During my misspent youth, good stuff was hard to find. I walked the earth with a long list of books, movies, television, and comics that I hoped to one day come across. Looking back, I’m not sure how I knew any of it existed at all. Fan-zines maybe? Comic book letters columns? Couldn’t have been friends. Nobody liked me in the twentieth century.
Near the top of my list of obscure shows that I prowled the basement video stores of Boston for, was “Secret Agent”, AKA “Danger Man”. (I’m going to call it “Secret Agent” because “Danger Man” is embarrassingly bad as names for shows go. Strangely, “Danger Mouse” is just fine. I don’t make the rules.)
Why was I hunting for a show so old, it was filmed when life was still black and white? Well, it was a long time ago, damn it! There were less than three decades of TV history at the time, and most of it was “Hee-Haw” and “Adam 12”. If a show was even remotely genre, chances are the geeks of the world were on the same hunt I was.
So, yes, I was desperate. Now, genre fans are flooded with media in every form. They can choose, from a tremendous catalog of material, what to eviscerate on the internet for a gentle deviation from source material meant to increase accessibility for those who had a social life in their teens. Back in the day, we watched the damn “Incredible Hulk” on Friday nights, even if Hulk wasn’t all that strong, couldn’t talk, never fought a super villain and Bruce Banner was named David. It didn’t disappoint us every single week at all.
Also, apart from the desperation for anything remotely genre, because by then I wasn’t quite as desperate thanks to “Batman the Animated Series” and “Star Trek the Next Generation”, I wanted to see “Secret Agent: because of “The Prisoner”.
Okay, so what’s “The Prisoner”?
Sometime in the early 80’s, my girlfriend told me about a crazy show about a former secret agent. He’s kidnapped and wakes up in a pseudo-Victorian island village, called, um, “The Village”. In this mysterious all-inclusive resort, no one has a name. Everyone is referred to by a number. It stars Patrick McGoohan, as Number Six. The leader of the Island, Number One, of course, has one question for him. “Why did you quit?”. Number Six won’t say, because that would have ruined the show.
“The Prisoner” was a British import, like Doctor Who. Be braced, because like Doctor Who (of the time), its special effects were slightly better than what my eight-year-old self used to pull off with crayons and a big cardboard box. So, well, those who tried to escape The Village were captured by an angry weather balloon. It would bounce behind them and roar, eventually catching up to them and …never mind. Look, no one could escape the island is all you need to know.
Also, it did look kind of cool. And it did lend a certain surreal horror to the show. But it was also a weather balloon.
This brings us back to “Secret Agent”. Well, maybe it doesn’t exactly bring us back. But here we are, back anyway. It’s a segue because I say it’s a segue, alright. Okay, well the thing is, Patrick McGoohan wasn’t just Number Six, he was also the secret agent of “Secret Agent”. AKA, John Drake, who…worked for NATO? Do they have their own secret agents? Sure, why not.
“Secret Agent” was developed as the sixties spy genre engine was just turning over. Ian Flemming was even on board with it for a spell. It was a surprise to me to find it preceded the Bond franchise by a couple years. Maybe not to you, but maybe you’re just a big old smarty pants. Or maybe I’m more easily surprised than you are.
In any case, “Secret Agent” was pretty much what you would think, as shows go. Actually, no, it was better. You underestimate the quality of TV in the 1960’s. The era gave us the Twilght Zone and Star Trek, not to mention The Fugitive and freaking Dobie Gillis, which is a teen show that stands up to this day. So, come on down off your high horse with your “The Wire” and “Game of Thrones.”
Now, this will be hard to grasp, but there was a time when TV shows didn’t have much continuity from one episode to the next. Captain Kirk did his Kirking around, got beat up, possessed by an alien, kissed Uhura under dubious circumstances, and next week it was all re-set to status quo. Uhura announced hailing frequencies open without a hint of awkwardness.
Being a reader of long involved SF series and comics, I loved interconnected stories and characters that developed over years. That wasn’t much of a thing on TV, but I wanted it to be. There was a hint, dare I say, even an implication, that “The Prisoner” was a sequel to “Secret Agent.”
I love that. I love the idea of revisiting one of the original, straight-up spy shows in a way that digs into the basic machinery of paranoia that drives the genre.
Is John Drake the guy who wakes up in a Victorian beachfront wonderland as Number Six? I’m going to say yes, because that’s the answer I like. The shows shared a lot of the same creators. I’m far too lazy to go searching to see who owns the rights to what, but I suspect that there were legal reasons not to say clearly that “The Prisoner” is a sequel to “Secret Agent”. I think, creatively it works well to leave it ambiguous as well. Spies should have secrets.
The good news is you can sort it out for yourself without spending decades waiting for them to appear in your life. Both shows are over at amazon prime. Go have a look.
Have a happy day.