The General (The Prisoner)

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"The General"
The Prisoner episode
Episode no. Season 1
Episode 6
Directed by Peter Graham Scott
Written by Lewis Greifer
Original air date 3 November 1967
Guest actors

Number Two - Colin Gordon
Number Twelve - John Castle
Professor - Peter Howell
Professor's wife - Betty McDowall

Additional Cast

Projection Operator - Peter Bourne
Corridor Guard - Jackie Cooper
Man at Cafe and First Top Hat - Ian Fleming
Corridor Guard - George Leech
Announcer - Al Mancini
Man in Buggy - Michael Miller
Mechanic - Norman Mitchell
Doctor - Conrad Phillips
Waiter - Keith Pyott
Supervisor - Peter Swanwick

Episode chronology
← Previous
"The Schizoid Man"
Next →
"Many Happy Returns"

"The General" is the sixth episode of the television series The Prisoner. The central themes of this episode are rote learning and indoctrination.

Plot summary[edit]

Number 6 — along with the rest of the Village population — is subjected to a new mind-altering education technology called "Speed Learn" which can instill a three-year university level course in history over a television screen in just three minutes. It was invented and is "taught" by an avuncular individual known as "The Professor" who is nevertheless seen trying to escape from the Village along the beach at the episode outset. Number 6 finds a tape recorder on the beach which he hides in the sand, and witnesses the professor being recaptured, who then proceeds with the education program which instills a detailed, but fairly sterile, set of data on "European history since Napoleon" into all Village residents' minds. Speed Learn is also apparently supported by someone known as "The General". Number 2 tries to find the tape recorder which he thinks Number 6 has but doesn't; he then quizzes Number 6 on the lecture and Number 6 surprisingly answers them correctly as he had no knowledge of them before. After Number 2 leaves, Number 6 goes back to the beach to find the tape recorder, only to find that Number 12 has it and agrees to help Number 6. On the tape the professor states that speed learn is an abomination, and slavery, and that The General must be destroyed.

Number 6 realizes that Speed Learn could eventually be used for mind control. Number 12 assists him by giving Number 6 a set of passes and a pen that will play a message about the professor's confession. Before the next lesson is to be broadcast, Number 6 infiltrates the projection room and installs his own message. He is detected and thwarted in this attempt. The real message is broadcast, as Number 6 is interrogated, Number 2 claims that the General will know. "The General" is revealed to be a sophisticated, experimental mainframe computer which has purportedly been programmed to be able to answer any question put to it. As Number 2 is about to ask who assisted Number 6, Number 6 says that there is a question that the General cannot answer. Number 2 arrogantly accepts the challenge; when Number 6 feed his brief question into the General, the computer begins to smoke out of sheer consternation, overloads and self-destructs, killing the Professor and Number 12 in the process. A distraught Number 2 asks Number 6 what the question was. The General, and Number 2's plans, were destroyed by a simple, logical epistemological trick...



  • 'The General' is first mentioned by Number 2 in the episode "The Schizoid Man." That episode also featured another Villager with the number 12, in this case Number 6's doppelgänger. As the Number 12 in "The General" clearly states to Number 2 he's has been in the Village "a long time", this potentially gives rise to questions of episode order and continuity.
  • The twist ending is similar to the The Twilight Zone episode "The Old Man in the Cave" (1963).
  • Entering the Village broadcast studios required a token to be inserted into a Thing money box. This was a toy bank from which a "Thing" hand emerged to snatch coins which were placed in a slot at the front. This item was reportedly[citation needed] included at the request of Patrick McGoohan.


Chris Gregory believes the episode to be “memorable” and highly melodramatic”. He describes the ending as “[fitting in] well with the subtext of the series”, but also say "the revelation that ‘The General is a powerful computer is a stock science fiction device."[1] Alain Carrazé and Hélène Oswald compare the ending of the episode to the story of David and Goliath.[2] The fact that the Prisoner defeats the General with a single word is like David killing Goliath with a sling.[2] They describe the music used during scene involving the Prisoner, Number 2 and the Professor's wife as "one of the strangest musical themes in the series".[3]


  1. ^ Gregory 95
  2. ^ a b Carrazé & Oswald 94.
  3. ^ Carrazé & Oswald 91.


External links[edit]