“I think progress is the biggest enemy on earth, apart from oneself… I think we’re gonna take good care of this planet shortly…there’s never been a weapon created yet on the face of the Earth that hadn’t been used. We’re run by the Pentagon, we’re run by Madison Avenue, we’re run by television, and as long as we accept those things and don’t revolt we’ll have to go along with the stream to the eventual avalanche. As long as we go out and buy stuff, we’re at their mercy. We’re at the mercy of the advertiser and of course there are certain things that we need, but a lot of the stuff that is bought is not needed…
We all live in a little Village. Your village may be different from other people’s villages but we are all prisoners.”
-Patrick McGoohan, 1977
How fitting that Patrick McGoohan should leave our little global village within weeks of princiapl shooting finishing on the remake of his brainchild, the brilliant and still subversive The Prisoner. If it be triumph or tragedy, he need not see it; his feelings about it are largely unknown, though in some ways it shows promise; it will be tightly focussed, only six episodes long, which despite its punny elements is only one longer than the original projected run of McGoohan’s Prisoner. On the other hand, quotes from the director reveal that they are consciously trying to seperate the remake from the original, make it a new beast, update it and make it relevant, the standard defenses of those who always think they can improve on someone else’s artistic project. A remake is a tenuous project, because no matter how often the remaker claims to respect and admire the original, there is always a tension between contempt and a desire to improve, and a deep-seated reverence for this cultural product; and below all that, money. The Prisoner was a unique television programme, a success critically, artistically and commercially, a popular hit of subversive, difficult science fiction. Will the remake be able in any way to match that particular moment in time when McGoohan could make a genuinely popular attack on those who run us?
Number 6: I will not make any deals with you. I’ve resigned. I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered! My life is my own!
Somehow, I doubt it, no matter how hard it tries. It is too tempting to call McGoohan a visionary, especially now that he is dead, and thankfully he was not right about our nuclear self-destruction, but that The Prisoner remains relevant today is a sad commentary on the stagnancy of our political and economic system: we were ran by television, Madison Avenue and the Pentagon then, and we are now, so to speak. It isn’t prophecy then, really, any more than Jules Verne predicted the future: he knew of television protype experiments when he wrote about television ‘prophetically’. McGoohan was no prohet, but he distilled something, crystalised and popularised a critical analysis of the world; few who have seen The Prisoner would mistake it or forget its accomplishment. Which raises the question: is a remake even necessary? Obviously it’s too late now one way or the other: it has been made and will be broadcast. But The Prisoner, like McGoohan himself, aged very well, and little dates it save some of the clothes and the later episodes. What a remake would offer is beyond me. At least those remaking seem to care more than the original people slated to do it.
Number 2: What in fact has been created? An international community. A perfect blueprint for world order. When the sides facing each other suddenly realize that they’re looking into a mirror, they’ll see that this is the pattern for the future.
Number 6: The whole earth as… ‘The Village’?
Number 2: That is my hope. What’s yours?
Number 6: I’d like to be the first man on the moon!
The BBC reported on 4 May 2006 that Granada TV in Britain would revive the series for the Sky One network in 2007. Christopher Eccleston, who you may, or may not, know as the second newest incarnation of Doctor Who, has been linked with the role, but these were rumours; the Radio Timesfor 3 June – 9 June claimed the new series would be titled Number Six and not The Prisoner. American cable network AMC was to co‑produce; I’ll let you judge what the quality of this show would be from this newspeak laden nonsense: “The Prisoner is like Pandora’s box ‑ it’s the ultimate conspiracy thriller,” said Damien Timmer, executive producer of the show.”Like 24, the new series will entrap you from the opening scene. We hope it will tap into this iconic show’s existing cult following, whilst creating a whole new generation of fans.” Which means, bear with, the man tapped to fill McGoohan’s shoes as producer had no clue what the show was about, because The Prisoner is the opposite of 24, with no violent shoot outs, evil lesbians and pro-American patriotic chestbeating and righteous torture.
In October 2007, British broadcaster ITV stepped in to replace Sky One as co‑producer with AMC. They are the ones still going ahead with it. Sir Ian McKellan will play Number 2, which really is not news anymore Apparently, the talking heads of the network also claim their new version will be “a racy, radical reinvention of the original show.” The richest part of this story is that Sky One, a British television channel owned by Rupert Murdoch was producing this show up until ITV, the orginal producers, stepped in. A remake of one of the most anti-authoritarian television programmes being funded by a news channel notorious for its spin related to the Iraq War, for one, and for its genuine low level, a la CanWest here, of editorial and journalistic freedom. That’s so ironic you can eat it with a spoon.
Perhaps the remake will be all too dreary and topical, full of war on terror references, torture, suicide bombings, and Blairisms and the national security states post nine-eleven, which will turn this into a gritty British Battlestar Galatica; unfortunately, The Prisoner was not the original Battlestar, all feathered hair and hippy new age mormon nonsense. McGoohan dealt with all these issues before, and did so elusively enough that they couldn’t be pinned down; who and what ran The Village was and is beyond us, and the side they were on really didn’t matter in the end. The remake will have to tread that same line without being a joke or a travesty; of course, it doesn’t really matter, as long as it makes money; there is nothing constitional about respecting the ‘rights’ of a piece of art once it has been bought, sold and traded as commodity. ITV doesn’t have any need or desire to respect McGoohan’s memory, or the production he was so involved with. My only hope is that the show ends as the original does, with Number 6 still a prisoner in London, thinking he is free. London, and Britain, is the Village; the most surveilled society on Earth, where 200 CCTV cameras sit within a mile of Orwell Boulevard.
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