troperville

tools

toys


main index

Narrative

Genre

Media

Topical Tropes

Other Categories

TV Tropes Org
random
Series: The Prisoner

Prisoner: Where am I?
No.2: In the Village.
Prisoner: What do you want?
No.2: Information.
Prisoner: Whose side are you on?
No.2: That would be telling. We want information... information... information!
Prisoner: You won't get it!
No.2: By hook or by crook... we will.
Prisoner: Who are you?
No.2: The new Number Two.
Prisoner: Who is Number One?
Number Two: You are Number Six.
Prisoner: I am not a number, I am a free man!
No. 2: [Evil Laugh]

The Prisoner is a celebrated 1967 British Science Fiction drama with Spy Drama elements, filmed in Portmeirion, produced by and starring Patrick McGoohan, and co-created by George Markstein.

The series deals with the conflict between individuality and authority, told through an unnamed man's attempts to escape from a surreal Dystopian penal colony. Although that goal is continually frustrated, the Village's warders are almost as frustrated as they deal with a man who will not bend, will not break and never gives up the fight until he becomes dangerous to them. Almost uniquely (for a series of that era not based upon a novel), it had a distinct Story Arc. The episodes had no clear progression, but the series did have a distinct beginning, middle and end, capped off by the Grand Finale "Fall Out".

The show is known for its obscure, confusing, yet intricate subtexts and plot twists, which culminated in the most notorious (and most beloved) Gainax Ending in British television history. Patrick McGoohan had almost complete creative control, a budget 40% larger than that of most other series, and no idea where the show was going from episode to episode. After what was broadcast as episode 11, the script editor, George Markstein, quit the series and was not replaced. Scripts and story ideas from that point on came from random people and places: a Western-themed episode was suggested by a video editor, and the infamous episode "The Girl Who Was Death" was an unused script from Danger Man (featuring characters, props and locations from said series). Finally, the series' infamous ending (reportedly written over the course of a weekend after ITC head Lew Grade abruptly cancelled the series) takes a turn for the surreal, fueled by McGoohan's wish to have "controversy, arguments, fights, discussions, people in anger waving fists in my face saying, how dare you?". Let's just say the Gainax Ending could easily have been called the "Prisoner Ending" and leave it at that.

The characters:

  • Number 6: A nameless former spy who has resigned as "a matter of conscience". The only character to appear in each of the 17 episodes.
  • Number 2: A succession of leaders who live in the Green Dome. They all try in their turn to break Number 6. In general, each episode has a unique Number 2; a couple episodes have more than one, and a couple of Number 2s (played by Leo McKern and Colin Gordon) appeared in more than one episode.
  • The Butler: A silent dwarf played by Angelo Muscat who serves Number 2. He appears in most of the episodes.
  • The Supervisor / Number 26: A nearly-emotionless balding gentleman with thick square glasses who runs the security room. He appears in many but not all episodes (and in a few of them his appearances are Stock Footage).

To keep things focused on the story's development, McGoohan often censored any hint of romance between his character and female prisoners/collaborators in submitted scripts, keeping the characters' attraction to Number 6 strictly one-sided. Instead of romance, the story deals with the battles between Number 6 and his surroundings: his struggles are often physical, but in the end, always come down to his mental resilience. More than once, Number 6 breaks his opponents down by utterly crushing their sanity; indeed, towards the end of the series Number 6 is more often shown fighting the Village from within rather than trying to escape.

The series is believed by many to be a sequel of sorts to McGoohan's previous series, Danger Man, with "Number Six" actually being Danger Man's John Drake. There is at least one shared character (or possibly just a character with the same name and actor), Number Six's "civilian" clothes are the distinctive outfit usually worn by Drake, and a publicity photo of McGoohan as Drake is X'ed out during the opening credits. Official Prisoner continuation novels flat out name the Prisoner as Drake. For many years, McGoohan publicly maintained that the Prisoner was not Drake, but it is suspected that he was just being contrary. It has also been speculated that, if Number Six was actually said to be John Drake, then McGoohan would've owed royalties to Ralph Smart, the creator of Danger Man.

Some have even theorized that both characters are also the same person as the secret agent McGoohan played in the film Ice Station Zebra. Certain small differences in behavior between the three characters (for example, Drake does not drink, the Prisoner drinks occasionally, and the Ice Station Zebra character is a borderline alcoholic) have been taken as hints toward the reason Number Six resigned his job (his refusal to divulge this reason is the MacGuffin for the series; his antagonists figure that if they can break him enough to get that information out of him, the rest will follow).

Another one of the primary topics of fan debate is what order the episodes are meant to be in. There are five principal orders out there, and to be honest the original broadcast order is the one that makes the least sense. The only episodes that everyone agrees on is the introductory episode "Arrival" and the two-part finale, "Once Upon a Time"/"Fall Out". Everything in-between is up for debate.

Recap pages are under construction.

