The Prisoner Volume One by Nicholas Briggs (CD review)

‘The Prisoner Volume One’ is most tantalising as it means there should be more. This is a massive and long dreamed of project for Nicholas Briggs and he has finally brought it to Big Finish.


This is an updated version of the classic cult series ‘The Prisoner’ that came out in the 1960s and was a superbly over-heated response to the paranoia of the cold war. Closely following on from Patrick McGoohan’s ‘Danger Man’, the opening credits showed a secret agent resigning, driving off in his lovely sports car and waking up in a strange village where he has been allocated a number and is now Number 6! The man has been allocated some attractive living accommodation that on the inside is a replica of his trendy London pad. We never learn his real name even though he is always stating he is not a number but a free man. The various leaders of the Village are called Number 2 and our man is always asking, ‘Who is Number 1?’ Throughout the whole of the series, which features strange white balloons called Rovers that smother occupants trying to escape, there is a sense that you never know quite where you are.

Catchphrases such as ‘I am not a number’ and ‘Be seeing you’ fell naturally into the parlance of the time and a cult was born. So much so that when Channel Four was born, it transmitted the 17 episodes of the series and added some new fans. With the DVD release and Blu-ray, there was the opportunity to discover all over again the breadth of vision of the SF series that changed the boundaries. Alongside ‘The Outer Limits’, ‘The Twilight Zone’ and ‘Star Trek’, the boundaries of what was possible were smashed in the 1960s and took us where ‘no one had gone before’. (oops! wrong series)

This new audio series takes us on another jaunt back to the sixties but this one has a bit of a twist. Utilising the acting skills of Mark Elstob, The Village of The Prisoner is recreated in sound and writer Nicholas Briggs has added his own take on both technology and the mythology.

In keeping with the series, the role of Number 2 is taken by a different actor in each episode and each bring their unique talents to the role making the fight between 6 and 2 an opportunity to play off each other in a singular way.

Three out of four episodes are reimagining of the original series to which episode 3 has been added to make the series more cohesive and add a little bit of Briggs magic.

1.Departure And Arrival: Our hero is first introduced as he decides to retire from his profession. Going to sleep in his London apartment, he wakes to find he has been transported to a replica of it. When he looks outside, it is apparent that something is very wrong. The technology of The Village is much more advanced than he has ever seen. Oh and there is no way out, except for death.

Finding he has been allocated the number 6, he refuses to adjust and Number 2 (John Standing) who appears to be in charge wants ‘information’. Of course he does. Then Number 6 meets the lovely Number 9 and together they make 15. Is this a maths lesson? I got chills. They’re multiplying.

Following this in episode 2. The Schizoid Man. Number 2 is now a woman (Celia Imrie) and she has a cunning plan to extract the information from Number 6. He wakes up with a moustache and being called Number 12 but plays along with Number 2 to find there is an imposter in the village. Now Number 6 who doesn’t know who or what he is? Are they trying to break him again and just what is Number 9’s role? Can she be trusted? In a fast moving episode, I found it was best to listen hard as one moment of distraction meant I couldn’t remember who was who or whom.

By episode 3. Your Beautiful Village, I expect you will be confused as Number 6 when he wakes up in the dark to find that he is completely alone and apparently trapped in the darkness. Is this a new kind of torture or is there something else going on here? He has to get to Number 9’s house but can’t see his hand in front of his face. It’s a terrifying experience.

This is a new episode entirely to link between the originals providing some more continuity and also emphasising the nightmarish quality of the shifting reality of the Village. Beware the Rovers.

  1. The Chimes Of Big Ben: A rather determined new arrival called Nadia who won’t accept her numbering neither offers the chance for Number 6 to escape. It’s going to be a do or die expedition but who wants to be a prisoner forever? This cheeky end to the series gets away with murder as on audio no one can see what is really happening as Number 6 finally gets his wish.

Episode 5. By Hook Or By Crook is an extras disc/download of a behind the scenes look. Among subjects covered are how to kiss your hand amongst other things. The story of screen to audio is also fascinating. The interviews with the cast offer a little more insight.

I must admit to a little trepidation to this version of ‘The Prisoner’, having experienced the American TV version which failed to launch. I was wrong. On every level, this is not just a revamp but a whole new experience, albeit with some significant nods to the past. This is absolutely fantastic.

The audio drama is perfect for this big budget SF series and the vision continues in this new set of adventures. Mark Elstob is incredibly like the original Prisoner Patrick McGoohan and, every time he spoke, I was seeing Patrick in my head. The additional characters including the various Number 2s really enhance this release and I urge you to go and enjoy it.

Be hearing you.

Sue Davies

April 2016

(pub: Big Finish. 5 CDs 300 minute story. Price: CD: £40.00 (UK), Download: £35.00 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-78178-561-4)

cast: Mark Elstob, John Standing, Celia Imrie, Ramon Tikaram, Michael Cochrane, Sara Powell, Helen Goldwyn, Sarah Mowat, Jim Barclay, Barnaby Edwards, Jez Fielder, Kristina Buikaite and Nicholas Briggs

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