The Prisoner Episode by Episode
E13 Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling
22 December 1967
Written by Vincent Tilsley
Directed by Pat Jackson
Story: Thanks to Professor Seltzman’s process, Number Six awakes to find his mind in the body of the Colonel (Nigel Stock).
Who is Number Two? Clifford Evans
Guest Cast: Nigel Stock, Zena Walker, Hugo Schuster
Information: So we come to the episode (unlucky 13) without Patrick McGoohan (well, virtually). It’s unusual for a show to appear without (or with very little) of its leading man. In the early days of Doctor Who various members of the ensemble cast (including lead William Hartnell) would disappear for an episode or two, or be clumsily replaced with a stand-in, while they took a holiday—that was excusable as the show was on the air virtually all the year round.
McGoohan was unavailable for this episode of The Prisoner due to a clash with his filming commitments on Cold War thriller Ice Station Zebra (1968)—a job he’d taken on partly to raise funds for his Everyman Films outfit to finance the final four episodes of The Prisoner (or so he claimed). Taking advantage of the show’s fairly flexible format, the decision was made to continue in production by simply replacing Number Six with a different actor, but through a mind transference process maintaining that he is the same character.
A similar thing happened on the 1968 Doctor Who serial The Mind Robber when Jamie companion actor Frazer Hines fell ill, and was replaced by Hamish Wilson (famously, Hines’ cousin). The gambit here was to have the Doctor wrongly reassemble Jamie’s face in the weird Land of Fiction, so allowing the temporary substitution. Of course, Doctor Who had come up with a much longer lasting solution to the need to replace the leading character through regeneration, ensuring the series is still going strong today.
The replacement is an effective ploy and works fine in the context of the series, it’s just that an episode of The Prisoner without Patrick McGoohan is a strange beast indeed. He is featured in some stock footage of him pacing his cottage on Number Two’s screen, and in a series of ‘greatest hits’ clips as Number Two discovers his new face is that of Nigel Stock’s ‘Colonel’. He finally pops up in person for a brief scene at the climax.
However, the entire episode feels much more like a typical ITC show, especially given the copious use of cheesy stock footage and appalling music as Stock’s Number Six goes on a magical mystery tour of European capitals in search of the episode’s McGuffin, Professor Seltzman, inventor of the mind swap technology. There is also the by now extremely careless use of inappropriate doubles in long shots who look nothing like the characters they are meant to be standing in for. This show really fell apart without McGoohan on hand to impose his will on it.
Vincent Tilsley’s script (written with the absence of McGoohan in mind, and a direction to set no scenes in The Village, other than interior studio sets) also changes some of the basics of what we know about Number Six. Put back into the field and unaware of his time in The Village, the Nigel Stock (Peter Cushing’s Dr. Watson) Number Six is returned home to his Buckingham Place apartment in London. As he was the last agent to have contact with Seltzman, it is hoped that he can find out his current whereabouts. Of course, Number Six has been back home before, but on previous occasions he didn’t worry about his apparent fiancée Janet Portland (Zena Walker), of his boss (and prospective father-in-law) Sir Charles Portland (John Wentworth). Are these people simply inventions to allow Number Six to feel comfortable in his new skin, and so allow him to proceed with his quest?
Despite being the first episode in the second filming block for the series, Do Not Forsake Me (and what a clunky title; the previous episode’s title A Change of Mind would have suited this one better) was delayed in transmission thanks to an extended post-production process, probably exacerbated by McGoohan’s unavailability. With script editor George Markstein having quit over one conflict too many with McGoohan (and note his replacement by someone else in the underground office where Number Six first resigned), David Tomblin took a larger hand in the creation of the next few episodes (significantly upping the weirdness factor in the process).
What’s it All Mean? The ‘mind swap’ plot is an old stand-by of many science fiction TV shows and films, and was something of a specialty of screenwriter Curt Siodmak, who wrote the oft-filmed novel Donovan’s Brain as well as the screenplay for the Boris Karloff/Bela Lugosi Universal horror film Black Friday (1940), in which part of a gangster’s brain is implanted in a mild mannered professor, resulting in a Jekyll and Hyde style change of personality. On television, The Avengers had used the same hook as recently as the May 1967 episode ‘Who’s Who???’.