A remake, in the form of a six-hour miniseries with Jim "The Passionate Christ" Caviezel as 6 and Sir Ian "The White Wizard" McKellen as 2 (no "Number" in this version), ran in November 2009. This was not a direct remake, as characterization, atmosphere, and ending were almost entirely different. YMMV as to whether the miniseries worked taken on its own terms, and on whether it deserved to keep the name. McGoohan died before the series aired, but had been invited to make a cameo appearance, which he declined; played now by another actor, the cameo in episode 1 involved 6 coming across an old man dressed in Number 6's outfit from the original series.


This show is the trope namer for:


This show provides examples of:

  • Actor-Shared Background: One of the only pieces of information Number Six voluntarily gives the Village is his date and exact time of birth (19 March 1928, 3:15 a.m.) — which coincides exactly with McGoohan's.
  • Absentee Actor: "Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling" was filmed while McGoohan was off shooting Ice Station Zebra, so a mind swap plotline was devised that allowed another actor to play No. 6 for the episode.
  • Affably Evil: Most of the No. 2s
  • All Just a Dream
    • The resolution of two of the later episodes, where the majority of the episode is revealed to be a simulated dream or a fictional story being improvised by a character. And then there's the episode where Number Two decides to invade Number Six's dreams...
    • Possibly the final episode... or the entire series.
  • Anachronic Order
    • "Arrival" is definitely The Pilot and "Fall Out" is definitely the Grand Finale (with "Once Upon A Time" directly preceding its events, making it the second half of a two parter of sorts). Other than that, no one can really say beyond a reasonable doubt what order the episodes should be watched in.note 
    • The DVD boxset features episode descriptions that include full details on why each episode is placed in their chosen order. And even that makes a clear mistake: "A, B, & C" is placed before "The General" despite featuring No. 2 saying "I am No. 2" in the credits rather than the usual "The new No. 2," and appearing far more nervous and erratic than in "The General," indicating he's been given a rare second chance to try to break No. 6 and faces particularly dire consequences if he fails again.
  • Applied Phlebotinum: That wonderful sixties version of the trope, involving giant talking computers with big knobs, all-purpose mind-altering chemicals, and multicolored electronic beams of light.
  • Arc Words
    • While the series didn't last long enough to form full story arcs, the General is name-dropped well in advance of appearing.
    • The finale also reveals that the phrase "You are Number 6", heard during the opening credits, actually should be seen with a comma: "You are, Number 6".
  • Armed with Canon: Co-creators Patrick Mc Goohan and George Markstein disagreed over if The Prisoner was an ersatz John Drake from Danger Man or a completely new and independent character with each creator bringing their own interpretations to their respective efforts. The record finds evidence supporting both sides, but George Markstein did quit after the 11th episode as a result of that and other tensions within the production.
  • As Long as It Sounds Foreign: Nadia Rakowski in "The Chimes of Big Ben" is Estonian in name only - and not even that, neither the first name nor the last name are plausibly Estonian (and members of non-Estonian ethnicities living in Estonia during the 60s would have been highly unlikely to self-identify as Estonians).
  • Backwards-Firing Gun: In "The Girl Who Was Death", Number 6 modifies some rifles so they'll fire backwards before some guards arrive and attempt to shoot him with them.
  • Badass Boast
    • In "The Chimes of Big Ben," Number Six claims he can do even better than escape the Village: he'll come back, wipe it off the face of the earth, obliterate it, and Number Two with it.
    • In "Dance of the Dead," Number Two coldly and confidently asserts to him that "This is your world now. I am your world now."
    • "I am not a number, I am a free man!"
  • Bad Boss: While the various Numbers 2 are like this, apparently not caring if their underlings die, it's apparent that Number One is this to them. When some Numbers 2 fail, it's clear they're in utter dread of his wrath.
  • Batman Grabs a Gun: The Prisoner consistently avoids using firearms, to the extent that in the Western episode he plays the part of a sheriff who refuses to carry a gun. As things come to a head in the final episode, this line is crossed.
  • Bavarian Fire Drill: In "Checkmate," Number Six impersonates a guard simply by acting imperious. The other prisoners, who have been conditioned to be subservient, buy it without question.
  • The Beatles
    • Use of "All You Need Is Love" in the finale is a rare example of an original Beatles recording (as opposed to a cover) used in a soundtrack. Also very creepy.
    • The band loved the series (which is why they authorized the use of their recording), and were going to make a film before Magical Mystery Tour, directed by McGoohan, based on The Prisoner- it never happened.
    • There's another story that claims the Beatles also considered McGoohan as a potential director for their planned adaptation of The Lordofthe Rings.
  • Becoming the Mask
    • The real threat represented by the Village. Yes, the people running it might torture or brainwash you, but eventually, they may not need to: the prisoners and jailers appear interchangeable, and the setting idyllic, with some prisoners eventually liking the place and choosing to serve it. Leo McKern's No. 2 is eventually revealed to be a former inmate.
    • Leo McKern apparently got very, very into the role as No. 2 in "Once Upon a Time", to the point where the on-screen stress No. 2 was enduring caused either a real heart attack or nervous breakdown for the actor (the accounts differ).
    • This is probably why "Checkmate" represents Six's darkest hour. Not only did he fail utterly at his plan, he did so because he proved he would be an incredibly effective jailer in his own right, having inadvertently convinced the other prisoners he already is one.
