The Prisoner: episode 17 – Fall Out – synopsis

The final episode opens with the title card for the series and a montage sequence from Once Upon a Time lasting three minutes and forty seconds. It is followed by a different version of the theme music at its brightest, over an aerial tour of the Village, on which is superimposed details of Portmeirion and an acknowledgement to Mr. Clough Williams-Ellis.
The Controller, Number Six and the Butler descend a shaft. At the bottom, they step out into a room where a mannequin, crudely fashioned to resemble the Prisoner, wears the clothes Number Six wore the day he was abducted to the Village. The Controller explains that they thought he would feel happier as himself.
The trio walk down a steel-floored, rock-lined underground corridor. In every cranny there is a jukebox, all of which are blaring out the Beatles’ (then-new) “All You Need is Love”. At the end of the corridor, the Butler goes ahead to unlock a door. Inside, it is a metal door, surmounted by the words “Well Come”.
It opens into a vast underground chamber, full of people. As the Controller leads the group forward, we see: a circular pit from which steam rises in explosive bursts, with a young man in a top hat clamped to a pole: the two-armed, rotating device from the Control Room, but with the operatives bearing machine guns instead of cameras: an operating theatre with green-gowned surgeons, surrounded by scaffolding: a rocket, around which vapours rise: computer banks set into the high walls on the cave, reached by a gantry: four men at a table: two dozen men sat in parliamentary rows: security guards with white gloves, dark glasses and helmets: a dais on which stands a man dressed as a Criminal Court Judge in red robes: an ornate throne on a dais reached by four steps.
The men are all dressed in white hooded robes, beneath which their faces are concealed by identical gargoyle masks: half frowning white angel, half smiling black devil.
We do not, at first, see that the number one is painted on the body of the rocket, nor that it contains a mechanical eye.
The Controller is given a robe and mask, which he dons. He joins the body of men on the benches. Each has a plate before him, identifying a faction, his ‘Identification’. All are identical and concealed.
The Red Judge welcomes the Prisoner and declares that this session has been called at a time of democratic crisis, to discuss the question of revolt. The masked Controller presents Number Six, but the Judge intervenes. Number Six has passed the ultimate test and has vindicated his individuality. He has won the right not to be called Number Six, or indeed any number at all. The Red Judge and the Delegates applaud enthusiastically.
However, there are ceremonies to go through to prepare for the transfer of ultimate power. The Prisoner is invited to watch. Silently, he takes the throne.
Eyes turn as the caged kitchen descends slowly from the Embryo Room above. The shield slides away and two surgeons expectantly wheel a stretcher up to the doors. The Rocket flashes, revealing its Number. The Red Judge barks the order, “Resuscitate!” and the screen shows Number Two’s final moments, reversing the film so that he leaps to his feet and regurgitates his last drink.
The Butler unlocks the cage then crosses to the dais to stand at the Prisoner’s left hand. The surgeons carry out Number Two’s body and wheel the stretcher to the operating theatre. He is sat in a chair and a device like a hairdressers helmet is lowered over his head. His beard is lathered with shaving cream. A circular rubber pad extends to cover his face and the machinery begins to hum.
The Red Judge addresses the cavern on revolt. Revolt takes many forms and he will present three specific examples. The first is Number Forty-Eight, the youth in the pit. He is dressed in black jacket and trousers over a white, frilly, Edwardian shirt, open almost to the waist, and has a bell on a chain around his neck.
The newcomer proclaims this a crazy scene and starts singing the familiar song, ‘Dem Bones, Dem Bones’. It fills the cavern, driving the delegates wild, setting them dancing. The Red Judge screams at him, trying to get him to shut up, but it is not until the eye in the rocket starts beeping that things calm down. The Judge orders Number Forty Eight be released: the young man walks round to in front of him as the Judge intones about youthful rebellion, rebelling because it must, but that society requires security and conformity, and it must be stamped out.
