- Number Six (The Prisoner)
In several episodes, his attempts to escape his prison the Village would be foiled, either by Number Two, the place's chief administrator, who was frequently changed, or by Rover, an enigmatic artificial guardian that resembles a weather balloon.
Much of Number Six's background is kept a mystery during the series, and not even his true name is revealed. In the first episode, it is stated that he was born on 19 March 1928 (the same date as McGoohan's birthday), and that he held a position of some responsibility with the British government, possibly in some branch of British Intelligence, but the exact nature of his job is not known. Several episodes suggest that he was a spy or similar operative (code number ZM-73, as well as several other aliases). He is shown to be highly sagacious, if not a Genius, with tremendous proficiency and expertise in subjects ranging from: Fencing, Boxing and Marksmanship; to Mathematics, Languages and Astronomy.
I am not a number, I am a free man
A central theme in the series was Number Two's attempt to discover why Number Six resigned from his position.
Many people as well as the series itself postulate that those in control of the Village are either testing Number Six, or actually want to know why he resigned. Even according to McGoohan during subsequent interviews, the answer is not clear. For if the Village is testing him, to see if he will tell his 'state secrets,' that is one thing. However, others suggest that the Village wanted to find why he resigned first, hoping that this revelation would unleash a torrent of other information. (At least one Number Two believes that it would: in "The Chimes of Big Ben", Number Two states, "If he will answer one simple question, the rest will follow: Why did he resign?")
In any event, following this encounter, Number Six appears to escape the Village. However, his ultimate fate is not revealed and in the closing credits as he enters his original house, the "undertakers'" car—seen in the opening credits when the occupant gets out and gasses the Prisoner through his door letter box—appears to drive by again. In interviews, McGoohan has repeatedly maintained that the Prisoner "hasn't got [his freedom]".
In several episodes, it is alluded that other residents in "The Village" are ex-spies, 'retired' without their consent. Number Six is known to have answered to at least two individuals known as simply as "The Colonel", as well as to another long-time superior named Fotheringay. These men are shown as being in league with the Village to one extent or another. It is also ambiguously (and menacingly) suggested that some people in the British government are in-concert with those who run the Village, regardless of whom they might be.
It is known that he was engaged to be married to Janet Portland, the daughter of his superior, Sir Charles Portland, prior to his capture by the Village, though this doesn't stop Number Six from developing close relationships (if not necessarily romantic ones) with various women during his imprisonment.
Medically, Number Six appears to be the picture of good health. However, the episode "Free For All" reveals that he was required to eliminate sugar from his diet "on medical advice" (although he intentionally drops sugar cubes in his tea in "The Chimes of Big Ben" as an act of defiance). [This act had been also done earlier in the series.] He claims rarely to drink in "Dance of the Dead", and is seen to smoke only twice—once a cigar, and once in a dream sequence. "The Schizoid Man" establishes Number Six as an at-least-occasional cigar smoker, as Number Two brainwashes him into preferring Russian cigarettes as a means of undermining his identity.
During the episode "Once Upon a Time", Number Six undergoes an intense form of brainwashing/interrogation called "Degree Absolute" in which his mind is reverted to that of a child and he is made to relive major events of his life. Given the nature of this interrogation and the motive behind it, it is not known for certain what elements of Number Six's life so portrayed are real and which are fiction. Among these events presented is the suggestion that as a young man Number Six was driving a vehicle and speeding which may (or may not) have resulted in a fatal accident. It is also suggested he attended some sort of private school and was once punished for not telling the headmaster about some of his friends' rule-breaking activities. Another scene from the episode suggests that he worked for an established British banking firm before someone (the episode implies it was someone connected with the bank) enrolled him to a top secret government job.
During "Once Upon a Time" it is also stated (with greater certainty) that Number Six flew a bomber in "the war"; exactly which war is not stated but evidently Number Six was shot down and captured by the Germans, which presumably means World War II, which is possible given his stated birthdate, if only just.
A few names are attached to Number Six in the series, but it's impossible to tell if any of them are real. In "Many Happy Returns" he identifies himself as "Peter Smith". Although it is possible that this is an alias, he does give it to a woman who has presented herself as the current owner of his car and tenant of his apartment. He in fact asks to examine the former's lease and the latter's log books, expressing surprise that both bear only her name. However, the house and car may have been acquired under one of Number Six's long-term false identities as a spy. In the episode "Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling", it is learned that Number Six possesses numerous code names: Schmidt, Duval, and ZM-73.
The connection between Number Six and Number One—the entity presumably in charge of the Village—is left intentionally ambiguous and has been the subject of debate and analysis since the final episode of the series aired. In "Fall Out", Number Six encounters a man who is supposedly Number One: upon removing two masks worn by him, a person who is identical to Number Six is revealed. This man quickly escapes and never appears again. Speculation as to the identity of this person ranges from a twin brother of Number Six, to John Drake, to a likely mind-straining hallucination. It may be of importance that Number Six's address number is N° 1.
Is the Prisoner John Drake?
Many fans of The Prisoner believe that Number Six is really John Drake, the character that McGoohan played in Danger Man from 1960 to 1962 and then again from 1964 to 1966, but the actor always denied this. However, script editor, George Markstein, who co-created the series with McGoohan, always claimed that Number Six is John Drake. According to Markstein, he conceived the Prisoner show-format as a revamp of Danger Man when McGoohan resigned. In Markstein's mind, The Prisoner was a sequel. Markstein's spy thriller concept was then melded with McGoohan's Kafka-esque ideas, which McGoohan had been developing since he first saw Portmeirion during the shooting of a Danger Man episode in 1959.
