Follow TV Tropes


Characters / The Prisoner (1967)

Go To

No TV series becomes a classic without great characters. Patrick McGoohan's postmodern masterpiece, The Prisoner is no exception.

No recurring character in The Prisoner has a name, not even Number Six.

Number Six, The Prisoner
Rebellious ex-spy captured by the unknown powers that run the Uncanny Village.

  • Anti-Hero: Type III, though his rough nature is mainly due to never being quite sure who to trust.
  • Author Avatar: There are many, many clues suggesting that No. 6 represents Patrick McGoohan himself. The date and time of No. 6's birth, given in the pilot, are McGoohan's own; the Village authorities' extensive knowledge of No. 6's personal life reflects the reluctant celebrity's own frustration with living in a fishbowl, and their obsession with why he resigned reflects McGoohan's frustration with those who thought he owed them an explanation for why he quit being John Drake.
  • Batman Grabs a Gun: He consistently avoids using firearms, to the extent that in "Living in Harmony" he plays the part of a sheriff who refuses to carry a gun. As things come to a head in "Fall Out", this line is crossed.
  • Advertisement:
  • Becoming the Mask: This is probably why "Checkmate" represents his 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.
  • Berserk Button: Do not ever, ever kill an innocent woman. He might just let you live to regret it.
  • Boxed Crook: He's unknowingly used as one in "Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling."
  • Celibate Hero: He's engaged.
  • Chick Magnet: Although he rarely reciprocates (in part because of his circumstances, in part because of McGoohan's own no-romance policy for the character), numerous female characters in the show are shown to be drawn to Number 6, with at least one (the Observer in "Dance of the Dead") unambiguously falling for him.
  • Advertisement:
  • Chronic Hero Syndrome: Both a weakness and a strength; many No. 2s don't see past their own point of view of looking out for oneself, but the ones that realise this trait are often the most dangerous to The Prisoner.
  • Cool Car: The Lotus Seven, even though it's rarely used outside the intro.
  • Cultured Badass: Knows Goethe in the original German and is well known for quoting Shakespeare.
  • Deadpan Snarker: His abundant snark is one of the highlights of the show.
    Number 6: The whole Earth as the Village?
    Number 2: That is my hope. What's yours?
    Number 6: I'd like to be the first man on the moon.
  • Determinator: And how. He manages to fight back even in his dreams.
  • Facial Dialogue: Lots. If you pay attention, there is quite a lot less verbal dialogue in this show than other shows of its time period and even today, and you will suddenly realise how much this show depends on McGoohan's Facial Dialogue.
  • Failure Is the Only Option: His continuing efforts to escape The Village.
  • Friend to All Children: He's seen babysitting two children in "The Girl Who Was Death". Awwww!
  • Genius Bruiser: Both a thinker and a fighter.
  • Good Is Not Nice: He's very brusque and prickly, but fundamentally compassionate.
  • Good Old Fisticuffs: He was a champion boxer and it is his preferred method of hand-to-hand combat.
  • Heroic Willpower: Mind-bending techniques repeatedly fail on him.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: His method of looking for potential allies in "Checkmate" is the very thing that thwarts that episode's escape attempt.
  • Knight In Sour Armor: He is cynical and paranoid in the extreme (he really has to be to survive in The Village) but he still really cares about people and tries his best to help and protect others who resist The Village.
  • Large Ham: While he's generally a calm and composed deadpan snarker, he can ham up magnificently without warning if he wants to make a point.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: In "Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling", his memory of the Village is wiped completely. He gets it back by the end of the episode without much explanation.
  • Limited Wardrobe: Pretty much always wears the same iconic black blazer with white piping, khakis, and white loafers. Occasionally he'll swap out the blazer for one with the colors inverted, or if he's particularly lucky, the all black suit he was wearing before being abducted to the Village.
  • Loners Are Freaks: Constantly used against him, but not completely true (or untrue).
  • Mysterious Past: We know next to nothing about his life before the Village. There is the fact that he resigned his job, for reasons unknown (the Village would really, really to know why).
  • No Name Given: His 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 "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.
  • Noodle Incident:
    • The entire series is built around one: what made him decide to resign?
    • Number 2 makes Number 6 relive moments of his life in "Once Upon a Time". Apparently at some point he was either involved in or caused a motor vehicle accident that resulted in loss of life.
  • Passive-Aggressive Kombat: Is a master at this, and a lot of the time, this is the only way he really has to fight back.
  • Properly Paranoid: About ninety percent of the time, though he occasionally lets his guard down in hopes of finding an ally and occasionally the Village plays on his justified paranoia to make it go into unjustified territory.
  • Rebellious Spirit: The Village will not subdue his spirit.
  • Sarcastic Clapping: Very prone to it as part of his snarking.
  • The Snark Knight: He holds himself to his own high standards.
  • Suppressed Rage: While in The Village, he seems to live in a constant state of this, and the few times his control snaps it is devastating to his enemies.
  • Technical Pacifist: Refuses to kill anyone, at least until they push him too far.
  • Tranquil Fury: What happens when he reaches his Rage Breaking Point; notably constructing the systematic destruction of the psyche of a No. 2 who had driven a woman to suicide.

