The BBC/Big Finish Remake of The Prisoner

I have been listening to the BBC/Big Finish audio version of The Prisoner, that series which is so idiosyncratic, completely dependent on the personality of its creator and of its time that it can't possibly be remade.

Witness the 2009 AMC remake. Why on earth would mere mortals think that they can just remake such a legendary series? I have started watching this remake once and soon turned it off, and while it is referenced in The Prisonersphere, it isn't popular and everyone's gone back to arguing over the original.

Which is why it gives me such pleasure to say that I have been enjoying watching the BBC/Big Finish version very much. In fact you'd better sit down because I'm about to alienate any remaining readers of this blog after offending everyone by being provocative about the American dream and utter the ultimate heresy in the world of The Prisoner, namely...

The BBC/Big Finish remake is the best version of this show and in my opinion is actually better than the original.

I can't believe I just said that. 

Now that I am officially a heretic and schismatic, I suppose I ought to be able to justify this opinion. I don't actually have my 39 Articles to put forward, because as usual I know what I like when I hear and see it, and only come to reasons for it when I come to write them down.

I think that if you were to update the original series very lightly indeed, by updating the technology but still setting it in the sixties, removing the unfortunate fact that the production was riven by disputes and this shows in the programme, remove the reality that the full projected series was never made and the reduced number of episodes was never quite right, remove the distinct impression the show gives that even McGoohan was perhaps slightly fed up with it and so came up with a rather trite ending, remove the obvious fact that nobody in the production knew what was going on, and enjoy the luxury of not having any visuals, this remake is exactly what you would have. I honestly think it corrects all the shortcomings and criticisms of the original show that I have ever noted, and tones down the weirder stuff slightly so that it is more even and slightly less idiosyncratic.

Of course the obvious problem with remaking this show is that nobody can possibly be Patrick McGoohan. I'm delighted to say that without having to have visuals, Mark Elstob does such a good job of being Number 6 that you wouldn't know it wasn't McGoohan. It's actually an incredible feat: he has the attitude exactly right. It is very difficult to get the dripping resentment just right without continually crossing over into being a stroppy teenager, but he does it. Remarkably, he also sounds exactly like McGoohan. It's actually uncanny, and this series would be worth listening to just for this remarkable achievement. The only different I can identify in his voice is that I think Elstob perhaps sounds slightly older than McGoohan did in the TV series, but that just helps the impression that McGoohan has stepped back into the studio.

The series is not a direct remake, and some of the episodes are only based on their namesakes. However I think every alteration is an improvement. You all know how critical I am and honestly this is where you would all expect me to get really critical isn't it. 

I do have two criticisms. I have never been too happy with the idea in the original series that 'I am a free man'. It's perhaps a more philosophical view but in my humble opinion we are none of us free, and freedom (without essential qualifiers) is not something to be desired. However in this remake, in Free For All, the Number 2 is American (I love her and every time she spoke I had a picture of Dolly Parton in my mind, y'all), and both she and Number 6 campaign on a platform of 'Freedom'. For me personally this was carrying a less happy element of the the show over into the political campaigning, which I think possibly made it sound more USA based than it would be. My other criticism is that I think sometimes Number 6's accent is more like the accent McGoohan had in Danger Man: one of those which could be American, Irish or British, and is never quite clear. I feel perhaps these two things make the show more transatlantic than I would have liked it to be. I personally wouldn't identify a singly reference to the USA in the original series, and we all know that despite the suggestions of Lithuania and Morocco, actually The Village is in Wales. You can tell by the light, apart from anything else.

I have been listening to the show in a rather haphazard way while walking to the supermarket, but pricked up my ears and have been listening in a more systematic way since I noticed a comment which indicated that Number 6 knew more about The Village than he was letting on. I know it's not a popular way of reading the show, but my next walk through The Prisoner is going to be based on the theory that Number 6 is a plant. It's a bit of a nebulous theory, but the idea is that the authorities who run The Village have put him in as a sort of mystery shopper because there are concerns about the running of the place. It's an idea I like enormously, and have found several possible references to the theory in this show.

The other reason I want to mention the show here is that the Big Finish site says that stock is running low on the three series of the show and it will go out of stock when it's sold out, and at about �100 all in , it's already very expensive, but I think may become even more so in the near future. If you want to try before you buy you can download the first episode for free on their site.

In fact there's a very strange coincidence which will tell all true fans how good this remake is. We all know how the question of which order to view the original episodes just goes round and round forever, well, I was very impressed to see that the show's Wikipedia page has somehow managed to get the episodes out of order. If that's not an indication that this is actually The Prisoner just carrying on, I don't know what is.

I recommend this series unreservedly.