Saturday, January 06, 2007

The Prisoner Revisited

I've just rewatched the incredible 1967 television series The Prisoner, after purchasing the "35th Anniversary" boxed set.

The Prisoner is like an old friend. I first came across it in the early eighties in television listings, but never bothered watching since I assumed it to be a WWII Great Escape type of show. I could not have been more wrong!

My first viewings occurred in the most unusual circumstance. There was a television set hung from the ceiling of a stairwell common area at my university. Generally this was turned off but rarely (and randomly) it was on. Descending the staircase one day I happened to notice a rather strange apparition: a man in a fairytale folly of a village, part Italian, part fantasy. The unusual dialogue and set pieces (human chess game) captivated me immediately.

The sound was low and usually obscured by passing students, the video signal was intermittent and the physical environment not conducive to watching. Nonetheless I found myself drawn to the stairwell and hoping I could catch more of this strange programme. To this day I have never figured out who was playing the tapes. Considering the subject matter, this seems all too appropriate.

Later I discovered other fans, some of whom became life-long companions, like my good friend Ed. Once we had the show on video we enjoyed it over and over, going so far as to celebrate the birthday of No. 6 every March.

Watching the DVDs has been a revelation, in part due to the amazing video quality and in part because allowing a gap of several years between viewings has refreshed my powers of observation. Also, I am sharing the experience with two Prisoner novices, which tends to enhance perspective.

I am currently fascinated with the problem of episode ordering. It is known that the broadcast order is not the order desired by the producers, and was not even the same in the UK and North America. It is also obvious from even a cursory viewing that it is inconsistent and aesthetically inferior.

In a follow-up post I will attempt an analysis. For now I will just enjoy the show.

Some words about the DVD releases. In the UK Carleton has the programmes in original broadcast sequence on five discs with a sixth for bonus material. In North America the episodes have been stretched over 10 discs with a non-broadcast ordering that is unsatisfactory.

Both sets have similar extras, but there are some differences. The US set has the alternate version of "The Chimes of Big Ben" but the UK also has the alternate "Arrival". Both have the poor documentary "The Prisoner Video Companion" which contains so many spoilers that it is useless for beginners, and so much recycled footage that it is boring for those who have watched the show.

Items like the intro and extro without text are of interest only to the most rabid fans. The promotional trailers illustrate that the show was misleadingly sold as a spy thriller. Trivia info and background on the No.2 actors is welcome. The interactive map of the Village makes a nice DVD menu as well (as used on the UK bonus disc).

The UK bonus disc also contains a short documentary on Prisoner memorabilia that then veers off into spoiler territory. There is also a cute Renault advert. I think neither of these are on the US version. However the US set contains a documentary on the shooting location and a nice booklet.

In summary, I would have to recommend the UK set to anyone who can handle Region 2 disks.

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JZP said...

Quibble - the "non-broadcast" ordering of the US is actually the US broadcast ordering. And there really is not true ordering as some episodes took longer in production, so even the UK broadcast order was not their *intended* order.



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