Released: August 2007
Features Runtime: 824'41m
Extras Runtime: 411'39m (plus seven commentaries, PDFs and book)
Availability: Try store
It's taken me nine months to review this 40th anniversary box set for the site. Partly it was just finding the time, but a lot of it was due to there being just so much of it to get through! You know the programme itself... despite the odd underperforming episode (Do Not Forsake Me... chief amongst them) overall it's arguably the best programme ever made for television, a real class act. What makes this set a must buy as well as all the extras (see below) is the sheer quality of the restoration. The images used on this site were taken from a previous DVD release, and this boxset may prompt me to retake them all. Observations like "I didn't realise Pat's hair was that light" and "I didn't know he had so many freckles" abound constantly as the cleaned up picture is in a different league altogether, a truly astonishing clean up.
This is an Anorak's Guide, and so it can't go without saying that the set isn't perfect. Sure, it looks great, the packaging is wonderful and so on, but there are niggles for the anally retentive. The one that bugged me the most was hearing Colin Gordon's laugh inexplicably take the place of Leo McKern's in my favourite episode Once Upon A Time. This same episode has opening credits from The Chimes of Big Ben, while Gordon's voice again makes another brief emergence on the opening credits to It's Your Funeral, before that one reverts correctly to Robert Rietty. However, there are also occasional missed frames where a particularly bad film stock has seemingly been removed altogether - scarcely noticeable, but there - and the audio for Arrival has a slight echo. On the subject of audio, then all the episodes default to a 5.1 stereo mix, which is incredibly poor, though this can be switched back to the original mono.
The commentaries for the series fall into the category of "inessential but I'm glad they made the effort". It's always nice to have commentaries for movies and TV shows, and here seven episodes have been gifted with alternate vocal tracks. Sadly, none of the actors involved took part, though we get two writers and two directors, as well as other technical personnel. However, let's make no bones about this: The Prisoner was recorded such a long time ago that the people in question have aged considerably in the intevening years. (Well, forty years to be precise....) Consequently, a lot of these commentaries are like listening to the incoherent ramblings of an old folk's home after the residents have been woken up, still easing off the effects of Mogadons. Chief perpetrators of this rambling crime are Peter Graham Scott, speaking as the Director of The General and Pat Jackson speaking as the Director of The Schizoid Man. In fact, it's clear that Jackson isn't even watching the episode while he's talking, and that it's a collection of random reminisces that bear little or no relation to what's on screen, including his recollection of an LSD trip - I kid you not. Production Manager Bernie Williams, while faintly annoying in person (sorry Bernie, it's the hands/tongue combo, makes you look like Gabriel The Toad from Bagpuss), makes a reasonably lively speaker, adding some pep to Arrival with Film Librarian Tony Sloman. Both are joined by Editor John S. Smith for Dance of the Dead, while Fall Out gets Music Editor Eric Mival and Editor Noreen Ackland. Mival is bright, appealing and knowledgable... sadly Ackland is so utterly unenthusiastic and useless as a commentator that it almost makes you feel glad that McGoohan made her spend an hour going over that piece of tape all those years ago. Pick of the bunch is actually the likeably chatty writer Vincent Tilsley for The Chimes of Big Ben, a commentary that sees him talk about his own alcohol troubles and ends with a rant about how the allies brought 9/11 upon themselves. Second best is also from a writer, with Roger Parkes talking us through A Change Of Mind, perhaps suggesting that the closer relationship a writer has to the work gives them an advantage over a Director in talking about it. There is a sense of disappointment that no actors were involved - as Anton Rodgers, Alison Merrow and Earl Cameron all took part on the documentary then why not rope them in to do The Schizoid Man, for example? - though maybe Network couldn't afford the fees. It's also a shame that the fifth disc doesn't feature any commentaries at all, but for any Prisoner episode to feature a commentary is a major bonus.
A 94'53m documentary entitled "Don't Knock Yourself Out" features on the seventh disc, an entertaining piece featuring no less than 36 contributors from the show. Archive footage gives us views from Leo McKern, George Markstein and Alexis Kanner, while such big name stars as Peter Bowles take part. If there's a minor flaw with the documentary, it's that Simon Wells's script, narrated by Neil Pearson, is sometimes a little too subjective, discussing which episodes worked and which didn't. Also, the tendency to take contributors' memories at face value with no opposing viewpoint occasionally troubles. In the case of McGoohan - the documentary could be retitled "Let's Kick Pat" at points - then he declined to take part, so this couldn't be avoided. But Gab, sorry, Bernie Williams is the only one who gets to talk on camera about how he came up with the idea for Rover. Considering virtually everyone who worked on the series has laid claim to this piece of inspiration, then it seems odd to let it go on record on one man's word only. However, these are very minor distractions in an open documentary that somehow manages to slip the F word (from McKern) through with a PG certificate. Lastly, only the very childish and peurile would snigger at the fact that this fine piece of work was Edited, Co-Produced and Co-Directed by a man named Thomas Cock. Grow up now.
Both Arrival and The Chimes of Big Ben feature in their alternate cuts here, Arrival with the option for a music only version or a restored version, which is superb. Sadly the alternate Chimes remains unrestored, almost monochrome.
A 288 page paperback entitled "The Prisoner: A Complete Production Guide" by Andrew Pixley comes as part of the set. As this set is currently retailing for less than £36 in this site's store then the phrase "bargain" doesn't even really come into it. You get a huge, detailed production guide, plus seven discs of a pretty cool TV show to go with it! I'll be honest... I've haven't had time to do more than flick through it yet, but one day...
Just simply unreal, there are a staggering 83 PDFs on these discs. Put 'em in your computer and you have access to not only the original scripts for the series, but also scripts to four unmade episodes. Add to this masses of promotional material, casting sheets, magazine covers and even the Christmas card given out from The Prisoner. Truly outstanding stuff.
The additional extras spread across the discs are photo galleries lasting a massive 78'43m, 19'18m of some hilariously OTT American trailers ("A murder merry-go-round with all the fear of the fair") and 46'09m of mute behind-the-scenes footage, which includes those infamous shots of the first go kart Rover. Filling up the sixth disc are some minor features which may only be of interest to real Prisoner
Perhaps best out of all the extras are the Easter Eggs. While Patrick McGoohan stated the work should speak for itself and so doesn't appear on the boxset in any new capacity, if you use the chapter jump button while viewing the Patrick McGoohan Photo Montage (Disc Six) you first get 7'22m of lava lamp footage... press chapter jump again and you get a 47'20m audio interview with the man himself. Talking in 1980, he's warmer than you might expect, though still carries a certain level of intensity with him in an engaging listen. Watch out for him dissing most of Lew Grade's ITC catalogue towards the end, including describing UFO as "junk". On the seventh disc, a chapter forward on the feature "Jack Shampan's Production Designs Image Gallery" takes us to a 2'56m interview with Patrick McGoohan and Mike smith.