He pauses, inviting a response. Instead, Number Forty Eight leaps away, singing ‘Dem Bones’ He runs round the cavern, leaping here and there, causing chaos in his wake as security guards pursue him frantically. Eventually, he is surrounded by guards, but it is the Prisoner’s intervention, addressing him as ‘Young Man’. that calms him.
The Judge is about to protest but his is overruled from the rocket. Addressing Number Forty |Eight as Young Man, he tries to talk to him in the ‘language’ of youth, which Number Forty Eight parodies in amused contempt. The Judge urges him to confess, repeatedly, to which the Young Man responds again with ‘Dem Bones’, until a recorded version of it begins filling the cavern, sending everyone into anarchy again. Except the Young Man, who squats on the floor in the lotus position, as calm as anything, until the Judge pronounces him Guilty.
The charge is, for all its fine words, refusal to conform, the most sinister aspect being a refusal to respond to his number. The Prisoner is asked to approve, but he withholds comment. The Young Man is taken away,security guards lifting his arms as he remains squatting, to the place of sentence, pending the Prisoner’s inauguration. At the pole, he straps himself in and disappears below, still singing his song.
The next revolutionary is the revived ex-Number Two. The pad is withdrawn, revealing him short-haired and clean shaven, except for a trimmed moustache. His eyes open and he slowly checks himself out before letting go with a roar of laughter, shouting that he feels like a new man. He dominates the cavern, congratulating the Prisoner, shaking his hand. He signals for the Butler to follow him, and is momentarily impatient when he stays at the Prisoner’s side.
Accepting this, he climbs to the Red Judge’s dais and addresses everyone about his former power and importance, his ability to command, the things he wrought with his decisions, and how obvious it was that he should have been abducted and brought here. What is deplorable, however, is how quickly he gave in, accepted power second only to one…
He points to the Prisoner as an example of his last decision, concerning bthis man. The screen shows again his screaming “Die!” at Number Six, and his own death. He asks if it was the drink, but the Red Judge says that some security secrets cannot be revealed even to a former Number Two. “You couldn’t even let me rest in peace,” the ex-Number Two mutters, bitterly.
The Prisoner intervenes to ask if the former Number Two ever met Number One. His old opponent laughs, mockingly. He crosses the floor to the rocket, looking into the eye, still orating. He gives the eye a Stare. The Red Judge screams that he’ll die. If so, the ex-Number Two says, snatching off his badge, he’ll die his own man, and he draws back his head a spits in the eye, which closes.
Immediately, he is seized by the guards and hustled across the cavern, booming with laughter. The Prisoner agrees that he be taken away to the place of sentence. He is strapped to another pole, which descends, but as he vanishes, he looks into the camera’s eye and says, “Be seeing you,” before resuming his laughter.
The Judge characterises this revolt as biting the hand that feeds him. Like that of youth it is unproductive and must be stamped out. But the Prisoner’s revolt is at the other end of the scale…
As he speaks, the sign shows a For Sale sign being taken down from outside the Prisoner’s dwelling in London, as his Lotus is delivered back to his door. He continues to praise the Prisoner as a man of principle, of steel, who has resisted and overcome for the right to be a person, a magnificent leader, who will show them all.
There is a prize for him. A hooded delegate wheels a trolley forth. From it, he produces the house key, travellers cheques worth a million, his passport, and a small bag of ‘petty cash’. He is free to go. Anywhere. Coldly, the Prisoner asks why, repeating his question each time the Red Judge’s nebulous answers end. They have conceded, he has won. The Judge invites him to address them, to make his statement.
The Prisoner thinks about this, then descends his dais, checks and pockets each of this things. He mounts the Judge’s dais and prepares to speak. Twice, his opening word of “I…” is drowned out by applause and chants of “Aye, Aye, Aye”. Twice he gavels it to silence and restarts. The third time, he desperately shouts his statement, but the chanting of support drowns it out. The Red Judge watches him, cynically, and when he runs down, ends the chanting by raising a finger. It has been a complete waste.
