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The Prisoner - Confined!

01/12/2002. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

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Uncle Geoff takes a look at the classic TV series The Prisoner, and ponders why the heck did Number 6 resign from the British secret service?

'What do you want?'
'You're not going to get it.'
'By hook or by crook we will.'
Quote from the opening of 'The Prisoner' TV series - 1967

Indeed they did. The Prisoner also called 'Number 6' was a hard-headed individual spy intent on keeping his secrets with a strong desire to escape the confinement of his prison, 'The Village'.

Much has been said over the years about the metaphors laid out in 'The Prisoner' TV series. I'm not out to deny such interpretations but hidden metaphors can be found in any fiction depending on how much you dig into the metaphysical aspects of the story or analyze its creators/writers.

The PrisonerWhat is important about 'The Prisoner' lies with that one important question: Namely, why did Number 6 resign from the British secret service? This would not make much difference to his imprisonment. In this reality, keeping spies who've resigned or retired somewhere safe while the information they carry is still relevant to the other side is actually a sound policy.

There was a similar regime hinted at for recalled spies during and shortly after World War Two. This had nothing to do with their integrity but anyone lifted by the other side would eventually succumb to interrogation techniques.

It is these same interrogation techniques that were also applied to Number 6. Most of these were truly mind games designed to break through his resistance. As recently noted in the press, unlike spies from other countries like the former USSR, British agents are given a lot of leeway in how they handle their cases. They do not adhere to any set regime.

Number 6's resignation happened without a debriefing. In simple terms, his senior officers need to know why he came to such a decision without any pre-warning. As a top agent, Number 6 undoubtedly kept his hand in several pies. The Village interrogation techniques stripped away many of these such as the third episode: 'A, B and C'.

Allowing Number 6 to escape in the seventh episode 'Many Happy Returns' was to observe what he would do. Would he seek out the mission he deemed important to resign over? No, he was more concerned about the activities of the Village and wanted it closed down.

Under the circumstances, there was no choice. He was returned to the Village and his active file was closed yet again. Considering his encounters with Fotheringay in the second episode 'The Chimes Of Big Ben' and his own people in 'Many Happy Returns', there should have been no doubt that the Village was under British control and not some enemy power.

Ultimately, it was the discovery of the Seltzman File in the thirteenth episode 'Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darling' that they found the reason for Number 6's lack of cooperation. Seltzman's device for transferring personality from body to body was a device worth keeping secret. He liked and wanted to protect Seltzman from falling into any security service's hands.

Such a device would allow spies or terrorists to swap bodies on either side penetrating anywhere they wanted to go. Although the Village had one of these devices, it was also recognised as not being perfect. The only person to remedy this problem would be Seltzman himself.

The one person who might know where he was or capable of tracking him down was Number 6 himself. They could hardly release him without some incentive. The clever decision was to use the device to place Number 6's personality into the body of an agent called 'The Colonel' with the knowledge that he couldn't be restored to his original body without Seltzman's aid.

Knowing the device's imperfection was enough incentive for Number 6 to seek Seltzman's location. Unknown to the Village personal, this information was concealed within two slides that his finance passed him the receipt to obtain from a photograph shop.

Locating Seltzman in Kandersfield, Austria, both the scientist and Number 6 are captured and returned to the Village. Seltzman uses a three-way transfer to return Number 6 to his own body and simultaneously, to transfer his own consciousness into the Colonel's body to effect his own escape.

As far as Number 6 was concerned, he had completed his original mission to allow Seltzman to stay alive and away from the security forces who would need him to continue operating his mind-transfer device. With no assurance that the personalities could be transferred back to their original bodies, I doubt if there would be many volunteers to use the device again.

A side-effect of all of this is that the Village had the information they were after. There was little doubt that there would be anything more important than the preservation of Seltzman's life. The escape and loss of Seltzman was a problem but not insurmountable. The final problem was then what to do about Number 6 himself?

He would want to escape until the end of his days and although the Village sanctioned the odd death, Number 6 was still considered too valuable to kill. There might be other secrets that he hadn't disclosed! He had also been run through tests in the fourth episode 'Free For All' as a potential Number 2. Whether or not they would really give him such a post with full access to the Village machinery is debatable.

Although Number 2 was infacto boss of the Village, much of the work was done by Supervisor. Number 2's real job is the interrogation of difficult prisoners. In other circumstances, Number 6 might well have been considered for such a role except his scruples might have got in the way.

Ultimately, it was decided to provide an elaborate plot to answer some of his questions about the Village and put his mind at rest. Foremost in Number 6's mind was who was Number 2's boss, Number 1. Provide an answer to that, give him the belief that he had escaped back to normal civilization and Number 6 would no longer resist being imprisoned. The result was the sixteenth and seventeenth episodes 'Once Upon A Time' and 'Fall Out'.

It starts with a battle of wills with a former, expendable and returning Number 2 who is ultimately beaten. This in itself wasn't unusual. Number 6 had always had run-ins with the various Number 2's that passed through the Village and had a rare record of beating them like, for example, the tenth episode 'Hammer Into Anvil'. This action contributed to many of them being moved elsewhere for failing at their task.

A charade was then played out to answer some of the questions Number 6 wanted to know about the Village. Top of that list was who was Number 1? Revealing it was a mad version of himself was totally absurd but Number 6 was carried along with events.

More so that the Village was seen to explode allowing Number 6, Number 2 and Number 48 aka 'the Kid' to escape in a cage driven by the butler back to London. Considering that in the seventh episode, 'Many Happy Returns', there was clear evidence that the Village was located somewhere in or off the Mediterranean, it is odd that Number 6 still did not question this change in events.

Why should he? Number 6 was being given everything he desired, not realising he was being manipulated. Right up to the point when he returned to his own home and the door automatically opens and closes just as it did in his house in the Village. The nice touch of freedom with driving his Lotus 7 car into the sunset was also used to re-enforce the belief. Without realising it, Number 6 had finally succumbed to the Village's mind control technique simply be giving him what he desired the most: his freedom. The fact that this time he was no longer aware that this freedom was illusionary was no longer a consideration.

Freedom is very much an illusion. If you believe yourself free then no prison will be seen as a cage. Number 6 did not like the idea of being a number. In reality, even as far back as the late 60s let alone today, we are all called numbers. We have a National Insurance number, a telephone number, a bank account and credit card number, maybe a passport number and many other numbers that are associated with ourselves that make us part of our civilization.

It doesn't intrude in most of our lives except for when we have to fill in some of them when filling in forms. No one can truly be divorced from them because they are part of the fabric of our society. Numbers can be more individual than names where the odds of having someone else with a similar name are greater than, say, having an identical National Insurance number.

Saying that, we all prefer to be called by our names than impersonal numbers. We identified with Number 6 simply because we didn't like the loss of personal identity. In reality, it's all part of the whole that we can ignore until we have to use these numbers for identification.

With no pressure to escape or to provide information, Number 6 has now been institutionalized as part of the Village. The only difference is that he now perceives it as being London. The Village is happy. They have details of Number 6's last movements as a secret agent before resigning. It is unlikely that Number 6 will desire to escape again.

A true Prisoner once more. Confined at least until any secrets he carried are declassified. With Seltzman on the loose, that might well be a lifetime.

GF Willmetts
(c) August 2002
all rights reserved

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