I believe anyone who wants to write spy fiction should watch three things: the first is a Bond film to show how the profession is glamorized, the second is The Sandbaggers to show how the profession really is, and the third is The Prisoner to drive you insane. The Prisoner isn't a mind-numbingly cracked series, at least until the final couple of episodes, but it is a profoundly strange one. It's an adult Alice in Wonderland where British government (and government-in-general) is satirized along with society.
Yet, it's not the funny kind of satire. It's the kind of satire where everything has the perverse quality of a nightmare while remaining sickeningly bright and colorful. Imagine waking up one day in a world where everything existed at the whim of another person and your entire existence depended on whether or not you chose to obey said person's commands. Arguably, that's society already but we have the comfortable illusion that the laws and rules of civilization protect us.
|The Prisoner discovers you can't win in a democracy controlled by madmen. I've felt that way myself.|
The premise of The Prisoner is a decidedly high concept one: a secret agent resigns from his job at the British government and is gassed at his apartment. He wakes up in a garish penal colony run by a man called Number Two (who charges actors once, sometimes twice an episode).
It is a prison with no bars, since it's on an island, and everything the inmates could want is provided for. Number Six is told he can leave if he provides his captors with information, why he resigned, but it's incredibly unlikely this is true. Ironically, the truth wouldn't help him since they already know what he told his superiors at his resignation (it was a matter of conscience).
They just didn't believe him.
I'd love to say every episode of The Prisoner is as awesome as its wonderful premise deserves but, unfortunately, this is not the case. The original number of episodes was supposed to be less than the actual run and it shows. For example, there's an episode which is a spy parody and another that's 90% a generic Western. These were obviously crafted as fill-in episodes and the difference in quality from the other episodes is tremendous.
I recommend everyone take the time to either buy these episodes on DVD or otherwise watch them. I saw the series first at my local library on VHS and eventually purchased them for my very own. There's a reason this series is remembered as one of the great works of television and if you haven't heard of it, you have now.