ticker tape, buttons that flash, gleaming chrome and plastic surfaces, and “sharks with friggin’ laser beams on their heads” (such sharks not to be found in The Prisoner). However, I don’t mean to take away from the awe-inspiring nature of this room which contrasts so profoundly with the quaint old Village that surrounds it.
Number 2 rises from the floor. The rather charming and erudite Etonesque fellow questions The Man about his resignation and other matters, and shows him that he’s been under surveillance for a long time – they already know almost everything there is to know about him, but want to know everything. He is offered a deal, a pleasant life in The Village, even freedom, in return for his cooperation. The Man stubbornly insists, “I won’t make any deals with you. I’ve resigned. I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered. My life is my own… You won’t hold me.” Number 2 is amused, sure that he’ll break, and makes clear that there is no escape from the prison.
Fantasy Island this is not. If it were then No. 2 would be covered in whipping cream.
The Village authority (No. 2) takes THE PRISONER for a helicopter ride piloted by The Butler for a whirly-bird’s eye view of The Prisoner’s new home away from home. He explains that The Village is totally self-sufficient, even having a democratically elected council, and that given time he will grow to like and accept it. He might even meet people he knows, says No. 2.
After landing, there is an ominous announcement on the Village PA system; “Here is a warning, there is a probability of light intermittent showers.”
Foreshadowing of the “storm” to follow? A portent of even more ominous things to come? Whatever… But I’m sure a bit of rain won’t dampen the Villagers’ apparent joi de vive, especially as so many of them carry umbrellas all the time anyway.
THE PRISONER walks to a Village Square by the Town Hall where many people are merrily milling about as a band plays. A loud-mouthed Number 2 rather farcically addresses The Prisoner with a megaphone. They discuss sensitive and provocative matters most openly, such as freedom, escape, and the situation the Villagers are in. However, the Villagers seem completely oblivious to the discussion.
One suspects that they have accepted their fate, are brainwashed, and/or are most adept at knowing how to mind their own business. While the Village holds many secrets, it’s no secret that there is no escape, and no hope beyond ‘The Community.’
Number 2 suddenly and urgently tells the people, “Wait, wait, be still!” A bubble spurts up from a fountain, everyone is suddenly completely motionless, frozen in place, and the music and conversations completely stop. All is still except for The Prisoner, Number 2, and the bubble that has turned into a roaring and genuinely scary white balloon. It’s Rover, the Village sentry. one man panics and starts to run. Number 2 urges him to be still but the terrified man continues. Rover descends upon the screaming individual, smothering and enveloping him before bouncing off. Time, which has seemingly stood motionless for the Villagers immediately resumes as if nothing had happened. Number 2 asks The Prisoner how he likes the place; in typically ironic Prisoner fashion he replies, “Charming.”
Next the Prisoner and Number 2 go to Labour Exchange where he is to have psychometric tests and fill in some information. The questioner has a flimsily assembled wooden contraption of pegs and cogs of the sort a child would play with which he manually spins as he asks the questions.
The Village really is a curious mix of the old and new which heightens the otherworldly feel of the place. They have ample futuristic technology and yet there are obsolete contraptions and primitive gadgets in use. Even the Villages symbol is an old-fashioned bicycle.
The first test is on aptitude. Can you fit a round peg into a square hole? YES! The second is a series of questions about aspirations, religion etc. When asked if he has “any politics?” he totally flips and smashes the wooden gadget to bits before storming out. He will be a challenge.
Asking about one’s religion and politics in the same breath is really a bit uncouth methinks, especially during such a politically charged time as the late 60’s. Sinister is one thing, but rude…?!
The Prisoner uncovers a voluptuous woman in a sexy maid costume (a maid?) at his cottage who has come to service him. Disregarding her ample feminine charms, and the undoubtedly amazing things she can do with a feather duster, he promptly and angrily throws her out for invading his privates (erm privacy) leaving both of them unsatisfied and her trembling. (How very unsadgeezerish of him!). However, it seems she just can’t get enough (she says she left something behind, but we know better). She comes back, breaks into tears and explains that she was sent to gather information; according to her she was promised her freedom in exchange for information. If he could just give her something to tell them… He sees right through the ploy and heartlessly sends her on her way. From the Village Control Room where the charade is being watched, The Supervisor and Number 2 fully appreciate that this is no ordinary man (a eunuch perhaps?).
The Prisoner makes his first escape attempt! (It won’t be his last.) Scurrying off into the woods, the cocky Prisoner seeks to elude the eyes and ears of his captors. But what he doesn’t know is that not only do the walls have ears in the Village but also the statues have eyes. Whilst he is surveyed, he hides in the bushes as a perturbed Rover hovers by. The evil bouncy one spots its prey! It roars; he runs. The ever-watchful observers in the Village Control Centre declare Banana Alert (oops, I mean Yellow Alert). A mini-moke vehicle, its sirens blaring, cruises the beach in search of the fugitive. Rather than running from it, the Prisoner runs towards it. As the moke occupants prepare to capture him, The Prisoner unleashes his fists of fury! Pow! Bam! Whammo makes short work of the Village stooges. He gets in the cart and puts the pedal to the metal (about 25 kmh would be my guess).
