Viewers who tuned into BBC One between 17th December 1966 and 7th January 1967 to watch Doctor Who must have really been left wondering exactly who or what the good Doctor had become. In the Power of the Daleks they saw a man with a completely different face who did his best to confound and confuse his companions by speaking in the third person. In The Highlanders the Doctor appeared more interested in acting the clown, playing fancy dress and putting on fake accents. First he was a German physician named Doctor Von Wer, then dressed in drag as a Scottish washer woman, and finally he was a Cockney Redcoat soldier. Patrick Troughton was everything that William Hartnell wasn’t. What he didn’t appear to be playing was the Doctor.
One of the Doctor’s many disguises in The Highlanders was as a Scots washer woman
Whilst Patrick Troughton was being anything but the Doctor, Anneke Wills (Polly) and Michael Craze (Ben) were really allowed to shine. The character of Polly as been really growing on me, and I was not disappointed by her outing in The Highlanders. When the party disembark from the Tardis and discover a hot, old fashioned cannon ball, the Doctor is the first to want to leave. The Doctor who was always guaranteed to want to explore, and lead himself and his companions into trouble, was seemingly gone. Polly was dumbfounded and told him that they couldn’t leave as they looked like they were in England. When Polly added, “Doctor, you don’t want us to think you’re afraid, do you?” the Doctor’s quick retort was, “Why not?”
The companions, Polly and Ben, take prominent roles in The Highlanders
The Doctor and Ben are lucky not to be hanged
After meeting up with an injured Laird and his clansmen, Polly is dispatched with the Laird’s daughter, Kirsty, to fetch clean water to bathe the wound. Whilst the women are out Ben clumsily triggers off a gun and attracts the attention of the English redcoats, who are scouring the highlands for rebels following the Battle of Culloden (1746). Forced on the run after the men are captured, Polly has little time for the tears of her lassie companion. She calls Kirsty a peasant, berates her for always crying and storms off in a huff, only to then find herself trapped in an animal pit. Kirsty finds Polly however she promptly falls into the pit herself. Incredibly, the swinging 60’s girl is more resourceful than her 18th Century highland counterpart and is able to devise an escape plan.
Polly and Kirsty are forced to flee from the Redcoats
Upon almost being seen by the Redcoat patrol that have been sent to pursue the women, Polly pulls the commanding officer, Lt Algernon Thomas Alfred ffinch, into the pit with them. It’s here that Polly’s resourcefulness comes to the fore. Taking the officer’s ID, she playfully taunts the upper class Lieutenant with the affected surname. ffinch is spelt with two f’s and no capital so Polly promptly calls him f-finch. Well that’s when she’s not calling him Algy! Robbing ffinch of the vast sum of 20 guineas, they take a lock of his hair and his identification as bargaining tools should they be apprehended. The women have effectively blackmailed ffinch as they demand his silence for fear that he will be exposed as the victim of an assault and robbery at the hands of two women. Polly and Kirsty leave ffinch tied up in the pit as they continue their journey to Inverness where the Doctor, Ben and the highlanders have been taken as prisoners.
Polly seduces the hapless Lt ffinch
Polly, ffinch and Kirsty
Once in Inverness Polly again exhibits her shrewdness with an ingenuous plan to find the Doctor and Ben. Respectable women in 18th Century Scotland didn’t wander the streets alone, least of all enter taverns. Disguised as orange sellers, however, the women were afforded the opportunity enter the Sea Eagle Inn. Deemed to be orange wenches, or women of ill-repute, their plan quickly came to fruition when they ran into the Doctor, who was dressed in drag. Also in the tavern was the corrupt Solicitor Grey and his comic Clerk, Perkins. Grey was in command of rebel prisoners, although he was making money on the side by selling the robust highlanders into the slave trade.
Polly procures suitable clothing for her masquerade as an “orange wench”
Ben, the Laird and the highlanders had become victims of the trafficking scheme and found themselves in chains upon the ship Annabelle. The Doctor would have been in the same situation had he not ingenuously escaped earlier whilst impersonating the German physician von Wer. Following his escape from the dungeon in which the prisoners were held prior to their transfer to the ship, the Doctor had trussed up Grey and left him in a cupboard and pounded Perkins head into a table. Without fail every commentary I’ve read considers the Doctor’s “trick” with Perkins to be hilariously funny. Perhaps it’s because I’m not a man that I find the gratuitous violence uncalled for and decidedly unfunny. Ben displays his own ingenuity once onboard the Annabelle. Trussed up and dunked from the yardarm, he uses a Houdini trick to be able to free himself from his shackles and swim ashore.
The comic relief, Solicitor Grey’s Clerk named Perkins
All four episodes of The Highlanders are missing from the BBC Archives so not surprisingly a lot is lost in the translation to audio and telesnaps. The battle on board the Annabelle in which the highlanders wrest control of the ship, thanks to the weaponry provided by the Doctor, is hard to visualize. So too are the scenes in Culloden. We miss seeing the last Doctor Who historical adventure until 1982’s Black Orchard, and also Frazer Hines’ debut as Jamie McCrimmon. That being said, Jamie’s role is minor and a proper companion he does not become until the next serial, The Underwater Menace. Join me for my next review as I continue my journey through Doctor Who.
The VHS cover art for Loose Cannon’s The Highlanders reconstructions. The Highlanders was originally broadcast in the UK between 17 December 1966 and 7 January 1967
©Vivien Fleming, 2013.