The Prisoner: 2009 mini series

Episode lengths/original airdates:

Arrival (45'49m) - 15/11/2009 (US)/17/4/2010 (UK)
Harmony (46'13m) - 15/11/2009 (US)/24/4/2010 (UK)
Anvil (46'28m) - 16/11/2009 (US)/1/5/2010 (UK)
Darling (46'14m) - 16/11/2009 (US)/8/5/2010 (UK)
Schizoid (46'18m) - 17/11/2009 (US)/15/5/2010 (UK)
Checkmate (45'35m) - 17/11/2009 (US)/22/5/2010 (UK)

US Ratings: pending
UK Ratings: 3.61m (episode one only - rest of series did not chart in ITV top 30)
Written by: Bill Gallagher Directed by: Nick Hurran
DVD availability: Try the store

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I’m sure most old school Prisoner fans had trepidation when they heard the series was to be “reimagined” for the new millennium, particularly as No.6 was going to be played by an American. That’s nothing against Americans, just that for such a quintessentially English TV show to be re-appropriated across the Atlantic with a more fast-paced, SFX-heavy bent didn’t appeal.

Thankfully this new series isn’t like that at all. I’m not a fan of modern TV in general, finding it far too fast-paced and vapid, so I was pleased to find the series has a far more measured pace. However, that’s “measured” as in languid bordering on sophomoric. Couple this with longing shots of the beautiful Namibian desert and an almost non-existent chemistry between stars James Caviezel and Ian McKellen and it’s frequently like mogadons in televisual form. If they’d had this show back in the 60s then they wouldn’t have needed sleeping gas to put the original No.6 under, they could have just stuck on the DVD boxset.

The series certainly isn’t awful, and – apart from an astonishing continuity error in the first minute where No.6 loses his jacket without explanation – it’s incredibly well made and looks fantastic. But the problem is the validity of the whole exercise. When the original showed a village where everything was under constant surveillance, it was a fortuitous glimpse of the future. Now constant surveillance is the present, making a TV series about it is less predictive, more just recreating society as it actually is. Vague allusions to paranoia over the “war on terror” are just that... vague, and with little substance.

There are times, too, when the series gets seemingly wrapped up with the concepts of the original. Rover reappears, impressively so, but there’s never a scene where Caviezel asks what it is. The 1960s show could be accused of being melodramatic and arguably brash, but that isn’t the case here, with Caviezel underplaying so much it’s like he’s in a different show half the time. We never really feel like we want to know if he escapes, or even understand why... the claustrophobia of Portmerion gives way to pleasant surroundings that make his noisy New York apartment pale in comparison.

Despite all this, the ending is undeniably quite clever, deceptively dark and has its own identity. It may even reward repeat viewings. But right now the 2009 mini series is a well-packaged production that exists in its own world and does so without detracting from the original. In fact, after viewing you may very well be pressed to remember it.

A rating for the exercise is a generous four, as the show is objectively better than the somewhat sleep-inducing nature of its execution. Sadly, however, it didn’t take with TV audiences... following on from ITV’s hugely popular (and populist) Britain’s Got Talent, it was able to take 10 million viewers and reduce them to almost a tenth.

DVD Extras:

Contained on the DVD boxset are the following:

Character profiles - rather pointless, and brief, text write-ups of the characters in the show.

The Making Of – Each episode gets a brief promo piece on how it was put together, with all six totalling 33’48m. They don’t reveal any great surprises, but are harmless enough... something that can also be said for the six instalments of Inside The Prisoner (30’07m).

Deleted and extended scenes are vaguely interesting (though again don’t reveal anything majorly rewarding) and the 21 scenes total 39’03m.

The First Readthrough (2'39m) - Possibly the most pointless extra of all time, as we hear NOTHING of the read through, just see the cast and crew enter a readthrough room and then have Ian and Caviezel talk about how they were nervous.

More revealing is Comic Con 2009 (11'19m), an edit of a Q & A which suggests why the series was such a laborious watch at times... even when cracking a joke, Caviezel talks in a dejected monotone.

Jamie interviews Ian (7’29m) helps shed even more light on matters. Over three instalments McKellen shows off a great rapport with the actor who played his son. Quite why this chemistry was never allowed to be transferred to screen is a curiosity.