Tuesday, 5 July 2011

31: The Highlanders - The Last Pure Historical. Not The First Or Last Of Much-Missing Troughton.

Written by: Jerry Davis & Elwyn Jones.
Companions: The Doctor, Ben Jackson and Polly.
Monsters/Villains: Solicitor Grey.
Brief Synopsis: The TARDIS arrives at the end of the Battle of Culloden in 1746.
Rating: 7/10.

The pilgrimage continues with The Highlanders. We're getting in to the really tough stuff now. Troughton is great but out of his twenty stories only seven exist in their entirety and this isn't one of them; not a single episode of The Highlanders exists. It's such a shame. I want to see what Patrick Troughton is getting up to. It sounds like he's having a right laugh; dressing up whenever he can and doing silly accents. I wasn't massively impressed with this initially over complicated story, but it gets better as it goes on. I enjoyed the opening and the closing, but the bit in the middle wasn't the best. It felt like after the action packed, story based, Power of The Daleks, this story was more plainly an opportunity for Patrick Troughton's Doctor to have a good mess about. Maybe it was a good thing? Let him settle a while before he's off on his next adventure. We shall see...

We arrive in the aftermath of the Battle of Culloden. Scottish Highlanders loyal to Bonnie Prince Charlie are battling German and English soldiers serving King George II. Three survivors of the Clan McLaren: Colin, Alexander and Kirsty and also a young piper, Jamie McCrimmon are hauled up in an abandoned cottage when the TARDIS materialises near by. Ben wishfully thinks they’re home, then suddenly along with Polly falls to the ground as a cannonball strikes right next to them. The Doctor wants to leave but Ben and Polly want to stay and explore.

Jamie and Alexander.
We get a brief interlude while the Doctor sports his short-lived catchphrase. He has found a Highland Bonnet hat and states, "I would like a hat like this." The Scots spy the Doctor and co and force them into the cottage. The Scots are losing and the Laird, Colin McLaren is dying. The Doctor promises to help them if they lay down their weapons. Polly and Kirsty go to fetch water for the Laird's wounds. Ben doesn't want to trust the Jacobites but they promise not to molest them and the Doctor knows, "A Highlanders word is his bond." As Ben sets down one of the requisitioned pistols it goes off, the English Lieutenant Ffinch and his redcoat soldiers hear it and head for the cottage. Alexander bravely tries to draw off the redcoats but they shoot him and continue to advance.

Entering the cottage they presume Ben to be a Scot or a deserter but the Doctor cleverly asumes the guise of a German stating "Doctor von Wer (German for "Doctor Who") at your service." To which Ffinch replies classically: "Doctor Who?" Troughton really gets to flex his comedy muscles in this story. We then meet Solicitor Grey and his clerk, Perkins who are watching the battle through a telescope. Grey works under his Majesty's Commissioner of Prisons and plans to profit from the rebellion by selling the Scots in to slavery in the West Indies.

Grey saves the Doctor and Ben, but only so he can sell them in to slavery.
Polly and Kirsty return with the water and see the Redcoats, who are preparing nooses to hang the Doctor, Ben and the Scots. Polly throws stones at the Soldiers and the pair run away followed by Ffinch and two soldiers, believing that one of them may be the fleeing Prince disguised as a woman. Sergent Clegg is just about to continue with the hanging, when Grey intervenes bribing the Sergent to release them in to his custody. The group are marched off to Inverness Gaol. I must say this is all very promising thus far, then it gets a little incomprehensible.

Hiding in a Cave Polly notices Kirsty’s ring and suggests they use it to bribe the soldiers, but Kirsty refuses, saying it belongs to her father and he entrusted her with it. Annoyed, Polly goes off on her own and falls into an animal pit. Kirsty frees her and Polly decides to use the trap. She makes noises to draw Ffinch towards them and he too falls into the animal trap. Polly and Kirsty tie him up and steal his money, food and identity disc.

In the gaol the Doctor tends to the Laird and discovers he is carrying the Prince's standard. The Doctor takes it and then plays the Rebel Dirge on his recorder. The Doctor feins being German again and says he has information about a plot on the Duke of Cumberland's life. The Doctor is brought before Grey but ties him up, puts a handkerchief in his mouth and shoves him in a cupboard. Perkins comes in and the Doctor "examines" his eyes. He says Perkins has head aches and then bangs his head on the table to create one. The Doctor says he reads too much, and prescribes him some rest.

Captain Trask.
Sergeant Clegg rescues Lieutenant Ffinch. Trask, the captain of ship that will be used to transport the slaves returns and frees Grey. The prisoners get moved through a trap door and are taken aboard the Annabelle. The Doctor disguises himself; this time as an old woman and brings some hot broth for an officer, who leaves without locking the trap door. Trask orders a man thrown overboard and allowed to drown scaring the rest of the prisoners with "That's the only way you'll get off the Annabelle."

