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The Prisoner
Episode Studies by Clayton Barr

The Prisoner: Checkmate The Prisoner
TV episode
Written by Gerald Kelsey
Directed by Don Chaffey
Original air date: November 24, 1967


Number 6 becomes a pawn in a human game of chess.


Read the complete story summary at Wikipedia


Notes from the Prisoner chronology


This episode would seem to take place after "Free for All", in which Number 6 tells the villagers he will find out who are the prisoners and who are the warders, and successfully puts into practice a method of deducing who in the Village is one or the other in this episode.


Didja Notice?


The chess champion is Number 14. Number 6 befriends him, seeing he is a bit rebellious of Village rules, and he learns from the man how to distinguish the prisoners from the warders through their attitudes of arrogance or subservience. Several different Number 14s appear in later stories.


The chess champion's opponent in the game is a man called Number 116. In "Dance of the Dead", Number 6 stole the lab coat with badge 116 on it. In "The General", a female nurse wears the number.


Number 6 assumes the position of the white queen's pawn in the human chess game. This may be a nod to Lewis Carroll's 1871 novel Through the Looking-Glass in which Alice, at one point, becomes the White Queen's pawn.


It's possible to play along with the chess moves in the game until about 5:22 on the DVD, when Number 116 announces the move "Bishop to Knight4." But, from the previous plays, there is no way for him to move a bishop to a Knight4 space. After this, the human chess game does not make much sense; bits may have been cut from the scene for time.


    At 5:46 on the DVD, Number 2 is conversing with a man badged as Number 56, who is observing the human chess game over the surveillance cameras. In "Arrival", one of the storekeeper's two observed numbers was Number 56 (the other being Number 19, which the storekeeper is still wearing in this very episode). The most odd thing though is that, near the end of the episode, one of Number 6's cohorts in the escape attempt from the Village (at 44:31) is also wearing a Number 56 badge! The Number 56 badge has appeared on a number of individuals throughout the series.

   This episode is also the final appearance of Number 19, the storekeeper. Different storekeepers are seen in later episodes. 


The Butler is following the game from the balcony of the Green Dome, apparently mimicking each move on a standard chess board in front of him. Is he doing this just for his own entertainment? Could he be conducting his own psychological analysis of the participants based on their moves?


The scene from 6:25-6:33 on the DVD implies that the chess champion's megaphone is tied in wirelessly with several of the loudspeakers around the grass playing-board area.


The rook of the human chess game rebels after several plays and is removed to the hospital for "treatment". He is Number 53 and one of the prisoners Number 6 recruits for his escape plan. He is generally referred to as "the Rook" throughout the episode.


At 10:05 on the DVD, a storekeeper places a doll in the display window; notice that it is the same sort of doll (a peg wooden doll) that greeted Number 6, holding the card "your home from home", in his cottage in "Arrival".


Number 2 allows Number 6 to accompany him to the hospital to see how Number 53 is faring after being taken away during the chess game. Number 2 informs him that 53 is being treated in a manner based on Pavlov's experiments. This is a reference to the experiments of Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov, who measured the responses of dogs to various stimuli and found that, with repetition, dogs would anticipate a reward, such as food, when exposed to a repeated stimuli preceding the reward. His experiments became colloquially known as the "Pavlov's dog" experiment.


The doctor who treats Number 53 is Number 23. Two different Number 23s appeared in "Arrival" and "Free for All" as two different Labour Exchange Managers. Not to mention the Number 23s who appear in "The Chimes of Big Ben" and "Hammer Into Anvil".


The nurse who assists Number 23 in Number 51.


One of the men sitting at the fountain at 15:02 on the DVD is Number 62. A different(?) Number 62 appears in the aversion therapy chamber in "A Change of Mind".


After looking at Number 62, Number 6 crosses out an "8" on his newspaper chessboard. What does "8" have to do with 62? And, if you look closely, you'll see he's actually crossed off two 8's.


As he converses with Number 53 in the garden at 18:44 on the DVD, Number 6 turns to look at the human chess game currently being played...and he is one of the pawns in the game! The editor used footage of Number 6's earlier game and inserted it here!


