Transmission Date: 24/11/1967
Episode Length: 48'20m
Est. Ratings: 9.1m
Written by: Gerald Kelsey
Directed by: Don Chaffey
DVD availability: Try amazon.com
An ITC Production by Everyman Films Ltd. Executive Producer: Patrick McGoohan; Script Editor: George Markstein; Producer: David Tomblin; Production Manager: Bernard Williams; Director of Photography: Brendan J. Stafford B.S.C.; Art Director: Jack Shampan; Camera Operator: Jack Lowin; Editor: Lee Doig; Theme: Ron Grainer; Cameraman (2nd Unit): Robert Monks; Assistant Director: Gino Marotta; Sound Editor: Clive Smith; Sound Recordist: John Bramall; Music Editor: Bob Dearberg; Casting Director: Rose Tobias-Shaw; Continuity: Doris Martin; Set Dresser: Kenneth Bridgeman; Make-Up: Eddie Knight; Hairdressing: Pat McDermot and Wardrobe: Masada Wilmot. Made on location and at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, Borehamwood, England.
Patrick McGoohan (The Prisoner); Ronald Radd (Rook); Patricia Jessel (1st Psychiatrist); Peter Wyngarde (Number Two); Rosalie Crutchley (Queen); George Coulouris (Man With The Stick); Angelo Muscat (The Butler); Bee Duffell (2nd Psychiatrist); Basil Dignam (Supervisor); Danvers Walker (Painter); Denis Shaw (Shopkeeper); Victor Platt (Assistant Supervisor); Shibaun O'Casey (Nurse); Geoffrey Reed (Skipper); Terence Donovan (Sailor); Joe Dunne (1st Tower Guard); Romo Gorrara (2nd Tower Guard); John O'Connor (Flower Bed Man, uncredited); Jimmy Millar (Conspirator, uncredited); Fenella Fielding (Loudspeaker Voice, uncredited) and Robert Rietty (Other Voices, uncredited)
Filmed back-to-back with Dance of the Dead, Checkmate is another of the three episodes that was intended as a possible second episode. No suggested "viewing order" can be perfect, and this site, while presenting an order that will reflect better on the show, has never claimed to have one. In 2007 I stated that this episode should go after Free For All, purely because that episode contains No.6's stated intent to find out "who are the prisoners, and who are the warders". Just because Checkmate shows him how to do this does not make this a contradictory plot element, and here we have a No.2 who continually tries to convince No.6 that the Village isn't all bad, and won't resort to harder tactics... whereas Free For All shows that they most definitely will, and contains more dialogue that implies that No.6 has been there a little longer than here ("Will you never learn?")
All of which is a long way of saying that I believe, with ten years of hindsight, that I was wrong, and that this episode should come before Free For All, so gets brought forward one spot to third place. Though considering some of the events of Dance of the Dead, maybe it should even come second...
Is placed through some psychological and medical tests in this episode, which show "positive signs of abnormality, total disregard for personal safety and a negative reaction to pain". He is also claimed to have "aggressive tendencies". We learn he used to drink at a pub called "The Hope and Anchor".
In The Village:
The village has a giant chess board, where residents play human chess, with people as the pieces. The Village bell tower also has a radio control. We are introduced to a man known only as "The Rook", who invented a new electronic defence system. He was imprisoned after the Village were desperate for it not to be used by other countries. However, the plans were stolen anyway. He rebels and makes an illegal move on the human chess board, causing him to undergo aversion therapy (based on Ivan Pavlov's experiments) and medication.
No.6 is given advice by an ex-Count on how to tell the difference between guardians and prisoners: their psychological reaction to him. Only another prisoner would obey him. Using this method, No.6 assembles an escape team of the ex-count, the Rook, the shopkeeper, a painter (No.42) and two unspecified extras. They use stolen and modified village equipment to radio help from a passing boat, the MS Polotska. The Village attempts to track down No.6's whereabouts by having a fellow prisoner, the Queen, fitted with a radar device that increases with her heart rate. No.6's presence causes this reaction as the Village have brainwashed her into thinking she loves him and that they have had a relationship.
The MS Polotska is the Village's boat, they had been tracking No.6 all along. The flaw in No.6's plan was that he detected guardians by subconscious arrogance. The Rook applied this psychology to No.6, whose superior attitude led him to believe he was being tested by a guardian. The Rook in turn convinced the others, who released the restrained No.2.
Originally running seven minutes underlength, McGoohan wrote an additional scene to Kelsey’s script where the Queen (Crutchley) invites herself into his home. Also look out for the scene where No.6 punches a guardian off the bell tower, only for a splash to be heard. There is no water beneath the tower, does this mean the original intention was that No.6 murdered him? An error also occurs when the psychiatrist is tracking the Queen’s electronic response to No.6’s presence. Her line "what did I tell you?" is uttered a split second before the surveillance equipment beeps or flashes.
"And remember, if you get another attack of egotism don't wait... go back to the hospital immediately."
Though arguably the most famous and iconographic of The Prisoner episodes, Checkmate is - like Free For All before it – something of a minor letdown on repeated viewings.
The reason for this is perhaps that it’s so heavily based around the final plot twist. Once you know what that is, there’s little subtext in the episode to make returns of it suitably rewarding. The plot is basically Arrival’s “we’re all pawns” motif expanded upon and being used to beat the audience over the head with. Again, like Free For All it’s all a little too broad these days and there are subtler, more sophisticated episodes to enjoy.
Also like Free For All, any criticisms cannot get away from the fact that this is a very well made, well acted piece of television in its own right. McGoohan’s abrasive, capricious take on No.6 in the episode more than offsets the somewhat childlike “love” subplot with the Queen and the distracting left-field camp of No.2-as-Jason-King. Despite all this, Checkmate is a piece of television so assured of its audiences’ intelligence that it drops Pavlov into conversation without any real explanation of who or what he is.