Appears in: The Prisoner (1960s)
Setting: The ever-mysterious Village (actually in Wales), The Cold War
Hero type: Steely-eyed man of principle, dashing secret agent.
It’s a brilliant irony that the famously buttoned-up Patrick McGoohan was responsible for the creation of the anti-Bond Number Six, an icon of Sixties cool that stands proudly as an alternate masculine ideal to Bond’s boorish hyper-sexualised hedonism. Instead, Number Six becomes an icon not through being some smirking fantasy figure (though his iron willpower, intellect and fighting skills are pretty enviable), but by being simply and defiantly himself, striding amidst the bland collectivism of the Village and remaining proudly untainted by it.
Of course, he loses. He loses a lot. But whenever his bold stratagems are blunted by the Village’s seemingly limitless resources and totalitarian oversight, whenever the status quo is restored by the time those awesome, awesome closing credits roll around, Number Six is unbowed, his hard, furiously squinting eyes undimmed. His essential nature hasn’t been damaged by his failure to escape this time around; even in defeat, this way he gets a small victory. And, depending on which interpretation of the correct episode order you’re following (the original viewing order was infamously muddled), he learns from every setback.
After his early attempts to dramatically break out of the Village come up against the sinister institution’s almost supernatural influence (naturally the details of exactly why he’s being held captive there are only ever hinted at), he starts to play along with the mind games, undermining the Village from within, proving to the smug and amiably tyrannical authorities that he can thrive in their demented little universe without becoming a cowed and dependent eunuch. And of course, he doesn’t shy away from punching henchmen in the face when the situation calls for it, which is fortunately often.
What would James Bond do in the Village? His tools are brute force and seduction. Violence might keep the resident thugs off his back, but wouldn’t help him get past all the funky ultra-tech. Number Six keeps a wary eye on the women who conveniently stray into his path every other episode, knowing they are like as not agents or pawns of the authorities; Bond would follow his libidinous instincts without a second thought, and would soon find the Village running rings round him, the various Number Twos (regents to the unseen Number One) playing upon his blatantly obvious drives with bored ease. He would soon snap in the quaint, unglamorous, martini-free surroundings, and end up dribbling state secrets to a blonde in a stripy jumper. Number Six is not a dribbler.