What is the best/correct order to watch The Prisoner?

John P Grosskopf

Second Unit
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Jan 21, 2001
Messages
313
The American order is considered the official running order, as it came later that the UK order which had several episodes moved around in placement due to episodes not being finished on time. However, this order does not take into account "Living in Harmony" which was not shown in the US in the original run, but is now inserted after "Check Mate" as it would have been had it shown in the US during the original run. What follows are the original UK and US Broadcast orders:
Original UK Broadcast Order
1. Arrival
2. The Chimes of Big Ben
3. A, B, & C
4. Free for All
5. Schizoid Man
6. The General
7. Many Happy Returns
8. Dance of the Dead
9. Checkmate
10. Hammer into Anvil
11. It's You're Funeral
12. A Change of Mind
13. Do Not Foresake Me of My Darling
14. Living in Harmony
15. The Girl Who Was Death
16. Once Upon a Time
17. Fall Out
Original US Broadcast Order
1. Arrival
2. The Chimes of Big Ben
3. A, B, & C
4. Free for All
5. Schizoid Man
6. The General
7. Many Happy Returns
8. Dance of the Dead
9. Do Not Foresake Me of My Darling
10. It's You're Funeral
11. Checkmate
12. Living in Harmony (not shown on first US run, but placed here during later runs)
13. A Change of Mind
14. Hammer into Anvil
15. The Girl Who Was Death
16. Once Upon a Time
17. Fall Out
There are many orders, and these come from looking at each episode separately and very carefully noting dialogue and how Number 6 is treated to give clues as to when in his imprisonment that story takes place. Since some things, even when approached in this manner contradict themselves in various ways in various running orders, there is no PERFECT or CORRECT order in which to watch the episodes other than playing "Arrival" as #1 and "Once Upon a time" and "Fallout" as #16 and #17 respectively.
However, all is not lost, as Patrick McGoohan himself has a preffered order of what he considers the core seven episodes of the series which "really count." That order, taken from The Official Prisoner Companion, is as follows:
Patrick McGoohan's What "Really Counts" Order
1. Arrival
2. Free for All
3. Dance of the Dead
4. Checkmate
5. The Chimes of Big Ben
6. Once Upon a Time
7. Fall out (Conclusion)
Apparently he originally only conceived around seven to ten episodes, but the producers wanted a minimum of twenty-six for world-wide syndication (finally 17 due to production difficulties etc.). The series therfore had to be padded with filler episodes; many of which like "The Girl Who was Death" (an unproduced Danger Man story) and "Do not Forsake Me Oh My Darling" (containing very little McGoohan due to him being off shooting "Ice Station Zebra") ending up being somewhat ridiculous and morethan a bit out of sync with the rest of the series.
LISTEN UP A & E HOME VIDEO, (just in case any of your reps lurk the forum) YOU HEARD IT HERE FIRST!!!.

I propose that A & E put out a dual sided dual layer disc (or 2-disc set) containing just the 7 episodes listed above in the order that McGoohan prescribes and call it "THE PRISONER'S PRISONER," along with a new 30 minute documentary or even a written essay as supplement that specifically explains this order and how and why it differs from the series as it came to exist (I know this is covered to a degree in the documentary of the set).
I'm no market expert, but I'd gladly pay another $30 to add this proposed disc to my already complete set just to have all the core episodes on one disc. I could then lend it to people who have not come into the fold as a "Prisoner Primer" to get them interestd in watching (and perhaps purchasing?) the entire set.
Just a thought.
 

andrew markworthy

Cinematographer
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Messages
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The first time through, go with the 'what really counts' sequence given in John's excellent summary - it's far easier to follow what's going on. The other episodes are patchy in quality, and add little to the overall narrative.

POTENTIAL SPOILER: A small hint - if you read 'Pincher Martin' by William Golding, the plot of The Prisoner becomes a lot clearer ...
 

Steve Y

Supporting Actor
Joined
May 1, 2000
Messages
808
Jesse,
The short answer to your question about show order is (as mentioned above) "no". No one seems to be able to agree on a preferred show order, not even prisoner experts (McGoohan obviously top among them!)
Various television networks that have shown "the prisoner" (A&E and many PBS stations among them) have arranged them in quite a few different orders. Many of the newer orders, A&E's among them, makes our hero stronger and more capable as the show progresses... it turns inward, becomes less spy/action-oriented and more psychological. Channel 54 in San Jose has some excellent (if VERY cheesy) pre and post-show commentary that (IMO) is nevertheless far better than anything found on the recently-released videos. If you know anyone who lives in that area, have them record them for you.
If you want my opinion, don't abridge your viewing experience just to avoid "filler" - even if McGoohan himself prefers a 6-7 hour miniseries. All of the episodes are enormously entertaining, and with the possible exception of "do not forsake me..." fit very snugly into the mythology. For the record, I adore "living in harmony" and "the girl who was death", the latter show especially making a great 'break' episode before the heavy and theatrical final two.
The A&E order runs decently (and easily) through the series, although I have some problems with it. If I had one MAJOR complaint it's the set's ordering of "A,B,and C" and "the general", which in my mind must finish with "ABC"... thankfully on DVD it's no problem to swap the order.

