Could it have been worse?

A look at the remake history, by Rick Davy (first published in "Tally Ho" January 2014).

Whilst reviews of The Pris6ner 2009 TV remake have not always been positive, it has always been my view that, whatever you think of the finished episodes or performances, it was a positive thing that it was made. It could have turned out better, and I and others have criticisms that I won’t bore readers with here, but it could have turned out a lot worse and the version written by Bill Gallagher and starring Jim Caviezel and Ian McKellen that we saw on UK screens almost 4 years ago at least put an end to the constant rumour mill. One of the other positives is that simply by being made it stopped a lot of other far more inferior works hitting the screen. Opportunity missed or embarrassment saved? I’ll let you decide as we run through some of the many aborted attempts to remake “The Prisoner”….

The first time anything resembling a sequel or remake of “The Prisoner” was mooted was a lot nearer the finishing of the series than one would expect, with a TV pilot script commissioned called “Noises Off”, which was to be the first episode of a series entitled “The Outsider” penned by “The General” writer Lewis Greifer in 1968. The series was to star McGoohan as ‘wandering tramp’ Johnny Quill, each week he would wander into a new place and explore a new Prisoneresque theme. However, with “The Prisoner” not the success at the time that McGoohan had maybe hoped, all plans for any ITC series of this kind were shelved. Wisely so in my opinion, as such a series would only be a poor extension of the original.

In 1985, 17 years later, CBS the American broadcasting giant who had purchased the original series from Lew Grade back in 1967, had decided that it wanted to make a new series and commissioned Roderick Taylor (“Otherworld”) to write a script. His work, “The Edge of Within” is a mish-mash of ill thought out grim ideas, more akin to “Blade Runner” than “The Prisoner” with The Village replaced by The City and the lead character the son of Number Six. The idea was rightly shelved. Permanently.

In 1993 at a packed hotel in London where fans were celebrating the series’ 25th anniversary, a telegram arrived from one Patrick McGoohan stating, as he always did, that he would be unable to attend the event. He added that he was working on his latest series, entitled “ESCAPE”. Would this be the promised sequel or remake? The project and title would never be mentioned again. Polygram were the then copyright holders of “The Prisoner” and at a Prisoner convention in Portmeirion the same year, Mr Frank Ratcliffe of Polygram, in front of a BBC Wales film crew, proudly announced; “Polygram is moving ahead with the project, and Patrick McGoohan will be involved from beginning to end”. The regional TV company Meridian also contacted writers about a possible remake. One, Stephen Gallagher, would later recall he “wouldn’t touch it with a bargepole, if there was one remake you could not take on and win it would be this one”.

In 1996 Ellie Presner was drafted in to help McGoohan with his remake script, which was finalised and underwent further drafts, which were then sent to Propoganda Films (a subsiduary of Polygram). No more details ever surfaced about either of these projects.

Simon West was another name to be linked with a remake. The Director had recruited writer Christopher McQuarrie after McGoohan’s own screenplay was thought to be too “un-Prisoner-like”. McQuarrie would promise characters true to the original series and the name linked to playing the lead character was Will Smith. Whilst this West-led project seemed to be taking shape with his new writer, McGoohan was still keen on his own ideas being which would ideally suited, he said, to the Directorial and acting talents of Mel Gibson. Again, for reasons which have never been established, neither project came to fruition.

In 2005 and 2006, as discussions began behind the scenes at various studios and production companies that either a series remake or a movie could be a possibility, several names were put forward. It was heavily rumoured that then Doctor Who actor Christopher Eccleston (rumours denied by his agent) would be cast in the role of Number Six in a series to be written by Matthew Graham, fresh from his success with the BBC series “Life on Mars”. Without wishing to pigeonhole either individuals other work, a gritty northern lead character dealing with dreamlike situations does not a Prisoner remake make. SKY, originally co-partners with AMC on a remake, pulled out (later to be replaced by ITV) stating; “We love the original Prisoner series but on this occasion we have decided not to proceed with our co-production partners.”

A movie was also still on the cards with news that Universal Pictures held movie rights, with The Unmutual Website (with later Starlog Magazine) announcing that Christopher Nolan would be the Director; "It's still early days on that…. David and Janet Peoples are off writing the script and hopefully coming up with something great." Nolan would leave the project in 2009.

With the confirmation from AMC that the remake series was in production, but that Patrick McGoohan would not be involved, the internet was awash with statements that the project would never happen, not surprising given the long history of unmade scripts and unfulfilled promises, but happen it did and next time you think poorly about the Pris6ner 2009 series remake, just think of what could have been.

*Stephen Gallagher, mentioned above, has written a blog piece about turning it down HERE.

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