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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Doctor Who: The Highlanders

Serial Title: The Highlanders
Series: 4
Episodes: 4
Doctor: Patrick Troughton
Companions: Ben Jackson (Michael Craze), Polly Wright (Anneke Wills), Jamie McCrimmon (Frazer Hines)

Landing in Scotland during April of 1746, the exploring TARDIS crew are quickly caught up in the war between the Scotts and the British as they stumble into a Scottish hut with a wounded Laird inside, and after Ben accidentally alerts the British patrolling the area, they are taken captive by redcoats. The Doctor feigns being a German physician and claims neutrality, but the group is ultimately saved from hanging by British Solicitor Grey and his hapless clerk Perkins, who transfer them to nearby Inverness prison for slave labor purposes. The Doctor, Ben, Scotsman Jamie McCrimmon, and the Laird of his clan are taken away- but Polly and the native Kirsty (who had avoided capture) manage to draw Ffinch, the leader of the patrol that captured the others, into a pit trap. There, they take him prisoner, stealing his papers and money.

At Inverness, the Doctor discovers that the Laird bears the standard of Bonnie Prince Charley, concealing it- the Doctor takes it, then incites the prisoners to a rebellious state with his recorder and traditional Scottish tunes, then convinces the guard that he has information on an upcoming rebel insurgent attempt on the life of an English noble. Once taken to Solicitor Grey, he tricks his way into incapacitating both Grey (tying him up) and Perkins (playing on his hypochondriac fears) and escapes. Grey, meanwhile, has ordered Trask, a sea captain, to take the prisoners aboard his ship, the Annabelle- where they will be forced to sign a life-long labor contract and be shipped to the Indies as slave labor.

Hapless Ffinch is found and rescued by his men, who exploit him for cash- which has been stolen- and he is returned to the Sea Eagle Inn, where Grey and Perkins are staying, and next to which the Annabelle is docked. The Doctor, disguising himself as an old woman (Note from Sarah: You'd think with a scene like that I would remember this one better....), investigates the Annabelle, while aboard the ship, Ben, under the guise of reading the fine print, tears up the contracts and is clapped in irons. The Doctor reunites with Polly and Kirsty and they make their escape, lying low in a barn. Polly hatches a plan to use the stolen money to buy weapons and smuggle them aboard the Annabelle, to incite a prisoner revolt.

Ben escapes both the ship and death after he is bound and thrown overboard, escaping his bonds and swimming to shore, where the Doctor meets him in disguise. (Man, I really wish I could’ve seen this one as a video!!!) The Doctor later allows himself to be captured and uses a ring from Kirsty to perpetuate a con that Bonnie Prince Charley in disguise is actually one of the prisoners aboard the Annabelle. Solicitor Grey and Perkins are thus lured aboard the ship… just in time for the prisoners to rise up and fight off their captors. Trask attacks Ben in a grudge-based duel, but Jamie subdues him and saves Ben’s life.

Kirsty is reunited with her father, the Laird, while the once-captured Scotsmen take the ship (with Perkins joining them in sailing to France, and safety) and the TARDIS crew disembarks (along with Jamie, who joins the group with the stated goal of teaching the Doctor to play the bagpipes, rather than his beloved recorder) bearing Solicitor Grey as a hostage. Grey proves a particularly troublesome one- attracting attention of several redcoats and escaping in the ensuing fisticuffs. Instead, the group returns to the Inn and blackmails poor, hapless Ffinch into aiding them- who, along the route back to the TARDIS, is told the tale of Grey’s illegal slave trade and dishonorable conduct. Nearly to the TARDIS, the group is waylaid by redcoats, led by Grey- but Ffinch takes charge and orders Grey arrested. Grey tries to wriggle away by presenting the contracts (replacements drawn up for the ones Ben destroyed), claiming that since the captured men agreed to become slaves by legal contract, he had done nothing wrong in taking slaves… but the contracts have been pick-pocketed by the Doctor, and Grey, unable to produce them, is hauled off to Inverness prison.