Other Residents Of The Village

The Number Twos

  • Affably Evil: Many Number Twos act like they're the Prisoner's best friend (or would like to be, if he'd just give them a chance). Some of them seem more sincerely friendly than others.
  • The Dragon: To Number One.
  • Evil Laugh: The intro to every episode concludes with one.
  • Failure Is the Only Option: Their constant efforts to break Number Six.
  • The Heavy: The direct problem for Number Six, and within the Village their authority is basically absolute. There may be other superiors elsewhere but we never see them.
  • Just the First Citizen: Well, the second.
  • Wicked Cultured: None of the officials picked for this important position qualify as anything short of intellectual.

Guy Doleman

The first one. Escorts Number Six around the Village on his first day, just to reinforce the Village's self-sufficiency and inescapability. Gives the Prisoner an idea of No.2's power (and establishes an atmosphere of menace) by ordering the entire Village to halt right before Number Six's eyes, and siccing Rover on the one Villager who fails to comply.

  • Becoming the Mask: Regarding the Village: "It will grow on you." For better or worse, he's right. Number Six doesn't truly assimilate, but he does acclimate over time.
  • Mr. Exposition: Certainly one of the more memorable examples of this trope. Justified given that he's the very first Number 2 encountered in the very first episode, and therefore it falls upon him to explain the Village to Number Six, and to the viewer.
  • No, Mr. Bond, I Expect You to Dine: His introduction, complete with Number Six's preferences already laid out for him.

George Baker

The second one. Younger than Doleman's No.2, and replaces him (without explanation, of course) over the course of the first episode. Where Doleman is Faux Affably Evil, Baker's No.2 is blunt and matter-of-fact about Number Six being a prisoner.

Leo McKern

The famous one. Takes a psychological approach to interrogating Number Six. In many ways, an amalgamation of all the best aspects of the other Number Twos.

  • Affably Evil: He can be quite affable. In fact, he makes a Heel–Face Turn after revealing that he too was abducted and brought to the Village against his will.
  • Back from the Dead: He dies in the end of "Once Upon A Time", but the Villagers mysteriously bring him back in "Fall Out".
  • Benevolent Boss: His immediate subordinates seem to genuinely like him rather than fear him.
  • Friendly Enemy: Appears to become this over time, ultimately becoming an ally in the eventual escape, at one point saying outright that he likes Number Six. However, this is subverted in the "Shattered Visage" graphic novel sequel which has this Number Two become an enemy again.
  • Heel–Face Turn: He turns against his masters and is labelled as one "who bites the hand that feeds him."
    • Turns into a Heel–Face Revolving Door in the comic adaptation, with implications in the original show justifying it. In his first appearance, he's clearly directly interested, even friendly in his overtures with Number Six. In his second, his supervisors directly threaten him with Rover, and his response is to remind them of his loyalties.
  • Large Ham: Mainly during his Villainous Breakdown.
  • Mood-Swinger: He's alternately very jolly and very, very frustrated from moment to moment. In a sense, he's the most honest of all the Number Twos since he never hides his emotions. He really, actually does like the idea of a harmonious international community, and not just because it would give people like him more power, and he really gets upset that Number Six won't open up to him, either as an interrogation subject or a friend.
  • Mysterious Past: Various statements made during Once Upon A Time raise many questions about his back story and make him the most cryptic and mysterious Number Two.
  • Not So Different: Number Six casually asks him if he realizes he's as much a prisoner as he is. He freely admits it, saying they're both "lifers".
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: The shave and haircut that they give him prior to his resurrection. It was added in because McKern had gotten a trim prior to being called back for another episode - that's because some eight months passed between the filming of "Once Upon a Time" and "Fall Out".
  • Villainous Breakdown: While he was relatively calm and collected in The Chimes of Big Ben, he becomes more and more agitated and worked up throughout Once Upon A Time and finally breaks completely when his methods backfire on him and give Number Six the upper hand. Rumor has it that McKern had a minor heart attack while filming this episode because of the sheer intensity required to portray this breakdown.
  • Wicked Cultured: Is as enamoured of Shakespeare as The Prisoner.

