Wednesday, 17 July 2013

The Highlanders (Episode 3)

Originally Broadcast 31st December 1966

Written by: Elwyn Jones & Gerry Davis

In a nutshell: Having been reunited with the Doctor, Polly and Kirsty plot to rescue Ben from the dungeons before he’s killed.

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: There are a few things I’ve failed to remark upon so far in this review of ‘The Highlanders’, one of which is it’s the final historical serial (bar 1982’s ‘Black Orchid’).  I don’t know if I like that fact or not, because during the Hartnell era the historicals fitted in so nicely, even after the original crew of Ian, Barbara and Susan left, they continued to appear and they continued to work. Some of my favourite 1960s stories are these but by the time of ‘The Highlanders’ they are getting a bit stale. This is, bar perhaps ‘The Smugglers’, the least interesting historical story for Doctor Who so I can see why they were phased out, as they also don’t fit Troughton’s Doctor so much. The show had changed and regenerated and so, along with Hartnell, the historicals had to go to make way for the new.

Something else I’ve failed to comment on is the casting. Kirsty is played by the brilliant Hannah Gordon who later went on to fame as a regular on Morecambe & Wise shows through the late 1960s and 1970s. I’m not a big fan of her character in this episode, but the performance is faultless and she becomes, for me, one of the most memorable guest stars of this time. I think maybe that’s because there are so few female guests, when they appear they strike an image like Janley in ‘The Power Of The Daleks’.

Back to the episode, though, and, whilst the story is still going nowhere, I feel our characters are well written, thorough and interesting in this part. Kirsty and Polly, in a striking move for a children’s show from 1966, decide to dress as prostitutes before rubbing up against their old ‘friend’ Ffinch whilst the Doctor is in the corner dressed as an old woman. Nothing sounds camper than this scene, although it’s not played for laughs at all.

The last episode of this serial was transmitted on Christmas Eve whilst this one on New Years Eve. They aren’t really festive episodes, although neither is anything else this series. I can’t imagine watching these at the time of transmission because it just doesn’t feel like it fits. Maybe ‘The Underwater Menace’ would’ve been a slightly better fit as it’s a lot more fun and running around and fish people and campness?

I must say I’ve really been enjoying this episode, it feels like everyone’s coming back together and the script works a lot better as our ensemble cast get on so well together. Troughton seems to gel with all the actors and can make any scene fun whilst Polly is trying her best to carry the plot forward with a Doctor who isn’t interested in the slightest. He has all the answers and the ability to forward the plot yet he can’t be bothered, he wants to sleep instead. It reminds me a little of ‘Day Of The Moon’ with the Doctor knowing all about where Amy is being held captive but has no plan once he’s there, so rests on it instead. Our Doctor is the same here with regards to rescuing Ben and Jamie.

Despite this episode being a lot more entertaining, the whole episode has been spent wasting time for Ben and Jamie until they can be put to death in timing with the episode ending to provide the cliffhanger. It’s a weak excuse to drag out a character plot just for that and, as with the first two parts, Ben is such a wasted character. Polly, Kirsty and the Doctor’s plotline more than makes up for it, but it’s still a shame to see ben having nothing to do for three episodes now.

With a final revelation from Kirsty that sets the final wheels in motion for the finale, it feels like the story is finally shaping up for a great climax to make up for the first two weaker episodes. I have to admit this is a really good episode full of character and plot developments for the Doctor and Polly. I can’t wait to get into the next episode and see what happens next.

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