Network DVD

If anything else The Prisoner has had more outings on DVD than any other cult TV series. All have been aching for a full-on platter of extras to help tell the often equalling fascinating and mysterious tale of the programme's production. So as the programme celebrates being officially middle-aged Network have taken down this gauntlet and rise superbly to the occassion. This is simply the best release the series has seen from how to series itself looks on disc to the a feast of extra materials.

If you don't know about the series or about Patrick MaGoohan then you're on this site by error so instead of reciting the concept of the show lets just crack on with reviewing the presentation, transfer and extras.

The episodes themselves are simply stunning with excellent restoration work giving us a set of prints that are crisp, well saturated with balanced darks and lights. Audio is equally good with a nicely achieved Dolby 5.1 soundtrack for each episode. Netwrok achieved this by going back to available film elements and it was certainly worth it from the results. The series has never looked or sounded better.

What of the extras? Well strap yourself in here is a whirlwind tour...

The crowning jewels of the vast extras selection has to be the feature-length retrospective documentary Don't Knock Yourself Out that attempts to interview practically all surviving cast and crew (indeed some have died since it was made) and throws no punches in the anecdotes surrounding the imposing figure of Magoohan or the often frazzled production of the series. Magoohan himself simply supplies a written note that prefaces the programme leaving other interviewees to detail how the lead actor lost the plot many times. There is a nice balance of production and acting personel present giving the documentary a more balanced tone than the crew heavy commentaries. This is possibly Network's fiinest inhouse produced extra and wouldn't be out of place being transmitted on BBC 4.

Next is another fine volume from the pen of TV historian Andrew Pixely. Network's previous release of Danger Man had a fantastic paperback by Pixley and his Prisoner book is bigger, more indepth and varied. Apart from detailing the programmes creation and filming Pixley also includes episode by episode viewing notes, a section on unused storylines, another on story treatments and pages from the original script of Arrival. All this and a bibliography for further reading. This book alone is a masterpeice of TV research if nothing else. Again this would stand well as a commercial book in itself.

The audio commentaries really could have done with a moderator as some of the commentaries involve some of the same information or anecdotes being trotted out. A moderator would also have kept things ticking over when there are some noticeable lapses in chat. The first episode Arrival has a pacey track involving production manager Bernie Williams and film librarian Tony Sloman that kicks things off well as Bernie and Tony make a solid effort of keeping information and details delivered. The Chimes of Big Ben has a track involving a solitary Vincent Tilsey (writer) who would have benefitted from a second person with him to help bouce around topics.

Disc two offers two episode commentaries with director Pat Jackson on duty for the episode The Schizoid Man and director Peter Graham Scott on The General. The commentary for The General is in retrospect a sad one as this one of the final projects the director was invilved with before he died. Scott provides a nice solid overview of the episode as does Jackson on his.

Dance With The Dead is featured on disc three has a three-way chat track involving a returning Williams and Sloman alongside film editor John S Smith. Again a moderator could have balanced the ongoings with the three commentators often talking over each other and attempting to direct the flow of anecdotes in opposite or differing directions. On the fourth disc writer Roger Parkes is present as commentator on the episode A Change Of Mind. This episode was Parkes first screen credit and he takes this to heart by making the commentary an overview of his life story and career - and all the better for it.

The final commentary is on the final episode, Fall Out, and features film editor Noreen Ackland and music editor Eric Mival. Mival is the stand out on the commentary with Ackalnd taking a background role. Commentaries are solid, but workmanlike in general and could have been bettered with the involvement of guest stars or a moderator.

Each episode comes complete with its original US TV trailer. These are also presented with new transfers and are a welcome addition. These are included on the discs featuring the same episode as is an image gallery for each episode. These come backed with an array of musical cues and themes includede on the programme. And if you slip each disc in a computer you are given the chance to view original production paperwork in PDF format. There is tons of this stuff and to detail each peice would be far too indepth here, just trust me it's a huge collection and totally absorbing to look through.

Added in the mixture are some original behind the scenes footage, textless titles, exposure strips gallery, the alternate edit of Chimes of Big Ben and a finely restored version of the Arrival alternative edit (together with restoration featurette). A flagship release from Network that should be on top of every Action TV readers Christmas wish list.

One of the year's best TV releases. Own it now!

EXTRAS: A treasure trove, see details above.

FILM: 5/5