Eric Portman

Hosts a sham "election" in the Village in "Free For All", in which he convinces Number Six to actually run for the "office" of Number Two — and brainwashes him repeatedly into acting like a slick electoral candidate, much to the disgust of Number Six. Also provides No.6 with a chauffeur/assistant called Number 58, who (despite her apparent lack of English skills) is a fairly obvious Mole.

  • Drowning My Sorrows: He's found drunk in a secret alcohol lab, but that too was a ruse to get Six to drop his guard.
  • Kangaroo Court: Holds one against Number 6, with mannequins as a jury.
  • Red Herring: For the real Number 2 of the episode, Number 58.

Patrick Cargill

From "Hammer Into Anvil". A particularly ruthless Village official, who has no trouble committing psychological torture or physically threatening recalcitrant Villagers — he obviously feels irritated by the standing order that Number Six must not be "damaged". He is the only Number Two who could be categorized as stereotypically "evil."

  • Cultured Warrior: He quotes Goethe in the original German when justifying his brutal methods: "Du musst Ambose oder Hammer sein."
    • Misaimed Fandom: invokedHe knows the quote, but he doesn't know that it's the hammer that breaks first, not the anvil. His whole episode is basically watching that hammer smash itself apart on Six's anvil.
  • Fake Ultimate Mook: 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.
  • Paranoia Fuel: In-Universe. Number Six completely overloads him with it.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: It's implied pretty heavily that they dug this guy up from the wreckage of postwar Germany — although he does a good job hiding his accent.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Number Six does a hell of a job exploiting this man's paranoia, to the extent that he becomes convinced that Number Six was sent by his superiors to spy on him.

John Sharp
From "A Change Of Mind".

  • Fat Bastard: Rivals, if not exceeds, Leo McKern as the most physically imposing No. 2.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Number Six turns the villagers against him with the same tactics Number Two used on him throughout the rest of the episode.
  • Hurricane of Aphorisms: "The slowest mule is closest to the whip," among others.
  • Loners Are Freaks: He hopes to break No.6 by hammering on this trope — essentially introducing new policies that convince the other Villagers to openly ostracize the Prisoner, playing on his genuine feelings of loneliness.

Colin Gordon

From "The General" and "A. B. and C." An unusually nervous No.2 with an inferiority complex. His smug attitude toward the Prisoner is belied by his constant milk-drinking (presumably for an ulcer), his habit of occasionally lashing out at his assistants, and his obvious fear of No.1.

  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: One of the few Number Twos who never asks Number Six why he resigned, because he thinks he already knows the answer. He's convinced Number Six was going to sell out to one of three enemy operatives he knew: A, B, or C, and spends that episode trying to find out which one. Of course, he's completely wrong about why Number Six resigned.
  • The Rival: He really, really doesn't like Number Six, and he's one of the only Number Twos who makes no effort to hide this fact.
  • Villainous Breakdown: He acts pretty anxious throughout all of "A, B, and C", until he finally loses it in the end.

Andre van Gyseghem

The oldest No.2, who seems to have been with the Village the longest; we actually witness his official "retirement" in "It's Your Funeral". Claims that all the other Number Twos were actually interim replacements for him, although that could just be what his superiors told him — they're not above lying to a No. 2, and (as he realizes, much to his horror) they're not the sort of people who fritter money away on things like pensions for retirees who just won't die. One of the only Number Twos other than McKern to receive a sympathetic portrayal.

Mary Morris

This is your world now. I am your world now.

From "Dance of the Dead". She seems to prefer spies rather than hidden surveillance, although she uses both.

  • The Smurfette Principle: Not the only female Number Two, but the only one with a starring, (obvious) front-and-center role.

Number One

The apparent leader of the Village who has his proxies carry out his will. Almost any time he is discussed, it is with a sense of fear or dread. Number Six himself would like to meet him, if only to have some of the mystery surrounding the Village explained.

  • 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.
  • Big Bad: Of the series. Maybe.
  • Dramatic Unmask: Two, actually. First the mask on an ape, then the face of Number Six.
  • The Dreaded: By each and every Number Two, who are always intimidated by his phone calls.
  • Enemy Without: Confirmed (but not how) by Patrick McGoohan.
  • Evil Laugh: A Laughing Mad bad guy.
  • Large Ham: Definitely has a taste for theatrical flair, if his revealing his number badge is anything to go by.
  • Laughing Mad: He laughs madly after finally being confronted by Number Six.
  • Madness Mantra: I! I! I! I! I! I! I!
  • The Man Behind the Man: The man behind the Village. Maybe.
  • Non-Action Big Bad: He may (or may not) be the man behind the scenes, but the only things we actually see him doing are laughing in Number Six's face and then running away from him.
  • Mind Screw: His appearance actually raises more questions than it answers.
  • Room Full of Crazy: Lives in a fully armable nuclear rocket filled with globes of the Earth.
  • The Un-Reveal: We never learn what the hell is going on with him.
  • The Unseen: Until the series finale, and even that appearance is debatable.

