The Highlanders

Posted in Episode by - September 24, 2016
The Highlanders

Aired 17 December 1966 – 7 January 1967

Following a riveting battle with the Daleks, the era of the Second Doctor continues with another staple of the First Doctor era, the historical. Landing in 1746 Scotland shortly after the Battle of Culloden, the Doctor, Polly, and Ben soon find themselves embroiled in tumultuous affairs of the time as they stumble into a hut with wounded Laird and accidentally alert the nearby British patrol.

Setting events after the battle is a rather novel twist; while the story itself rather simply amounts to a great deal of capture and escape while featuring rather stereotypical Scottish and English characters, taking the focus off of the major historical events affords the script much more time to further develop its new leads, specifically its new Doctor. Though Patrick Troughton unabashedly took control of events in ‘The Power of the Daleks,’ there was understandably a bit of trepidation as both he and the show tried to figure out what exactly to do with this new incarnation. In ‘The Highlanders’ the Second Doctor skews more towards the comedic end of the spectrum while proving to be master of disguise. As he adopts the persona of a German doctor, an old maid, and even a Redcoat, the Doctor manages to exude an air of mystery while continually remaining one step ahead of his foes and proving that his unassuming demeanour houses a brilliant tactical mind. However, there is a fine line to balance between welcome diversion and overplayed crutch; as amusing as the parade of disguises is here, it is good to know that the writers found different ways to differentiate the personalities of the First and Second Doctors in future stories while keeping Troughton more overtly present as himself.

Unfortunately Michael Craze doesn’t get nearly as much to do as Ben in ‘The Highlanders’ despite being captured, taken prisoner, and even sold into slavery. Instead, it is Anneke Wills’s Polly who takes on an incredibly proactive role in this story, creating a nice duo with Hannah Gordon’s Kirsty and using everything at her disposal to help mount a rescue. For a character who would sadly be reduced to more stereotypically demure damsel in many future stories, this is certainly a showcase for Polly and what she brings to the TARDIS. However, ‘The Highlanders’ is most notable for introducing a character just about as synonymous with the Second Doctor’s era as the Doctor himself, Scotsman Jamie McCrimmon. Played by Frazer Hines, Jamie doesn’t have too much to do in this story besides follow the others around and offer the occasional quip, but his stage presence and engaging likability is undeniable from the start. Though offering him the role of companion wasn’t planned from the start, Innes Lloyd and Gerry Davis gambling on the young actor would certainly come to play huge dividends in the future.

However, despite its important place in Doctor Who history, ‘The Highlanders’ simply is not one of the more memorable tales of the early Second Doctor era, a timeframe hit hard by the video purging of the BBC. A quick pace and moments of sobering harshness certainly help, and the existing telesnaps appear to show some very nice location shots, but the reliance on clichés and somewhat repetitive plot points undermine the otherwise decent offering. ‘The Highlanders’ would be the last true historical in the classic sense, and there’s a sense throughout that the programme is in a way going through the motions here, offering one final display before decidedly and firmly moving to the action, monsters, and science fiction for which it would really become known.

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