  • Bond One-Liner
  • Boxed Crook
    • Number Six is unknowingly used as one in "Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling."
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: At the end of "Fall Out", actor Alexis Kanner smiles at the camera as his credit appears.
  • The Butler Did It: As good a guess as any. (No, really. The show's production assistant literally said this. It's as good a guess as any.)
  • But You Were There, and You, and You
    • One episode turns out to be a story Number Six is telling to a group of children, and the two villains in the story are played by the same actors as Number Two and his assistant.
    • Another episode plays out as a Western with the same Reveal, but in this case it was All Just a Dream.
  • Calvinball: Kosho, a game involving trampolines, padding, martial arts, and a pool of water that Number Six apparently plays twice a week. The rules can be guessed at somewhat, but it's mainly there to contribute to the general Mind Screw of the series.
  • Catch Phrase: Several. "Be seeing you!", "Why did you resign?", "I am not a number, I am a free man!", "Who is Number One?", etc.
  • Celibate Hero: Number Six is engaged.
  • Cold War: Subverted. See Government Conspiracy below.
  • Comic Book Adaptation: A sequel miniseries (later collected into a TPB) called Shattered Visage. Among other things, it provided an explanation for the show's infamous Gainax Ending. It also comes close to performing a Gender Flip by featuring a new No. 6 who, this time, is a woman ( in this story, the original No. 6, apparently driven mad, takes on the role of No. 2 - at least, until one of the original No. 2's returns to the Village). As for whether it's canon, well...the most McGoohan ever said about it was that he "didn't hate it".
  • Cool Car: The Lotus Seven, even though it's rarely used outside the intro.
  • Couch Gag: A rare serious example. Most episodes' introductions feature the back-and-forth quotation at the top of this page, but have redubbed No. 2's lines with the voice of the new No. 2 from the current episode, often featuring a brief shot of them.
  • Costumer / Cowboy Episode: "Living in Harmony" takes place in a Wild West setting. Number Six is a sheriff who turns in his badge and gun and tries to leave town.
  • Crapsaccharine World
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Number 6 vs. Number 2 in "Hammer Into Anvil". Made all the more awesome in that he doesn't even touch him. It's sort of a Curb Stomp Batman Gambit.
  • Daddy's Little Villain: "The Girl Who Was Death".
  • Dance Party Ending: The final episode.
  • Deadpan Snarker: With The Village being an overpowering, Orwellian superpower, Number 6 does most of his fighting with words. Needless to say, he's very, very good at it. But so are most of the Number Twos.
  • Death Trap: Number Six is put through a gauntlet of them in "The Girl Who Was Death."
  • Depending on the Writer: How independent and self-aware the other villagers are is determined by the needs of each episode's plot. In some, they're little more than lemmings, jumping to act en masse in whatever way their captors tell them. In others, they seem to be free-thinking individuals capable of resistance of against Number Two and his/her goons.
  • Determinator: Number 6. He does not give up. In "A. B. and C.," it's revealed that his dreams are an endless loop of his resignation...and nothing else. He doesn't even quit when he's asleep.
  • Different In Every Episode: A subtle aural example: the section of the opening theme tune accompanying the scene where the future Number 6 confronts his boss is remixed to emphasize different instruments in each episode.
  • Dramatic Unmask: Inverted in the final episode. Twice.
  • The Dragon: The multiple Number Twos.
  • Driving a Desk
    • Used in "The Girl Who Was Death", one of the few episodes with much car-driving in — and lampshaded when something surreal happens that's very easy to achieve with back-projection but would have been much more difficult with live driving.
    • Also done in "Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling" when the characters are supposedly driving through the mountains of Austria.
  • Driving Question: There are a set of them. Number Six wants to know:
    • "Where am I?"
    • "Who are you?"
    • "Who is Number One?"
    • "Whose side are you on?"
      • Meanwhile, his mysterious tormentors want to know "Why did you resign?" And most likely, quite a raft of other things that we aren't privy to.
  • Dystopia: The Village, a more subtle example than most.
  • Elseworld: "Living In Harmony" turns the show into a Western, down to the credits sequence. It turns out to be a hallucination induced by the Village staff.
  • Failure Is the Only Option: For Number Six - escape the Village. For Number Twos - to break Number Six. The finale elaborates on this. Number Six gets home, and doesn't notice when a door in his old flat opens exactly the same way as the ones in the village. McGoohan later confirmed this was intentional.
  • Fake Ultimate Mook: Number 2 in "Hammer Into Anvil". At the start of the episode, he seems to be the most dangerous, sadistic, tenacious, calm, hands-on Number 2 in the series so far. Number 6 easily and utterly destroys him.
  • Fauxreigner: Number 58 in "Free For All".
  • Fictional Sport: Characters are often seen playing kosho, a sort of trampoline-based wrestling game over a swimming pool.
  • Filler: McGoohan has gone on record stating that only seven episodes in the series are essential to the main story arc: "Arrival", "Free for All", "Dance of the Dead", "'Checkmate", "'The Chimes of Big Ben", "Once Upon A Time", and "Fall Out". The rest were only filmed to satisfy the required episode count.
  • Foreshadowing: Although given the haphazard way the series finale was devised suggests this was not intentional, many have noted that if read with a different inflection than that heard on screen, one exchange between No. 6 and No. 2 in the opening sequence "Who is Number One"; "You are Number Six" can be seen as foreshadowing one of the big reveals in "Fall Out".
