Checkmate (The Prisoner)

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The Prisoner episode
The human chessboard
Episode no. Season 1
Episode 9
Directed by Don Chaffey
Written by Gerald Kelsey
Original air date 24 November 1967
Guest actors

Number Two - Peter Wyngarde
Rook - Ronald Radd
Queen - Rosalie Crutchley
Man with stick - George Coulouris
1st Psychiatrist - Patricia Jessel

Episode chronology
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"Dance of the Dead"
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"Hammer into Anvil"
List of The Prisoner episodes

"Checkmate" is a television episode of the British science fiction-allegorical series, The Prisoner. It was first broadcast by ITV (ATV Midlands) on 24 November 1967.

As the title suggests, the plot centres on a game of human chess, directed by a mysterious "man with a stick". The chess game has been described as a metaphor for life itself, albeit a somewhat transparent one.[1] "Checkmate" received the highest viewership of any of the series' episodes on its first UK broadcast.[2]

The central themes of this episode are conformity, peer pressure, and the perils of leadership.

Plot summary[edit]

Number 6 is persuaded to participate, as the Queen's pawn, in an over-sized game of chess using people as pieces. A rebellious Rook is taken to the Hospital for "evaluation". After the game is completed, Number 6 talks with the Chess Master, who comments that one can tell who is a prisoner and who is a guardian "[B]y their disposition. By the moves they make." Number 6 is later invited to visit the Hospital to observe the fate of the Rook, and sees him subjected to Pavlovian mind control treatment. The woman playing the Queen, who had fraternized with Number 6 during the game, is subjected to hypnosis to make her fall "frantically" in love with him and so report his whereabouts should he attempt to escape again, so as to not lose him herself. Number 6 shuns her, but seeks an alliance with the Rook, and other villagers that he now believes he can identify as prisoners, not guardians. They attempt an escape by making a 2-way radio out of various pilfered electronic parts and then hailing a passing ship with a false Mayday distress call. Number 6 discovers, however, that again he has been a pawn all along — the Rook had thought that the strong-minded Number 6 was a guardian and that the escape attempt was a test of his loyalty, and so reported it all to Number 2.


Apart from the obvious metaphor that life is a game of chess, the episode deals with conformity and pressures to conform, particularly peer pressure. Parallels have been drawn with the Milgram experiment, Asch conformity experiments and the Stanford prison experiment.[3] Similar techniques are used to make Number 6 conform, hoping he will reveal the secret of his resignation.[3] However, Number 6 discovers, as usual, that his trust is misplaced and the distinction between prisoner and warder remains blurred.[4]

The piece played by Number 6 in the chess game is the same as that played by Alice throughout the story in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass (1871) — White Queen's pawn.


The original title was to be "The Queen's Pawn", a play on the fact that Number Six had recently been in "Her Majesty's service." At the beginning of the episode, the lawn is seen uncovered by chessboard squares; a few moments later, it is shown as the chessboard.[5] The chessboard remained in place for a week during September 1966 during filming of this episode; when it was removed, the grass had been lightened and the pattern is clearly visible in prior episodes.[5]

The chessgame is recreated annually by enthusiasts of the programme at their annual convention, held at Portmeirion.[6]

Additional cast[edit]


  1. ^ "Checkmate". Retrieved 2008-12-20. 
  2. ^ "The Prisoner: Checkmate". Allmovie. Retrieved 2008-12-20. 
  3. ^ a b "The Prisoner: Checkmate". 13 May 2007. Retrieved 2008-12-20. 
  4. ^ White & Ali 1988, p. 78
  5. ^ a b "FACTS 1 - 50". Retrieved 2008-12-20. 
  6. ^ "2008 Convention". Retrieved 2008-12-20. 


  • Fairclough, Robert (ed.). The Prisoner: The Original Scripts. vol. 2. foreword by Roger Parkes. Reynolds & Hearn. ISBN 978-1-903111-81-9. OCLC 61145235.  - script of episode

External links[edit]