Really the “worst” of the best? Rethinking The Prisoner episode Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling

I’ve already stated that, in my view, The Prisoner stands in a class of its own in television history.

https://therockandrollguy.com/2021/03/13/appraising-televisions-ultimate-masterpiece-the-prisoner/

Edgy, uncompromising and totally unpredictable, much like its principal creator, the show remains unparalleled in its ability to both entertain and stimulate thought, even after all these years.

Of all the 17 episodes, the one which seems to regularly feature quite low or rock-bottom of the pile in fan estimation is Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling .

There are several reasons for this, all of which are absolutely valid.

Firstly and most obviously, McGoohan is hardly in it.

A few shots at the beginning interwoven with previously used footage and then a token appearance at the end is all we get.

He was off filming Ice Station Zebra and so the show had to go on without him… maybe it would have been better if it hadn’t just this one time?

I’ve heard it said that Nigel Stock was a peculiar choice of actor to replace our protagonist since he has neither the screen presence nor the brooding volatility of our hero necessary to keep us interested.

Then there’s the story itself… a totally absurd scenario which we are required to buy into one hundred percent in order for the plot to make any kind of sense.

Within the tale are elements which exist nowhere else in the show, including the whole subplot involving Number 6’s personal life and romantic association… an area which it is hard to imagine McGoohan ever exploring in the role.

Also, as I alluded to above, there is the jarring, cobbled together use of footage in weird memory montages which, one can argue, shows the series literally churning out filler to make up an episode.

All this is surely unforgivable, especially when compared with the glorious earlier stories, where the psycho-drama was taut and gripping?

Well… yes okay, I can see this argument.

I remember the first time I saw this episode and thinking… “What the hell is this?”

Where’s McGoohan?

Are they having a joke at our expense here?

However, having been a fan of this show for *ahem* years now, I can comfortably argue a case for this episode.

All the criticism levied above is all undeniable really, but… let us remember that we are talking about The Prisoner.

The bench mark is impossibly high here.

Of all the 17 episodes, one has to be the “worst”.

I put it to you, Prisoner fans, that this one, when viewed with the wonderful gift of hindsight, is actually not as bad as people think it is.

When you view the series in the figurative or allegorical way which McGoohan liked to peddle in rare interviews, it actually makes perfect sense.

We are not meant to be taking everything that happens literally.

The science fiction concept of ‘brain-swapping’ may seem ridiculous, but in the grand scheme of things is it any more ridiculous than being chased by a white balloon?

Or, if you want to broaden it out – is it more silly than the idea of a shape-shifting alien travelling in space and time in a police box?

Many great series ideas require some leap of the imagination.

Willing suspension of disbelief, if you like.

I think we have to accept two things.

One is that The Prisoner is not (necessarily) meant to be taken ‘literally’.

The second, leading on from the first, is that anything can happen.

Once this is understood, the concept of this most absurd of plots is actually far less of a problem.

The absence of McGoohan is an issue I grant you.

However, surely the whole point (if we are able to accept the far-out plot, stick with me here) is that the hero is meant to be unobtrusive and unrecognisable as the dashing, dynamic Number 6?

I would argue that Stock actually does a fine job with this performance.

Sure, he doesn’t look like our usual hero – but he’s not supposed to.

The actor is given a brief and he fulfils it admirably in my view.

The issue of the choppy editing and rehashing of old material is also defendable on the grounds that this is a dreamy, trippy experience being presented and as such Number 6 is likely to be mentally all over the place.

We’re in a non-linear world folks, where nothing is what it seems.

I think on this basis Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling, with all its weirdness and jarring inconsistency makes a worthy addition to the series.

The broadcast order makes sense as well.

We, the viewers, have been used to the Village scenario with Number 2 for a while now and despite the behind-the-scenes turbulence actually contributing to much of the final few instalments’ tendency to step outside the comfort zone, it can also be argued that the weirder the show gets towards the ‘end’ is precisely what you’d expect as Number 6’s psyche unravels in the build-up to Fall Out.

I like this episode.

I would probably still have to put it bottom if I were ranking the whole series, but I do believe it has merits.

Also, it does not let us down in terms of the music cues.

The music creates some wonderfully atmospheric moments… while the more recognisable cues provide us with some grounding in the fragmented and unfamiliar scenes.

The inclusion of the paternoster lift always brings a smile… the episode may be out of kilter but it is still quirky in the extreme.

I find that I do return to this episode for re-watches and that I can just about tolerate the absence of McGoohan, although I’m glad they didn’t make a habit of it.

In the end then, I concede that while Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling, may well be the WORST episode in the series, it still has its merits if you are prepared to overlook how daft the plot is.

You can either enjoy it as a jaunty piece of later Avengers-style silliness or you can view it as an appropriate direction to go in given the eventual conclusion to the series or you can dismiss it as filler born out of circumstances or… you can think what you like.

That, surely, is the BEST thing about The Prisoner.

Visit https://www.theunmutual.co.uk/ for much more information on this television masterpiece.

2 thoughts on “Really the “worst” of the best? Rethinking The Prisoner episode Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling

  1. Agree with you 100%. ‘Do Not Forsake’ is is a fantastic episode, a welcome breath of fresh air after a run of Village-based episodes. My only complaint is that we don’t get nearly enough of Clifford Evans’ No.2. Like Colin Gordon, he ought to have returned in other episodes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Right again! If you buy into this ‘ranking’ of stuff then something has to come last, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad and this episode is still a cracker – I mean, it’s The Prisoner, so how can it not be? Glad you liked it and thanks for the comment(s), much appreciated… watch this space for more on the subject of great TV

      Like

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