Kirsty gets Polly some new clothes and some 'oranges?' Polly likes the clothes and revels: "Last time we went back to the past I had to wear boys clothes all the time." Polly's plan is to disguise themselves as (ahem!) 'Orange sellers' in order to 'get closer to' the soldiers. She even mentions Nell Gwynn. The pair somehow manage to infiltrate the Sea Eagle Pub and find Ffinch who is forced to vouch for them.

Polly and Kirsty take care of Ffinch.
Aboard the Annabelle Grey gives the prisoners three choices: Clemency if they become witnesses/traitors, Hanging and "death with honour," or a seven year contract to work in the plantations in the West Indies. Everyone goes for option number three except for Jamie, Ben, Colin and Captain Trask's previous friend MacKay. Ben rips up the signed contracts and is knocked out and put in the hold.

I think so far Polly is my favourite female companion.
I'm sad I can't see her Nell Gwynn impression in motion...
Perkins is with Polly and Kirsty, while they await Grey's arrival. They try to leave and Perkins threatens them. The girls agree to stay when the Doctor still disguised as an old woman comes to their rescue and aides their getaway. Polly wants to make a plan but the Doctor wants to sleep. The Doctor recognises Kirsty's ring as that of the Prince and persuades her to give it up to him to use as "bait for a very greedy man." They will use Ffinch's stolen money to buy weapons to arm the Highlanders and help them escape.

Ben comes across a disguised Doctor.
Meanwhile aboard the Annabelle, Ben is dunked into the water as a punishment but doesn't resurface. He emerges on the other side of the ship, swims through the freezing water and somehow manages to get to land only to find himself at the end of a redcoats musket. Fortunately it's the Doctor in yet another disguise. Polly, Ben, and the Doctor are reunited. The Doctor has found his own clothes again but Polly comments "I liked you better in your dress, Doctor." Ben is given fresh clothes and pulls a tamoshanta over his face. Of course the Doctor can't resist saying once more "I would like a hat like that."

Solicitor Grey meet Doctor von Wer. 
And after all that confusion in the middle the end is a satisfying one. The Doctor goes aboard the Annabelle as Doctor von Wer again and shows Grey the ring. He says he got it from Prince Charles who was captured and is aboard the ship. The Doctor claims that Jamie is the Prince but when they go to hold to find him Colin McLaren, Jamie, MacKay and the rest of the Highlanders attack the sailors, quickly overpowering them. MacKay fights Trask, but he escapes wounding him. Trask goes for Ben, but Jamie literally swings in and saves him, forcing Trask into the sea. MacKay takes control of the ship and Perkins begs to stay and accompany the Scots as they set sail for the safety of France. Jamie decides to go with the Doctor, Ben and Polly to guide them back to the TARDIS. The four take Grey ashore as a hostage but he escapes while they fight off some redcoats. 

The quartet go to the Sea Eagle to get Ffinch's help getting past the redcoats. The next day they arrive back at the cottage where it all began and Polly gives back Ffinch's identity disc with her thanks. Suddenly Grey arrives with some redcoats. Ffinch accuses him of being a slave trader. Grey denies this saying the prisoners signed contracts making it legal. But he's misplaced the contracts. Ffinch has Grey arrested and imprisoned in Inverness Gaol. It turns out the Doctor conjured away the contracts in to his own pocket. The TARDIS crew decide to take Jamie with them, but only if he teaches the Doctor how to play the bagpipes (not another annoying instrument Doctor?). Jamie is suddenly unsure of this venture, but Polly takes his hand and he steps into the TARDIS as it dematerialises.

It is quite obvious that the idea to make Frazer Hines' Jamie McCrimmon a companion came rather late in the day. I'm not complaining as Jamie will grow to become one of the best and certainly to date the longest serving companion of all time, but his motives to join the Doctor's company here seem somewhat unfounded. He's barely featured in the story at all, and it seems strange for him to want to remain in occupied Scotland while the rest of his friends depart for France.

All in all I enjoyed The Highlanders, but after the wonderful Power of The Daleks, it was slightly overshadowed. This story is also the last of the pure historical adventures. Some people don't loose much love over the historicals, but I think they have their certainly have their place and we should definitely see some in the new series of Doctor Who. 

I've heard many things about our next story. Join me next time for some madness in The Underwater Menace.

1 comment:

Chad Moore said...

Lovely review! I'm currently reconstructing "The Highlanders", and it's actually given me a new appreciation for the story. What impresses me the most is how strong Polly is written for. She's stellar throughout, and it's a shame she was never treated this well again.