Official novels based on the series also make this connection, specifically those written by Thomas Disch and David McDaniel, although these are generally not considered canonical.
In fact, Number Six's real name is never given or learned, even in episodes when he has met old colleagues or friends in the village, or in episodes where he comes into contact with his former superiors, coworkers or people in his life, they never refer to him by name, and such episodes appear to go out of their way to avoid anyone actually speaking his name.
In addition to this, the character of Fotheringay is played by Richard Wattis, who played one of Drake's superiors on Danger Man. Also, Christopher Benjamin plays a secret service contact named Potter in both Danger Man and "The Girl Who Was Death" episode of The Prisoner. However, Wattis' character on Danger Man was named Hardy, not Fotheringay, and Christopher Benjamin appears in early episodes of The Prisoner as an assistant to several Number Twos without being identified as Potter. The significance of Wattis and Benjamin's appearances is uncertain, especially as Potter appears only in a story being improvised by Number Six.
While John Drake and Number Six look identical and have the same moral integrity, the same profession, the same skills, and the same mannerisms, some differences are noteworthy. Drake is a less emotional, more restrained character while Number Six has a tendency to be outraged and furious as well as superior and condescending. Drake is a regular smoker of cigarettes and cigars, while Number Six smokes only twice in The Prisoner, despite the ready availability of tobacco in the Village. (During the production of The Prisoner, Patrick McGoohan smoked constantly, which suggests that Number Six's only occasional smoking is a deliberate characterisation.) Drake is seen frequently consuming alcoholic beverages (or at least appearing to do so in the course of his undercover work) while Number Six claims to rarely drink.
Drake seems to prefer business suits with ties while Number Six's clothing of choice is a dark button-down sweater beneath a dress-jacket. However, the choice of clothing available to Number Six is limited to what was available in The Village.
In the late 1980s, DC Comics published Shattered Visage, a four-issue comic book mini-series based on The Prisoner, drawn by Mister X creator Dean Motter and co-written with Mark Askwith. Taking place twenty years after the TV series, a shipwrecked woman named Alice Drake is washed up on the shores of the Village. She comes across an older, bearded Number Six. Six is a gentle man of a fragmented psyche, mentally scarred and withdrawn, living a solitary life as the single inhabitant of the Village. He says that the other villagers were "free to go" while he was "free to stay" and describes his fear of societal conditioning and conformity. While Six is obviously traumatised and an isolationist, Alice nevertheless finds him kind as he puts her up in his old number six residence, takes her for a tour of the Village, catches fish and makes them dinner.
Later, Alice encounters Number Two (this is the Number Two portrayed by Leo McKern in three episodes), who speaks of Six as a man of many talents and tremendous influence, who was punished as an individual for actions he was made to perform on behalf of all his countrymen. Two claims that Six was imprisoned, interrogated, and eventually broken for the secrets he contained. According to this version of events, what is seen onscreen in Fall Out is a drug-enhanced psycho drama, in which Six was lauded for his individuality and thus granted a number of his preference—Number One. The paradox that Six was the only individual and therefore Number One, apparently broke Six's mind. Number Six never left the Village, choosing to remain.
In a later confrontation between Two and Six that leads to a fistfight, Two calls Six a coward, saying that Six lost twenty years ago and won't return to the outside world because then he'd have to face defeat. Two adds that Six's secrets are out of date and that Six is nothing. Their fight takes them inside an old mill as a pumelled Number Six declares that he is a free man and his life is his own. Two, choking Six around the neck with both hands, answers, "Then take it!" Both fall out the window of the mill, into the water below. Shortly afterwards, Number Six returns to his old place of residence in the Village, and begins to shave his beard.
At the end of the story, Number Six and Alice Drake have returned to London. Six is clean-shaven and tidily dressed. Alice asks Six who Number One was. Six asks in reply, "Does the presence of Number Two require the existence of Number One?" He assures her that the secrets the Village sought from him are safe. "None of us would be here if they weren't," he says with a confident smile.
The character name "Alice Drake" is a reference to John Drake, but the mini-series otherwise stays away from the "Is Number Six John Drake?" question.
In other works
- Number Six (played by Tricia Helfer), who appears on the television series Battlestar Galactica, is a tribute to the character, according to Battlestar Galactica: The Official Companion (Titan Books, 2005).
- There is an episode of The Simpsons entitled "The Computer Wore Menace Shoes", parodying The Prisoner, with McGoohan reprising his role as Number Six and Homer Simpson as Number Five.
- In the second volume of the Tales of the Shadowmen anthology series, Xavier Mauméjean's short story "Be Seeing You!" has Sherlock Holmes being the original Number 6, based on his birthdate of 6 January. Due to that, the original Number 2 (Winston Churchill) sets the policy that the Village's most difficult inmates will always be given the title of Number 6.
- In the Iron Maiden song "The Prisoner", a section of speech from the film is played at the beginning of the song.
The Prisoner Episodes"Arrival" · "The Chimes of Big Ben" · "A. B. and C." · "Free For All" · "The Schizoid Man" · "The General" · "Many Happy Returns" · "Dance of the Dead" · "Checkmate" · "Hammer into Anvil" · "It's Your Funeral" · "A Change of Mind" · "Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling" · "Living in Harmony" · "The Girl Who Was Death" · "Once Upon a Time" · "Fall Out" CharactersNumber Two · Number Six See also
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