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Escape of The Prisoner (set)!
By Kurt Kuersteiner (© 2002 Monsterwax Monster Trading Cards) for The Wrapper Magazine

 

 Readers of the July 1999 issue (#164) of The Wrapper may recall an article on 1960s TV show, The Prisoner. In it, I mentioned that Cornerstone's release of The Prisoner was canceled for a variety of different reasons. (They only released promos to the set.) But such is no longer the case. Prisoner fans will be happy to hear that the project was recently resurrected and completed by a company named Cards Inc.

For those unfamiliar with The Prisoner, it presented a nightmarish cat and mouse game between an ex-secret agent (played by Patrick McGoohan and named #6) and his manipulative prison keepers. But the prison was no ordinary prison. It looked like a beautiful village resort with no bars or fences. Unfortunately for its inmates, the pleasant looks were deceiving. The Village was surrounded by mountains, cut off by the sea, contained no outside communications, and utilized Big Brother type surveillance devices to monitor every move everyone made.

The captives were a variety of different nationalities, all whom had some sort of connection with the intelligence community. They had each been kidnapped and wound up prisoners without even knowing which side had abducted them. The warden of this sinister city was named #2. (Everyone was given a number instead of a name.) #2 told #6 that he wanted information. If #6 provided it, he would be set free. But #6 stubbornly refused. Each week, The Village would attempt to trick #6 or force him to talk "by hook or by crook." These under-handed methods involved a variety of clever and diabolical schemes. The Village would use brain washing techniques, drugs, peer pressure, con artistry, double agents, and anything else it could think of to break #6. The information #6 possessed within his mind was priceless, so the Village spared no expense or effort to get it.

In one episode, the Village taught one of their agents to act like #6 in every way. They made him familiar with all of #6's history. They altered him surgically to look exactly like #6, down to the very last mole. Then they doped the real #6 and kept him in a semi-conscious state. They conditioned him to be left handed (instead of being his normal right handed self). They altered his appearance, and revived him in a different cottage. When he awakes and notices the changes, he confronts #2. He's told he is actually #12, but he's been trained to look and act like the real #6 in order to cause The Prisoner to undergo an identity crises. (So they treat #6 like he's on their side trying to trick the real #6.) "But I am #6!" he protests. Number #2 smiles slyly and encourages him to continue his excellent impersonation. "You always were the professional, #12. Just be careful about being left handed. The real #6 might notice."

#6 (or is he really #12?) spends the rest of the episode trying to prove to himself that he isn't crazy, but he really is who he thinks he is. It's not that easy either, because he finds the impostor in his usual cottage acting more like himself than he does. (Imagine how confusing it would be to wake up in a new location with a different appearance and not be able to recognize your own hand writing!)

The series was extremely clever and well done. The Prisoner didn't always win either. Episodes would often end in a draw, but #6 never gave up. With each failure to successfully break The Prisoner, #2 was replaced with a new warden. It went on like that for 17 episodes until he finally escapes and destroys the Village conspiracy... or does he? (Fans are still debating that question to this day.)

To say the series was unusual would be an understatement. It has attained a cult status since its release in 1968 and seems more believable and relevant now than ever before. It was ranked in a 1987 survey by critics as the 10th best science fiction show of all time. (It wasn't even on the survey list, but participants wrote it in!) So it's about time someone finally made it into a fancy commercial card set, complete with chase cards!

It's appropriate that The Prisoner set be published by a company in England. The popular mini-series was filmed in Portmeirion (located in North Wales). I've never heard of Cards Inc before, but they have a decent web site (www.cardsinc.com) and they've executed a professional job on this set. There are 72 cards in the base set. The black bordered cards contain different color images on the front and the back. The text is well written. The only downside at all is that some of the images are a little grainy. Fortunately, Patrick McGoohan's production company (Everyman Films) went all out when they originally filmed the series on high quality 35mm film, so most of the image grabs are reasonably good. (Just don't look at #10. It's so grainy, it's funny!)

There are also 6 Guardians of the Village foil cards (PF1-PF6) and 6 Classic Dialogue holo-foil cards (PHF1-PHF6). Both of these chase cards are inserted 1 per 12 packs. There are 15 different signed autograph cards (plus one unsigned tribute card to the late Leo Mckern) and there are 3 different ultra-chase cards (PC1-PC3). Both of these souvenir type cards are distributed 1 per 72 packs. Since there are 36 packs per box, that comes out to at least one autograph or custom card in each box.

Dedicated Prisoner fanatics should be excited that the very first PA (Prisoner Autograph) card is none other than the main character and driving force throughout the entire series... Patrick McGoohan himself! The rest of the autograph cards are as follows: PA2 Annette Andre, PA 3 Michael Billington, PA4 Peter Bowles, PA5 Earl Cameron, PA6 Mark Eden, PA7 Rachel Herbert, PA8 Alexis Kanner, PA9 Frank Maher, PA10 Leon McKern (deceased), PA 11 Jane Merrow, PA12 Roger Parks, PA12 Vincent Tilsley, PA14 Wanda Ventham, PA15 Norma West, PA16 Alan White.

Alas! Angelo Muscat is no longer around to sign autographs. He played the omnipresent midget butler. He appeared in almost every episode but never said a single word. He has long since passed away, so he still makes no comment.

Although the company has made no promises, it appears that this is the first of two Prisoner sets. It has "Volume 1" printed on the cover card, and the episode guide profiles just 9 of the 17 episodes. So it's a safe bet that there will probably be a second series with more episodes and autographs in the future (if the first series proves profitable).

I have heard whispers of a Prisoner movie, but its been so long in the making, I don't know what to think any more. It would be difficult to improve on the TV series. If you've never seen it, you owe it to yourself to go to your library and check it out on video or DVD. You may have to request an interlibrary loan to find it, but if you enjoy thought provoking entertainment, it's well worth it. The Prisoner makes viewers reevaluate culture and how society controls the public. (You may never view authority the same.) Best of all, it's a darn good spy adventure, or science fiction, or allegory... or whatever genre it is.

What better way to close this story than to quote the classic introduction to the series? This Kafkaesque confrontation is between #6 and #2 when he first arrives at The Village:

"Where am I?"

"In the Village."

"What do you want?"

"Information."

"Who's side are you on?"

"That would be telling. We want information."

"You won't get it!"

"By hook or by crook, we will."

"Who are you?"

"The new Number 2."

"Who is Number 1?"

"You are Number 6."

"I am not a number, I am a free man!"

(Number 2 laughs at him.)

(The classic closing shot of each episode)

To read an earlier article on The Prisoner, go here.

 

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