The Prisoner appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on these Blu-ray Discs. Though not literally flawless, these shows looked much better than anyone could’ve expected.
Sharpness usually appeared excellent. The Blu-ray exhibited terrific fine detail much of the time, as many elements looked remarkably concise and tight. Occasional soft shots occurred, but those were inevitable given the nature of the production. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and I noticed no edge haloes.
I would expect many source flaws from a TV series shot more than four decades ago. While some defects emerged, they remained quite minor. Occasional examples of specks and spots cropped up, but these were infrequent and not much of a distraction. Overall, the programs were clean and without notable problems.
Colors were a joy to observe. The Prisoner enjoyed a palette that veered toward psychedelic at times, so the episodes usually enjoyed lively hues. The Blu-ray replicated these with excellent accuracy. The tones were always vivid and dynamic. Blacks seemed dark and firm, while shadows were clear and smooth. The occasional source flaws and mild softness kept this an “A-“ transfer, but if I rated the shows based on expectations, it’d be an “A+”; this was a simply stunning presentation.
While the Dolby Digital 5.1 sound of The Prisoner was less impressive, that was inevitable, as it’d be very difficult for 40-year-old audio to really dazzle. The quality of the source material remained fairly ordinary. Speech was a little edgy and rough at times, but the lines usually appeared reasonably concise, and they suffered from no problems with intelligibility. Music could be somewhat distant, and the score didn’t feature great dimensionality. Still, the music was acceptably clear and without significant problems.
Effects fared a bit better. They didn’t get a lot of play, and they didn’t display terrific power. Nonetheless, they offered decent heft at times, and they displayed the elements in an appropriate manner.
Don’t expect much breadth from the 5.1 soundfield. For the most part, the soundscapes came across as “broad mono”. Music showed mushy delineation; the score spread to the sides but failed to display any distinctive imaging. Effects were more engrossing, though. They did focus on the front center channel much of the time, but they occasionally emanated from the side and rear speakers. This added a bit of involvement to the piece.
None of this made the 5.1 tracks much above average, though. The audio was perfectly serviceable and that’s about it. The discs also included the original monaural sound, and that’s the path I’d take. Occasionally I find multichannel remixes that impress me enough to prefer them to the original audio, but that wasn’t the case here. The 5.1 tracks were fine, but I’d go with the mono.
Quite a few extras flesh out the package. We get audio commentaries for seven episodes. We hear from a mix of participants across the shows:
“Arrival”: production manager Bernie Williams and film librarian Tony Sloman. They cover sets and locations, props and production details, cast and performances, some story areas, and elements that now seem prescient. Overall, the track has good moments, though it tends to be a bit dry. Still, we learn some nice facts here; it’s not a great commentary, but it keeps us interested most of the time.
“The Chimes of Big Ben”: writer Vincent Tilsley. This piece looks at how Tilsley got the gig, story/character elements, changes made to the script, and a few technical tidbits. We do learn some useful nuggets about the script, but the commentary seems mediocre overall. There’s just not enough worthwhile material to sustain it over the episode’s 50 minutes, so it’s an inconsistent listen.
“The Schizoid Man”: director Pat Jackson. While not a very screen-specific commentary, Jackson does give us a good look at some topics. He tells us a lot about his relationship with McGoohan and how he came to the series, and we get some episode details as well. The information proves to be consistently useful.
“The General”: director Peter Graham Scott. This track looks at cast and crew, general thoughts about working on the series, and episode details. Scott tends to focus too much on basic story ideas and not enough on behind the scenes areas. Oh, he does give us a reasonable amount of information, but I can’t say that we learn a ton from him.
“Dance of the Dead”: Williams, Sloman and editor John S. Smith. They cover sets and locations, music and editing, costumes and other production elements, and a few additional tidbits. Some good notes emerge here – such as the news that Trevor Howard once planned to play Number Two – but the track also sags at times. This makes it inconsistent and less than satisfying.
“A Change of Mind”: writer Roger Parkes. He discusses his career, how he came to the series, and his work on this episode. Parkes makes this a consistently good chat. Although he fades toward the end, Parkes provides a nice glimpse behind the scenes of the series and turns this into arguably the best of the Prisoner commentaries.
“Fall Out”: music editor Eric Mival and editor Noreen Ackland. In addition to music and editing, the pair discuss other aspects of the production as well as aspects of its finale. Mival carries the load here; when Ackland speaks, she usually does so due to prompting from her partner. Despite the lopsided nature of the track, we get a lot of good details and learn a reasonable amount about the show.
Across the first four discs, we find trailers for all 17 episodes. These deliver short ads that each run about a minute. Movie trailers are a common extra, but TV series promos are less typical, so it’s fun to get them here. Note that Disc Four also includes two “generic trailers” for the series
In addition, we get image galleries for all 17 episodes. These come as running compilations accompanied by Prisoner music. You won’t find montages for the various episodes presented on their own; instead, each disc provides one collection that gives us production and publicity stills from its programs. You can jump from one episode to another with the chapter search button, though. Disc One’s set runs 19 minutes, 24 seconds, Disc Two’s goes for 12:21, Disc Three’s fills 17:59 and Disc Four’s 12:12. We find quite a few good photos in these nice compilations.
Disc Four contains some additional goodies. It includes an alternate version of the series’ premiere episode. We discover the Original Edit of “Arrival”. This 50-minute, 38-second show provides a different score and other changes. Note that you can watch this cut of “Arrival” in a “music-only” version as well.
