4 May 2003 | janemerrow
Don't let B/W scare you, this series is better than Bond!
Patrick McGoohan (The Prisoner, Scanners, Braveheart) stars as Secret Agent John Drake in this highly entertaining series full of quick dialogue, twist endings, and inventive storylines that would be right at home on Primetime TV now. McGoohan's subtle yet intense acting and well-choreographed fight scenes, as well as minorities and women in the roles of intelligent, important people are far ahead of their time and worth watching again and again. The characters have a fair amount of depth for a show that's primarily "us-against-them"; the bad guys are sympathetic and the good guys aren't squeaky-clean.
The fact that John Drake occasionally makes mistakes and has to improvise with his wits, luck and humor rather than a series of well-placed gadgets sets this series above the Bond films. It's fast-paced and tightly written...exceedingly clever overall.
McGoohan's acting style reminds me of both Mel Gibson and Ben Browder; he's capable of saying loads of things with no dialogue, is equally adept at humor, action and anger, and can flip emotions quickly. Today's audience may find some of the styles of the other actors a little dated, and the contrast is more pronounced because McGoohan is so much better than most of them.
FIGHTING: The fight scenes are inventive and action-packed. McGoohan's boxing experience shows, but he isn't limited to one fighting style, fights dirty when necessary and isn't above unexpectedly throwing furniture across a room or tossing an adversary down the stairs. There are several back-breaking stunts in the fight scenes which are probably not allowed any more, so if you're a fight buff as I am, they're worth rewinding.
GADGETS: The spy gadgets are for the most part items which could actually exist, and they are brought in as part of a plan rather than the Gothic Trick style gadgets of 007; Drake never has to hope that someone borrows his exploding pen at just the right time. I love Q's inventions, they add humor and flavor to the Bond films, but I find that I don't really miss them since it's clear Drake could beat Bond on an IQ test.
BONUS FOR THE LADIES: If you like James Bond (McGoohan actually turned down the role of James Bond -- twice), but prefer someone who's less of a rake with a bigger sense of humor, this is the guy for you. Not quite funny enough to beat Austin Powers, mind you, but he has better teeth. He's cute, clever and charming and I became a "Drake Drooler" upon my first viewing.
LOVE SCENES: While other characters kiss and have affairs and trade sex for secrets on the show, and Drake clearly enjoys the parties he attends and gambling with the Agency's money, the main character had not one kissing scene throughout the entire series, (which may have something to do with the fact Drake smokes constantly-- his lighter is a camera). I had thought this would make it seem dated, but actually it became an important detail of a well-crafted character, and is part of why I grew to like him better than Bond after only the first disk. I am speaking as a lifetime Bond fan, too, so it wasn't easy for me to admit.
BONUS FOR PRISONER FANS: Fans of McGoohan's cult hit The Prisoner will love to join the scavenger hunt and pick out the characters and clues that have led many to conclude that John Drake and Number 6 are one in the same, or at least that the Everyman in the Prisoner is represented by John Drake. (McGoohan categorically denies this, but it's more fun to play with it.)
Those who have watched The Prisoner may wish to start with set 2, which contains the episode Colony Three, the first appearance of a town full of spies referred to as "The Village". Villagers will also feel quite at home in "The Ubiquitous Mr. Lovegrove", a surreal look into Drake's mind in which he sees Death at every turn. The symbolic use of midnight, mirrors and reflection will satisfy your urge to dissect if you're one of the more fervent Prisoner fans.
Be Seeing You!