A 'Prisoner' With New Questions

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Ian McKellen had already read the script of a new version of the late-1960s cult television series “The Prisoner” when he met the author, Bill Gallagher, last year at a London restaurant to discuss the project. As Mr. Gallagher recalls their first encounter, Mr. McKellen hugged him, then gently patted him on the head and asked, “What goes on in that mind of yours, Bill?”

Don’t be surprised if television viewers have a similar reaction when the resulting six-part mini-series, “The Prisoner,” begins on Sunday on AMC. Led by Mr. Gallagher’s reimagining of themes and characters, the new production offers a thoroughly revamped take on one of the most enduring television artifacts of the counterculture era.

“The challenge of doing this show was to pay homage and yet be different,” Mr. Gallagher said. As a 12-year-old, he added, “I remember being mesmerized and beguiled by the mystery and menace of ‘The Prisoner,’ disturbed in ways that I couldn’t explain then. For me, ‘The Prisoner’ is in the tradition of Kafka and Beckett,” as well as a template for later series and films like “Twin Peaks,” “Lost,” “The X-Files” and “The Truman Show.”

The original version of “The Prisoner,” first broadcast in Britain in 1967 and in the United States in 1968, was a mixture of science fiction, psychological drama and cold war thriller, with Patrick McGoohan, coming off the hit James Bond-inspired series “Secret Agent,” in the title role. McGoohan played a British spy who resigns in disgust from undercover service, is kidnapped by his own handlers and held at a peculiar seaside resort called the Village, from which he constantly tries to escape...

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