Just one person's opinion. "Be seeing you", etc.!
Steve
 

John P Grosskopf

Second Unit
Joined
Jan 21, 2001
Messages
313
The other episodes are patchy in quality, and add little to the overall narrative.
I must say old chap, but that's a wee bit harsh don't you think?

Yes, a few already mentioned episodes are a bit "pathcy," and as I stated previously, "ridiculous," but overall, every episode adds to the series' mythos and constitute the sum of the Prisoner universe in all its brilliant, goofy, frustrating, "ridiculous" glory.

Prisoner is one of my top 5 TV series of all time, but even so, I have many criticisms of the show, but still accept it as a flawed masterpiece, and would not leave one episode out of my collection.

My biggest fault with the series is that it was written into a corner, requiring an ending that means nothing and everything all at once. Ambiguity is fine, but the last episode, "Fall Out," IMO never lives up to the brilliant set up of "Once Upon a Time." In many ways it seems like a missed opportunity to me for reasons I can never quite articulate or reconcile (which McGoohan would probably say, "...is the point," but that is still a waaayyyay too pat answer for my humble intellect).

I've simply decided that "Once Upon a Time" tells us that the story of the Prisoner is nothing more than a fairy tale, and therefore, the last episode does not have to be grounded in any particular vein of "classical" reality or make logical sense.

However, one does often wonder, is the butler is related to the dancing small person (trying to be PC for any overly sensitive forum members) in the Black Lodge of Twin Peaks?
 

Michael St. Clair

Producer
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May 3, 1999
Messages
6,001
Some of my favorite episodes are not on the 'essential' list.

Doesn't everybody at least love 'Schizoid Man'?
 

John P Grosskopf

Second Unit
Joined
Jan 21, 2001
Messages
313
The notion of filtering out 'unnecessary' episodes for sake of academic cohesion and aherence to the show's main theme strikes me as a little bit like throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
In McGoohan's list order, which I respectfully accept as his vision of the episodes that "really count," I see nothing more than him attempting to get at the answer of what the Prisoner is all about. After all, he created it and he knows what is what.
That said, I am also glad that the show ran 17 entertaining (for the most part [and far more than anything currently on the telly]) episodes. As I said above, I would not leave one out of my collection.
However, my idea of putting the core episodes on one disc was only offered to get new viewers into the fold and interested in experiencing the entire series, while at the same time honoring McGoohan's orginal intent.
This proposal leaves only winners, and I see no downside. As things currently stand, people can choose to watch or not watch. A collection or "filtering" down to core episodes is only one option of "Many Happy Returns" to a television materpiece.

P.S.: Has anyone noticed that the green smiley face looks a little like Mickey Rooney in "Breakfast at Tiffany's?"
 

Steven Wesley

Second Unit
Joined
Jan 30, 2002
Messages
291
Real Name
Steve
Digging up this old thread, and as a new Prisoner viewer (thank you A&E DVD), are they any recommended high-quality websites you might recommend as I watch through this show?
 

andrew markworthy

Cinematographer
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Messages
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I think the official site is: http://www.netreach.net/~sixofone/
There are umpteen theories about what The Prisoner is about. The first time you watch them, I'd suggest you try to do it without reading up on it too much and try to decide for yourself.
If you want a 'quick fix', then the following explanations are amongst those advanced over the years:
(1) the Prisoner is a spy (possibly the character John Drake from and earlier series starring McGoohan called 'Danger Man' who has been placed in a camp for ex-spies because he knows too much.
(2) the Prisoner has gone mad and it's one long psychotic episode
(3) the Prisoner is in fact the one testing the others who think they're in control
(4) the Prisoner has no coherent explanation because the series had to be finished at great speed, preventing McGoohan from wrapping things up properly
(5) like Tristram Shandy, the whole thing is a great big shaggy dog story which is intentionally inexplicable
(6) my own hunch is that the Prisoner is killed right at the start, and the episodes represent his dying thoughts. The Prisoner was a spy who resigned (presumably over a matter of principle) who is then killed because he knew too much. In his dying moments he enters a journey of self-discovery, first asking what others know of him, before addressing the more important issue of who he really is as a person. There are reasons for thinking this:
(a) the title shot could represent his death (maybe the undertakers are literal)
(b) the production company was called 'Everyman' - there is a well-known mediaeval poem of this title all about the thoughts of a dying man
(c) a popular near-contemporary novel was William Golding's 'Pincher Martin', all about a shipwrecked sailor - at the end of the novel it turns out that his elabourate thoughts of living on an island are his dying thoughts as he drowns. Patrick McGoohan is an intelligent, spiritual man, and both this point and (b) would be known to him.
(d) at one point, one of the interrogators tells the Prisoner he's dead.
(e) the final episode is full of Freudian imagery as the Prisoner attempts to at last discover himself as opposed to the previous episodes where others have tried to discover not him, but the information he holds. E.g. there is the trial, with the black and white masked jury, representing the absolute judgements of the superego; and the gorilla lurking underneath the surface represents the id. In the middle is the Prisoner himself, representing the ego trying to balance the id and superego. In the end he rises above this, and thus comes back to where he started in his own home - i.e. his period of fantasy has ended, and he can now die in spiritual peace.
I realise this is as daft as the other explanations, but at least it is internally consistent, since no matter what happens in the episodes it can be explained as dying thoughts, which don't have to be either consistent or make sense.
Incidentally, the last explanation is also the only one which I've ever known Patrick McGoohan avoid addressing in an interview. I'll be v. happy to be corrected on this, since it'll stop me boring people at parties.
 

