Monday, April 19, 2010
A load of number twos
I knew the update of The Prisoner would disappoint, and I wasn’t disappointed. I’m not a purist, and I don’t believe that remakes and cover versions are inherently inferior to the original, but surely producers must have noticed that the most successful franchise revivals (such as Star Trek and Dr Who) are those that have continued the narrative, rather than gone back to the beginning. A new series of Prisoner, that imagines what happened to Numbers Two and Six (plus the Butler) following the flatbed trip to London, could have been intriguing.
Instead, we had a reboot, with a less good actor than Patrick McGoohan finding himself in a less weird location than Portmeirion, a sort of Namibian Butlins. One of the key elements of the original was that although you sympathised with the desire of McGoohan’s Number Six to escape, you didn’t actually need to like him. He had after all resigned, so in his previous life he had presumably been involved in the political machinations that keep the Village running, and thus at least had the potential to be a nasty piece of work. Jim Caviezel, by contrast, is all moist eyes and confusion, like a travelling salesman prevented by volcanic ash from attending his daughter’s birthday party.
Ian McKellen plays Number Two throughout; he’s good, of course, but the trick of having a different actor in nearly every episode was more than a chance to give employment to as many character performers as possible. You always knew that Number Two’s grasp on power was tenuous, which added a level of vulnerability to the role. Like a member of Stalin’s Politburo, he could be airbrushed at any minute. In the remake, by contrast, McKellen is in control, and is allowed some kind of back story, even a family. Perversely, he is Not A Number.
Perhaps I’d be more charitable if this farrago weren’t presuming to be The Prisoner; if it were just a late arrival on the Lost/Life On Mars/Heroes bandwagon. But they keep just enough elements of the original to remind you of what this is trying to be, and failing: the Village; Rover; names replaced by numbers, although Caviezel is Six rather than Number Six, for those of us with really short attention spans. Maybe if they quietly dropped these remaining links to McGoohan’s masterwork, diluting the show until it became something else entirely, the new version would work better. Homeopathic TV, anyone?