The Highlanders
Target novelisation
Doctor Who - The Highlanders

Author Gerry Davis Cover image
Published 1984
ISBN 0 491 03193 9
First Edition Cover Nick Spender

Back cover blurb: History books don't always tell the whole story. Certainly there is no record of an episode that occurred when the Scots, led by Bonnie Prince Charlie, were defeated by the English at the Battle of Culloden in 1746... And the presence at the time of a blue police box on the Scottish moors seems to have escaped the notice of most eye-witnesses... THE HIGHLANDERS sets the record straight. And while the incidents described may not be of great interest to historians, for Jamie McCrimmon they mark the beginning of a series of extraordinary adventures.


Poor Algernon Ffinch by Andrew Feryok 17/8/05

Grey: By the time the King's judges are ready to try the rebels, we shall have them safely on the plantations
Trask: Aye. A Highlander will do twice the work of your black slaves.
- The Highlanders (Episode 2).
At long last, I have finally managed to read a non-UNIT story! In fact, The Highlanders is about as different a story from the ones that I have just read as it can get. An historical taking place in a 17th Century Scottish rebellion! While this story was entertaining, I'm not so sure the second Doctor is suited for this type of story and I can see why the old Hartnell format was quickly dropped with this Doctor shortly after this story. Troughton's Doctor is much more suited to futuristic or modern settings on Earth or alien planets. He revels in claustraphobic "Base Under Siege" scenerios with an unhinged and helpless crew, and a horrific monster to fight. This is about as un-Troughton a story as you can get during his era. Instead of claustraphobia, we have an expansive, epic story taking place along the wide moors of Scotland traveling to the fog shrowded city of Inverness. Instead of an isolated crew, we have the entire British Army, the Scottish rebel army, and all the history that backs each of these up. And instead of a menacing monster, we have a variety of oily and evil villains, including Solicitor Grey, Perkins,and the "pirate" Trask.

One of the things that kept me away from reading this story in any form or reading the telesnaps was that I was not familiar with the history on presentation here, much in the same way I was unfamiliar with the history in The Massacre. Fortunately, author Gerry Davis tackles this immediately in the first chapter and gives a detailed enough account of what is going on in this period so that the reader is quickly brought up to speed. The story takes place just after the Battle of Culladen. The Scottish rebels are a brave army who sought to overthrow King George from the throne so that they could put thier own Prince Charles, a Stuart, on the throne. The rebellion falls apart during the battle, scattering the rebels across the moor and leaving an angry army in hot pursuit. This is where the Doctor, Ben, and Polly get entangled as they are mistaken as rebels and deserters along with the rest of the rebels. One thing which Gerry Davis does phenomenally well is to provide detailed descriptions of the time. He captures the look, feel, attitudes, class systems, and settings with particular detail so that you can instantly picture this alien time-period in our modern minds. And Davis does not give a romantic view of the period, but provides plenty of descriptions of the filth and greed which are part of this time-period.

The Doctor is probably my favorite aspect of this story. Every scene he is in shines and is full of humor and confidence. He is a stark contrast to his predecessor in this story. Gone is the huffing indignation and standing around while his companions sort out the mess. This is a Doctor who seizes an opportunity and milks it for all it's worth. There isn't a moment in this story when the Doctor is worried and seems to be truly enjoying himself enormously! A master of disguises and accents, it would have been a wonder so see Troughton play this early version of his Doctor on screen. If only someone would turn up an episode or two of this story from their attic! It's interesting to note that the Doctor we see in these early stories of Season 4 is a much different Doctor than we get by the time The Evil of the Daleks or even The Moonbase rolls around. This Doctor is much more aloof and mischevious. He does not always take his companions into confidence with his plans and is much more comfortable working on his own.