The Butler

A silent, obedient little person in a tuxedo. Manservant to Number Two.

  • Battle Butler: In Once Upon a Time, when Number Six assaults Number Two at one point, The Butler takes out a small bat (maybe the kind to kill fish with) and knocks out Number Six.
    • In the next episode, he gets a submachine gun.
  • Heel–Face Turn: He already turned to serve Number Six in the penultimate episode and continues to serve him now. (At least so we assume; he doesn't seem at all surprised when the door to No. 6's flat in London opens on its own...)
  • Hypercompetent Sidekick: In the final two episodes he proves to be a quite badass Battle Butler.
  • Little People Are Surreal: Of course the Village has one of them.
  • Red Herring: Widely speculated to be Number One; likely realizing this would happen, McGoohan lampshades this in the finale by including a brief moment in which it appears that the Butler is indeed Number One until we see he's simply directing Number 6 to his leader.
  • The Voiceless: He never speaks.

The Supervisor

A bald bespectacled man, whose number is 26. Head of Village security and direct subordinate of Number Two. Given to delivering his lines in an exaggeratedly cold and emotionless Robo Speak voice ("Orange... alert. Orange... alert."); his actor, Peter Swanwick, had been diagnosed with cancer just before the series began filming, and he deliberately played the role larger than life in order to make an impression.

  • Bald of Evil: Really bald and evil.
  • Four Eyes, Zero Soul: One of the most soulless in fictional history.
  • Not So Stoic: The one time his robotic facade breaks is in Hammer into Anvil, when that episode's Number Two directly accuses him of treason and fires him; he's hurt.


The Village's last line of law enforcement. A massive balloon-like ball of featureless white material that emits electronic roars and suffocates refractory Villagers into submission.

  • Blob Monster: They didn't really have the effects for it, but it's implied by how it is summoned; a switch is thrown, a bubble forms at the bottom of the sea and the bubble becomes Rover.
  • The Brute: It is this, against the Village's "criminals" and would-be fugitives.
  • Hell Is That Noise: Rover's 'roar.'
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!: Kills Number Six's doppelganger (mistaking him for the real McCoy) in The Schizoid Man, thus allowing Number Six to assume the man's identity and (nearly) escape.
  • Mechanical Monster: Well, this is what they were going for, anyway: it's a security device, and yet also alive, somehow.
  • No Name Given:
    • Only once in the series is Rover ever referred to by name (ironically enough, by the Prisoner himself). When the Prisoner first asks what it actually is, No.2's typically obfuscatory response is "That would be telling."
    • Before the original "Rover" mechanism sunk and they exchanged it with a balloon, he was to be named in the first episode by No. 2.
    • The original spin-off novels, however, refer to Rover as the Guardian.
  • Once an Episode: Even when it doesn't actually chase anybody, Rover always appears in some kind of context.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: It 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 cancelled, 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.

Number Forty-Eight

A fellow prisoner who appears in the series finale. He has an unusual obsession with the song Dry Bones; most of his lines simply consist of lyrics from said song. Along with the Butler and Leo McKern's Number Two, he helps Number Six finally escape the Village.

  • Cloudcuckoolander: His dialogue... isn't normal.
  • Heel–Face Turn: He was brought before the Village in judgment for his open cultural rebellion as a youthful offender. When Number Six encourages the young man to not "wear himself out," Forty Eight immediately sides with him.
  • Nice Hat: Wears one.
  • Talkative Loon: Half his dialogue is "Dem Bones"; everything else is just nonsense.

The Kid

An odd, menacing character who shows up in the western-themed episode, Living in Harmony. As noted above, played by the same actor who later plays Number 48 in "Fall Out" and a photographer in "The Girl Who Was Death".

  • Becoming the Mask: A rather horrifying example: Number Eight seems all too happy to keep acting like the Kid even after the experiment is over, violent tendencies and all.
  • The Voiceless: Subverted in that, once he's revealed to be Number Eight, he talks about as much as any of the other characters.

Number Fourteen

Number Two's right-hand man in Hammer Into Anvil.

  • Unwitting Pawn: Even when he recognizes what Number Six is up to, he still winds up contributing to Number Two's breakdown.

Alternative Title(s): The Prisoner


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: