The Prisoner #1 – ‘The Uncertainty Machine’

When I’m not looking at all kinds of geeky media on this blog, I’m co-running my website Set The Tape, on which I now and then publish content. This is part of a review you can find the rest of in the link below.

Half a century on, The Prisoner remains a truly landmark piece of television. Much like Twin Peaks some quarter of a century later, Patrick McGoohan & George Markstein’s series adds definition to the era it was made while remaining defiantly *in*definable. A 16-part series for British TV channel ITV, The Prisoner ostensibly concerned an intelligence agent—known only as Number Six—who, after quitting for undisclosed reasons, finds himself captive in The Village – a strange, quaint British seaside town filled with nebulous intelligence operatives looking for why he left the service. This, however, is just the base layer.

The Prisoner was much like a set of Russian dolls in terms of narrative and comprehension – every answer just seemed to lead to another question. It remains one of the most fascinatingly bizarre TV shows ever made, on British TV or anywhere else, steadfast in its refusal to provide conventional narrative storytelling; indeed the more its star McGoohan took control of the reins, the stranger the concept became.

McGoohan edged it away from being a quirky spy thriller (and possibly sequel to his earlier hit series Danger Man) and further into an allegorical, surrealist farce designed to commentate on the evolving idea of big government and deep surveillance on society. By the end of its final episode, ‘Fall Out’, his message was clear. *Everything* is the Village.

Much as The Prisoner held a mythological core that remained devilishly out of reach, with the show never answering the key questions everyone believed it would in 1968—principally, the identity of the force behind the Village, the unseen Number One—you equally felt that the further away the show edged from the 1960’s, the more it should remain a signature piece of popular culture in television of that decade.

McGoohan never tried to make more, and while for years there were rumblings in Hollywood of a movie remake, mercifully this never happened. A TV remake, however, did; starring Jim Cavieziel & Ian McKellen, it tried and failed to update the thematic ideas McGoohan laid down for a new generation. The Prisoner, surely, could never truly be replicated.

Props, therefore, to Titan Comics and writer Peter Milligan, because with this first issue there is a strong feeling they might well have managed the almost impossible. ‘The Uncertainty Machine’, in essence, is a prologue to what, daringly, is a modern-day sequel version of The Prisoner, holding to the same continuity beyond ‘Fall Out’.

Half a century later, the Village still exists, and Milligan looks set to frame this strange conceptual prison in terms of modern ideas about technology, surveillance and the deep state. In many ways, this might well be the perfect time to bring back a show so paranoid and absurdist as The Prisoner, and one only hopes the deeper down the rabbit hole Milligan takes this revival, the stranger he will dare to venture.

Read the rest here.


Buy The Prisoner #1 from Titan Comics now.

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