The Highlanders is a mixed bag. On the one hand, it is of note for numerous landmarks in the show- the introduction of Jamie, one of the longest-running companions of the early years (who, if what I've read is correct, will remain with the Second Doctor for the rest of his tenure) (NFS: It's weird reading this blog after we've already seen all of Jamie's adventures, he's definitely destined to be a favorite). It is also the last true 'historical,' in which the Doctor and company get involved in (sensationalized) actual historical events. Future stories take place in the past, but always with alien intervention or an alien twist, and seldom around specific historical events- history becomes a backdrop or setting, instead of a story focus.

Despite these landmarks, however, the story is dull and relatively simplistic- capture and escape, cut and dried- with not even that many twists to it. Add to that the fact that it's a recreation, and... well, there's not much to offer in the way of 'compelling', 'thrilling', 'engaging', or even 'not boring'.

On the other hand, though, the Doctor is fantastic in this serial- a master of gambits and disguises, funny, clever... a worthy successor now coming into his own! From his disguise as an old woman ("It'd be a shame to waste good broth...") to his insane bamboozling medical doctor routine ("That noise is all in your head. In your eyes!") he is fantastic and proactive all throughout- this Doctor being part secret agent, part comedian- he's a good sight less passive than the first Doctor was, and very entertaining to boot- even as the situation keeps going straight to heck, the Doctor instantly comes into mastery of whatever the new situation may be. He always has a plan, a way of working out of the danger, an idea, a plot... qualities that typically are ascribed to the Seventh Doctor... except done with great humor. I am officially a fan of the Second Doctor (I'd put him above the Ninth AND Tenth at this time, from my sampling of Doctors 1, 2, 9, 10, and 11... rising to 3rd on the second appearance? That's pretty impressive. That said... I haven't seen a Doctor I don't like yet! But then, I haven't seen the Sixth yet...) (NFS: The Second Doctor is my favorite, FOREVER!)

Ben is his usual headstrong, slightly-foolhardy-but-active self. He touches off a needless confrontation by taking charge at the beginning, and in a moment of careless idiocy, kicks off the whole capture by tossing the pistol. He later tears up the contracts, an impetuous and somewhat foolish move of defiance that is nonetheless courageous. All in all, his heart is in the right place, but his actions are... rather useless.

Polly comes off very strongly here, though- taking charge in the Doctor's absence and handling herself- and a hapless redcoat- quite effectively. One of her strongest outings, and proving herself to be more proactive than most female companions of the time. The humor subplot with Ffinch is a lot of fun, as she repeatedly takes advantage of and blackmails the helpless Captain.

Our Loose Canon productions reconstruction was neither anything to complain about, nor anything to write home about. It merely was. And, in what I suspect will soon become a pattern with Troughton stories, this one was a largely visual story (what with all the Doctor’s clowning around) of which I suspect much has been lost due to its slide-show format. The Second Doctor was hit the hardest in terms of episodes lost, folks… so it begins. :-( (NFS: It's a testament to how good Patrick Troughton is that he can be our favorite and...we mostly can only HEAR him!)
Not much to say about The Highlanders- historicals go out not with a bang, but a whimper- a necessary bridge story to get Jamie aboard, and some hilarious Doctor bits, save it from being useless like, say, the Savages or the Smugglers, which practically drown in their own mediocrity (The Savages being likewise saved by a great Doctor-performance… from another actor! :-) )- but for the last historical, it’s really just… not much.

Great moments:
The old woman, the soldier, the German Doctor (and his ‘treatment’ of Grey and Perkins)- every one of the Doctor’s impersonations.

2 out of 5 Deadman’s Keys to the serial- which would have been worse had it not been for the Doctor’s broth-shilling old lady- and 2 as well for the lackluster but serviceable reconstruction. (Perhaps I’ve simply been spoiled!)

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