  • Franchise Zombie: McGoohan wanted to make The Prisoner a seven episode miniseries, but ITV executives wanted it to last two 13-episode seasons (for a total of 26). In the end, they compromised on a single 17 episode season. McGoohan eventually got what he wanted; he claimed later on that only seven episodes were canonical.
  • "Freaky Friday" Flip: "Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling".
  • Friend to All Children: Number 6 is seen babysitting two children in one episode. Awwww!
  • Gainax Ending: After footsying around with metaphor and allegory for the entire series, the Grand Finale goes so allegorical that there's a fairly good case for calling this trope the Fall Out Ending or the Prisoner Ending instead.
  • Gambit Roulette: Many of the ploys designed by the Number Twos involve very convoluted chains of events to work. "It's Your Funeral" stands out for the circular logic required to justify Number 6 being involved in the story (a group planning to assassinate Number 2 wants 6 to learn about them, so he can warn Number 2 and not be believed, rather than just staying secret in the first place).
  • Gilded Cage: The Village, especially when the big white orb appears on the beach.
  • Girl of the Week: Usually one per episode, although they're all very different from each other. (Two of them are Number 2, some are evil scientists or moles, some die, some are hallucinations.) Number 6 has no romantic interest in them whatsoever, though. As it turns out, he's already engaged. That doesn't stop several of them from expressing "interest" in No. 6, however (that said, in a case of creator-driven Executive Meddling, McGoohan continually removed any hint of romance between females and No. 6 from the scripts, allowing only a couple of story-related exceptions to slip through).
  • Government Conspiracy: Exactly who the conspiracy is is a complete mystery, and No. 6 is frustrated in early efforts to determine which side of the Cold War is running the Village. One No. 2 suggests that it really doesn't matter, as the two sides of the Cold War are becoming increasingly similar. However, one of No. 6's superiors is shown to be in league with the Village.
  • Grand Finale: Where the Prisoner escapes, or does he?
  • Happiness Is Mandatory: "There will be joy, laughter, happiness, all at the carnival, by order."
  • Heel-Face Turn
    • Leo McKern's No. 2 and the Butler in the Grand Finale. At least, it appears that way.
    • In the episode "The General" Number 12 - who controls Security that episode - immediately aids Number Six's efforts to stop the Instant-Learning program. No explanation for 12's turn is ever given.
  • Hero Ball / What an Idiot: Although No. 6 is the show's Only Sane Man most of the time, it's hard not to Face Palm while watching "Many Happy Returns" when he ends up at Beachy Head with its famous lighthouse and doesn't recognise it, falls asleep on a truck without even bothering to hide himself, and subsequently goes straight back to his own home, even though he already knows from previous episodes that his former friends are after him.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard
    • Number Six's method of looking for potential allies in "Checkmate" is the very thing that thwarts that episode's escape attempt.
    • In "A Change of Mind," Number Six turns the villagers against Number Two with the same tactics Number Two used on him throughout the rest of the episode.
  • Human Chess: "Checkmate"
  • Human Mail: In one episode, part of Number Six's escape plan includes being shipped in a wooden box from Poland to London.
  • Identical Stranger: Curtis in "The Schizoid Man".
  • Implicit Prison: The Village is this, partly because it is a village (with separate bungalows and other buildings), and partly because of the Mind Screw (which avoids identifying the Village and its authority figures with any real-world nation or organization while making repeated demands for "information"). Once the big white orbs appear to thwart Number 6's escape attempts, it elides more clearly into a Gilded Cage.
  • Individuality Is Illegal: See "A Change of Mind" in particular.
  • Instant Sedation: The Knockout Gas in the first episode (and opening title) and a doctor's hypodermic in "A Change of Mind", both used on Number 6.
  • Ironic Nursery Tune
    • 'Pop Goes the Weasel' shows up with creepy frequency in both the soundtrack and in the story, but there's also 'Humpty Dumpty', 'Jack and Jill', 'The Duke of York', and several more. The show seems to fairly empty Mother Goose of her rhymes.
    • Also, there's the tune of 'For He's a Jolly Good Fellow', if you want to count it.
  • Klingon Promotion: One No. 2 attempts this on his predecessor.
  • Large Ham
    • Leo McKern as No. 2.
    • McGoohan in the unbroadcast (but later released on DVD) early edit of the first episode, which shows him giving a somewhat more "animated" reaction to seeing the Village out his window for the first time.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: In "Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling", Number 6's memory of the Village is wiped completely. He gets it back by the end of the episode without much explanation.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Happens a few times. In "Fall Out", No. 2 appears to say "Be seeing you" to the camera - or is he talking to a guard? At the end of "The Girl who was Death", No. 6 turns to the camera and says "Goodnight children, everywhere." He's talking to No. 2 who is monitoring him, but he could be speaking to the audience as well.
  • Left-Handed Mirror: Played With in the episode "The Schizoid Man". Number 2 creates an exact double of Number Six and uses him to confuse Number Six into thinking that he's the double. The Villagers use aversion therapy on Number Six to turn him from right-handed to left-handed. The double is right handed, which he uses to claim that he's the real Number Six.
  • Leitmotif
    • In "Hammer Into Anvil" and "Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling".