Mark Zimmer

Cinematographer
Senior HTF Member
Joined
Jun 30, 1997
Messages
4,305
Interesting last theory, Andrew. If the Prisoner is in fact John Drake (the carried-over use of phrases like "be seeing you" etc. from the Danger Man series indicates to me that it is meant to be Drake, despite MacGoohan's repeated denials---which I put down to legal requirements since he didn't own the character), then

the Village could be a subconscious recollection of events in the Danger Man episode "Colony Three," which features just such a Village, from which the inhabitants may not leave, except it's at the other end of the spectrum, being used for training of spies. This could be a setting that the dying Drake's mind seizes upon as a metaphor for his obviously unhappy life in M9 where this self-analysis can occur before the Owl Creek Bridge ending under the last theory.
Although I'm not generally wild about borrowings from that story, which by now is quite the old chestnut, I'm inclined to like this theory quite a bit...it would explain a good deal of the weird imagery.

In any event, I highly recommend the Prisoner fan to check out A&E's Danger Man vol. 2 boxset, containing the episode "Colony Three" and you can come to your own conclusions. That series is quite entertaining and anti-Bondish, and sets up The Prisoner quite well, since Drake is constantly chafing at the ridiculous and counterproductive things his superiors are making him do; watch half a dozen episodes and you can certainly believe that it's Drake resigning in disgust in the intro.
 

andrew markworthy

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I've always thought it was meant to be Drake (though as Mark says, it doesn't deny the theory I advanced in my spoiler). One of the messages of The Prisoner is of course that the established order isn't always right (look out for the daily newspaper being dished out from what looks suspiciously like a toilet roll holder), but nor is simple resistance to established practices just for the sake of it. Which of course was one of the messages from Danger Man as well.
 

David Nathaniel

Auditioning
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Nov 5, 2018
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Real Name
David Nathaniel
The Prisoner running order is simple>
1. Arrival
2. Free for All
3. Dance of the Dead
4. Checkmate

? The rest of the episodes viewed here in any order you prefer. Feel free.
Then these three to finish>
5. The Chimes of Big Ben
6. Once Upon a Time
7. Fall out (Conclusion).
P.S Could it be that Number 6 is Admiral E Bird the man who supposedly discovered the outer edge of Flat Earth and the number 6 character is A Dick E Bird telling the "globalists" where to stick their New World Order. Look at the flat horizon and the "6"0 degrees angle of the suns rays above Mc Goohan's head in the beach scene during the opening credits which is also a masonic symbol of the eye of Horus (sun) atop of the 60 degree angled pyRAmid (the sun's RAys. The series is littered with references to "globes" and "flat earth" models.
A couple of examples of flat earth references are the plant terrarium sat on the pillared coffee table in 6s flat.
For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and He has set the world upon them. (1 Samuel 2:8)
The lemon tea with the cocktail stick representing the North pole with the rim of the teacup as the outer edge perimeter.
Amos 9:6 The One who builds His upper chambers in the heavens And has founded His vaulted DOME over the earth,
In the foyer of the (high heavens of command) the green "DOME" there is a round table with a tall plant in the centre (probably representing the tree of life at the North pole as depicted in many ancient manuscripts) and also maritime paintings on the walls of the foyer. Admiral Bird's Antarctic adventure was maritime. There are many more references to a "flat earth" and certainly no shortage of "global" implied symbolism.
Deuteronomy 6:4
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is "ONE."

You're living in an Orwellian open prison surveillance society permitted by and controlled by God and your release date is your repentance. Till then you are furnishing your cell.
The system is a prison to house those who are ignorant of or wilfully reject the truth. Only God can release you but your pride and fear is a stronghold in the prison system.
No-one can "beat the system" God won't allow it.
However if you have the faith of Abraham you can leave the "system."
When you fight the "system" you strengthen it but when you leave the "system" you weaken it.
God bless!
 

David Weicker

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Talk about a thread-bump

New user’s first post reviving a sixteen year old thread.
 

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