No.2: In the Village.
Prisoner: What do you want?
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?
No.2: You Are Number 6.
Prisoner: I am not a number, I am a free man!
No.2: [Evil Laugh]
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 thwarted, the Village's warders become just as frustrated as the Prisoner as they deal with a man who will not bend, will not break and never gives up the fight. 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, with one of the guest stars asked to write his own dialogue) 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 that had TV Tropes been created by an earlier generation of nerds, Gainax Ending would have been called the "Prisoner Ending" and leave it at that.
- 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 and notably is the only Village resident to never display nor be identified by a number.
- 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" (which were filmed nearly a year apart). Everything in-between is up for debate.
Recap pages are under construction.
Two remakes of the series exist:
- A TV miniseries remake aired in 2009 with Jim Caviezel as 6 and Ian McKellen as the series' only 2 (this series did not use the word "Number" when referring to people).
- An Audio Play series by Big Finish, written and produced by Nicholas Briggs, started in 2016 and stars Mark Elstob as Number 6, featuring a mixture of remakes of original episodes and wholly original stories. Two four-story series have been released so far, with a third scheduled for 2019.
This show provides examples of:
- 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: 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.
- 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: More details on the Other Wiki, which even helpfully lets you rearrange them in five different orders. "Arrival" is definitely The Pilot and "Once Upon A Time/Fall Out" is definitely the two-part Grand Finale . Other than that, no one can really say beyond a reasonable doubt what order the episodes should be watched in.note That said, there is some consensus on the rough position of many episodes:
- "The General" and "A, B and C" star the same Number 2 and work as a very loose two-parter.
- "Dance of the Dead", "Checkmate", "Free For All" and "The Chimes of Big Ben" are usually considered to be the earliest episodes - they establish basic aspects of the Village, Six occasionally comments that he's new there, and he's still trying to physically escape the Village as though it were a mundane prison.
- Most of the less openly Mind Screw episodes are usually grouped in the centre. "Many Happy Returns" is often placed as the Wham Episode where Six stops trying to escape the Village (because it seems there's nowhere he can run to) and goes on the offensive with his own mindgames instead.
- The weirdest ones ("Living In Harmony", "The Girl Who Was Death", "Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling") are usually grouped at the end, as the Village plays desperate mindgames and ramps up the psychological weirdness coming into the Gainax Ending.
- Applied Phlebotinum: That wonderful sixties version of the trope, involving giant talking computers with big knobs, all-purpose mind-altering chemicals, and multicoloured 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 McGoohan and George Markstein disagreed over whether 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" says she is Estonian, but neither her first name nor her 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). Also, if she were East European with the Slav surname Rakowski she would use the feminine form Rakowska.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- Border Patrol: Stray beyond the mostly unmarked edge of The Village, and you can look forward to being captured or killed by Rovers - giant bouncing white balloons.
- Boxed Crook: Number Six is unknowingly used as one in "Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling."
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: In "Fall Out":
- Number Forty-Eight looks into the camera a few times, most notably at the end when he acknowledges the audience after he escapes.
- Number Two directs a "Be seeing you" at the camera as he sinks out of sight.
- The on-screen acknowledgement of the Hotel Portmeirion at the start of the episode qualifies as this as it's unusual to pull the curtain back in this way.
- 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:
- Calvinball: Kosho, a game involving trampolines, padding, martial arts, and a pool of water, which No. 6 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.
- 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.note
- 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, but finds himself kidnapped and dragged off to a new town, where the mayor tries to convince him to become their marshal instead.
- Crapsaccharine World: The Village.
- Creator Cameo: Besides McGoohan, obviously. His superior in the opening sequence is his creative partner and series script editor George Markstein.
- 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" has Sonia, who's Daddy's Little Dragon to boot!
- 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."
- Deconstruction: Of the many spy shows proliferating television and film in The '60s, including the Bond series. Including the show McGoohan once starred in.
- The spy hero does not always escape or foil his opponent's plans.
- No one - including the spy hero - knows who can be trusted at any moment, or even what is actually happening.
- Mad would-be dictators that show up on a weekly basis on most of those shows aren't a real threat in this show (we one we do meet is actually a caricature as part of a make-believe story Number 6 tells children as a bedtime story).
- 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. While this trope can be detrimental to a show, in this instance it helped foster paranoia in the audience and made them question who was in on the grand scheme of things.
- 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.
- 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.
- Number Six wants to know:
- 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".
- "Freaky Friday" Flip: Patrick Mc Goohan was not available for "Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling", so Number 6's mind was put into someone else's body (and tasked with finding the inventor of the mind-swap machine, or else he'd never get back to his own body...). Strictly speaking, this lacked most of the standard bits of the "swap" aspect, as Number 6's body was portrayed as lying sedated for the entire episode.
- Friend to All Children: Number 6 is seen babysitting children in "The Girl Who Was Death". 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. The debate over what actually happens at the end hasn't died down in nearly fifty years. Two main camps seem to be as follows: 1) The Village was an allegory for 6's own mental conflict over his decision to resign, and thus the entirety of it takes place in his mind; his escape being a metaphor for solving the conflict; and 2) The Village wins by creating an ideal position for 6 as its leader; even though 6 escapes to his home, the door to his flat now closes in the same way doors do in The Village, essentially showing that "they" are still monitoring his every move.
- 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).
- Gaslighting: Used against Number Six on several occasions, particularly in "The Schizoid Man" in which he is given the identity of a Village agent brought in to impersonate himself. Number Six uses the tactic against Number Two in "Hammer Into Anvil", where he does random suspicious-looking things to drive Number Two to distraction.
- 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."
