Monday, 15 July 2013

The Highlanders (Episode 1)

Originally Broadcast 17th December 1966

Written by: Elwyn Jones & Gerry Davis

In a nutshell: The Doctor, Ben and Polly land in Culloden in 1745 where they get wrapped up in history.

NB. As this episode is missing from the BBC archives, this review is based upon the surviving audio book narrated by Frazer Hines and the photo-novels from DWM’s recent Missing Episodes special.

Review: I like how this episode opens up in the action rather than with the TARDIS gang, so that we instantly know what we’re in for (as if the title didn’t give it away) and, unusually, know more than the TARDIS gang do when they arrive. When they do arrive its fun with Ben and Polly commenting on the rubbish Earth weather. It’s a nice touch as is Ben’s remark about the cup final. I am concerned about the state of the audio. I’m listening to the BBC’s CD release from 2000 and it’s not very clear, maybe later copies have had more restoration on them?

Troughton gets a chance to don another hat and I think I’m safe to say him donning it is the most recognisable photo from this serial. DWM describes the Doctor as ‘doing a jig’ with the hat which is something that sounds so funny and amusing. Troughton has lightened since the last serial and he’s a lot of fun here, as well as providing some nice scenes of emotion such as describing a Highlander’s word as his bond. I hate Ben’s idiocy at accidentally letting the gun off. It’s just one of those silly moments of writing that’s overused and never ever works in favour of the writer or character.

All the aforementioned silly scene did was provide a naff reason to forward the action and is it me for is Troughton’s German accent the same as his Salamander in ‘The Enemy Of The World’? I know some fans dislike it, but I love when Troughton says he’s called Doctor Von Wer, I think it’s a little tongue-in-cheek and a bit sly but it works for the second Doctor in this fun state of mind.

We eventually get introduced to some new characters and spend far too much time with them. I suppose I’m meant to by the way the story is running, but I dislike all the English characters who aren’t regulars. They’re written as villains, the sort you’d get in a Zorro or Musketeers movie. Polly and Kirsty throw a diversion to help the others which is great and does a lot for 1960s feminism. They’re both brave and intelligent and unlike a lot of female characters on television in 1966.

I don’t think I like this episode, I’m enjoying what Troughton is doing, but all the guest characters (especially those playing Redcoats) are a bit dull and the plot isn’t going anywhere. We’ve already gone through the arrest, threatening of hanging and loosing of it. Usually that provides a cliffhanger or two yet here we (luckily?) get through it all in one episode, which makes it feel like a lot of padding to stretch the episode to four parts.

Everything I said about Kirsty being a strong female character has been ruined as she turns on Polly for a silly reason, forcing her to run for her life. And then Polly rushes into a trap like a stereotypical female. This episode set out well regarding feminine characters and has ended up ruining everything it did in less than fifteen minutes. I’m sure the weak cliffhanger will end up being Kirsty there to help Polly only and she’s screaming for no reason. It hasn’t been a good episode and I do feel our regulars haven’t actually got anywhere by the end of it. I suppose roll on part two!?

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