As the pilot, ‘Arrival’ is the most complex and information intense of all the episodes, its task being to introduce so many novel ideas and concepts, virtually all previously unknown, nor encountered. Not just a parallel world, but one that many might never imagine could exist. Just as ‘Arrival’ introduces the viewer to the world of ‘The Prisoner’, having to condense and compact many of the ingredients that will be more fully explored in forthcoming episodes, so this chapter devoted to the opening episode attempts to encapsulate the major themes, and the implications so vividly portrayed. Although ‘Arrival’ is of a mere 50-minute duration, to fully appreciate, this chapter is amongst the longest, as I endeavour to dissect, define, consider, and discuss, as we seek to evaluate all that we will encounter. There are a number of recurring themes, two being Orwell’s ‘1984’ and the question of individuality, for example. Both feature in a number of chapters. There is so much to consider and reflect upon in this unique, innovatory, and imaginative series.


“Man is born Free, yet everywhere is in chains.”  Jean-Jacques Rousseau. 

 “I’ve seen Lew, I’ve got the money… for…that idea that we’ve talked about for years.” Patrick McGoohan to producer David Tomblin. 

“It will be absolutely essential… to see the first segment for an understanding of the series…. I’ve worked in a top security job and I’ve had enough so I resign.” Patrick McGoohan.

“Arrival’ is the germinal script, which sets up the situation and launches us into the Village, the admission ticket to the world of Number 6.” George Markstein.

“I locked myself in a room with George Markstein for one month and we came out with the first episode which Patrick took and embellished. The style of the series was his baby” Producer David Tomblin.


“Such Ideas Are Dangerous.”

If the pen is mightier than the sword, then beware an idea, for that single inspirational flash may be the spark that changes the world, for there is no power on Earth that can stop an idea whose time has come. Patrick Joseph McGoohan had one such inspired revelation.


And so it begins. Cue thunder.

Darkened sky. Menacing. Storm clouds. A crash of thunder. Then another. Merging with the high-pitched scream of a jet engine. Instant cut to a vast, deserted, runway, stretching to infinity. The shriek of the jet fades to absolute silence. Then, faintly at first but rapidly rising in volume and urgency, the driving, strident, theme music begins, giving a thrill of excitement. From the horizon, a tiny speck hurtles at lightning speed toward the camera. It explodes into the lens with the crack of the sound barrier being broken. Shock cut to the driver. Grim determination writ in expression. Hair swept back by slip-stream. Face taut against wind pressure. Clearly a man intent on action.


It is day. From high above, the panorama of central London. The Lotus 7 flashes across Westminster Bridge. The camera zooms in to pick the ant-like sports-car as it purposefully aims at the entrance to an underground car park, engine screaming up through the gears. Taking a ticket, the barrier lifts, a symbolic gesture, and he is through. Ahead, the doors. Marked ‘WAY OUT’. (This might denote the leaving of ‘Danger Man’, or this new series will be ‘way out’, a term then in use indicating something was ‘extremely unconventional, unusual, or avant-garde.’) In a second even more emphatically symbolic action, the man decisively parts the two doors and strides though. Rapid strides down a corridor, in and out of pools of light, focus on his intense steely expression. A crash of thunder as, doors flung back, arms outstretched for a moment, more symbolism, his presence fills the room. His gaze, his target before him, behind the barricade of a desk, an archetypal bureaucrat, mentally reeling as the man vents with force. He gesticulates angrily. The language would be strong if we could hear. Instead, each dynamic gesture is punctuated by a clap of thunder. Shielded by his desk, the bald-headed man says nothing. His unwelcome visitor removes an envelope from his pocket, and forcefully crashes it onto the desk, shattering crockery. Task completed; he storms out…


This introductory sequence possesses great energy and power. The viewer’s senses are assaulted as never before. Rapid cuts, the like of which were unknown at that time, convey with both speed and clarity the scenario’s initial premise. In effect, this entirety of ‘setting the scene’, at no point utilises a single utterance of dialogue.


Again, with great speed and quick cuts, many so brief as to be fleeting. First to the green, yellow-nosed sports-car ascending the ramp from the car park, the nose of a second vehicle edges in an unassuming manner from left. Now intercutting to a forced perspective view of row upon row of filing cabinets that recede to the horizon. Seemingly endless. A drawer opens of its own volition. The camera zooms focussing onto a filing card. It has the man’s face, and from corner to corner, two lines of the letter ‘X’ intersect, we deduce signifying closure in some way. Then, we see, the front of the drawer as automatically, it too closes, the single word ‘Resigned’ written starkly in capitols. Cut to Bayswater Road. The Lotus angrily darts out from behind a hearse, overtaking, engine in full cry. Northern bound: Park Lane. Now observed and discretely trailed by the hearse. Crashing down through the gears. Handbrake. Rachet. Home. He packs, obviously preparing to continue his journey. We cut to the hearse, now parked near, from which a sombre, cadaverous looking man in black has emerged and approaches the door. Within: packing, brochures, passport, a jet of vapour hisses through the keyhole. He loses consciousness. Fade to black.


