- "I will not make any deals. I've resigned. I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered. My life is my own."
- ― Number 6 confronts Number 2.
Number 6 is the central character in the 1960s television series The Prisoner, played by Patrick McGoohan. In the 1967 episode "Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling," due to its mind-transfer plotline Number 6 is portrayed by Nigel Stock.
Much of Number 6's background is kept a mystery during the series, and not even his true name is revealed. A few names are attached to Number 6 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 6's long-term false identities as a spy.
In the first episode, it is stated that he was born on 19 March 1928 (the same date as McGoohan's birthday). During the episode "Once upon a Time", Number 6 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 6's life so portrayed are real and which are fiction. Among these events presented is the suggestion that as a young man Number 6 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 6 flew a bomber in "the war"; exactly which war is not stated but evidently Number 6 was shot down and captured by the Germans, which presumably means World War II, which is possible given his stated birth date, if only just.
In the first episode, it is stated 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 he was a spy or similar operative (code number ZM-73, as well as several other aliases). In several episodes, it is alluded that other residents of "The Village" are ex-spies, "retired" without their consent. Number 6 is known to have answered to at least two individuals known 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 in some way or other. 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 who they might be.
It is known that prior to his capture by the Village, he was engaged to be married to Janet Portland, the daughter of his superior, Sir Charles Portland, though this doesn't stop Number 6 from developing several close platonic relationships with various women during his imprisonment.
I am not a number, I am a free man
A central theme in the series was Number 2's attempt to discover why Number 6 resigned from his position.
Many people as well as the series itself postulate that those in control of the Village are either testing Number 6, or actually want to know why he resigned. Even according to McGoohan during subsequent interviews, the answer is not clear: others suggest the Village first wants to find why he resigned, hoping this revelation would unleash a torrent of other information. (At least one Number 2 believes it would: in "The Chimes of Big Ben", Number 2 says, "If he will answer one simple question, the rest will follow: Why did he resign?")
In several episodes, his attempts to escape his prison the Village would be foiled, either by Number 2, the place's chief administrator, who was frequently changed, or by Rover, an enigmatic artificial guardian that resembles a weather balloon.
In the final episode— "Fall Out", following the events, in which the character (formerly known as "Number 6", but, now addressed simply as "the Man"), along with a revived Number 2 and Number 48, as well as the Butler— appear to have escaped the Village. However, his ultimate fate is not revealed.
As the Butler enters the Man's original house, the door opens just as doors in the Village had; automatically. Additionally, the hearse (seen in the opening credits when the occupant gets out and gases the Prisoner through his door letter box) appears to drive by again.
Finally, as The Man drives towards the viewer (in the exact fashion as the series' episodes begin) the words "The Prisoner" appear on screen.
In interviews, McGoohan has repeatedly maintained "[the Prisoner] hasn't got [his freedom]".
During the series, Number 6 is shown to be highly sagacious, if not a genius, with tremendous proficiency and expertise in subjects ranging from aviation, fencing, boxing and marksmanship to mathematics, languages and astronomy.
Medically, Number 6 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 6 as an at-least-occasional cigar smoker, as Number Two brainwashes him into preferring Russian cigarettes as a means of undermining his identity. Number 6 has repeatedly been under the influence of psychotropic and hallucinogenic drugs, and undergone periods of severe mental or physical stress without apparent effect on his health, although he has occasionally been driven to exhaustion by his ordeals.
The connection between Number 6 and Number 1—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 6 encounters a man who is supposedly Number 1: upon removing two masks worn by him, a person who is identical to Number 6 is revealed. This man quickly escapes and never appears again.
Speculation as to the identity of this person varies from Number 6 having created The Village in his mind, a twin brother of Number 6, John Drake (McGoohan's character in the two Danger Man series), a likely mind-straining hallucination, or that he is Patrick McGoohan himself (who, as creator of the show, ultimately controlled the Village). It may be of importance that Number 6's address number is N° 1 Buckingham Place.
Is the Prisoner John Drake?
Many fans of The Prisoner believe that Number 6 is really John Drake, the character that McGoohan played in Danger Man (first from 1960 to 1962, then again from 1964 to 1966), but the actor always denied this.
In a 1966 interview in The Los Angeles Times, with reporter Robert Musel, McGoohan stated that "John Drake of Secret Agent is gone" (Secret Agent being the name of Danger Man in the USA).
Furthermore, McGoohan stated in a 1985 interview that Number.6 is not the same character as John Drake, further adding that he had originally wanted another actor to portray the character. However, script editor, George Markstein, who co-created the series with McGoohan, always claimed that Number 6 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.
In fact, Number 6'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 2's 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 6.
While John Drake and Number 6 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 6 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 6 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 6'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 6 claims to rarely drink.
Drake seems to prefer business suits with ties while Number 6's clothing of choice is a dark sweater beneath a dress-jacket. However, the choice of clothing available to Number 6 is limited to what was available in The Village. It may be significant that in the Danger Man episode "The Paper Chase" Drake wears an outfit identical to the one worn by Number 6 in the opening credits of The Prisoner.
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 6.
Number 6 is a gentle man 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 need to be liberated from societal conditioning and conformity. While 6 is mysterious and a distant isolationist, Alice 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 2 (this is the Number 2 portrayed by Leo McKern in three episodes), who speaks of 6 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.
Number 2 claims that Number 6 was imprisoned, interrogated, and eventually broken for the secrets he contained. According to his version of events, what is seen onscreen in "Fall Out", the last episode, is a drug-enhanced psycho drama, in which Number 6 was lauded for his individuality and thus granted a number of his preference, Number 1. The paradox that 6 was the only individual and therefore Number 1, apparently broke 6's mind. However, Number 2's account is contradicted by British intelligence files indicating that Number 6 "did not talk," leaving Number 6's motives for remaining in the Village open to interpretation.
In a later confrontation between Numbers 1 and Number 6 which leads to a fistfight, Number 2 calls 6 a coward, saying that 6 lost twenty years ago and won't return to the outside world because then he'd have to face defeat. Number 2 adds that 6's secrets are out of date and that 6 is nothing. Their fight takes them inside an old mill as a pummeled Number 6 declares that he is a free man and his life is his own. Number 2—choking 6 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 6 returns to his old place of residence in the Village, and begins to shave his beard.
At the end of the story, Number 6 and Alice Drake have returned to London. 6 is clean-shaven and tidily dressed. Alice asks 6 who Number 1 was. 6 asks in reply, "Does the presence of Number 2 require the existence of Number 1?" 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.
In other works
- Main article: The Prisoner in popular culture
- 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 titled "The Computer Wore Menace Shoes", parodying The Prisoner, with McGoohan reprising his role as Number 6 and Homer Simpson as Number 5.
- 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" from album "The Number of the Beast", a section of speech from the series is played at the beginning of the song.
- In the Fringe episode entitled Letters of Transit, Walter Bishop says loudly "I am not a number! I'm a free man!"
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