The Highlanders

Written by Elwyn Jones & Gerry Davis Directed by Hugh David Okay, lets get one thing straight: despite my ambiguous generic British accent I’m pretty darn Scottish. I might have a few French, Irish and Scandinavian ancestors kicking around somewhere, maybe even a lonely Englander, but the majority of them are inbred highlanders, including a couple who managed to escape the massacre at Glencoe. Like most people in Scotland I am probably guilty of blaming the English for things that is totally their fault, like Tories and the Daily Mail, and will often find myself mutter “bloody English bastards” under my breath. So when I say that the Highlanders is an oddly anti-English story, know that it is with a small smile of approval. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s common in the historical Whos for a particular group to be singled out as the villains, but there is usually at least a hint of balance and acknowledgement that there are two sides to the story. Not so in this case. Although the Doctor is clearly not at all interested in who was king, this story is clearly framed around the appalling treatment of the defeated Jacobites. Every English character in it, with the exception of Ben and Polly, are out and out bastards. The two most sympathetic ones are a yellow bellied hapless toff sap, and a turncoat coward, who only look sympathetic compared to the rest of the murderous slaving assholes. The highlanders themselves are shown in a much more balanced light, sympathetic, to be sure, but often capable of short temper and downright stupidity. I’m not sure at what point the producers realised that Jamie was worth holding onto. I’m pretty sure he was originally cast as a one off character, just for the Highlanders, but right from the start he seemed to fit with the group. There was no real need for another young male companion, Ben already had that demographic covered, but the character just seemed to work as a part of the group. Jamie would go on to be the most prolific* of all the doctors companions, appearing in well over 100 episodes. In fact, only William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker, all actors playing the Doctor himself, appeared in more episodes. I’ve always had a tremendous soft spot for Jamie, and not just because he’s Scottish: he is almost the perfect balance to the Doctor, keen, but lacking an education, suspicious, but capable of trust and always ready to put himself in harms way to protect others. Both Ben and Polly get to have a good few moments of greatness in this story too. Polly shows her more pro-active side when she takes on an English officer, capturing him, robbing him, and them blackmailing him on a number of occasions, but ultimately treating him kindly and winning him over with her charm. Ben spends pretty much all of the story captured, but still manages to show some real spirit, particularly when confronting the slave traders and ripping up their contract. But, as always, its the Doctor who steals the show. Whether he’s posing as a German physician or a maid serving at table, he constantly demonstrated the offbeat ingenuity that was the core of the Second Doctor’s charm. Not bad, then, for a story that was plot wise just another by the numbers historical loop-a-thon. The production staff clearly were realising by this point that the pure historical stories were getting pretty repetitive and dull, because that would be the last one in Doctor Who’s 50 year run. The doctor would still travel to Earth’s past, but there would always be some alien terror or other sci-fi element to face, rather than just human treats. In some ways I think that this is a great shame. Many of the historical stories are pretty weak, but I think that this was largely due to the writers not putting enough effort into giving the Doctor and his companions a reason to stick around, and just stuck them in a cell. which, lets be honest, was just fuckign lazy writing. done correctly, they could be the show at its best, The Aztecs, for example is an intriguing look at a society that is as different from ours as many of the alien ones on the show, and Massacre on St Bartholomew’s eve has spectacular tension derived from you knowing exactly how its all going to turn out, but the characters are as helpless as you are as the events inevitably unfold. I for one am sad to see them go. So, having been to the best place in the universe, what are the Doctor and his companions to do now? |Given that everything else is going to be pretty disappointing, Atlantis might as well do for a start. Will it be as good as Scotland? No, of course not, but find out by how much its trailing next time in The Underwater Menace. *Not the longest running: The Brig and Sarah Jane both went away and came back again.

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