The Prisoner – The Schizoid Man

Episode 5: The Schizoid Man

First ITV broadcast: Friday 27th October 1967, 7.30pm (ATV Midlands/Grampian)
Estimated first run ratings: 11.7 million
First CBS broadcast: Saturday 6th July 1968, 7.30pm

Pay attention. It’s going to get complicated. There have been many Number Twos but there is only one Number Six. “I am a person” Number Six proclaimed last week. The Prisoner is very much a programme that emphasises individuality. It is in part about the importance of holding on to one’s identity, even when up against a world that wants you to conform. But in ‘The Schizoid Man’ Number Six becomes more than one person and there’s nothing he can do about it. The Prisoner has a double, Number 12, who becomes Number Six, whilst Number Six is meant to be Number 12. The real Number Six is drugged and brainwashed. When he wakes he is in the Number 12 house and everyone calls him Number 12 now. But Number Two wants him to pretend to be Number Six, even though he really is Number Six, in order to confuse Number Six, who is really Number 12, pretending to be Number Six in order to confuse the real Number Six. Still with me? I hope so.

I was incredibly impressed by the scenes in which both Number Sixes appear on screen at the same time. This episode in particular demonstrates what a fantastic actor Patrick McGoohan was. He has a fine repartee with himself and it’s interesting watching this change slightly. As the real Number Six begins to doubt himself, he becomes less and less like the Number Six we know (or think we know at least) and starts to turn into a cowering, retreating wreck. The scenes with both Number Sixes were all filmed twice, giving Patrick McGoohan’s stunt double, Frank Maher, more work that usual this week. Despite this, he isn’t credited.

The episode gives us enough information to know more than the real Number Six does. A light pulsates over his bed before he is taken away on a stretcher by two men in white coats. They also pick up his calendar and his watch. We see that the calendar says ‘February 10th’. Next he is sat up in a bed and he is approached with a metal pole. He puts up his right hand but gets a shock. “Left handed, Number 12” he is told. Number Six wakes up in a different bed and as he rubs his face he finds a moustache there. In the wardrobe he finds his black jacket with a ’12’ badge attached.

Number Six is terrified of moustaches

Thereafter there are several things to notice. Number Six goes to meet Number Two (Anton Rodgers) and opens the breakfast tins with his left hand. He settles for flapjacks. At least that’s what Number Two calls them, but they aren’t the flapjack I think of when I hear flapjack. They look like omelettes or pancakes and they are served with lemon wedges. Odd. Number Two tells Number Six (who he’s calling Number 12) the plan to impersonate Number Six. “Once he begins to doubt his own identity, he’ll crack.” This is the whole point of the plan. Get Number Six to crack and he will tell them everything. Number Two attaches a Number Six badge to Six’s lapel but Six removes it, telling him “I shan’t need this to remind me that am your Number Six.” Should we ever doubt the real Number Six during this episode, this is one way to help spot the real one. Number Six has never worn his badge and still refuses to.

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Number Six is a gentleman and so when the real Number Six meets the fake Number Six it’s all very polite. The real one (wearing his usual black jacket with the white trim) offers the fake one (wearing a white jacket with black trim) a drink and they head to the drinks cabinet. White-Jacket takes ice with his whiskey. Black-Jacket uses matches, not a lighter, to light his cigars. Black-Jacket says “I have a very strong sense of identity.” White-Jacket “You? Oh! Oh oh oh yes! I was forgetting – you’re supposed to be me. You are the goodie, Number Six, and I am the baddie who’s supposed to be proving you wrong, is that it?” “That’s right – except there’s no supposed about it.” In the years before The Prisoner was broadcast cowboy films had been popular. Tradition held that the goodies wore white hats whilst the baddies wore black hats. Kids would always know who they should be cheering for. The Prisoner doesn’t usually have such strict goodies and baddies; rather, it is them and us. Or Them and Number Six. This episode there is a definite baddie but interestingly enough, he is wearing the white jacket.

Who is the real Number Six?

The two Number Sixes do some shooting and fencing to try and prove who is better. The fake Number Six gets the better of the real one every time. After some bare-knuckle boxing is started outside the real Number Six is beginning to look like a shadow of his former self. Rover appears and escorts them to Number Two where various tests are done to try and prove who the real Number Six is. At the start of the episode we saw the real Number Six with Number 24, Alison. They have a mental link and she was practicing a mind-reading trick with some magic cards. The real Number Six calls her to Number Two’s place and attempts the same thing. But this time she gets almost every card he picks wrong and all of the fake Number Six’s right. Alison says she would have known anyway as the real Number Six has a mole on his left wrist. The real one checks and he doesn’t, but the fake one does.

