The Prisoner Kickstarter launched last week, and we were happy to tell you all about it, as the first officially licensed figure line for the classic TV show. Since then it has found success: over $100,000 has been raised of the $20,000 goal, and the stretch goals revealed so far also reached. It just goes to show that some of these properties from the past still have life in them and a rabid fanbase. The Prisoner has always been one of them. For those who have watched the show, or those that haven't, Wandering Planets Doc Wyatt is here to tell us about an alternate way to watch the show, changing the experience forever and giving fans a new way to experience the thrills.
What Order Do You Watch, Prisoner Fans?
"The cult TV series THE PRISONER is a surreal, genre-bending, mind-warping mash-up of spy action, dystopian science fiction, and avant-garde filmmaking. Every Prisoner fan can agree that the show is fundamentally a statement about the loss of individuality in an increasingly mechanized world but in terms of the details of what's going on (Who is Number 1 really? Which side runs the Village? Is Number 6 really John Drake? What is Rover exactly? Where is the Village? How much of the "Girl Who Was Death" is true? What even happens in Fall Out? Etc…) you will get as many theories are there are viewers. But did you know that HOW you watch The Prisoner might impact what you think it means?
THE EPISODE ORDER CONTROVERSY
Some quick background: The 17 episodes of the show debuted in 1967 in the UK; but as it grew a following, fans soon noticed that the episodes were NOT broadcast in the order in which they were originally produced, which was (by some) presumed to be the order intended by the show's creator and star, Patrick McGoohan (though it should be noted that TV episodes might be produced out of order for various logistical reasons, and McGoohan himself never sanctioned an official order).
When the show debuted in the US, the order was similar to the UK order, with a notably removed (unaired) episode. Later, however, THE PRISONER was aired again in the US on PBS stations in a very different order. Even later, the Sci-Fi Channel (now Syfy) ran a PRISONER marathon in which they crafted their own order.
The lack of a general consensus from broadcasters on the episode order left fans to minutely pick through each and every episode for tiny clues as to when the episodes might happen in relation to one another (which sounds tedious, but for a certain class of fan, that's a just a fun weekend). Over the 50+ years since the show debuted, many different fan orders proliferated.
Eventually, one of the main Prisoner fan groups argued out an order they could all agree on. By the time the DVD market came around, and it was time for a PRISONER boxed set, the home video company adopted the fan order. It's that order that has dominated recently, although alternative orders still crop up from time to time.
WHY IT MATTERS
Arguing the obsessive details of episode order is totally a fanboy exercise, but does it actually MATTER to the meaning of the show? Well, in the case of the Prisoner, it does.
Patrick McGoohan plays the main character, Number 6, in a very inscrutable way. For most of the series, Number 6 is aware that he's constantly under surveillance in the Village, so he's very guarded, mostly just glancing and scowling. He's always careful about what he says (when not drugged), making his way through whole scenes with just a sarcastic quip here, or a stoic expression there. McGoohan's performance is entrancing, but mostly because he's a cipher—you have to guess what he's thinking.
Even the things he does say, you can't always trust. Number 6 only very rarely has someone he can trust and discuss his feelings with. For the bulk of the show, he's talking to his captors, his interrogators, his enemies… You can't be sure he's telling them the truth. In fact, in some episodes, you know that he's actively misleading them. Number 6 (importantly) is an unreliable source of information in a community designed solely as a way to extract information.
Because viewers never know what he's thinking, they have to fill in many of Number 6's thoughts and motivations; and, in guessing a character's motivations, it's important to know what that character has gone through (or what he hasn't yet gone through) and what JUST HAPPENED (i.e. which episode came right before the one your watching) in order to know what is on Number 6's mind as he makes his decisions.
All of us PRISONER fans want new generations of viewers to find the show. In that spirit, I'm going to try to avoid spoilers here, but just by way of example—there's a certain episode where Number 6 comes very close to escaping, yet does not (yes, there are a few like that—but fans will know which episode I mean here)… and his failure in this episode is TOTAL in a devastating way (but at least he gets some cake out of it). Many fans see this episode as marking a change in Number 6. Up until this episode, Number 6's main motivation is escape. However, in this episode, he realizes that escape is not possible, and changes the motivation from "wanting to ESCAPE the Village", to "wanting to DESTROY the Village".
To be clear—this is not expressly stated in the episode. This is all fan theory. But going with this for a second… such a fundamental change in the main character's primary motivations absolutely colors anything he does after this event…
…Meaning, where this episode gets slotted into the order will change the intention of every episode that comes after it. The earlier this episode goes the order, the more hopeful the show is (escape is possible for most of the series), the later this episode goes in the order, the more fatalistic the show is (destruction is the only solution).
To a greater or lesser extent, there are many little issues like that, which build up to big changes depending on episode order. The overall plot isn't changed that much (there's still an episode that is the clear beginning, "Arrival," and an episode that is the clear ending "Fall Out") but the meaning of the show (and the fan theories about that meaning) absolutely shifts based on the order.
SO… WHAT ORDER IS BEST?
Get ready for this… The order that YOU like best is the best order for you?
OK, yes… I know that's a cop-out, but that's the answer that I'm sticking with. Remember, if THE PRISONER is about nothing else, it's about standing up for the value of the individual.
I would hate to have YOUR personal episode order be "pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered." Well, wait for a second… I guess episode orders are numbered… But you know what I mean here.
And what about new viewers? What order should someone just coming to the show use? The show's streaming on Amazon Prime right now, and that's probably the easiest way for new viewers to see it. I think the Amazon order is fine for first-timers. After that first viewing, it'll be up to them to decide the order they most prefer. "
You can still grab these figures on the Kickstarter by going right here.