He awakes, a change in tempo. The sense of urgency is replaced by less frantic camera activity. Having set up the initial framework, the anger, the resignation, the abduction, with great economy and speed, we now are to be surprised by what happens next. The man has woken in his home, on the couch where he lost consciousness. Slowly he rises, makes his way to the window, and draws the Venetian blind. The compelling music that accompanied these early scenes has been replaced by a far slower, gentler, softer piece. He stands in shock, for a moment. Then the viewer. In place of the expected, familiar, London scene, we have what is a classic perspective of Portmeirion.  The main title appears, ‘Arrival’.


Thus, the introduction to the pilot episode explodes onto our screens. Our senses stormed, we too, the audience, are also taken prisoner. The intrigue, the mystery, the dazzling cascade of imagery, the provocative and perplexing ideas, the surreal elements, are forcibly beginning to invade our minds and readily exert their hold and so grip us tight.


For fourteen of the subsequent sixteen episodes, a condensed version of this introduction will form part of an opening sequence that will act as a reminder of the series premise, a narrative recall, whilst here it is the first step in the unfolding drama itself. From ‘Chimes of Big Ben’ onwards, a second series of brief scenes, virtually all, bar one, struck from this episode, accompanied by a ‘call-and-response’ voiceover, will form the standard introduction, ensuring we are reminded of the series intrinsic ethos.


 “The best pilot script I have ever read.” Patrick McGoohan

When interviewed for a 1984 documentary, McGoohan, confirmed, “The best pilot script I have ever read. I asked them if they would mind if I put in a couple of things which they could throw out if they didn’t like… we just went a little further in certain areas, the political area for instance.”  Patrick McGoohan.


The purpose of any opening episode is to introduce the characters, the situation, the location, the key themes, and give a sense of the series framework within which the premise will be established. It has to ‘set the scene’, define the genre, and enable the viewer to become familiar with what they believe or imagine how the series will unfold, whilst broadly portraying its storylines and the general direction of the series arc. Being so radically different to anything that had gone before, this was a serious business for ‘Arrival’. To the credit of Markstein and Tomblin, guided and aided by McGoohan, they triumphed. Nevertheless, inevitably this introductory episode must by definition pose far more questions than it answers, as it seeks to both portray a world that the viewer has never encountered the like of before, the obvious challenges presented to the central character, also all the artfully concealed or hinted at ramifications.


Traditionally a pilot will enjoy a larger budget, significantly more preparation, and a higher level of both care and attention than what is to follow. As ‘The Prisoner’ would be exploring territory that would effectively be virgin ground, arguably creating a new genre, with its eclectic mix of psychological games, philosophical conundrums, social commentary, in addition to its allegorical slant, the deeper themes of mystery, and above all, the necessity that the audience should be a part of the process, by questioning what they see. Therefore, the opening story was at the time reputed to be the most expensive hour of television ever produced.  Unlike any other then current action/adventure series, the Prisoner, with all that the pilot intended to introduce, portray, and explore, had far more intricate ideas and mind-bending concepts to introduce and establish, if not explain. What singled out this introductory episode by comparison with virtually all that had gone before was, whereas most examples might be able to convey their concept quite rapidly, here the process continues until the last intense frame. As a result, when the first cut was assembled it ran to some 90 minutes. Given the audience were being presented with a scenario and a degree of complexity which had never been attempted, let alone seen before, the challenge was to cut the material meaningfully into its allocated 50-minute running time. McGoohan turned to experienced editor Geoff Foot, editor for David Lean’s 1952 Oscar winning film, ‘The Sound Barrier’. Given that McGoohan was very keen to be involved in every aspect of production, between the two of them they made a fine job of condensing the material, the final product so fast-moving it took the audience by storm.


Let us embark on an exploration and analysis of ‘Arrival’, as we need to fully understand all we see and hear to make sense of what is to follow as we explore the first of seventeen episodes that comprise ‘The Prisoner’ cycle.  But before we return to the moment after the newly incarcerated abductee surveys in shock the view from his window, we should introduce Don Chaffey, who not only was a noted film director, (‘Jason and the Argonauts’) but had directed McGoohan in several episodes of ‘Danger Man’. The two had become friends; so naturally, in mid-June 1966 McGoohan approached Chaffey with a proposal, telling him of his new series. Chaffey was about to film in Ireland and told the actor, “I said: ‘Fine, you do what you like with it!’ He said: ‘No, I’d like you to direct the first episodes to set the style of it.’ I just refused point blank and went off to Ireland.” However, McGoohan gave the scripts to Don’s daughter, she read them and told her father, “You’ve got to read these, they’re compulsive viewing. I reckon you’re going to have eleven million people loving to hate you every Sunday night if you make them.” The Irish project wrapped in mid-August, so allowing Chaffey to sign up. The location footage for the first four episodes, the cinematic look, is attributable to his direction. Shot in sequence, ‘Arrival’, ‘Free for All’, then, ‘Checkmate’ and ‘Dance of the Dead’.