For information about how this version, we go to a featurette called ”Arrival” Original Edit Restoration. It runs three minutes, 59 seconds and doesn’t actually tell us anything about the restored episode. Instead, it just shows a split-screen with “before” and “after” shots from the program’s opening; these intend to depict the improvements made for the restoration. That’s fine, I guess, but the lack of information makes the featurette less useful.
Disc Four concludes with some textless title sequences. This silent 10-minute, 35-second reel is actually something of an oddity. It shows some of the expected title sequences without words, but it also throws in outtakes, foreign language shots and photos.
Over on Disc Five – a standard DVD, not a Blu-ray Disc - the main attraction comes from a feature-length documentary called Don’t Knock Yourself Out. During this one-hour, 34-minute, 50-second program, we hear from Scott, Parkes, Williams, Tilsley, Sloman, Mival, Smith, Ackland, 2nd unit camera Bob Monks, producer Lew Grade (via archival footage), script editor George Markstein (archival), Portmeirion Limited CEO Robin Llewellyn, director Don Chaffey (archival), producer David Tomblin (archival), art director Jack Shampan (archival), writer Lewis Greifer (archival), editor Eric Boyd Perkins, assistant editor/story writer Ian Rakoff, and actors Anton Rodgers, Peter Bowles, George Baker, Wanda Ventham, Sheila Allen, Robert Rietti, Peter Wyngarde, Derren Nesbitt, Fenella Fielding, Leo McKern (archival), Katherine Kath, Jane Merrow, Annette Andre, Alexis Kanner (archival) and Mark Eden. “Knock” looks at the career of Patrick McGoohan and the development of Prisoner, sets and locations, cast, character and story issues, music, designing/executing “Rover”, episode specifics, the series’ conclusion, and its legacy.
Despite the notable absence of McGoohan – who never liked to discuss the series - “Knock” delivers a terrific overview of the show. It certainly doesn’t stick with happy talk; we get a frank discussion of the different aspects of the production, and we hear many comments about how difficult it was to work with McGoohan. I like the logical structure of “Knock” and think it educates and entertains.
For something quirky, we go to the nine-minute, 24-second The Pink Prisoner. In this, Peter Wyngarde offers a self-scripted collection of remarks accompanied by mumbled “questions”. Some of his notes actually show up in “Knock”, where they come across as more conventional interview responses; here we get a weird monologue of sorts. It’s self-indulgent but moderately interesting.
You Make Sure It Fits! lasts nine minutes, 16 seconds and offers statements from Mival. He discusses his work on the series and challenges related to the show’s music. Unlike “Pink”, this is a traditional interview clip, and it works well; Mival ladles out a good overview of his job.
Next we discover a Preview of AMC’s 2009 Prisoner Mini-Series. This clip fills 32 seconds and is nothing more than a really short ad. I admit I’m going to be curious to see the 2009 version when it hits home video. I have a preconceived idea of how it’ll differ – much less weird, much more action – so I’ll be interested to judge it. The “Preview” doesn’t betray much about it.
A companion to the alternate version of “The Arrival” on Disc Four, we get an Original Edit for “The Chimes of Big Ben”. It goes for 50 minutes, 35 seconds and alters the episode in a variety of ways. Since I’m far from being a Prisoner expert, I’ll leave it to you to find details elsewhere on the Internet. I can say that “Chimes” looks pretty awful, though.
A few odds and ends fill out the rest of Disc Five. An Exposure Strips Gallery holds 200 photos and runs 10 minutes, 32 seconds. An intro tells us that the series’ dailies were printed in black and white to save money; the “exposure strip” would show one frame from each scene in color to make sure that the color and exposure were correct. That sounds dull, but actually is pretty intriguing. The gallery includes subtitles to tell us what we see, and occasional shots from deleted scenes appear. Those make this a compelling little collection.
At a mere 16 seconds, Commercial Break Bumpers doesn’t last long. It shows two animated images of the series’ iconic bicycle; these were used before/after ads. Obviously it’s good the Blu-ray episodes lack them - they’d become very annoying – but it’s fun to see them here.
Textless Titles comes in three flavors. The three-minute reel offers three variations on the series’ main theme. Obviously, it shows Number Six’s resignation and capture without words, and that makes it a curiosity. The three different theme songs is the more intriguing aspect of the presentation.
Already seen as part of Disc Four’s “Textless Title Sequences”, the two-minute, 29-second Filing Cabinet Footage doesn’t show us much. We see the “Resigned” card from the title sequence translated into different languages. Yawn!
More silent material shows up under Rover Footage. This gives us 25 seconds of the bouncing balloon. Again: yawn! The 50-second McGoohan Montage from The Arrival simply shows still photos of the actor; there are also found elsewhere.
Three galleries finish the package. We get Promotional Image Gallery (2:17), 1967 Press Conference Gallery (2:32) and Production Designs Gallery (0:49). The first is fairly ordinary, but the other two prove to be compelling.
More than 40 years after it originally aired, The Prisoner remains clever, stimulating, provocative and downright odd. The series forced the viewer to remain alert and expect the unexpected, all of which made for very good TV. The Blu-ray presents stunning visuals, average audio, and a solid complement of supplements. This set does right by The Prisoner and becomes easily its best home video release.