    • "Pop Goes the Weasel" is used throughout the series. The episode "Once Upon a Time" establishes "POP" as an acronym for protect other people and originally "POP" was to be a featured element of the show's closing credits, but this was never broadcast (you still see it in the early edit versions of some episodes that have been released on DVD).
    • The Village's brass band plays Johann Strauss's Radetzky March almost every time they appear — even in a funeral procession.
  • Life Imitates Art: The official Prisoner fanclub's leadership dissolved in a heady mix of paranoia, backstabbing, and accusations of people spying on each other in real life. Several tertiary members mentioned this trope when they heard of what happened.
  • Lighthouse Point: "The Girl Who Was Death."
  • Little People Are Surreal: The Butler.
  • Lobotomy
    • Used for mind games. Number 6 is made to believe he's been lobotomized in the episode "A Change of Mind".
    • In "Dance of the Dead", Number 6's former colleague Dutton ends up lobotomized for real.
  • Locked in a Room
  • Logic Bomb: How the Prisoner defeats the General. It turns out that the General is a room-sized computer which can answer any question. The Prisoner asks it "Why?". The General overheats and explodes trying to come up with an answer. This is probably the Trope Codifier for the "ask the AI an open-ended philosophical question" version of the trope.
  • Loners Are Freaks: Subverted since in the Village, the fact that Number 6 is a stubborn loner is his greatest strength. Doubly subverted in the episode "Checkmate".
  • MacGuffin: The real reason for Number 6's resignation, in two ways.
    • Many of the Village minders don't actually give a flying fuck about the answer — what's important is that Number 6 surrenders by telling them. In the very first episode the first No. 2 encountered states outright that they know why he resigned, and proceeds to characterize the interrogation of No. 6 as "a double check". No. 6 also outright states why he resigned, at least in broad strokes, in "Once Upon a Time". ( "For peace of mind ... Too many people know too much." Which is actually a reasonable reason for resigning.)
    • Others, like the Number 2 in "A, B and C", set off the plot of the episode in question because they think they'll learn the true reason Number 6 resigned. They never do.
  • Mind Probe: There are several different machines that can at least partially tap into Number Six's mind and tell what he's thinking (or force him to think what they want him to think), but they can't seem to dig out the one specific response they need of him.
  • Mind Rape: Lots of episodes, probably most notably "The Schizoid Man," in which Number Six is brainwashed into believing that he is merely someone impersonating Number Six, and "Once Upon a Time," in which he is brainwashed into mentally regressing to childhood.
  • Mind Screw: The series as a whole, individual episodes in particular and the Grand Finale, of course, most of all.
  • Mind Screwdriver - The Shattered Visage comic. As stated before, however, its canonicity is uncertain.
  • The Mole: A lot of the drama that arises is because either No. 6 believes someone to be this trope, or someone else believes No. 6 to be this.
  • Napoleon Delusion: Professor Schnipps in "The Girl Who Was Death".
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Happens to The Prisoner in "Free For All"
  • No, Mr. Bond, I Expect You to Dine
    • He's often invited to dinner or breakfast or lunch with Number Two, but he seldom accepts outright. Naturally, since they know nearly every detail about Number Six's life, it's always Your Favorite.
    • In "The Schizoid Man", they subconsciously change his favourite food to aid in attempting to make him think he's someone else.
  • No Name Given: The Prisoner's real name (although many fans assume he's John Drake, the character McGoohan played in his previous series, Danger Man (aka Secret Agent); in fact, he's not even called "Number Six" in the scripts, except by other characters, only "P" or "Prisoner".
    • In the episode "Many Happy Returns", Number 6 called himself "Peter Smith", but this could be an assumed/false name. It's also an obvious variation on his German code name, "Schmidt".
    • In "The Girl Who Was Death", a line of dialogue by a boxing referee is often misheard as announcing McGoohan's character by the name "Mr. Drake". However, officially published scripts and closed captioning reveal the scripted line is "Mr. X."
    • "Once Upon a Time" includes a line of dialogue (confirmed by examination of the script) in which No. 2 (pretending to be a teacher) says to 6 "Meet me in the morning break." A common mishearing of the line is "Meet me in the morning Drake."
    • Confusing things further, in the late 1960s three original novels were published based upon the series. The first two of these: "The Prisoner" by Thomas Disch and "Number Two" by David McDaniel, explicitly refer to No. 6 by the name Drake. It is unknown whether the novels were ever considered "canon" with the TV series.
  • Ontological Mystery: Where exactly is the Village? Who runs it? Does it matter?
  • Paranoia Gambit: Number Six does this to Number Two in "Hammer Into Anvil."
  • People's Republic of Tyranny: The Village's administration insists — loudly and repeatedly — that its government is democratically elected. In "Free for All," we see such an election: the voting is rigged and the results are overturned almost immediately anyway.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner: Loads of them during the extended spy movie parody in "The Girl Who Was Death" (mostly from the eponymous antagonist, since Number 6 isn't really the type).
  • Purely Aesthetic Gender: Outside of "Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling" (produced when McGoohan largely wasn't there), "Dance of the Dead" (wherein a female character falls in love with No. 6), and "The Chimes of Big Ben" (where it is hoped No. 6 would fall for a female prisoner with similar desire to escape), the characters' genders make no real difference to the plot.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot
    • McGoohan was a staunch Catholic, and Six never resorts to a fight unless forced, never womanizes, and refuses to compromise his beliefs.