Prior to the September 1966 Portmeirion shoot, the opening credit scenes were shot toward the end of August, including the resignation office set, the artificially low roof reinforcing an impressionistic appearance. According to writer Andrew Pixley, “The office set was built into the location, with the low roof forcing the impressionistic look.” Markstein performs a Hitchcockian cameo, appearing as the man behind the desk. Tomblin recalled, “He looked like a bureaucrat and somebody that would be in an office, and so he took the part.” In 1979 Markstein told Six of One, “A quite childish desire to do a Hitchcock. I also have a yen to play a villain, but above all it seemed reasonable and fitting that, as creator of the whole fantasy, I should be the man in the centre of the web.” Many people wonder, what is McGoohan saying as he hands in his resignation. In the 1990s this writer was involved in the hearing-impaired community, so asked a friend, who had been deaf from birth, if they could lip-read. They relayed to me, “Right, you and me are finished, I’m through! I’ve…”


With all the care and preparation that had been invested in the pilot episode, it is clear to see the results on the screen. We pick up from the shock the man, (whom we will now refer to as the ‘P’), as he struggles to comprehend exactly what has befallen him. A resignation. The loss of consciousness. Awakening in his familiar surroundings, until, a very unfamiliar and disorienting view from the window. Now to explore this strange new world. This is constructed both intelligently and imaginatively in a succession of scenes that by degrees develops and introduces us to the ‘Village’ and its social structure.  Because ‘Arrival’ is the opening episode, and as such contains a wealth of essential information, so carefully constructed and by degrees revealed as it progresses, we should examine each of the four acts individually, briefly reviewing each, then as a whole to summarise.


Act 1.  “What’s the name of this place?” The Prisoner.

The P gazes uncomprehendingly out of the window, the amphitheatre of a village enclosing him, a neat metaphor emphasising his incarceration. But architecture the like of which never seen before. Then his expression of bewilderment, shared by the viewer. After eighty-six episodes of ‘Danger Man’ screened over some six years, the viewer too had become well accustomed and familiar with that series framework, is now equally as surprised, disoriented, as puzzled as McGoohan’s protagonist.


He turns, confirming that the room is identical to the one in his London residence. Everything. He rushes to the door, purposefully exits, better to get a sense of his surroundings. He emerges onto a terrace. He sees more of the same. Early morning, silence. Empty. In a determined manner he walks under an arch into a square. Yet more multi-colour distinctive but not unattractive buildings jostle around the open space. To one side, a tower. He glances up. A figure peers down at him. Action. With speed he ascends. Face to face with the watcher. It is a stone statue. The brief succession of disorientating camera angles symbolically mirrors the man’s confusion. He is bemused, as are we. This is the first indication that all may not be as it might seem, a hint of what is to come.


From his high vantage point, he looks about, even more perplexed. An entire village, the sea. From above him a bell is struck, in the distance a gaily coloured parasol is being opened. The village is coming to life. With the bell chiming, he descends, down steps, across the deserted lawn and piazza as the credits are screened. Four well-known guest stars, a supporting cast of quality, and he arrives at the cafeteria. The waitress is preparing to open for business. The tiles are being hosed down.

Waitress: “We’ll be open in a minute.”

P: “What’s the name of this place?”

Waitress: “You’re new here, aren’t you?”

P: “Where?”

Waitress: “You want breakfast?”

P: “Where is this?”

Only then, after deflecting pointed questions three times, a consent to answer.

Waitress: “The Village?”

P: “Yes.”

Waitress: “I’ll see if coffee’s ready.”


Deflection again. It’s an old – but clever – trick. When being asked a question, ask one in return. It regains the initiative. Beloved of politicians and sharp-minded thinkers, either adopt this strategy or deflect and retort with an unconnected topic. The P’s persistence finally yields the fact there is a phone nearby.


With no other signs of life stirring, the P walks to the phone location, a candy-striped scalloped awning covers a stand on which a cordless phone resides. ‘For information, lift and press’, and a large penny-farthing symbol in evidence. No coin box, no dial, numbers, or further information to assist. Picking it up he hears a dialling tone, Pressing the connection, a velvet soothing-toned, but still business sounding female voice.

Girl operator: “Number please?”

P: “What exchange is this?”

Operator: “Number please?”

P: “I want to make a call.”

Operator: “Local calls only. What is your number, sir?” (Her voice is still correct but there is an edge, her patience is wearing thin.)


© David Barrie 2024. All rights reserved.