Orange Alert (orange you glad I didn’t say banana?) is declared, and that means Rover-time! The oversized beach ball swiftly hones in on him. Taking evasive action, The Prisoner jumps from the vehicle, and turns his fighting fists on Rover. Sadly, this is totally ineffectual as his blows just bounce off. A triumphant Rover roars with victory as he envelops The Prisoner. You win this round, Rover!
The Prisoner wakes up in hospital, having been in a catatonic state since his duel with Rover. In the bed next to him is an old friend and an ex-colleague named Cobb who is in a weakened and near delirious state. As he questions him on the circumstances that led to Cobb’s arrival here, a doctor enters to take The Prisoner away for a check-up due to his nasty experience with The Village sentry. Whilst in the hospital, The Prisoner sees several bizarre things: sinister and scary group therapy; a man with electrodes on his head who sings the kind of total gibberish that only a teeny-pop sensation could normally get away with.
It’s abundantly clear that the sinister Village powers are using various experimental techniques, including mind-control, to subjugate many of their subjects.
As The Prisoner is escorted down the hall, an emergency situation arises. Anxious doctors and nurses urgently hurry down the corridor, and he overhears that his old friend from the service, Cobb, jumped out of the window and is dead.
I find it rather telling that Cobb, who by his own admission has been there for about four weeks, is referred to by his real name by both The Prisoner and the hospital staff, and not a number as is far more usual. Sometimes people are referred to by positions, such as the Colonel, or General, but real names are practically banished from the Village.
The Prisoner, having been given a clean bill of health, is released from hospital. His old clothes were burnt and he sports a new Village uniform – a snazzy blazer with white piping, a straw boater, and functional shoes…
I imagine the Prisoner must be very relieved that he isn’t being forced to wear one of the ridiculously gaudy Popeye the Sailoresque uniforms that most Villagers wear. It seems the more valuable Prisoners get to wear the nicer clothes — a true case of art imitating life.
…On his jacket is a badge with Number 6 embossed on it. He’s also given a village employment card, a card of identity, a credit card, and a health and welfare card. Upon getting into the taxi that is waiting to take him home, he throws off his Number and tips his hat to the scrap heap too.
The Prisoner storms into Number 2’s lair, disgusted by the circumstances that led to Cobb’s suicide — how they “imprison people, steal their minds, and destroy them.” The old Number 2 has been replaced with a new Number 2. (most Prisoner episodes feature a new No. 2; sometimes they are replaced due to failure, and at other times it is seemingly quite arbitrary).
The new Number 2 is far more businesslike and blunt than his charming yet equally sinister predecessor.; no time for pleasantries here. He demands the reason for The Prisoner’s resignation and threatens/notifies him matter-of-factly that “if you don’t give me the answers, I’ll take them.” The Prisoner is told that he is to be known as Number 6 which leads him to declare, “I am not a number, I am a person.”
Throughout the series, Number 6 tries to discern whose side The Village authorities are on. From this exchange where Number 2 questions him on his loyalties, whether he resigned because he ‘defected,’ one could suspect that No. 2 is on the British/Allies side (this did take place during some of the more frigid times of the Cold War). Of course No. 2 should not be trusted as far as you can dribble, and the Prisoner trusts no one. No. 2 has an agenda and will use any means to achieve it, but not at the price of damaging No. 6, yet; he is too valuable.
A funeral procession led by a marching band playing jolly music (wake style) wends itself through the streets of the Village. No. 6 meets a woman who is grieving at the funeral; Cobb’s funeral. Finding someone who he thinks he may be able to make an ally of due to their mutual late acquaintance, he takes a chance by taking her into his confidence. She offers him an electro-pass she stole. With it he can gain access to a helicopter. As it happens, she was Cobb’s observer, assigned to watch over him, but developed feelings for Cobb. She is assigned to be No. 6’s observer too, but she does not intend to betray him.
The Prisoner steals the helicopter; but Village Control takes control of it bringing it back to The Village. As the Observer plays chess, her playmate tells her, “We’re all pawns m’ dear.” She has been tricked by No. 2 as part of an elaborate ruse to test Village security for loopholes, and undoubtedly, to prove to Number 6 that there is no escape. She will pay the price.
In a twist, Cobb is still alive and working for the Village. No one can be trusted. As Cobb leaves the Village to meet his new masters, the dogged Rover ignominiously escorts the Prisoner back to The Village. He may just be a bouncy ball, but this dog has teeth!
And so ends the first episode of this cracking series! How would you rate this episode? I’d have to give it a perfect 6 (Number 6 that is)!
Stay tuned for more escape attempts, more sexy unsatisfied women, and more terrifying ball action. Same Sad guide, same Sad channel.
Be seeing you!
Logan (aka Number 5)
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The “Arrival” episode review is © copyright Greg “Logan” Massey, 2003.
Not for reproduction without the authors express permission.
Prisoner names, characters, pictures and everything else associated with
the series are the property of Carlton International.