The clumsy scripting between Zena Walker’s Janet and Nigel Stock’s stand-in Number Six in which they both strive to avoid saying his name (as anyone would normally do in such a conversation) is painfully obvious—this is when a confirmation that Number Six was indeed Danger Man’s John Drake might have been useful, and like all the other previously unmentioned continuity in this episode, it could easily have been ignored by those that follow (which all take their own idiosyncratic path anyway). The set-up as outlined here would have us believe that Number Six has been missing (on a mission or in The Village, or both?) for a year, is engaged to the boss’s daughter, and perhaps didn’t so much resign as retire.
The mind swap plot does bring up intriguing questions of identity. Stock’s Number Six alludes a couple of times to the fact that no matter how many intimate details or private stories he can recall, to those he is communicating with it may simply appear to be information obtained from the ‘real’ Number Six, by torture, drugs, or some combination of techniques. ‘Everything I tell you can be countered by you,’ admits the frustrated Stock Number Six to Seltzman, ‘by saying I’ve extracted the information by fair means or foul.’ There is no way for Number Six in a different body to ever actually prove to anyone else who he really is, which raises the question of what makes the individual—mind or body, or some combination thereof? Are we just an accumulation of stories that could easily be faked by an impostor or even an artificial intelligence (this episode treads ever so lightly on the kind of subject that Philip K. Dick was making his own in a series of novels around the same time this aired in the late-1960s) . It makes identify theft look like the least of our worries.
With the ultimate escape of Seltzman—who engineers a three-way transfer returning Number Six’s mind to his body but putting Seltzman’s mind in the body of the Colonel—Number Six can claim another victory over the authorities of The Village, even if he ultimately had little to do with it other than leading them to Seltzman. It’s an oddly passive role for Number Six, no matter whose body he was in at the time, and was perhaps indicative of McGoohan’s waning interest in the series—just about all the escape-and-recapture scenarios had been played out, and for the final four episodes (Lew Grade having pulled the plug on the show) The Prisoner would go somewhere completely different, thanks to a productive collaboration between a frustrated McGoohan and an opportunistic (in a positive way) David Tomblin.
That’s Weird! As well as the pre-titles clip [See Trivia], this episode has a different opening, omitting the usual dialogue between the ‘new’ Number Two and Number Six, presumably so as not to draw even more attention to McGoohan’s absence. Additionally, many of the scenes that supposedly depict Nigel Stock’s mind swapped Number Six driving around London in his Lotus is clearly footage of Patrick McGoohan, presumably shot when capturing material for the eventual series title sequence and re-purposed here. It probably didn’t stand out as much on 1960s era televisions, but it is pretty clear on the blu-ray transfers! Also of note is the in-joke on the envelope that Number Six addressed to Professor Seltzman: ’20, Portmeirion Road’.
Punch Ups! The ‘greatest hits’ montage that replays some key footage of McGoohan’s Number Six in action includes brief snippets of previous punch ups, but Nigel Stock gets his very own fight with an agent who has followed him to Switzerland where he has located the mysteriously missing Professor Seltzman.
Trivia: This is the only episode of the show to open with a pre-credits scene in which various characters we’ve never seen before discuss a series of mysterious photographs that are supposedly connected to the missing Seltzman. Originally intended as the first episode of a second season of The Prisoner, this presentation was an attempt at finding a new format that would allow Number Six to be sent out from The Village on a ‘mission of the week’, which would have brought the wayward series much more in line with the standard output of Lew Grade’s ITC. Thankfully, Patrick McGoohan had other ideas…
Verdict: It’s a decent enough episode, if rather ordinary for The Prisoner, and suffers for the absence of McGoohan, both on screen and as a guiding force for the series in production terms.
Score (Out of Six): Two
Brian J. Robb