Checkmate (The Prisoner)

Checkmate (The Prisoner)
The Prisoner episode
The human chessboard
Episode no. Season 1
Episode 9
Directed by Don Chaffey
Written by Gerald Kelsey
Original air date 24 November 1967
Guest stars

Number Two - Peter Wyngarde
Rook - Ronald Radd
Queen - Rosalie Crutchley
Man with stick - George Coulouris
1st Psychiatrist - Patricia Jessel

Episode chronology
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"Dance of the Dead"
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"Hammer Into Anvil"
List of The Prisoner episodes

Checkmate is the ninth episode of the television series The Prisoner; as its title suggests, the plot centres around a game of chess in which the pieces are humans, directed by a mysterious "man with a stick". The chess game has been described as a metaphor for life itself, albeit a somewhat transparent one.[1] Checkmate received the highest viewership of any of the series' episodes on its first UK broadcast.[2]


Plot summary

The show starts off with a game of chess using people in the courtyard. One of the rebellious rooks is taken to the hospital for "evaluation". After the game, Number 6 talks with the Chess Master, who comments that one can tell who is a prisoner and who is a guardian “[B]y their disposition. By the moves they make.” Number 6 later visits the hospital to inquire as to the fate of the rook, and sees him subjected to mind control exercises. Number 6 seeks an alliance with the rook, and other villagers that he can now identify as prisoners. Together they attempt an escape by building a 2-way radio and hoping to signal any passing ships. But he discovers he has been a pawn all along - the rook had thought that the strong-minded Number 6 was a guardian and that it was a test of his loyalty, and thus reported the escape attempt to Number 2.


Apart from the obvious metaphor that life is a game of chess, the episode deals with conformity and pressures to conform, particularly peer pressure. Parallels have been drawn with the Milgram experiment, Asch conformity experiments and the Stanford prison experiment.[3] Similar techniques are used to make Number 6 conform, hoping he will reveal the secret of his resignation.[3] However, Number 6 discovers, as usual, that his trust is misplaced and the distinction between prisoner and warder remains blurred.[4]


At the beginning of the episode, the lawn is seen uncovered by chessboard squares; a few moments later, it is shown as the chessboard.[5] The chessboard remained in place for a week during September 1966 during filming of this episode; when it was removed, the grass had been lightened and the pattern is clearly visible in prior episodes.[5]

The chessgame is recreated annually by enthusiasts of the programme at their annual convention, held at Portmeirion.[6]

Additional cast

  • Second Psychiatrist - Bee Duffell
  • Supervisor - Basil Dignam
  • Painter - Danvers Walker
  • Shopkeeper - Denis Shaw
  • Assistant supervisor - Victor Platt
  • Nurse Shivaun O'Grady
  • Skipper - Geoffrey Reed
  • Sailor - Terence Donovan
  • 1st Tower guard - Joe Dunne
  • 2nd Tower guard - Romo Gorrara

White & Ali 1988, p. 75


  • The original title was to be The Queen's Pawn, a play on the fact that Number Six had recently been in "Her Majesty's service".



  • Fairclough, Robert, ed. The Prisoner: The Original Scripts. vol. 2. foreword by Roger Parkes. Reynolds & Hearn. ISBN 978-1903111819. OCLC 61145235.  - script of episode

External links

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