Posted on by Scott Delahunt

(Apoloigies for the delay. I messed up the scheduling.)


In 1967, Patrick McGoohan produced and starred in one of television's most surreal and thought provoking series. The Prisoner featured the struggles of a former agent, referred to as Number 6, against the masters of the Village, a home for people who knew too much. Throughout the show, the balance between the needs of society and the needs of the individual were brought into contrast, with neither side really getting the upper hand. The Prisoner was conceived originally as a seven episode series, though the network, ITV, wanted more. Eventually, seventeen episodes were produced. The ending, "Fall Out", remains as one of the most discussed endings as fans of The Prisoner try to figure out what it meant.

Given the nature of the series, a remake would be daunting. There have been several attempts. One was a four book graphic novel series from DC, showing the Prisoner as still being in the Village, despite being free to leave. (His response, "Free to stay.") The graphic novels managed to convey some of the surreal essence, but created more questions. Another was a miniseries on AMC in 2009 that took the concept but made makor changes to the plotline.

As mentioned, remaking, rebooting, or adapting The Prisoner and keeping the right tone is difficult. Both sides, the Prisoner and the Village, need to be portrayed as having needs and goals; both sides must make gains and have some sympathy from viewers. Oddly, one TV series managed to do this.

In 1999, the CGI-animation series Reboot took on the challenge. Reboot started in 1994 as a light action-adventure series aimed at pre-teens and young teens. The show took place inside a computer called Mainframe, following the lives of the system's inhabitants. The main cast was Bob, an anti-virus program known as a Guardian, Dot, entrepreneur and later the of the system, Enzo, Dot's little brother, and Frisket, Enzo's pet. These four protected Mainframe from the likes of Megabyte and Hexidecimal, sibling viruses, and their minions (Hack and Slash for Megabyte, SCSI for Hex).

The second season saw more mature writing slip in. New characters were introduced, including AndrAIa, a young game sprite with AI capabilities who slipped out of her game cube. A new threat also came into play, a virus called Daemon. Although Daemon was never shown, her web minions were, trying to invade Mainframe. Through an alliance with Megabyte, Bob was able to turn back the invasion. Once the system was safe, though, Megabyte turned on Mainframe's protector and hurled him into the Web.

After the end of the second season, ABC, the American network airing the show, dropped Reboot. YTV, a Canadian cable network specializing in youth programming, continued to back the series. This allowed Mainframe, the production company, to make a third season that turned darker. Season three was split into four arcs: the first showed young Enzo as he tried to be Mainframe's Guardian and ended with Enzo, AndrAIa, and Frisket leaving Mainframe in a game cube; the second showed the sprites, now compiled up, searching for their way home; the third brought back Bob, sailing with software pirates; and the fourth showed the battle to save Mainframe from Megabyte's predations.

During the first arc, the writers started playing with various parodies, including episode 3.1.3 "Firewall", a 007 parody. However, Episode 3.2.3, "Number 7", was the most daring of the second arc. Normally, in a game, sprites will double click their icon to reboot as part of the game to stop the User from winning. Outside the game, rebooting normally doesn't do anything. In "Number 7", after leaving yet another golf game, Enzo (now calling himself Matrix) and AndrAIa find themselves back in Mainframe. Except, it's not at all as it should be. AndrAIa suggests rebooting, in case Mainframe also was taken up into a game cube. Matrix hesitates, unsure and not wanting to return to being his younger self. They do so; Matrix becomes Megabyte, AndrAIa turns into Hexidecimal, and Frisket becomes SCSI.

At this point, music reminiscent of The Prisoner's starts playing. Matrix tries to figure out what is happening, but slips from time to time into Megabyte's voice, sometimes mid-sentence. He storms into Phong's office in a scene straight from The Prisoner's opening sequence, demanding answers from Bob. However, because Matrix couldn't keep his temper, Bob marks him for filing and deletion. Once again, in a scene taken from The Prisoner's opening sequence, Matrix is picked up like a file card and is taken by robotic arm to a filing cabinet. Matrix escapes by infecting the arm and making it drop him. (And, yes, during this, he did say, "I will not be pushed, filed, briefed, or deleted.") He smashes a vid window and is transported to a dark room, with two binomes (a 1 and a 0) on a teeter-totter with cameras, a jury of masked binomes, and Bob as the judge.

The episode then switched to its own version of "Fall Out", with Matrix trying to defend himself and the jury chanting "Guilty" before the sprite can say anything. Eventually, Matrix lets his temper get hold of himself and he swipes with Megabyte's claws, destroying the scene, leaving just a vid-window that shows his reflection. The Megabyte in the vid-window claims to be what Matrix fears the most, going viral when his code should be defending against viruses. Matrix destroys the vid-window and returns to his current form. Another vid-window appears, again reflecting the sprite. The Matrix in the window claims to be what he is afraid of, what he's become in his travels, older, unrecognizable by his friends and family in Mainframe. Matrix shoots the window, destroying it.

Footsteps are heard. Matrix says, "No, not you." From the shadows steps young Enzo, the original. The young Enzo claims to be what Matrix is afraid of, of what he was, small, weak, what Matrix had to shunt aside to survive in the games. Enzo then uses the classic line, "Be seeing you," complete with the the hand gesture. As he walks away, Rover, the Village's retrieval unit, engulfs Matrix.

The spoof of such a classic TV series could easily have fallen apart. The big risk was that many of the show's viewers would be far too young to know about The Prisoner. However, the writing team ensured that the lack of knowledge wouldn't hinder the plot. The Prisoner was a framework to tell a story about what Matrix feared the most and gave him the impetus to work out what he needed to. The addition of golf metaphors ("How's your back, Nine?") allowed the expected humour to come out despite the seriousness of the plot.

Overall, the parody worked. "Number 7" took the essence of The Prisoner but wasn't straitjacketed by it to tell its own story. Matrix matured, getting a new outlook on his digital life and on his mission.

Next time, stretching five minutes to two hours.

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