The Prisoner Episode by Episode
E05 The Schizoid Man
27 October 1967
Written by Terence Feely
Directed by Pat Jackson
Story: Number Six is confronted by his doppelganger, Number 12, as part of Number Two’s latest attempt to break him. A psychological battle over identity ensues.
Who is Number Two? Anton Rodgers
Guest Cast: Jane Merrow, Earl Cameron
Information: This episode—produced seventh, but broadcast in the fifth slot—provides an excuse for a powerhouse performance from Patrick McGoohan. Through drugs and conditioning (incuding electro-shock therapy), the new Number Two attempts to co-opt Number Six in a scheme to make him doubt his own identity and so confess his reason for resigning. Playing both the befuddled Number Six and his double, Number 12 (2 x 6), McGoohan is in his element.
Not only does the actor extend the range of Number Six, he very subtly makes Number 12 both a dead ringer yet distinctly his own man. It’s a truly astonishing achievement, both in terms of performance and technically, given that all the filmmakers had at their disposal was standard split-screen techniques (and limited, but very clever use of doubles, notable Frank Maher as McGoohan’s stand-in) to put the two McGoohans together.
The scheme by the latest Number Two (Anton Rodgers) employs an agent of The Village who bears an uncanny resemblance to Number Six in an attempt to break him. As both Number Two and Number 12 know, Number Six cannot be damaged as he is ‘too important’, so seemingly on orders from Number One, the pair have to devise a more psychological approach to gaining the information they want from their captive.
This involves drugging Number Six, and over a period of days (if not weeks) using electro-shock therapy to change him from right handed to left handed, and other conditioning and drugs to change his tastes in food, drink, and cigarettes. They dye and change the style of his hair and have him grow a genuine moustache. All this is done so that he can awaken, believing it to be the next morning, in the character and cottage of Number 12.
Number Two then engages this fake Number 12 (really Number Six: hope you’re following this…) to impersonate Number Six. The hope appears to be that this case of crazy mixed-up identities will put such mental and psychological pressure on Number Six that he’ll simply crack up (a notion Number Six himself voices disparagingly). Naturally, Number Six is stronger than The Village administrators believe and is able to resist their conditioning. Or at least, he is almost entirely able to resist. Intriguingly, McGoohan does give Number Six the odd psychological wobble when he seems to begin to get lost in this maze of identities Number Two and Number 12 have fabricated for him.
It’s a great conceit, and the get out that restores Number Six’s faith in his own identity is all set up in a charming opening scene. The episode begins with Number Six socialising (suggesting he has settled in to life in The Village, at least to some degree) with Number 24 (2 x 12), whom he knows more casually as Alison (Jane Merrow). Practicing her ‘mind reading’ act for The Village festival, Alison is being tested via a set of Zener cards, usually used in ESP tests (also seen at the beginning of 1984’s Ghostbusters). She appears sympatico with Number Six and the pair share some kind of psychic link, or at least a mental connection.
During Alison’s attempts to photograph Number Six (also for the festival), she accidentally bruises his fingernail. It is this, the growing out of the bruised nail (a detail missed by Number Two and Number 12 in their elaborate deception), in conjunction with the genuine 10 February photo, that shows Number Six he is the same man he always was, despite the cosmetic changes enforced upon him.
While many series tackle the double (Star Trek did it early, in The Enemy Within, in which Kirk was split into good and bad halves thanks to a transporter accident, and it turns up in just about every series at some point), few go so far as McGoohan did with the subtlety of his performance. The Schizoid Man is a showcase for what McGoohan could do, but was rarely afforded the opportunity.
The episode was shot either side of Christmas 1966 and into January 1967, the first of four episodes directed by Pat Jackson (What a Carve Up!, 1962), who’d worked with McGoohan on Danger Man. Once more, location shooting at Portmeirion is forgone, mainly due to the weather at that time of year. A few streets of The Village are recreated on the MGM studio lot, and the ‘Exhibition Hall’ from The Chimes of Big Ben is repurposed as the ‘Recreation Hall’ in this episode.
Writer Terence Feely was an experienced television hand, contributing episodes to such series as The Avengers, sequel series The New Avengers, and ITC show The Persuaders. He’d worked with The Prisoner script editor George Markstein on Armchair Theatre, and would go on to become associate producer of Callan in 1967.
This is the first (and the last) episode in which the white balloon security device is identified as Rover. To stop the use of the device, Number Two orders ‘Deactivate Rover’, while later in the episode he is informed of the demise of Curtis/Number 12 with the announcement that ‘Rover got him’. Although Rover appears repeatedly throughout the series, the show itself felt little need to either name or explain exactly what it was or how it functioned, adding just one more mystery to The Prisoner.
What’s it All Mean? The Schizoid Man raises questions of identity and tackles the 1960s battle over whether nature or nurture was most important in forming character and personality in people. McGoohan’s Number Six is presented from the beginning of the series as a man who is grounded in his own identity: he knows who he is and is clearly a man of strong convictions—these are what apparently led to his resignation over ‘a matter of conscience’. It makes sense for Number Two to attempt to use this sense of identity against him in an attempt to break him.
The episode’s great conceit is to make Number Six believe he is the imposter, while maintaining that his doppelganger Number 12 is in fact the genuine Number Six. It is an unsettling concept, but one that is kept clear and straight forward on screen, thanks in large part to McGoohan’s carefully calibrated differences between the characters and to the choice (made late in the day) to put Curtis/Number 12 in a negative image blazer (black piping on white) to Number Six’s usual outfit.
This is also an attempt to remove one area of Number Six’s resistance. He refuses to wear the ‘No. 6’ badge, and in most episodes to this point has refused to respond to the Number Six moniker. Each episode opens with his denial of this identity: ‘I am not a number, I am a free man!’ Yet, in The Schizoid Man, if he is to hold on to his mental integrity, he has no choice but to actively embrace the identity of ‘Number Six’ in opposition to the fake ‘Number Six’ and the wiles of Number Two.
That’s Weird! Is the opening scene between Number Six and Alison supposed to suggest that telepathy, mind reading and ESP are commonplace in the world of The Prisoner? Neither is sceptical of this apparent mental link between them, and when Number Six attempts to use it to prove his identity (only to be betrayed by Number 24), neither Number Two nor Curtis/Number 12 poo-poo the idea or dismiss it as hogwash. Such topics were in vogue in the late 1960s and into the 1970s, so perhaps this is simply an artefact of the time the show was made, or perhaps it is a hint at the more fantastical side of The Prisoner?
Punch Ups! Two: Number Six gets to fight the usual regulation duo of thugs as he comes to his senses and attempts to escape Rover, followed by one of the series’ highlights: a fist fight with himself! McGoohan and his director very cleverly use a double/stunt man in this sequence, but unlike in many of the ITC shows, great care is taken not to make this too obvious.
Trivia: Earl Cameron, who features in this episode as the Supervisor, is still alive (as of this writing), now aged 100. He was one of the first wave of successful black actors in British film, with a leading role in 1951’s film noir Pool of London. He appeared in a host of 1960s classic TV besides The Prisoner, including roles in Doctor Who (The Tenth Planet, 1966) and The Andromeda Breakthrough, as well as four previous appearances with McGoohan in episodes of Danger Man. His most recent movie credit was in Christopher Nolan’s Inception (2010).
Verdict: One of the show’s earliest highlights, bolstered by a truly great performance by Patrick McGoohan.
Score (Out of Six): Six
Brian J. Robb