Checkmate (The Prisoner)
|The Prisoner episode|
The human chessboard
|Episode no.||Season 1
|Directed by||Don Chaffey|
|Written by||Gerald Kelsey|
|Original air date||24 November 1967|
"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. "Checkmate" received the highest viewership of any of the series' episodes on its first UK broadcast.
Number Six is persuaded to participate, as the white queen's pawn, in an oversized game of chess using people as pieces. A rebellious rook (Number Fifty-eight) is taken to the Hospital for "evaluation". After the game is completed, Number Six talks with the Chess Master (Number Fourteen), who comments that one can tell who is a prisoner and who a guardian "[B]y their disposition. By the moves they make." Number Six is later invited to visit the Hospital to observe the fate of Number Fifty-eight, and sees him subjected to Pavlovian mind control treatment. The woman playing the queen (Number Eight), who had fraternized with Number Six during the game, is subjected to hypnosis to make her fall in love with him and report his whereabouts should he attempt to escape again. Number Six shuns her, but seeks an alliance with Number Fifty-eight (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 Mayday distress call, pretending to be a crashing airliner. Number Six discovers, however, that again he has been a pawn — Number Fifty-eight had mistaken the strong-minded Number Six for a guardian. Believing that the escape attempt was a test of his loyalty, he reported it all to Number Two.
"Checkmate" was the third episode to be produced, with "Free for All" the second. As in the prior episode Number Six states he intends to find out "who are the prisoners and who are the warders", it could be inferred that in "Checkmate" he is belatedly putting this plan into action. As this was an early episode in production, there is a reference in "Checkmate" to Number Six being "new" in The Village.
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. Similar techniques are used to make Number 6 conform, hoping he will reveal the secret of his resignation. However, Number 6 discovers, as usual, that his trust is misplaced and the distinction between prisoner and warder remains blurred.
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. 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.
- Second Psychiatrist – Bee Duffell
- Supervisor – Basil Dignam
- Painter – Danvers Walker
- Shopkeeper – Denis Shaw
- Assistant supervisor – Victor Platt
- Nurse Shivaun O'Casey
- Skipper – Geoffrey Reed
- Sailor – Terence Donovan
- 1st Tower guard – Joe Dunne
- 2nd Tower guard – Romo Gorrara
- White, Matthew; Jaffer Ali (1988). The Official Prisoner Companion. London: Sidgwick & Jackson. ISBN 0-283-99598-X.
- "Checkmate" at the Internet Movie Database
- 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