- HeelFace Turn: In "Fall Out":
- Number Two, who turns against his masters and is labelled as one "who bites the hand that feeds him."
- The Butler, who already turned to serve Number Six in the previous 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...
- Number Forty Eight, who 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.
- 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.
- Hell Is That Noise: The distorted roaring sounds the Rover makes.
- Hero Ball: 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". Unlike other examples of this trope the players are volunteers, but one of them is taken to the hospital for 'treatment' when he makes a move on his own initiative. Also both sides are dressed identically.Number 6: Who's he?Woman: He's the champion.Number 6: Who was he?Woman: Hard to say. I've heard rumors.Number 6: Such as?Woman: That he's an ex-count. They say that his ancestors used to play using their retainers as chess pieces. They say they were beheaded as they were wiped from the board. Oh, don't worry; it's not allowed here.
Number 6: So, why do you use people?
- Later Number Six has a quiet word with the ex-count.
- Human Mail: In "The Chimes of Big Ben", part of Number Six's escape plan includes being shipped in a wooden box from Poland to London.
- Identical Stranger: "The Schizoid Man" screws with Number Six's sense of identity by secretly conditioning him to alter his reactions, then introducing an Identical Stranger who's been trained to react the way Six is supposed to.
- Impairment Shot: In the opening credits, the buildings outside spin in Number 6's vision as the Knockout Gas takes hold.
- 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.
- And the Eton Boating Song ("Jolly Boating Weather") played on a flute like a child's rhyme.
- Judicial Wig: "Dance of the Dead" has the current Number Two don a woolen wig to preside at the bizarre trial of Number Six. The charges are bogus, but it's all done to compel Six to reveal why he resigned from the Intelligence Service. Or kill him, either will do for Two's purposes.
- 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.
- 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.
- Licensed Game: There was a computer game which was highly acclaimed and received a sequel. It may not have been officially licensed, though.
- Lighthouse Point: In "The Girl Who Was Death", a Mad Scientist with a Napoleon complex plans to launch a rocket against London from an isolated lighthouse. (Actually the lighthouse itself is the rocket. I say, you've guessed! You're not the Duke of Wellington, are you?)
- Little People Are Surreal: The Butler.
- 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. It's stated in various episodes - especially "Dance of the Dead" - that use of such mind probes effectively lobotomizes the person affected. The Number Twos keep pointing out that the ones running the Village think Number Six can be useful to them... they just want him to break.
- 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.
- More Deadly Than the Male: The three episodes featuring female Number Twos ("Dance of the Dead", "Many Happy Returns", and "Free For All") are among those in which Number Six ends up most defeated and the closest to being mentally broken.
- Napoleon Delusion: Professor Schnipps in "The Girl Who Was Death" dresses like Napoleon, and has all his underlings wear period-appropriate uniforms.
- No-Harm Requirement: In the show, an unnamed British secret agent is kept in a kind of freestyle sanitarium called The Village, which is located on an unnamed island. There, the staff and residents play bizarre mind games with him to compel him to reveal why he suddenly resigned from the intelligence service. Though The Hero gets brainwashed routinely, he's rarely hurt and never injured.
- 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.
- Not So Different: In the second episode Number Two says it hardly matters which side of the Cold War runs the village, since both sides are becoming identical.
- Offscreen Teleportation: The Village seems full of people who can do this or sneak up Behind the Black, which is part of what makes it so uncanny.
- 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 Nineteen Eighty-Four with an indomitable hero to give it some hope.
- 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
fishinggun-running boat whose crew steals his belongings. He ends up fighting them and eventually captures them.
- Sauna of Death: Number Six finds himself trapped in a Sauna Box Death Trap during "The Girl Who Was Death". It doesn't explode, though, he merely escapes.
- 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.
- 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. Additionally, the title and structure of the episode strongly evoke the novel The Man Who Was Thursday.
- 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:
- 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".
- 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 Really Gets Around (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.
- 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.
- Tricked Into Escaping:
- In the episode "The Chimes of Big Ben", another prisoner convinces Number Six to join her in an escape attempt. It turns out to be a ploy to make him think he's escaped so that he'll let his guard down and reveal why he resigned.
- In "Many Happy Returns" Number 6 wakes up one morning to find the Village entirely deserted of people. He creates a raft and floats to England, but is eventually tricked into returning to the Village and being re-captured. The whole thing was a plot to make him despair of ever escaping.
- Trippy Finale Syndrome: "Fall Out" was massively controversial. McGoohan has gone on record stating that he did this specifically to piss people off. Expanded Universe states that, yes, it was an LSD trip.
- Uncanny Village: Gotta watch out for those idyllic seaside resorts!
- The Un-Reveal: The series is rife with them, even aside from those "answered" in its infamous Gainax Ending. Word of God said that anything meaningful enough to answer has been, and everything else, like who ran the prison or the specifics of Number Six's resignation, are utterly unimportant.
- 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 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 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.
- Where the Hell Is Springfield?: We never learn the location of The Village. The times we do get a location, they're contradictory; in "Many Happy Returns," the Prisoner builds a raft and drifts out to sea; the Village is apparently an island somewhere near Portugal according to his calculations. In "The Chimes of Big Ben" they say it's somewhere off the coast of Poland. In "Fall Out" you can drive straight to London from the Village in like an hour.
- Who Shot JFK?: The episode "It's Your Funeral" contains many hidden and overt references - including a grassy knoll! - to the Kennedy Assassination (conspiracy theories had been rampant ever since the Warren Report in 1964 failed to answer certain doubts).
- 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 6: Trope Namer
- Your Favorite: Happens quite often, 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.)
"Be seeing you."