    • "Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling" came about because McGoohan needed time off to make Ice Station Zebra.
    • "The Girl Who Was Death" was adapted from an unproduced Danger Man episode in order to fill the quota of extra episodes beyond McGoohan's desired seven.
    • According to several books on the series, McGoohan was given only a few days to come up with the Wham Episode finale, "Fall Out." In order to complete the script on time, Kenneth Griffiths, cast as the Judge, was asked to write his own dialogue. On a related note, episode guest stars Griffiths and Alexis Kanner were recruited to appear despite having both played key roles in episodes only a few weeks previously.
  • A Real Man Is a Killer: Invoked in "Once Upon a Time."
  • Recycled INSPACE: You can see this show as 1984 with an indomitable hero to give it some hope.
  • Recycled Script: "The Girl Who Was Death" is adapted from an unused Danger Man script, which is why it feels so much like a Danger Man episode, at least at first. This fact is also used as ammunition by those who believe No. 6 and John Drake are the same character.
  • Resignations Not Accepted: Pretty much the ultimate expression of this trope.
  • Retool: According to various histories of the series, had a second season been commissioned, No. 6 would have found himself acting as an unwitting agent of The Village and being sent on missions, a major retool of the format. The episode "Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling" is in some ways a backdoor pilot for the new format, complete with pre-credits teaser. It could be argued that McGoohan's opinion of the idea is evident in that he chose this episode to be the one shot while he was filming Ice Station Zebra, requiring another actor to play No. 6!
  • The Reveal
    • Many in "Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling". We get to see 6's boss, daily life, code names, friends, and fiancee. But they still manage to avoid revealing his real name, even when 6 meets his fiancee.
    • It's been suggested that the answer to the big question was given within the first few minutes of each show if you add one comma..."Who is Number 1?" "You are, Number 6."
    • Also, take a look at the number on Number 6's door when he finally arrives home at the end of "Fall Out". That's right... it's No. 1. (To be specific, 1 Buckingham Place, if you please!)
  • Salvage Pirates: "Many Happy Returns". Number 6 escapes the Village on a raft and encounters a fishing gun-running boat whose crew steals his belongings. He ends up fighting them and eventually captures them.
  • Sauna of Death: With Number 6 trapped inside. In "The Girl Who Was Death".
  • Scenery Porn: The Village. You can always swing by for a stay...
  • Script-Reading Doors: Number Six's front door seems to know when he's entering or leaving his home. Of course, he is living in a panopticon...
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: What ever the evils of the Village, the men's black jacket with its white piping combined with the turtlenecked sweater is the sharpest prison uniform in all of fiction.
  • Shout-Out
    • In "The Girl Who Was Death," Number Six receives his orders in a manner mimicking that of Jim Phelps in Mission: Impossible. The episode also includes more than a few nods to Danger Man since it was adapted from an unused script for the series.
    • The Shattered Visage comic series is just loaded with these, with the references running from Danger Man to the short-lived, little known medical series Rafferty, which starred McGoohan.
  • Sinister Surveillance: Number Six is always under surveillance...especially when he thinks he's not.
  • Sleep Learning: A major focus of "The General," though of course, the Village always attempts to subvert "learning" with "re-education"
  • Small Secluded World: The Village is virtually the archetype for this trope (although, technically, it's only secluded as far as Villagers are concerned).
  • Soundtrack Dissonance
    • Some truly masterful Mind Screw examples in the Grand Finale ranging from Carmen Miranda to "Dem Bones" to The Beatles' "All You Need Is Love".
    • The fucking weasel. It doesn't pop. WHY DOESN'T IT POP?!
  • Special Edition Title: "Living In Harmony" has a Western-genre variation on the usual opening-sequence, with Number Six riding into a town and turning in his sheriff's badge. "Fall Out" replaces the usual opening with credits played over a helicopter sequence of the Village, accompanied by the rarely-used second half of the theme tune.
  • Spiritual Successor: Even if the Prisoner isn't John Drake, the show is at least a spiritual successor to Danger Man, which actually featured a Village-like facility in an episode entitled "Colony Three" (and included scenes filmed in Portmeirion in its very first episode "View from the Villa").
  • Spotting the Thread
    • In "The Chimes of Big Ben," Number Six is tipped that he hasn't really escaped when he notices that the eponymous chimes sync with the time on a watch he was given in what was supposedly Poland, even though the two are in different time zones.
    • Then, in "The Schizoid Man," Number Two turns the table on him: if he were really Number Twelve, he'd have known that Number Twelve's wife had died a year before.
  • Spy Drama: An actually dramatic drama, not just "will he kill the bad guy and get the girl"; indeed this trope is subverted at every turn.
  • Stock Shout-Out: The initial interview with No. 2 is frequently referenced. "Be seeing you" and the accompanying hand gesture are often used as hints in other media that the person giving them isn't to be trusted (most notably Bester and other PsiCorp characters in Babylon 5).
  • Story Arc: Number 6's struggle to escape the Village and his growing strength inside it.
  • Storybook Episode: "The Girl Who Was Death".
  • Stunt Double: Patrick McGoohan's stunt double was Frank Maher who, as well as doing the physically demanding stuff, would also stand in for Patrick McGoohan in long shots where the character was just running (this was also to allow McGoohan to concentrate on his other duties as writer/producer/director). He was also featured prominently in the episode 'The Schizoid Man' which featured No. 6's Doppleganger.
