Opening and closing sequences of The Prisoner

Opening and closing sequences of The Prisoner
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The Prisoner intertitle

The opening and closing sequences of TV series The Prisoner are considered iconic, "one of the great set-ups of genre drama."[1]

Contents

The Prisoner overview

The Prisoner is a 17-episode British TV series in which a secret agent, played by Patrick McGoohan, is held against his will in a mysterious, controlled and changing environment called the Village.[2]

Introduction

The title sequence (seen in all but two episodes) begins with a clouded sky and the sound of thunder, the latter becoming that of a jet engine. As the theme music begins, the view dissolves to reveal an angry man, the future Number Six, driving in his Lotus Seven at top speed down an empty highway, then past the Houses of Parliament in London, into an underground car park. Entering the building via a set of double doors titled "Way Out", he then strides down a long, narrow corridor leading to another set of double doors, pulling them open with great ferocity.

The man mounts a fierce (but inaudible) argument before a man at a desk, delivers an envelope marked "Private—Personal — By Hand" (presumably his resignation), and slams his fist on to the desk, smashing the saucer of a cup of tea. Throughout all this, the man behind the desk is not seen to speak and appears to be fiddling with a pen, so it's not clear whether he is even listening to what is being said. The angry man leaves and drives home, not realising that he is being followed by a hearse, identified by the license TLH 858.

Meanwhile, in an unknown location full of filing cabinets, an automated system types a series of large Xs across the man's photograph and drops it into a drawer marked "RESIGNED".

At the man's flat, he quickly packs his possessions. The hearse pulls up and a man dressed like an undertaker[3] approaches the front door. A white gas floods the room through the keyhole, rendering our hero unconscious. This is followed by a momentary blackout (in some showings, a commercial break occurs here). He awakens seemingly in exactly the same place, rises, walks straight to a window, looks out and sees the Village. This is shown in a shot from his point of view, through the window, over which the episode's title is superimposed. In all but four episodes this is followed by a montage of shots of the Prisoner running around the Village, over which the following dialogue is heard:

Prisoner: Where am I?
Number Two (not identified as yet): In the village.
Prisoner: What do you want?
Two: Information.
Prisoner: Whose side are you on?
Two: That would be telling.... We want information...information...information!
Prisoner: You won't get it!
Two: By hook or by crook, we will.
Prisoner: Who are you?
Two: The new Number Two.
Prisoner: Who is Number One?
Two: You are Number Six.
Prisoner: I am not a number; I am a free man!
Two: [Sinister laughing]

A close-up of the actor playing Number Two in the particular episode is usually inserted once. Credits for guest stars, producer David Tomblin, script editor George Markstein (thirteen episodes only), the writer(s) and director are superimposed over this.

Variations

This is not invariable across the run. Sometimes Number Two's side of the conversation is provided by Robert Rietty instead of the actual actor; only Leo McKern, Mary Morris, Colin Gordon and Peter Wyngarde provided dialogue for the conversation, and for the remaining episodes (where the dialogue was used) Rietty's voiceover was used, although a shot of the actor playing Number Two would still be inserted following the line "By hook or by crook, we will" (with the exceptions of "Many Happy Returns" and "The Girl Who Was Death", where an extra shot of Rover was inserted instead, as revealing Number Two's identity at this stage would ruin the plot).

In "Arrival", when the hero pulls into the underground carpark, he is seen taking a ticket from an automatic machine, parking the car next to a curb. He gets out and pushes through a double swinging doorway, with the words "Way" and "Out" on the doors. As he leaves, what appears to be the hearse can be seen waiting for the Prisoner to pull out onto the street, shortly after which the Lotus passes it. None of this is seen in any other episode. The dialogue sequence does not follow the awakening here, as it is essentially a compressed presentation of the Prisoner's learning about his new surroundings as depicted in detail over the course of this episode.

In "A. B. and C.", instead of "The new Number Two," the line is read as, "I am Number Two". Here the role is essayed by Colin Gordon, who would also have the part in "The General".

"Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling" precedes the resignation sequence with a scene featuring two men sitting in an office and discussing a series of projected slides that one is certain conceals a message. It further eschews the dialogue between Six and Two and superimposes the episode credits over footage of a helicopter arriving in the Village.

"Checkmate" had Number Two's first few lines lifted from one of Gordon's episodes, then Peter Wyngarde, who played the role in the episode, finished.

"Living in Harmony" features none of the typical title sequence at all, instead opening with a Western style version. McGoohan appears as a sheriff turning in his badge, and soon thereafter getting ambushed and beaten into unconsciousness by several men. He subsequently awakens in a town called Harmony, run by a very Number Two-like Judge.

"Fall Out" also completely does away with the standard sequences, instead opening with a recap of the previous episode, "Once Upon a Time", followed by a series of aerial shots of the Village, over which the typical credits are superimposed (as well as an additional screen at the beginning revealing the location of the Village as Portmeirion).

