by Donald Melanson
14, 2004 | Only a decade ago, the notion of owning
an entire television series was an uncommon one - reserved mostly
for Trekkies and other really obsessive fans. But now some of the
best selling DVDs are regularly TV series.
These are usually divided into individual season sets, costing
anywhere from $40 to over $100. But DVDs seem particularly well
suited to short-lived TV series. Sure, you can own the entire run
of The X-Files if you want, but it'll cost almost a grand.
Series that only lasted a season or two, however, generally cost
around $100 or less.
A&E Home Video
has latched onto this market, releasing a number of short-lived
cult television series on DVD. Two of the series that I was most
interested in are shows on opposite ends of the 60s science fiction
spectrum: The Prisoner and Thunderbirds.
Prisoner: The Complete Megaset
The Prisoner is a remarkably intelligent science fiction series
created by Patrick McGoohan, who also stars in the series as an
unidentified secret agent captured by an unidentified group and
imprisoned in a remote location known only as The Village. Each
episode finds McGoohan trying to learn who his captors are and how
he might escape.
No one in The Village has a name, only a number. McGoohan's character
is No. 6, the leader of the village is No. 2; the identity of No.
1 is a mystery.
Like the best science fiction, it uses the form as a means of examining
issues of its time. In this case, the Cold War. Although it ran
for only 17 episodes in the late 1960s, the series has left an indelible
mark on the face of science fiction.
Right from the first episode the series refuses to give the viewer
any easy answers. We don't know who the prisoner is. We don't know
why he's captured. We don't even know which "side" captured him.
The series' imagery further challenges the viewer. The Village is
not some cold, dark prison. It is an idyllic location, with bright
and cheery inhabitants, and no walls other than a seemingly endless
horizon. But it's also unnerving - a self-contained homogenous society
with Orwellian touches at every corner.
A&E presents all 17 episodes on ten discs in what they
call "fan preferred order". A rationale for the placement of each
episode is given on each disc and it does indeed seem to make more
sense than the original order in which they aired.
The quality is solid all around, with the episodes looking
and sounding better than they ever likely looked on broadcast TV.
A number of special features are spread across the discs including
trailers for each episode, Prisoner trivia, production stills, interviews,
and behind the scenes footage. The most significant bonus features
are The Prisoner Video Companion, a 50-minute overview of
the series originally produced in 1990, and a 25-minute interview
with production manager Bernie Williams produced for the DVD. Also
included is an alternate version of one episode, The Chimes of
The only extra not included that I would have really liked
to see is commentary tracks. If not by McGoohan himself than perhaps
by Bernie Williams, who does provide commentary on the behind the
scenes footage. Also, with only two episodes per disc, the set seems
unnecessarily stretched out. I think three episodes could just as
easily fit on each disc without any comprise in quality, therefore
reducing the cost (and size) of the set.
Nit-picks aside, this is an excellent presentation of one of
television's best series. The Prisoner is also available
divided into five sets of two discs each. Although with a show like
this, you'll really want to own the whole thing, since once you
watch one episode, you'll have to see the rest.
The Complete Megaset
Thunderbirds is a television series you either love
completely or couldn't care less about. It is puppets we're dealing
with, after all.
Following the success of his earlier "supermarionation" series,
Thunderbirds was Gerry Anderson's most ambitious project
to date - a science fiction series about International Rescue, a
secretive family-run operation that thwarts impending disasters
around the world and, occasionally, in space.
Like The Jetsons, Thunderbirds imagines a brightly
coloured, excessively automated future. The Thunderbird pilots don't
just run and jump into their ships - they sit on a sofa, which turns
into a conveyer belt, which carries them to them to another sofa,
which carries them up to the cockpit.
The puppetry work is really quite impressive, creating a world
and characters that are at times odd and wonderful. And the production
design by Derek Meddings (who also worked on many of the Bond films)
is incredibly inspired, fusing atomic age sci-fi with 60s cool.
Much of the series draws on the disaster movie genre, which
was especially popular in the 1960s. The pilot episode establishes
the formula - a small group of individuals are trapped on a plane
that is unable to land because a bomb has been planted on it. The
episode unfolds, alternating between the internal drama of the trapped
individuals and International Rescue's attempts to save them. Most
of the episodes stick tightly to this formula, swapping one disaster
for another and ever more ingenious means of rescue.
There's a live-action version of Thunderbirds being
released this summer. The early reports are that it's aimed mostly
at a younger audience, instead of fans who appreciate the camp and
cleverness of the original series. I would have liked to see someone
like Tim Burton tackle the project, who's shown he can make a film
that appeals to kids and adults alike. Instead we get Star Trek's
Jonathan Frakes, who's track record as a director is mixed at best.
"Megaset" is an apt description for this package. All 32 episodes
of the series are presented on twelve discs which, like all other
A&E sets, are in individual keep-cases, making for quite a substantial
boxed set. There are a handful of extras including some vintage
behind-the-scenes material and one newly produced program on the
As with The Prisoner, you can also purchase Thunderbirds
divided up into sets of two DVDs. I should also note that the two
feature-length Thunderbirds movies are not included in this
set, but will soon be available on DVD from MGM.
Melanson is the founder and editor-in-chief of Mindjack. He
also writes about movies on his film