The Big Seven

© Leslie Glen.

From the very beginnings of Prisoner fandom, one of the most talked-about topics of conversation was the vexed question of which of the seventeen episodes of The Prisoner its creator Patrick McGoohan most admired. The debate has raged on and on and with no sign of a let-up because the late Patrick McGoohan never revealed the names of those seven episodes - The Big Seven, I call them - or in which screening order he would have placed them. Or did he? Now, for the first time on the Unmutual website, I believe I have discovered those Big Seven episodes.

On a personal level, I had always naively assumed that McGoohan's choice of his seven episodes would have been the first five partially shot on location in Portmeirion during that very warm and brilliantly sunny September of 1966. Those five episodes were, in broadcast order, "Arrival", "The Chimes of Big Ben", "Free For All", "Dance of the Dead" and "Checkmate". The two remaining episodes that Patrick McGoohan would have chosen I deduced to be "Once upon a Time" and "Fall Out", simply because of the fact that they were both written by him and that they concluded the series. How wrong I was!

Back in 1995, and during the autumn of that year, I discovered that the European premiere of Braveheart, a film Patrick McGoohan was starring in, would take place in Stirling, an appropriate choice because it was there that a famous battle had taken place in which the Scots had defeated the English. (I always considered Braveheart to be a sort of Wild West film but set in Scotland and with the Scottish and English replacing the cowboys and Indians.) Stirling, located in the central belt of Scotland, was only a 90-minute train journey for me and I reasoned that I should travel there that particular Sunday, in the slimmest hope of maybe seeing McGoohan and perhaps even get an interview off him and ask him about his Big Seven episodes. As it turned out, I did indeed fleetingly see him as he entered the Stirling University building where the premiere was being held but I never ever did get that elusive interview with him.

Metaphorically turning the clock forward to 2012, I came across an interview in David "Stimpy" Stimpson's excellent quarterly Prisoner fanzine The Tally Ho in which Patrick McGoohan had been interviewed by Tom Soter in 1984 and where four of the Big Seven episodes are mentioned. They dealt with McGoohan's favourite themes: identity ("The Schizoid Man") and trust ("Checkmate") to elections ("Free For All", written by McGoohan) and education ("The General"). To directly quote him from the interview: "I had only wanted seven. Today it would be a mini-series, ideally." Therefore, I believe that these four episodes are at the centre of the Big Seven. And what of the remaining three? Clearly, the pilot episode "Arrival" would have to be there at the beginning. As McGoohan himself said of this episode in a separate interview: "I think that is the best pilot script I have ever read."

And the two episodes to conclude McGoohan's original vision of a mini-series consisting of just seven? I believe that they would have to be the two-part finale episodes "Once upon a Time" and "Fall Out" because not only do they conclude the series but also the fact that Patrick McGoohan wrote them and that the first of these is heavily autobiographical. As to the screening order of my Big Seven, I would logically opt for their original telecast order:-

1. Arrival
2. Free For All
3. The Schizoid Man
4. The General
5. Checkmate
6. Once upon a Time
7. Fall Out

There you have it. I am not entirely one-hundred-percent certain that I am totally correct in my assumptions because, as far as I am aware, Patrick McGoohan never actually named his seven episodes, or in which screening order he would have placed them. In conclusion, therefore, perhaps it is only right that this topic should remain open to debate, just like McGoohan's marvellous creation, The Prisoner.

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