Number One

The high production values involved have led the opening sequence to be described as more like film than television.[4] Like the series as a whole, the opening sequence can be seen as a prefiguration of postmodernism;[5] it establishes an Orwellian dramatic premise which is deconstructed by its own absurdity. The opening sequence is absent from the final episode, which is expected to decode and confirm all the narrative of the series which has come before by revealing the identity of Number One, but which instead abandons the narrative structure for "chaotic meaninglessness".[5] In addition, the final episode recontextualises the exchange in the opening sequence: the response to "Who is Number One?" is revealed to not be "You are Number Six", a deflection, but "You are, Number Six", a truthful answer.

Tag

Just before the closing credits of each episode (except the finale), the face of The Prisoner rises up from a bird's-eye view of the Village, to be covered by bars clanging shut.[6] This is not seen in "Fall Out" as a tag, but appears in the crystal ball held by the robed Number One in the episode's climax. Close examination of this sequence reveals that the timing of the bars closing differs from episode to episode, though usually the bars close just as the face reaches its closest point to the camera. In the early edit of "Arrival" released to DVD in 2007, the bars close long before the face arrives.

Closing credits

The closing credits appear over a slowly assembling drawing of the penny-farthing bicycle, the logo of the Village. After the bicycle is fully assembled, the shot changes to Rover, the large, white, balloon-like Village guard device, rising up through water and bouncing into the distance.

In the originally planned version of the closing credits, seen in the alternative version of "The Chimes of Big Ben", Rover is not shown. Instead, the image of the bicycle frame fades out to leave only the wheels. The wheels then begin to spin faster and faster transforming into the Earth (little wheel) and the Universe (big wheel). The Earth, spinning on its axis, flies toward the camera and explodes into the word "POP". (This is an acronym for "Protect Other People" which is referred to in the episode "Once Upon a Time", and also in the show's occasional use of the song "Pop Goes the Weasel".) In the transmission prints, there is no consistency as to when the cut to replace these graphics with the clip of Rover occurs. In a couple of episodes, the last piece of the bicycle has yet to appear, and in another, its entire framework has faded away from the wheels.

An early edit of "Arrival", released to DVD in 2007, does not include the POP animation. Instead, after the bike completely forms, the background fades to a starfield, with the Earth in the place of the smaller wheel and the universe as the big wheel. The canopy of the bike then appears in the sky above the two "wheels".

The final episode, "Fall Out", presents a further variation, i.e., the complete bicycle maintains its visual presence during the closing strains of the theme, instead of being replaced by either the cosmic animation or the live-action footage of Rover.

Regarding actor credits, three variants of note are "Living in Harmony" and "The Girl Who Was Death", which includes the "Patrick McGoohan as the Prisoner" credit during the closing credits in place of his executive producership, and "Fall Out" which, though crediting McGoohan for writing and directing the episode early on, completely omits any other credit for him, while displaying the names of cast members Leo McKern and Alexis Kanner three times each. Angelo Muscat (The Butler) also gets his name up on screen an extra time, in the closing minutes of the story where the other two actors' names get their additional displays; for McGoohan's turn here, there is an overhead shot of Number Six's car on London streets, so high that the driver is unidentifiable, and the word "Prisoner" (no "The") is superimposed instead of the actor's name as had just happened with Kanner, McKern and Muscat.

Music

The opening and closing credits music, as broadcast, was composed by Ron Grainer, who is also known for composing the theme music for Doctor Who. However, before Grainer's theme was chosen, two other composers created themes: Wilfred Josephs and Robert Farnon. Farnon's theme, which had strong Western movie overtones, was rejected, while Josephs' discordant theme got as far as being applied to early edits of "Arrival" and "The Chimes of Big Ben". The Josephs version of the theme, aside from being released by Silva Screen records on one of its Prisoner soundtrack CD releases, can be heard on the recovered early edits of the two episodes which have subsequently been released to DVD; elements of the theme also remained in the score of the televised version of "Arrival". Farnon's theme remained unheard until fairly recently when it was unearthed for a DVD featurette "Don't Knock Yourself Out", created for the 2007 DVD reissue of The Prisoner in the UK; the featurette was also included in the 2009 A&E Home Video DVD and Blu-ray release in North America.

References

  1. ^ Mike Patterson. "The Prisoner - the classic British TV series". http://www.crimetime.co.uk/features/prisoner.php. 
  2. ^ http://www.amctv.com/originals/the-prisoner-1960s-series/about/
  3. ^ As described in White & Ali, page 9
  4. ^ Cole, Tom (15 January 2009). "Patrick McGoohan, TV's 'Prisoner' Number Six : NPR". npr.org. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=99355656. Retrieved 11 March 2009. 
  5. ^ a b Sardar, Ziauddin (1998). Postmodernism and the other: the new imperialism of Western culture. London: Pluto Press. pp. 1–3. ISBN 9780745307497. http://books.google.com/books?id=xNHaZOcbEhwC&pg=PA212&dq=isbn:0745307493#PPA1,M1. 
  6. ^ According to The Prisoner: The Complete Scripts, Volume 1, this sequence is all that remains of a rejected earlier rendition of the series' opening sequence.

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