  • Take That
    • Many of the elements of the show (as well as McGoohan's previous show, Danger Man) were deliberately designed as counterpoints to the growing popularity of the James Bond franchise: Bond's an expert gunsman (Six has moments of being a Technical Pacifist), Bond is a walking example of A Man Is Not a Virgin (Six is a Celibate Hero), and Bond and Six are deeply, deeply divided over Patriotic Fervor. Both characters are also superspies with pithy humor, and both feature over the top gadgets that suffered heavily from Zeerust. To hammer it home, McGoohan was one of the original picks to play Bond, but turned it down because he disagreed with the philosophy behind the character. Though it would have made him far richer, he reportedly never regretted the decision.
    • One episode, "Free For All", is a clear Take That to voter apathy and political machinery sabotaging democracy. Number 2 promises great gains if Six is elected, but the exact same people respond to his speeches as Six's with equal enthusiasm (prodded on by the Butler). Six's "supporters" even have party posters of him made up before he's even aware of the election, and to add to the insult, they use the same picture from his resignation photo in the opening montage. At the end of the episode, Six has fought off party brainwashing, but is no more free than before. Only his jailer's face has changed. Subtly, this is also the only episode he willingly wears a number pin, to show his support for his own campaign.
  • Tap on the Head
    • "The Girl Who Was Death": Number 6 knocks out two Mooks with a bop on the top of the head, one with his fist and one with a grenade used as a club.
    • "Once Upon A Time": The Butler knocks Number 6 unconscious with a club to the back of the head to stop him from strangling Number 2. The precise definition is lampshaded in this case as 6 doesn't immediately go down but rather spasms a bit as one might do if they've received a sudden shock like a club to the head.
  • The Tape Knew You Would Say That: The phonograph record that gives Number Six his assignment in "The Girl Who Was Death" seems to hear his smart aleck aside.
  • Technology Marches On: Much of the technology, especially in "The General," have obviously become outdated. The big exception is the bulbous sentry robot, Rover, which still looks as believably advanced as a machine and scary as hell; not bad for a last minute improvisation when the intended prop sank.
  • Throw It In: Leo McKern was easily the most popular No. 2 among cast and crew, so they wrote new episodes just to bring him back. When the show was canceled, they rushed the final episode and added an on-camera haircut to "explain" his trimmed beard and shorter hair.
  • Throw the Dog a Bone: Although Number Six's attempts to escape inevitably ended in failure, he would occasionally be permitted a moral victory or a chance to outwit his captors in discovering his secret or one of their other plans.
  • Throw the Pin: There's a variation in "The Girl Who Was Death" where Number Six tampers with the bad guys' old-timey WWI-era grenades (the ones with a baton-like handle used to hurl a can-shaped charge) so the explosives ended up in the handles.
  • Trippy Finale Syndrome: Good Lord.
  • Trolling Creator: McGoohan definitely qualifies.
  • Uncanny Village: Gotta watch out for those idyllic seaside resorts!
  • The Unreveal: The Grand Finale is so steeped in symbolism that it's effectively this.
  • Virtual Reality Interrogation: In the episode "The Chimes of Big Ben". Number 6 escapes the Village and is transported to London, where he meets a former superior. As he's about to explain why he resigned, he realizes that the situation has been faked to trick him and discovers he's still in the Village.
  • The Voiceless: The Butler.
  • What Could Have Been: Kenneth Griffith wanted his character in "The Girl Who Was Death" to be based on Hitler. Thankfully, Patrick McGoohan didn't think this was funny, and made him change it to Napoleon.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Rover was initially meant to be a single entity, and had what was intended to be an on-camera "death". Though they'd already filmed a scene with him in "Once Upon a Time", the intent was always to reshoot it. When the show got canceled, they no longer had the budget to do so, and so it lends the appearance of Rover being a type of weapon that inexplicably disappeared for several episodes.
  • Where The Hell Is Springfield?: we never learn the location of The Village.
  • Write Who You Know: Number Six is to an extent a stand-in for McGoohan, unsurprising given that the series is all about his own views on individuality and authority. A prime example of how Tropes Are Not Bad.
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: Any episode in which Number Six apparently escapes the Village will see him being recaptured and/or the whole escape being revealed as a fake-out.
  • You Are Number Six: Trope Namer
  • You Look Familiar
    • Alexis Kanner played Number 48, "The Kid", and an unnamed photographer in different episodes.
    • Patrick Cargill, who played a British government official in "Many Happy Returns", and Number 2 in "Hammer into Anvil". Given the show's themes, it's difficult to tell if we're supposed to notice and account for it in the story.
    • Christopher Benjamin appears as different characters in "Arrival" and "The Girl Who Was Death", and in the latter actually reprises a character named Potter that he played in an episode of Danger Man.
    • Colin Gordon appears as No. 2 in the episodes "A, B and C" and "The General", being the only actor besides McKern to play No. 2 more than once. However, given the nature of the series, there is actually a case to be made that Gordon is playing two different No. 2's, if one compares elements such as characterization. The one-off appearance of Village workers in "Arrival" who look exactly the same (possibly twins, possibly clones) is cited as possible evidence in support.

