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07 September 2013 @ 07:20 pm
The Randomizer: The Highlanders  
When I first became a Doctor Who fan The Highlanders was, famously, the last ever pure historical story the show had aired. That was over-turned a year or so later when The Black Orchid debuted, but even so it remains something of a watershed story marking the end of Doctor Who's aspirations to be educational (at least about history).

The move away from pure historicals and towards a more monster-led format probably has more to do with producer Innes Lloyd's vision for the show, than with any particular shortcoming in The Highlanders. However it is difficult to ignore the fact that Doctor Who's ambition, when it comes to historicals, has vanished and it is content for them to be (somewhat muted) rip-roaring swashbuckling tales, drawing more on literature and folk history than on genuine history. The Highlanders felt very similar to The Smugglers, the previous pure historical, which was also produced under Innes Lloyd. In fact the slave-running Captain Trask of The Highlanders wouldn't have been out of place in the earlier tale as he "Arrrgh!"s his way with enthusiasm through the script.

I enjoyed it more than The Smugglers, though I did feel it dragged somewhat in the middle when the Doctor and his companions are split up and must then work to reunite. The separation did turn it into a surprisingly good story for Polly who, as a companion, tends to merge into the "sixties screamers". Here she gets to make plans and execute them, and even blackmail an English Lieutenant into helping her, although there is an unfortunate moment when she storms off into the night in a huff and promptly falls down a hole in the ground. This may be because the script is contrasting her with Hannah Gordon's Kirsty who starts out timid and passive, learning to be more assertive as the story progresses. Meanwhile Ben, who you would expect to be getting some swash-buckling action, gets to do little more than sit around in various sorts of prison cell. Jamie, for a character who was to go on to have such presence in the show, is strangely uninteresting in this, his debut story. Like Ben, he spends most of it locked up which doesn't help but, even so, he comes across much more as generic background colour than as a character with looming significance.

One of the most interesting aspects of the story is that the production team were clearly playing with the idea of the second Doctor as a master of disguise. At various points he pretends to be a german doctor, a red-coat and a washerwoman. The effect is, I suspect, somewhat lessened by viewing the story as tele snaps since we have to judge the performance via still pictures and silly voices. I'm a little surprised that the idea didn't really stick, since it's a good enough one with plenty of scope, and presumably played to Troughton's strengths as an actor, however it was not to be.

Talking of tele-snaps reconstructions, this one stood out somewhat since Fraser Hines (who played Jamie) had recorded a voiceover for the existing sound-track. We watched reconstructions of episodes 1, 2 and 4, with Hines' narration and episode 3 without (such being the vagaries of YouTube). Tame layman, to my surprise, said he preferred it without the narration, though it has to be said he spent a lot of the story surfing the internet on his iPhone. I think it safe to say that The Highlanders isn't hugely engaging. A small skeptical layman joined us for the final episode, though, and did get sufficiently interested to ask some questions about the plot and declare indignantly that she had heard of Bonnie Prince Charlie when it was suggested otherwise.

Despite marking the passing of the historical story and introducing Jamie, The Highlanders remains another light and throwaway story, much like The Smugglers in fact. It looms significant in the fan history of the show, but it is easy to see that the production team of the time had relatively little interest in historical tales and it ultimately shows that somewhere along the way this must have been viewed as little more than four filler episodes.

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/105008.html.
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on September 8th, 2013 10:15 am (UTC)
I always want to find something interesting to say about The Highlanders, but there are few stories from the original series that I find this hard to remember. When I watched Doctor Who in order it occurred to me that this and The Smugglerswere attempts to provide stability and stylistic continuity at a time of dramatic change, which may be true, but does little to help the reputations of these stories in retrospect.

The disguises may have been an attempt to reassure Troughton that he would not become too well-known and typecast for the part. Aside from a brief disguise in the next story, they vanish after this, which may suggest growing confidence on his part or a lack of interest in maintaining the gimmick by the production team.

It did take the writers a while to get to grips with Jamie as a character. The myth that the character was kept on due to audience demand having been debunked, I wonder if the production team saw Frazer Hines' star potential and kept him around until they had something for him to do!
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on September 8th, 2013 01:05 pm (UTC)
One of its problems, I think, is that very little is happening in the middle two episodes beyond the Doctor escaping from the prison cell. It's not even a padded episode three capture-escape sequence since there is only one escape and no recapturing. It's an odd story, in some ways it feels like it wants to be The Smugglers and has been lumbered with these awkward highlanders it's not interested in.

I wonder how quickly the rapport between Hines and Troughton developed. If the production team had seen that they worked well together that may have prompted them to take him on. They spend relatively little time on screen together here which may also contribute to Jamie's lack of impact.