Friday, 3 May 2013

The Highlanders

The Highlanders, so I am told, is to be the last historical story for a long time. Innes Lloyd the producer and script editor Gerry Davis had decided to shelve historical stories as they didn’t seem to be as popular as the science fiction stories – meaning they didn’t rate as well as stories with the Daleks or Cybermen or the like.
It’s a bit of a pity, because I can’t think of a single historical story that I didn’t like. The last couple had been crackers – ‘The Gunfighters’ was a very funny well written enjoyable tale, and ‘The Smugglers’ was a cracking story involving pirates and the like. So this tale by Elwyn Jones and Gerry Davis would see historical adventures fade into the distance like forgotten memories.
The Doctor, Ben and Polly find a cannon in episode one.
‘The Highlanders’ is very similar to ‘The Smugglers’, it’s more of an adventure tale, rather than some of the earlier historical stories which were trying to inform their audience and be factual. This seems to be a clear move after ‘The Massacre’, which was highly accurate in its events. ‘The Highlanders’ in contrast features purely fictional characters in an historical setting (I may be wrong, but as far as I know most if not all of the characters in ‘The Highlanders’ are not based on real people).

Hoots! Patrick Troughton adds a comic turn to the Doctor

The tone is rather comical throughout, and these four parts seem to serve as a piece for Patrick Troughton to get stuck in, flex his character acting muscles and show what he’s got in his bag of tricks. He plays a German Doctor, a washer woman and other characters as he changes disguises several times throughout the piece.
The story is about a crooked Solicitor who is shipping off rebel Highlanders in 1746 to the Caribbean as slaves. Not strictly legal, he makes them sign a contract to say they agree to it. It’s the time of King George, when the Scots are fighting for Bonnie Prince Charles. But very little is made of the historical setting other than as a backdrop for being captured, taking to a ship, and rescued by the Doctor and is making disguises.
Anneke Wills with Hannah Gordon (Kirsty)

I don’t mean that as a criticism. It’s really a lot of fun and a great little tale. Anneke Wills has a great time as Polly in her best story by far (thus far) as she has to convince Kirsty (Hannah Gordon) to stand up and fight the English. They capture Algernon Ffinch, making fun of his name and stealing all his money. It’s all good craic! Ooops, no, that’s the Irish! But she gets to be the strong woman here – Kirsty is the weaker girl – probably not something the audience would expect for a Scot!

Frazer Hines (right) as Jamie
Ben, the Laird (an old man near death at the start of the story who strangely gets to survive the tale) and Jamie McCrimmon (Frazer Hines) are taken to a ship about to leave with its prisoners to the Caribbean. This is where the big fight scene takes place in episode four, and where it at times feels like ‘The Smugglers’. Frazer Hines brings the likeable Jamie to life, and although he doesn’t have a huge role in the story, it seems a good fit that they invite him aboard the TARDIS at the end of the four parts.
Patrick Troughton, although he still uses the recorder and stove-pipe hat, at least has his Doctor mentally present in the story this time – in ‘Power of the Daleks’ he seemed very distant at times. He is the ‘man with the plan’ in this story, and provides much of the humour in this amusing tale. He’s still a bit too silly for me though.
Sydney Arnold as Perkins
Anneke Wills, although Polly does go missing here and there, has a good story as Polly. Polly is the stronger of her and Kirsty, whom she is partnered with for much of the tale. Michael Craze is again a bit agro and gunho, mostly because of the limitations written into the character. As for the guest cast, it’s all very solid indeed, without anyone really standing out. Sydney Arnold deserves a credit for his portrayal of the slightly greasy solicitor’s assistant Perkins, who changes sides to save his own life once the boat has been taken over and is heading for France. David Garth as Solicitor Grey provides the real villain of the piece. It is an ensemble piece though, and the cast is excellent as a whole.
Not much else to make of this one. I think it’s rather good overall. Nice to see the English putting themselves in the dubious camp for once!

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