But now it is time to meet Number One. The Judge leads him to another pit, without pole or steam. The Prisoner descends again, to another steel-floored corridor lined with guards. The Butler marches towards him, briskly, leads him forward. Beyond, the Young Man and the ex-Number Two wait in glass tubes, marked Orbit 48 and Orbit 2. One sings his song, the other laughs. A third tube is empty.
There is a control room, with four hooded and masked figures poring over dials and readings. They ignore him. The Butler indicates a spiral staircase. The Prisoner creeps up this, silently. He can see another circular room, dominated by globes of every size, another hooded figure inside, its back to him.
The door slides open, automatically. He walks silently towards the hooded figure, who is watching a screen. On it, we see the Prisoner in Arrival, repeating his “I will not be pushed…” speech. Suddenly, the screen changes to show the Prisoner advancing on the hooded figure, who slowly turns, on screen and in life.
He is holding a crystal ball in both hands, which he gives to the Prisoner. Inside, the closing scene of the bars slamming on the Prisoner’s face repeats three times. The Prisoner drops it, smashing it. Number One throws his head back and his hands in the air. He is dressed as all the delegates, except that the large red Number One is on his left breast. The Prisoner reaches out to the mask, twists it off. Underneath, an ape’s face chatters at him, bestially: another mask. He drags this off. Underneath the hood, his own face stares back at him, laughing hysterically.
Barely do we have the chance to register this when Number One breaks away, still laughing, running around the control room. The Prisoner, in shock, chases him, tries to grapple with him, but Number One breaks away, climbs another set of circular stairs and, with the Prisoner climbing after him, leans over the hatch, laughing in his face, before slamming it shut from above.
The Prisoner promptly begins to activate the rocket’s launch controls. Outside, via the screen, the delegates mill around the cavern. The Red Judge is watching the eye, suspiciously. Having set things in motion, the Prisoner creeps downstairs. At the foot of the staircase, the Butler indicates with his eyes the position of the men. The Prisoner leaps onto them, knocking them sideways. He sprays them with the fire extinguisher and, when he wades in with his fists, the Butler takes over. They then release the Young Man and the ex-Number Two.
Dressed in the hooded robes, they signal the guards to enter the room. They too are sprayed with an extinguisher and knocked out. Arming themselves with machine guns, the quartet rise up unnoticed from the pits. The Prisoner begins shooting.
The cavern is reduced to chaos, with gunfire on all sides. The Red Judge calls for control, then orders everyone to evacuate. Delegates, guards, men in wet-suits on bicycles flood up the corridor. In the Village, tannoys urgently order “Evacuate!”. Helicopters take off, streams of Villagers start running away.
Below, the rocket progresses towards launch. The firing ends. The Butler reveals that the base on which the caged room rests is only panels, behind which are the wheels of a trailer. He gets behind the wheel, the others strip off their robes and climb into the room. They drive off along a dark tunnel, leading to wrought iron gates.
At the same moment the trailer breaks through the gates, the rocket launches, rising slowly through the heart of the Village. A half-inflated Rover shrivels into nothing in the blast-pit, to the sound of Carmen Miranda’s “I-I-I-I-I like you very much”, which becomes the song playing on the dashboard radio of a Rolls, being driven along a countryside dual carriageway by a businessman. The trailer is ahead of him in the centre lane. As he overtakes it on the inside, the Young Man and the ex-Number Two are dancing, and the Prisoner serving coffee, to the rhythm of the song. He speeds on. A road sign shows A20, London 27 miles.
Further on, the trailer pulls into a lay-by to let the Young Man out. He crosses the carriageway and starts to hitch.