The painter approached by Number 6 and Number 53 at 20:08 on the DVD is Number 42. In "Dance of the Dead", Number 6's old colleague, Roland Walter Dutton, was Number 42. Dutton seemingly died in that episode, so it makes some sense that the number might be reused...but so soon? And another Number 42 appears in "A Change of Mind".


At the hospital, Number 6 is given a word association test by Number 39.


During the word association test, to the word "hope", Number 6 responds, "anchor". When Number 39 questions the response, he tells her the Hope and Anchor is a pub he used to drink at. He is probably referring to the pub by that name in the borough of Islington in London. (However, David Stimpson points out in his The Prisoner Dusted Down that there is a also a pub by that name in Wanlip, Leistershire, in walking distance of Ratcliffe College where Patrick McGoohan attened classes.)


When Number 39 states the word "free", Number 6 responds "for all". This may be a reference to the episode "Free for All", in which Number 6 ran for the post of Number 2. (Of course, "free for all" is also a phrase used to mean a disorganized fight or argument.)


The woman who is brainwashed into falling in love with Number 6 is Number 8. This was also the number of Nadia, the woman who helped Number 6 "escape" in "The Chimes of Big Ben" and turned out to be working for the powers-that-be. And The Kid in "Living in Harmony" is also Number 8.


Looking at the psychological reports on Number 6 and finding him to have "aggressive tendencies", Number 23 recommends a leukotomy on him to Number 2. "Leukotomy" was the original term for what is now known as a lobotomy, the severing of the connections to the prefrontal cortex of the brain as a treatment for some kinds of psychoses, mostly performed in the 1940s-50s and now largely unpracticed and considered unnecessarily harsh and cruel treatment more ably treated by medications.


At 32:57 on the DVD, the door in Number 6's apartment opens to allow Number 8 to exit before she has even turned around to face it! Perhaps the door is programmed to open at curfew time (as was announced about one minute earlier) if a resident still has a guest present in their home.


The shot of two men playing with a toy boat and sand fort at 33:11 on the DVD also appeared in "The Chimes of Big Ben".


At 34:32 on the DVD, the umbrella that was next to the woman sunbathing in a purple bathing suit just seconds earlier has disappeared.


The boat that answers Number 6's distress call is the MS Polotska. "MS" stands for "motor ship". This same boat later appears as the gunrunners' boat in "Many Happy Returns". The real boat used for these episodes was a privately-owned boat rented by the production called the Breda.


On his distress call, Number 6 claims to be TransOcean flight D-250. TransOcean appears to be a fictional airline for the story, but there was a TransOcean Airlines from 1946-1960.


During Number 6's attempted escape, Number 56 in the Control Room is working with Number 269. A different Number 269 appears in "The Schizoid Man".


Number 6 punches one of the lighthouse guardians and sends him flying out the open archway of the tower at 42:39 on the DVD. A splash is heard to indicate the man landed in the water. But various shots of the tower in this and other episodes does not appear to show a body of water anywhere near close enough to catch a falling body! I guess the producers threw in the sound effect because they didn't want it to appear that Number 6 had cold-bloodedly just killed someone!


The Number 2 in this episode would seem to be a black belt in some form of martial art, as he is wearing one over his martial arts uniform. He is also seen to break a wooden board in half with one hand chop.


At the end of the episode, the Butler places the queen's pawn back on the chessboard in Number 2's office, indicative of Number 6's return to the Village (he was the queen's pawn in the human chess game at the beginning of the episode).

Unanswered Questions

What happened to Number 8, who was brainwashed into falling in love with Number 6? Was she afterwards de-brainwashed? Is she still in the Village?

Did Number 6 ever trust any of his cohorts in the escape plan ever again after they betrayed him? They had a good reason after all, Number 6 is something of an arrogant ass, suggesting to them he might be one of the guardians!

Memorable Dialog

he's the champion.wav
cult of the individual.wav
I'm on my side.wav
you must be new here.wav
simple psychology.wav
everybody has a plan.wav
the blacks and the whites.wav
one must learn to conform.wav
curfew time.wav
this time tomorrow, we'll be free.wav
rook to queen's pawn six.wav
thanking you for having us.wav
good old-fashioned brute force.wav
back tomorrow on the chessboard.wav

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