The Prisoner – Checkmate

Episode 9: Checkmate

First ITV broadcast: Friday 24th November 1967, 7.30pm [ATV Midlands/Granada]
Estimated first run ratings: 9.1 million
First CBS broadcast: Saturday 17th August 1968, 7.30pm

The episode begins with an aggressive roar from Rover as it rolls through the Village. Everyone stops completely still, apart from one man (George Coulouris). Number Six notices this man and follows him. The man is known as ‘the Champion’ and is playing a game of chess with people as the pieces. Number Six joins in, playing a pawn. At one point, the white queen’s rook (Ronald Radd) moves without orders. This is seen as catastrophic. “Not allowed. Cult of the individual” we are told. The rook is taken to hospital.

The next day Number Two (Peter Wyngarde) takes Number Six to see Rook in hospital. Rook is undergoing a “rehabilitation“. Number Two says the technique is “based on Pavlov“. If you aren’t familiar with Pavlov, he rang a bell before he fed his dog. Eventually the dog began to associate the sound of the bell with food and would salivate at the sound of the bell, regardless of whether the dog had seen any food. Rook has been dehydrated and awakes in a room with water containers of different colours. Three are empty and one, the blue one, gives him a shock but when told to go back to it he, cautiously, does. This time it gives him water.

Number Two and the head psychiatrist (Patricia Jessel) observe Rook.

Upon his release from hospital, Number Six makes contact with Rook and pretending to be a guardian, gets information from Rook about who he is and why he was brought to the Village. Number Six reveals that he is really a prisoner and tells Rook that he has found a way to tell the difference between the prisoners and the guardians. This has been an ongoing problem for Number Six as he can never know who to trust. He has discovered that if he acts authoritatively, the prisoners will assume him to be a guardian and obey him. However the guardians are more likely to defy him. Number Six asks to speak to a man doing some gardening and the man tells him he’ll have to wait. Guardian. Number Six starts to get people together ready for an escape.

RELATED ►  The Prisoner - The Schizoid Man

Meanwhile, Number Six met Number Eight (Rosalie Crutchley) (I think we’re onto our third or fourth Number Eight in the series) whilst in the chess game. She was playing the queen. She is hypnotised to believe she and Number Six are in love. She gets given a locket to wear that sends back her pulse rate and therefore Number Two and the doctors know when she is near Number Six. Arguably, they could just track him through the cameras in the Village, but he has been shown to be getting good at finding blind spots.

Number Eight comes to Number Six’s house one evening and makes him a hot chocolate. She’s told him how she feels and he keeps asking who put her up to it. She is desperate for his attention and his approval. “May I see you again?” she asks. “Yes, I’m here all the time” he replies. I rather like that gag. It doesn’t feel shoehorned in and nine weeks into the show it’s a joke the viewers can get now.

“If only you’d care a little, I’d be happy.”

The next day Number Six denies that he loves Number Eight and she inadvertently reveals what has happened when she says “if not then why did you give me this locket”. Number Six looks at it and finds the electronics inside. He takes it to Rook, who is building a radio and says he can use the parts. When it’s finished, Number Six sends out a Mayday call and manages to get in touch with a nearby ship. He says they are a plane going down. Rook goes out to sea in a dingy with the radio to try and draw the ship in with a distress signal.

Number Six goes with a group of prisoners to tie up Number Two, whose console is picking up the distress signal. It suddenly stops and Number Six runs down to the beach to find the dingy on shore with no sign of Rook. Number Six gets in the dingy and heads out himself, eventually getting picked up by a boat. But upon getting inside he sees Number Two on a television screen. The boat is the Village’s. Then Rook appears. He turned Number Six’s own logic on himself, believing the authoritative Six was a guardian; “You deliberately tried to trap me!“. Rook thought his loyalty was being tested so turned Number Six in to Number Two.

RELATED ►  Callan - Wet Job

Number Six fights with the small crew of the boat but Rover appears and pushes the boat back towards the shore.

The episode itself is supposed to be a game of chess but I don’t really have anything to say on that. I find it a slightly stretched metaphor. However, something that interested me and I quite like is that Number Six comes undone through his own theory. Throughout the series he has been depicted as confident and self-assured. He has done most things alone but when planning escapes and other things, he does look in control and feels he knows what he is doing. This may not have been the case, but he has certainly acted that way. He is not a meek subordinate. So really, it makes perfect sense that Rook should believe Number Six to be a guardian. He has never acted like the other prisoners. During their escape preparations, Number Six is in charge. He oversees things and when the time comes, passes the coded message round to everyone to let them know they are ready. “You only have yourself to blame.” Number Two tells Number Six. “I gather you avoided selecting guardians by detecting their subconscious arrogance. There was one thing you overlooked.” “What was that?” “Rook applied to you your own tests. When you took command of this little venture, your air of authority convinced him you were one of us.” Number Six himself is evidence that his own theory cannot be one hundred per cent accurate. The line between guardians and prisoners remains blurred.

My final say is that I really enjoyed Peter Wyngarde as Number Two and would have liked to see him feature more heavily in the episode. I would certainly have preferred to see more face-to-face scenes with Number Two and Number Six. I don’t think I have ever seen Wyngarde in anything before. Interestingly, according to an interview with Wyndarde, McGoohan personally asked him to be in the series. His karate chop was an addition to the script, with Wyndarde practicing every morning.

Next week, Number Six can’t even be bothered to try and escape. Pfft.

Be seeing you.


  1. Unknown

    Just a quick note on this one.

    Peter Wyngarde: excellent. He was in the Hellfire Club episode of "The Avengers" (the one with Mrs. Peel in bondage gear). I always enjoyed his performances.

    Number 6's plot to escape: very clever.

    Being done in by his own plot because of the paranoia of The Village: brilliant.

    Number 8 made to fall in love with Number 6: dull. Then again, since this concept was one of the few handled quite deftly by the AMC channel remake, maybe I'm comparing the two unfairly.

    And yet, I can't help feeling this episode was rather weak in its overall execution. Maybe it was too many subplots. Maybe it was the lack you mentioned, of not having Number 2 and Number 6 do more verbal fencing. For all its good points, this is not one of my favorites.

    Another perceptive review.

    Be seeing you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *