Written By: Steven Paul Davies
Page Count: 272
Availability: Try Amazon
Here's a thought: has The Prisoner had more books written about it, pound-for-pound, than any other genre series? Think about it for a moment. Star Trek and Doctor Who can be guaranteed at least one hardback a year, but they ran for years in various forms. The Prisoner is just seventeen, fifty-minute episodes. And yet despite having such a scant material source, book after book keeps getting written upon it. With such a crowded market, you have to ask yourself: was this book written for love or for cash, and what does it bring to the shelf that's new?
In this case, probably cash, and largely indulgent ineptitude. For The Prisoner Handbook (subtitled "An Unauthorized Companion") is very much symptomatic of the writing in Six of One. I actually joined the society for a few years in the early 90s, and while the level of research involved uncovers more minutae than a professional journalist ever could, the standard of writing is often twee, too serious and not up to professional standards.
It's this kind of thing that stops Davies's book being as good as it could be: never mind that the episode guide is possibly the most tritely written I've ever read, there's a disjointed, somewhat clumsy feel to all the sentences throughout. Just as that prior sentence was overlong and ponderous, Davies employs a habitual preference for unnatural breaks throughout the work. Davies also seems confused by what sort of book he's writing, often dropping his own opinions into what should be factual accounts.
Perhaps disappointingly for a book authorised by Six Of One (complete with an ugly panel on the sleeve, destroying what is otherwise a neat cover) then detail isn't that prevalent either, leaving us with the worst of both worlds: not enough in-depth coverage, combined with below-professional level scribing. Chapter Four, on the last four stories in production is possibly the most interesting, though it does seem unfair that Tomblin isn't given the right of reply to the criticisms made against him. If he refused to be interviewed then we should have been told.
If all this sounds like bitter carping, then it isn't. I don't have anything against Six Of One beyond finding them a little bit embarrassing, if I'm totally frank. By forming such a cultish (I said cultish!) society they effectively alienate anyone who would want to look in as a casual viewer. With their self-made merchandise, humourless prose and convention where McGoohan always declines to appear, they come over as a group of mildly disenchanted jam makers. A two-page introduction to this book by Roger and Karen Langley sees them laughably and immodestly boast that "for a quarter of a century The Prisoner and Six Of One have been synonymous". Managing to reference the society over a dozen times in just two pages, this "introduction" (complete with Six Of One PO Box number) is more a shameless plug than an introduction to the work it's supposedly heralding.
But no, no bitterness. I'm not even griping because The Anorak's Guide didn't make the three-page Internet Sites appendix. It's just that you can't review this book without referring to the society. The majority of the post-episode guide chapters are based around it, and ludicrously use the members' views from the fanzine letters page as a basis to form serious discussion. Page 214 refers to a study of university students and their views on the text, but no use is made of this data. It's like Davies didn't obtain the rights to use it and couldn't be bothered to do his own research, so just thumbed through random copies of Number Six and Red Alert.
Claiming "I am writing as a critic, based on my access to certain theories of cultural studies". Davies simply seems to quote those back issues and drop in the phrase "post-modernism" whenever it suits him. We also get enormous assumptions and leaps of logic, such as his claim that women identify with the lead character "because, although male, the lead character is presented within the allegory as asexual." No level of research or psychological study is quoted for such a bold blanket statement - it's merely presented as the author's own supposition. Branching off into how The Prisoner might be seen as related to race, religion, age or sexuality is also overlooked, what could be an interesting diversion paid lip service so the author can tell us about Six of One members making their own videos.
This is probably the most scathing review I've ever written and I do feel a little guilty, but this book isn't really worth anything to anyone who doesn't like articles in Six of One. There's a rudimentary write-up of the creation of the series, the banal episode guide and then lots of poorly researched, bewilderingly reasoned debates on the meanings of the series. Later chapters do present us with a McGoohan interview (not conducted for the book) and a kind of "what Paddy did next" post-Pris scribing. So Patrick starred in films after he'd been in The Prisoner - well whoopee shit! Possibly the most pointless Prisoner book I've ever read.