The trailer continues into London. Circling Trafalgar Square, it is followed by a scooter-riding Policeman, who flags it down to park on the Thames Embankment. The occupants descend and walk away. The ex-Number Two walks towards Parliament. After staring at it for a few moments, he waves to his colleagues, crosses the road and, after a few words with a Policeman, is let in a rear entrance.
The Prisoner watches him leave, the Butler stood some twenty feet off. The Policeman slows walks past the Butler and goes up to the Prisoner. He asks a question. The Prisoner replies, gesticulating, even dancing, then leaves the Policeman to return to the Butler. The two race across Westminster Bridge and jump on a London bus.
The Young Man walks cheerfully down the carriageway, waving his thumb. Alexis Kanner’s name appears onscreen. He crosses the carriageway and starts hitching the other way, unperturbed at not being picked up.
The Prisoner and the Butler arrive outside his house. The Prisoner gets in his Lotus and starts the engine. The Butler walks up the steps. Angelo Muscat’s name appears onscreen. For the first time, we can see that the number of the Prisoner’s home is 1. The door opens by itself, with the low, sibilant hum of Village doors, and the Butler goes inside.
An aerial shot shows the Lotus being driven through London traffic, near Parliament. The word Prisoner appears onscreen.
The ex-Number Two, now sporting bowler, umbrella, business suit and carnation, marches gleefully along. Leo McKern’s name appears onscreen. He crosses the road and is ushered inside  Parliament by a Policeman.
We hear a brief crash of thunder. A road appears, wide and straight, stretching out before us like an airfield runway. Something appears at the perspective point, racing towards us with incredible speed, a Lotus Seven. It is being driven by the Prisoner, who has a grim, set expression on his face. It is the first shot of the first episode.
The credits run. They end, not on Rover rising from the sea, but on the finished, compiled image of the Penny Farthing.

The Prisoner: Portmeirion

In addition to the personalities without whom The Prisoner could not have been the programme we still remember, almost half a century later, we must not ignore one other essential element in making the programme so distinctive an experience.
Portmeirion – properly, the Hotel Portmeirion and its grounds – was designed, built and owned by the noted architect Bertram Clough Williams-Ellis, later Sir Clough Williams-Ellis. Situated on the south side of the Lleyn Peninsula, in North Wales, Portmeirion is an Italianate folly village, commonly regarded as being inspired by the village of Portafino in Italy. Williams-Ellis consistently denied this, stating that his aim was to capture the atmosphere of the Mediterranean region, though he admitted to living Portafino.
Portmeirion’s site was originally an 18th century foundry and boatyard which was developed into a private estate under the name of Aber La, or in English, Ice estuary. Willams-Ellis, who was entirely self-taught as an architect, interpreted the site name as ‘frozen mouth’, and changed it to Portmeirion when he began to develop the area in accordance with his belief in architecture that was in tune with its surroundings. The name simply connected Port and Meirion, a reference to the Welsh County of Merioneth (the county name, being an English designation, was swept away in the Local Government reorganisation of 1974, when Welsh county names were restored throughout North and Mid-Wales, based on the former Welsh princedoms).
Beginning with the fragments of part-demolished buildings, Willams-Ellis began construction and development of Portmeirion in the early 1920s, first opening it to the public in 1926. Development continued until 1939, when it was interrupted by the War. It resumed in 1954 and continued in stages until 1975, with a final addition being made the following year, two years before Willams-Ellis’s death.
Even afterwards, development continued, under the ownership and direction of the Charitable Trust that maintains the site. Castell Deudraeth (the exterior of which was filmed as the Village Hospital) was bought by Williams-Ellis in 1931, from his uncle. It lies just outside the grounds of the Hotel itself, and it was his dream to incorporate this into the site. The Castell, a mansion house developed from the ruins of a castle dating back to at least 1188, was finally opened as a Hotel in 2001.
Though it’s by far his best known work, Portmeirion was not Willams-Ellis’s only noteable achievement. For instance, he designed the original Snowden mountain-top Cafe, and was Chairman of the Development Committee that designed Britain’s first New Town, Stevenage.
