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Sleep well, my friend, and forget us. Tomorrow you will wake up a new man.

Television

The Prisoner
13. Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling

 

We want information.

In an effort to locate Professor Seltzman, a scientist who has perfected a means of transferring one person’s mind to another person’s body, Number Two has Number Six’s mind installed in the body of the Colonel (a loyal servant of the Powers that Be). Six was the last person to have contact with Seltzman and, if he is to stand any chance of being returned to his own body, he must find him (the Village possesses only the means to make the switch, they cannot reverse the process). Awaking in London, Six encounters old acquaintances including his fiancée and her father Sir Charles Portland (Six’s superior and shown in the teaser sequence fretting over how to find Seltzman). Six discovers Seltzman’s hideout by decoding a series of photographs, and sets off to find him in Austria. He achieves this, but both men are captured and returned to the Village. Restoring Six and the Colonel to their respective bodies, Seltzman appears to be overcome by the strain and dies. The Colonel departs in a helicopter. However, Six reveals Seltzman’s mind was deposited in the Colonel’s body and the Colonel’s mind perished with Seltzman. Seltzman is now free to continue his work in peace.

So how do you like it?

Would Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling be better if Patrick McGoohan played Number Six throughout? Well, it wouldn’t be Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling, so that’s moot. But this raises the question of whether it’s the episode, written by Vincent Tilsey (formerly of The Chimes of Big Ben) and directed by Pat Jackson, that stinks or the stiff, unpersuasive performance from Nigel Stock as Six. If the makers wanted to find an actor who was the complete opposite of McGoohan, both in temperament and charisma, they couldn’t have picked anyone better. Unfortunately, Stock completely destroys any viewer engagement. This is the really-a-bit-rubbish Prisoner episode. It’s not awful, but it’s resolutely uninvolving.

Those who claim Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling was intended to kick-off an allegedly planned second season are apparently supported by the references to it being a whole year since Six went AWOL. But there’s no strong reason to see this as other than a convenient writer’s device. It’s quite clear that Six hasn’t been in the Village a mere three months (of broadcast episodes) and that there are significant gaps between events. Many Happy Returns, shot directly before Do Not Forsake Me, also emphasises the length of time since Six has been away from London. Whether or not another run was planned, it would surely have been a bum move to kick it off with a lead performance of barely suppressed tedium.

Where there’s no dispute is that Tilsey was asked to write it accommodate McGoohan’s absence from the set; he was shooting Ice Station Zebra. This was the fourteenth episode to be made, and one of the oddball later productions (Living in HarmonyThe Girl Who Was Death and Fall Out being the others). Unfortunately, it’s only oddball in the sense that it is atypical of The Prisoner, not in terms of it being whacky or out there or brimming with interesting ideas. It’s generally kept around this point in most re-ordering; some have it an episode or two earlier, but it makes sense that Do Not Forsake Me forms part of the gradual disintegration of the format leading the disintegration of the lead character’s identity.

Tilsey wasn’t fond of the script, nor the rewrites it received. He felt the idea was hackneyed (which it is) but couldn’t come up with anything better. What we end up with is the standard science fiction body-swap plot (the original title was Face Unknown, until the original title of Living in Harmony came to replace it; it now references Six’s fiancé, although that’s a somewhat tepid connection since there’s so little spark to the relationship). The theme of mind/body change is common to the series, although the device hasn’t been incorporated quite so broadly prior to this point; it might have been more fun if the content of the episode was as untempered as its premised. There are parallels with mind messing of A. B. and C. and the personality disorder of The Schizoid Man. This is roughly the inverse of that episode; rather than double the McGoohan we have none (or merely a sliver). The effect would be not unlike watching a Quantum Leap only to find Sam suddenly played by an exciting actor; you’d be left wondering which show you’d switched on.

Nigel Stock had previously appeared with McGoohan in Danger Man, and was most familiar with viewers up to that point for his Dr Watson in the BBC Sherlock Holmes. He’d played opposite Douglas Wilmer a few years before, and would return to the role with Peter Cushing later in 1968. As a stuffy old duffer, he’s perfect casting; just look at his lead in The Pickwick Papers. Unfortunately, call on Stock to behave dynamically and you have problems. He doesn’t convince in action, in a romantic scene or as a man with keen intelligence. He’s a plodder. One might argue this disparity with McGoohan is entirely the point; an unlikely figure occupies Six’s shoes. Be that as it may, it fails dramatically and there isn’t much way round that as a criticism.

It does, I suppose, provide all the argument we need for why Six doesn’t just leg it when he has the chance. It’s not merely a philosophical argument about mind-body duality. It’s rather more basic. You wouldn’t scarper if you suddenly found yourself looking like Nigel Stock, replete with piggy eyes and doughy body. With no poise, zip or panache. You’d do everything you could to reverse the process. Six even suggests at the climax that Seltzman (mostly played by Hugo Schuster), now reconstituted in the General’s (Stock’s) body would be none too happy about such a state of affairs (even though it makes him a good decade younger); “The good doctor’s mind now inhabits a body perhaps not to his liking”.

ColonelThe mind of one man into another? Impossible, I don’t believe it.
TwoImagine the power we could have if the spy we returned had the mind of our choosing. We could break the security of any nation.

