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RIP Patrick McGoohan

January 14, 2009

Number Six is dead. Patrick McGoohan, creator and star of The Prisoner, left us yesterday at age 80.

If you’ve never seen The Prisoner, you should seek it out. Trust me on this one: it’s the strangest bit of television ever made. Weirder than Twin Peaks, more mindwarping than Lost, creepier than the X-Files. It was the story of a British secret agent who resigns abruptly, then finds himself transported to a bizarre place called The Village, a hidden colony with a role and presence that was never really explained. Trapped in a neo-Edwardian society, interrogated by the mysterious Number 2, chased by a giant floating ball, the unnamed hero tried like hell to get away, but was stymied every time.

The first VCR I ever saw was in the back room of the small public libary in the little town where I grew up. It was the sort of town where you were considered weird if you read for fun, so I tended to have the library to myself most of the time. One day, the librarian asked me if I would like to watch “videotapes” in the back — I had no idea the service even existed.

The library’s video collection — these were those huge old video tapes, before Beta, before VHS — consisted largely of BBC dramas, National Geographic specials … and The Prisoner. So I was able to watch the entire series, over and over again, before I was 12 years old.

I’ve seen it many times since. It’s always stayed with me, and I consider it to be one of the foundations of my love of geekery (in there with Star Trek, Planet of the Apes and my comic books). McGoohan was brilliant in it; this was apparent to me even as a kid. I read later that he had starred in Danger Man (also called Secret Agent), a previous series about espionage, and The Prisoner was considered an unofficial sequel.

So, another icon of my childhood is gone. It’s a sad day. However, I’m just reading here in a separate tab that a remake is in the works, a new TV version with Jim Caviezel in the right role. See how good Patrick McGoohan was? He had to be replaced with the guy whose last big role was Jesus.

I look forward to the remake, if only to see how the story handles espionage, secrecy, paranoia and conspiracies in a world that has changed since the 1960s.

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