Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Remakes happen when the original is, for whatever reason, no longer good enough.

It therefore follows that if you remake any film or TV series, you have to do it better.

After all, the remake is always going to get compared with the original, which is a fight that, in order to justify its existence, the new show really has to win.

It beggars belief then, that time and again film and TV companies will remake not the shows that are now poorly thought of, but rather the ones that have actually stood the test of time.

The original 1960s run of The Prisoner is considered by many - myself included - to be the finest TV series ever made. To this day, it rejects classification, conveys a tone unlike any other, and defies convention by refusing to explain itself.

The central character of Number Six remains as accessible today as ever, in his single-minded refusal to be controlled by others on any level. Urban myth has it that the show was about his weekly attempts to escape from the oppressive village, but in fact this theme gets dropped after the first two-thirds of the run. I reckon on that score that they partially broke him.

Basically, the last thing that a remake of The Prisoner needs is to be compared with the original.

On one level, I think those saddled with the task of making this folly knew that. They've done everything that they can to create a series that has as little connection to that saga as possible, and stands up on its own two feet perfectly well, thank you very much.

Let me be clear: I liked this new series.

Its underlying concept was a new one to me, its unfolding storylines drew me in, and for the second half of the series I found that I was genuinely looking forward to each episode.

As the title character "Michael / Six", Jim Caviezel portrayed a much less defiant protagonist than Patrick McGoohan's original, but still made him an easy-to-identify-with everyman character.

The rest of the cast are good too. Sir Ian McKellen as "Two" quite wrongly gets top billing each week, and pantomimes the whole thing throughout, although this is arguably appropriate for a man who lives entirely off of his public image.

I think the best reveal came in the last two episodes via Six's ongoing flashbacks to his past life as Michael.

However then there are the show's downsides. Its perpetually shaky camerawork. Its confused editing. Even its opening credits look and sound hideous. All in all though, if you can grit your teeth and squint through four-and-a-half hours of such queasy storytelling, as I say, I think the tale is a good, original one.

Where the series falls-down every single time though, is whenever it suicidally tries to remind us of those 17 episodes of timeless genius from forty years ago.

The first episode begins with an aged character dressed as Number Six declaring that he has finally escaped from the village, before collapsing and dying. Original actor Patrick McGoohan quite rightly refused to play this role, although it left me wondering for the rest of the series whether this had been supposed to flag further tie-ins later on.

The town in which Six is incarcerated is still doggedly referred to throughout as "the village".

Each individual episode title alludes to an episode title of the original, further promoting comparison over creativity.

Every so often there'll be a shot that's been set-up to emulate a shot from the original opening credits, again shaking us out of the narrative. Likewise the odd sound-effect, and of course Rover.

I'd find myself repeatedly wondering things like "Why are they dwelling on this? That's a bit like The Prisoner. Oh that's right, I forgot, this is a remake of The Prisoner."

Most bewildering are the sudden surreal sequences to 1960s pop music. It took me a few seconds to figure out that Two was pouring water over Six in slow-motion, at least in part, to emulate another show.

In summary, the 2009 remake of The Prisoner could have been a fascinating riff on that popular series from the 1960s, if only they hadn't gone and given it the same name. We would probably have hailed it as a terrific homage, that was paying tribute by taking some of the same great ideas and trying something new, and less ambitious, with them.

But instead they went and proudly called it The Prisoner, and the poor series spent its entire six episodes huffing and puffing to catch up.

Sure, the title is also the only reason why I watched it, but had I heard about a fresh new show that contained a few respectful similarities, then I would probably have sought it out, and liked it a lot more. Heck, I'd probably even have been rooting for it.

No doubt the programme makers don't worry too much about what fans of the original series think, believing their product to be aimed at a general public who have never heard of that old series from the sixties called The Prisoner.

If that's the case, then they really do have no excuse at all for calling it that.

Available here.


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