      The Colin Gordon question may depend on which order you watch the episodes. If "A, B and C" is seen before "The General", as it was during the show's original run, they may be different. If that order is reversed, they appear to be the same character who goes from highly confident to desperate to avoid punishment for failure.

      It should also be noted that "A, B,and C" is unique as the title sequence contains the line "I am No. 2" rather than "The new No. 2", suggesting that episode was meant as the 2nd episode featuring that No. 2, as there'd be no need to reintroduce himself then or indicate anything had changed. This correlates with the above reasoning for the change in his behavior.

      It's worth noting that Colin Gordon's two episodes were filmed consecutively, with "The General" being filmed first and "A,B and C" second.
  • Your Favorite: Happens quite often in The Prisoner, since the overlords at The Village know nearly everything about the Prisoner and can accommodate him almost immediately. They know how he takes his tea, what foods he likes, and so on, and regularly give him exactly that. In one episode, they change his favourite food to mess with his mind. (And in another, he takes his tea differently to mess with Number Two.)


The 2009 remake provides examples that were not seen in the original series of:

  • All Just a Dream - It turns out the Village is actually a sort of shared dreamspace on a level deeper than the subconscious. Which makes it all a dream, but not just a dream.
  • Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever - Rover returns, but this time as a giant weather balloon bigger than a building.
  • Bottomless Pits
  • Bury Your Gays - 909's death, arguably 11-12's as well.
  • Catch Phrase: discounting "Be seeing you", apparently avoided during production; when the series was first announced, much of the publicity involved the phrase "Seek the Six" being connected to the show in some way, but once the show was actually made and prepared for broadcast, this catch phrase vanished from all publicity and is never heard within the show itself (if it was ever intended to be).
  • Enemy Without - Schizoid
  • Evil Over Lord List - 2's last gambit is remarkably similar to #143
  • Florence Nightingale Effect
  • Heroes Want Redheads
  • Hospital Hottie - 313
  • Infant Immortality - Subverted with 147's daughter, 832. It looks like she's about to fall into a Bottomless Pit, but she doesn't—until a few minutes later
  • Lotus-Eater Machine - explanation for the existence of The Village
  • Mythology Gag: At the final episode, all the villagers chant: Number Six is The One.
  • Really Gets Around: Well, in reality 6 only has relationships with two women so this might be overstating things a bit, however in comparison to the enforced Celibate Hero status of No. 6 in the original series, and the fact the two love affairs are part of the plot, this is quite a contrast.
  • Shout-Out - In addition to elements actually carried over from the original series, there are passing references, like the penny-farthing bicycle hanging from the ceiling of the nightclub. The opening credits also follow the same general pattern as the original.
  • Thirsty Desert - Surrounding the Village, instead of the ocean in the original.
  • Tomato Surprise - Those flashbacks to Six's life before The Village? They aren't flashbacks, they're happening simultaneously.


"Be seeing you."
L. Sprague de CampTabletopGame/GURPS SettingsRiverworld
War and PeaceSchool Study MediaRoots
Nick FurySpy FictionNCIS
The PretenderAction Adventure SeriesQueen of Swords
Power RangersTropeNamers/Live-Action TVPsych
The Prince Of AtlantisBritish SeriesPrivate Schulz
Little BrotherSeiun AwardUFO
Star Trek S 2 E 15 The Trouble With TribblesHugo AwardThe Six Million Dollar Man
Points Of ViewThe SixtiesA Question of Sport

alternative title(s): The Prisoner
random
TV Tropes by TV Tropes Foundation, LLC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available from thestaff@tvtropes.org.
Privacy Policy
92551
33