The feasibility of Seltzman’s process is done few favours by the references to studying an advanced yogi who could go into suspended animation for months, leading the Doctor to discover how to “transmit the psyche of one person into another”. Of course. Generally, there’s something a bit confused about the ethics in this episode. The Village, and Six’s superiors, want to locate Seltzman to make use of this process. Although, they don’t really need him to effect their plans do they? The Village has a working machine; it’s just that anyone being transferred with have to lump it as far as getting their old body back. But, given how unscrupulous the Village is, I don’t see that as being much of a problem. Seltzman is seen as a good, gentle scientist with moral qualms (“Rutherford, for example. How he must regret having split the atom”) but Two straight out accuses him of an invention as bad as the creation of the nuclear bomb (“Almost as bad as splitting the identity of two human beings”).

At a stretch, one might argue that Seltzman’s action in taking the Colonel’s body is justified by the harm it would do if he were forced to work for those who would put his creation to Machiavellian purposes. But he could simply have offed his mind along with his body if he was so principled. The Colonel hasn’t done anything evil that we know; he was merely following orders (“You assured me that he was in good health. You must contact Number One and tell him I did my duty”).  The twist itself is a good one and probably the most arresting part of the episode, but Six’s parting shot (“He is now free to continue his experiments in peace”) has connotations of unwholesome activities and unchecked experiments of Nazi scientists absconded to Argentina.

SixThe man who’s just flying out of here… Is not who you thought it was.
TwoI don’t believe it.
SixHe can and did change three minds at the same time.

In the Village we see that not only is there a functioning Seltzman machine (while the red and blue lighting affects for transference are quite groovy, this episode is generally lacking on the arresting visuals front, immersed as it is in “real world” spy fare), but there’s also the Amnesia Room. Of which we learn that subjects cooperate very quickly; in three days they can get what they need with “hardly any persuasion”. Of course, we’ve seen Six subjected to localised amnesia techniques before (in The Schizoid Man).

Two, played by Clifford Evans, might be the least memorable of Village subordinates. True, he’s not involved for much of the proceedings, but there’s little to distinguish him in terms of personality when he is.

SeltzmanDo you think your people have done this to you?
SixNo, I’m sure.

The main question Do Not Forsake Me raises is whether the Village operatives and Six’s superiors are one and the same. This idea is also broached in Many Happy Returns, which, as noted, directly preceded Do Not Forsake Me in production order. It was clearly something on the minds of the makers (and Thorpe in Many Happy Returns may or may not be the new Number Two in Hammer Into Anvil). Here, Six’s boss Sir Charles Portland, also his prospective father-in-law, may or may not be directly involved with the Village’s activities. In an earlier draft of Tilsey’s script he clearly was, but it’s difficult not to deduce, despite Six’s baffling dismissal of the idea (except that duffer Stock Six says it, so we can believe he’s a bit bumbling and dim), that his superiors are at least in cahoots with the Village. How else to explain the coincidence that suddenly, a year after Six’s incarceration and just when Sir Charles and his colleagues are trying to crack Seltzman’s code, Six should have his essence transposed into the Colonel and be sent to find him?

If this fairly significant confirmation fails to muster much impact, it’s because the episode as a whole fails to compel. It isn’t just the controllers of the Village; there are whole raft of revelations about Six that provoke little more than a shrug. Consequently, we discover that Six is engaged to Janet Portland (Zena Walker), that he last saw her a year and a day ago and she wore a dress of yellow silk. And… Isn’t it all rather bland? Would there be more spark to the dutiful daughter if she was sharing her scenes with McGoohan? Well no doubt one of the least steamy kisses committed to celluloid wouldn’t have occurred (given the actor’s non-intimacy rep). Given the title is overtly referencing Janet’s wait for her beloved to return, it’s all a bit of a damp squib.

TwoSleep well, my friend, and forget us. Tomorrow you will wake up a new man. 

Any reminder of McGoohan in the episode only serves to highlight what we’re missing; the montage of Six resisting, the Danger Man photo. When the actor voices Stock Six’s inner thought processes it feels awkward and out of synch. We can’t really buy into the idea that real Six is in there, and it means Stock’s performance is something of a failure. There are other, lesser titbits of information about Six. His code name in England is ZM73, in France is Duvall, and in Germany is Schmidt. He likes jugged hare.  His handwriting stays the same even when his body doesn’t. He also has at least three scenes where he is attempting to convince someone of his true identity, which is two too many.

As far as the eternal background hum of the identity of Number One is concerned, McGoohand drops in a nugget as the transference process begins. Two instructs Six, “Take it easy, take it easy. It will all be one in the end”.

Leaving aside the lack of grip exerted by Stock, we’re already familiar with idea of Six back in London attempting to convince others of his claims (The Chimes of Big BenMany Happy Returns). This element is even less fresh here. The code-breaking scene is quite good, however, in that we are easily able to follow Six’s methodology. Although, given it is so elementary you’d have thought experienced code-breakers could have come up with a result. The travelogue transitions from France to Austria are about what you’d expect, but there’s a neat line from a waiter when Six arrives in Kandersfeld; “Oh, welcome to the village sir. What would you like to order?

If the mind transfer twist is a good one, the means by which Six convinces Seltzman of his identity is lacking. “No two handwritings can be the same”, we are told. Er… how about forgery? Is Saltzman some kind of expert? It’s the sort of thing that, even though this is standard spy fare, comes across more like sub-standard spy fare.

So, no Village. No McGoohan. What are you left with? Well, there’s a pre-titles teaser, and a different Village introductory sequence, neither of which make a virtue of breaking with the norm. Other episodes do something interesting when freed from the shackles of the Village. Not this one. And Nigel Stock succeeds in sucking all the air out of the show. What are you left with? Something slightly forsaken.

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