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. He is retrieved and 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 6 realizes that Speed Learn could eventually be used for mind control. Number 12, a disaffected member of the Speed Learn committee, helps Number 6 to infiltrate the project and sabotage it by broadcasting a subversive message from the Professor who had copied it onto a recorder before his escape attempt. Number 6 is detected and thwarted in this attempt, but now "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. Number 6 is able to destroy the General, and Number 2's plans, with some simple logical epistemological trickery: He feeds it the brief question "Why?", it begins to smoke out of sheer consternation, and self-destructs, killing the Professor and Number 12 in the process.



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]