He is best known as Number Six on “The Prisoner,” the Orwellian Brit show about a character based on the spy McGoohan had played in his previous series, “Danger Man,” but much, much more brooding. Mysteriously transplanted to a sinisterly shiny-happy colony, he was constantly trying to escape, sometimes physically but more often via surreal mind-games, as his confinement, he seemed to understand (certainly better than we did), was philosophical. (The show was based on McGoohan’s idea, and he wrote and/or directed several episodes, sometimes under pseudonyms.) McGoohan was also an entertainingly strange film actor whose signature trick was to display symptoms of neurosis with his face and voice (as in his “Nnythey drewowned!” at the end of Escape from Alcatraz) while maintaining a chilly masculine poise; this method was on full display in his jazz-drummer Iago in the Othello adaptation All Night Long and, in age-tempered form, his Longshanks in Braveheart. McGoohan did all kinds of work, including Ibsen’s Brand and Behan’s The Quare Fellow, but his most lasting contribution may be the intelligent eccentricity he brought to commercial television.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 14, 2009