That night Number Six looks like he’s cracking. As he twitches in his sleep, we hear the voices going through his head and then see him remembering bits and pieces. He remembers when Alison visited she knocked over his soda-siphon and left a bruise on his fingernail. He checks the photograph she gave him afterwards and spots the bruise in the photo. He checks the finger to see that the bruise has moved as the fingernail has grown. Number Six tries to remember and it all comes back to him. The shocks, hypnosis, having his hair cut and dyed. We see him with headphones on, muttering “I am Number 12… I do not smoke cigars… I smoke black cigarettes… Flapjacks are my favourite dish…

In the present he takes a white cigarette out and breaks it open. There’s a wire inside. Then he does the same with one of his cigars and finds a wire inside it again. The black cigarettes are normal. Reaching for a black cigarette with his left hand, there is a voice over. “Don’t forget Number 12 – you’re now left handed.” The lights flicker in the room and it’s clear there is something wrong with the lamp. Number Six picks up the lamp with his left hand and with his right he reaches over for a metal pipe on the wall. He gets a shock and is thrown. Getting up he knocks a box off a table and quickly catches it with his right hand. He is himself again.

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After confronting the fake Number Six and getting a password out of him, they both head outside and confronted by Rover, the real Number Six gives the password “Schizoid man“. The fake Number Six tries to but Rover edges towards him. He runs and is attacked. This is the only instance that Rover definitely kills someone. Number Six takes the white jacket.

The next day Number Six, now pretending to be Number 12, goes to see Number Two. Speaking of the operation, Number Six tells Number Two “It was your idea.” “That’s a strange thing to say. You know it wasn’t.” Number Six collects Number 12’s things. He picks up a wallet that contains a photo of a woman. As he and Number Two take a taxi to the helicopter, Number Two remarks “I remember Susan saying only a month ago that you’re generally quite unflappable.” As Number Six gets into the helicopter, Number Two says “You won’t forget to give Susan my regards, will you?” “I won’t.” Number Six is blindfolded. The helicopter takes off. It lands and Number Six gets out, removing the blindfold. Number Two is standing there. “Susan died a year ago, Number Six.”

Like last week’s episode, ‘The Schizoid Man’ ends with some frustration. Number Six had won, he had beaten them and he was going to escape in a rather brilliant way. Yet it was all taken away at the last moment. It was something he couldn’t have known and couldn’t have predicted. All the episodes show Number Six striving to maintain his individuality and sense of self, but none more than this one show to what lengths the Village’s controllers will do in order to take it away.

One final point. The Village is described early on as ‘an international community‘ yet I believe this is the first episode in which we have seen any inhabitants who aren’t white. One of Number Two’s assistants, Number 106, is played by a black man, Earl Cameron, and has a few appearances during the episode. There is also an Indian man wearing a turban who greets Number Six as he comes out of the Number 12 house, “Good morning, Number 12.” The in-story explanation I have come up for this is that the Village has been created by the British and most of its inhabitants are there, it seems, as a result of knowing Cold War secrets. As the Iron Curtain fell across Europe, it would make sense that the majority of those involved are white, although you would still expect to see a few more non-white faces there. The real-world explanation is far more simple: The Prisoner was filmed in Portmeirion, a small place in North Wales, where there isn’t very much apart from the beautiful scenery. There would not be many reasons for immigrants to move there and so the population stays white. This is reflected in The Prisoner as many of the locals were used as extras.

Be seeing you.


  1. Anonymous

    I thought the ending was particularly good, having Number 6 prevented from escaping because of the one thing that he holds most dear: individuality. He is tripped up not so much by the routines of The Village agents but by a piece of personal information which the fake Number 6 did not reveal to him. Number 6 is so used to everyone in The Village behaving like absolute professionals that it never even occurred to him to try to get the fake Number 6 to tell him any personal things which might help Number 6 take his place.

    I think this is also the episode where they finally gave a name to Rover, isn't it?

    I like your analysis of white jacket vs. black jacket and white hat vs black hat, but you've forgotten one very important thing: although we are following Number 6's travails in The Village, and although we fans of the show value our individuality as he does, we don't actually *know* if Number 6 was a good guy or a bad guy before he came to The Village. "The Chimes of Big Ben" suggest that he is on the side of the Western nations, and that principles matter to him, but we have to accept that blindly. Maybe Number 6 *is* the villain in this show and the fake Number 6 is the hero trying to get the villain's secrets.
    On the other hand, McGoohan liked playing with the old tropes, so maybe not.

    Final note: I thought the betrayal of Alison (Number 24) was the thing that hurt Number 6 the most, although I can't be sure. Maybe she was just a tool he intended to wield against Number 2 (to read his mind who Number 1 is). I do get the feeling that she was never a willing tool of Number 2 but caved in to his demand that she pick the wrong Number 6, and Number 6 will never forgive her for that moment of weakness.

    A very good review of the episode. Thanks.

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