Portmeirion has been operated as a Hotel since it was first opened to the public, but it also operates as a tourist attraction, drawing visitors to North Wales. It incorporates a restaurant ans a cafe, not to mention a long-standing Prisoner souvenir shop, based in the building whose exterior was filmed for Number Six’s cottage. With the exception of the private grounds reserved for Hotel guests, Portmeirion can be explored at leisure for an admission charge, though no vehicles are allowed and you must walk in and out.
Portmeirion’s exotic appearance made it a popular place for location filming, giving British TV series a cheap opportunity to film ‘European’ scenes. The most famous use is The Prisoner, but Portmeirion has turned up in a wide variety of series: it is used in the very first episode of McGoohan’s Danger Man, as well as Dr Who, Citizen Smith and the final episode of Cold Feet.
It’s a fascinating place to visit. I’ve been there twice, and look forward to my next trip, though it’s a bit inaccessible if you haven’t got a car. Beware of one particularly potent piece of culture shock: when you enter the Souvenir Shop, which is close to the entrance, the whole building is only about ten feet deep.
Patrick McGoohan was introduced to Portmeirion in 1960 and loved the place immediately. He spoke on a number of occasions of setting a programme inside it, and when the concept of The Prisoner came up, the selection of Portmeirion as a setting must have been utterly irresistible. If the incarnation of the Village on Earth did not exist, how could it possibly have been created?
The advantages of Portmeirion were not limited to its other-worldly, chocolate box appearance, its strangeness and charm, but also included its virtual isolation. On Earth, it is technically part of Penrhyndeudraeth, from which it may be reached via a narrow, woods-lined road, and is only two miles from the coastal resort of Portmadoc (Porthmadog), but in itself it is a small, confined area, surrounded by woods, built onto the side of a small ridge paralleling the coast.
It looks out upon the Dwyryd estuary and Cardigan Bay, with the rolling hills of Mid-Wales as a background. It is in sight of no other community, and its position enables exterior and aerial shots to emphasise the sense of being very far away from anywhere else, a sense that is compounded once you walk through the arched entrance.
Once inside Portmeirion, even on a summer’s day with tourists milling, you feel as if you have left the world behind. Quarter that number of tourists, deck them all in the eccentric, vivid Village ‘uniform’, and the sense of otherness increases exponentially.
It is the ideal backdrop to the external, holiday camp image of the Village, and in it’s decorative appearance, fussy, delicate, ornate, the equally-ideal contrast to the cold, utilitarian, brutal interiors of the Village hierarchy: a perfect visual metaphor for the organisation of the Village in its entirety.
What could have replaced it if Portmeirion did not exist? In all the years since the series was broadcast I have never myself, nor through the material produced by others, discovered any real setting that could, in any way match Portmeirion. Had it not existed, could it have been created as a studio ‘reality’? Given the technical capabilities of the era, no. It’s very obvious in the series where studio-based exteriors are being used: the cafe with the tables on the grassy bank, the rose walk. They stand out too much.
Nor, under any kind of Sixties TV budget could a remotely convincing ‘Village’ have been built. It’s totality, the sense of a real geography connecting the various familiar settings – as demonstrated so fully in Checkmate – couldn’t have been conveyed so well from a series of studio sets. And it is precisely the atmosphere that having a real-life ‘Village’ to hand, an anchor in reality and an exercise in implausibility at one and the same time, that was crucial to the series’ success.
Throughout the initial broadcast, audiences were eager to know where the programme was filmed, but in accordance with the shooting agreement required by Williams-Ellis, Portmeirion was not disclosed on screen until the final episode, in a special caption of thanks. Portmeirion owes a great deal of its world-wide popularity to its association with The Prisoner, but not as much as The Prisoner owes to the ambitions and obsessions of Bertram Clough Williams-Ellis.