For a Patrick Troughton story, the companions also play a prominent role in this story. Polly gets some really good scenes in this story. The first is Polly's interaction with Lieutenant Algernon Ffinch. Ffinch is a wonderfully comic character in an otherwise bleak story. He's a dandy officer who tries to hold a tight reign on his men, but knows that the slightest scandel would destroy whatever respect his men have for him. Then Polly and Kirsty come along, apprehend him, tie him up, rob him, and blackmail him into helping them. Polly shows absolute confidence in this story, much as her character showed in The Smugglers when she and Ben escaped by having her pretend to be a witch. Polly is fantastic as she twists the squirming Ffinch around her finger to do her bidding. It is a great surprise that, at the end of the story, he and Polly actually start to fall for each other and Ffinch voluntarily helps them reach the TARDIS and deal with Solicitor Grey. It's a sweet moment when Polly returns to him a lock of his hair which she was using as proof that she had embarassingly captured him, but Ffinch tells her to keep it as a momento. I would love to have seen how Anneke Wills had played that scene! There are also some great contrasts between Kirsty and Polly early in the story, showing just how different Polly stands out in this period. She looks and sounds like an aristocrat, but dresses like a wench. These scenes often reminded me of the recent The Unquiet Dead in which a similar comparison is made between Rose and the maid at the morge.

Ben's subplots are less exciting. He spends most of the story captured and shoved away in a jail cell. His macho patrionising of Polly reaches new heights in this story and really started to get on my nerves. But Ben does get his occasional moments to shine. His confidence in the Doctor is complete, even when the Doctor appears to turn into a complete traitor midway through the story. In the brig of the "Annabelle", he gets some good scenes, such as his fear as he suddenly realises that he is the only Englishman in a brig stuffed with angry Scottish rebels who are just looking for a scapegoat to get back at thier captors. And then there is his dunking in which he escapes by a using a Doctor-like Houdini trick to get out of his ropes and then uses a variety of swimming tecniques to reach the docks again. But with these few exceptions, Ben is really not all that important to the story as the Doctor and Polly take up much more of the hero/heroine role in the story.

And then we have Jamie. I had to keep reminding myself throughout this story that he was the same companion we all know and love, but he certainly doesn't act that way. Remarkably, unlike most new companions who are usually made the center of attention in thier first story, Jamie feels very much a person of his time. While not a central character to the story, he is nevertheless always there and offering help were he can. He even gets some sparkling scenes, such as when the Doctor and him are playing bagpipes and the recorder in the water jail, or when the Doctor tries to explain the concept of germs to him, leading to Jamie jumping back and cringing as he imagines little germs jumping from all around him. But why he is featured so prominently on the cover I will never know. His presence is there, but he is certainly not as important to the story as his giant image on the cover suggests.

Solicitor Grey is a good villain for this story. Oily, greedy, and incredibly cunning, he is a shrewd lawyer whose cold, glaring stare sends shivers down all those who surrounds him. I shall have to take a look at the telesnaps since I would like to see how the actor who played him compared to Gerry Davis' imagination. The only problem with Grey is that he lacks charisma and sheer presence that other villains such as Tlotoxl, Vaugh, or Chase have. Grey has to share the villainous limelight with two other villains. But despite this, Grey makes a great adversary for the Doctor to match wits against.

Overall, this is a decent second Doctor story. Despite the good scenes I have mentioned above, this story just doesn't reach the heights that later second Doctor stories would reach. It's certainly far better than the next story: The Underwater Menace (I wish I had that novel). But it is apparent that the historical format was on the way out and wasn't really suited to this Doctor. The Power of the Daleks and The Moonbase were much more successful in showing the direction his era was going to be going. But this was a colorful and well-written story by Gerry Davis and recommended if you are looking for something different. I'm actually glad that it was Gerry Davis that adapted this story and not Terrance Dicks. If Dicks had tackled this story, my rating would have been much lower since he would undoubtedly not have had as much detail and loving care that Davis injects in an otherwise bland story. 7/10.

PS: The surviving clips from this story, although nice to have, really don't do much justice to this story. I really wish someone would find an episode, or even a trailer or clip from this story since I think it would be really neat to see. I'm a little afraid to listen to the audio since so much of the story seems visual. Perhaps a reconstruction, similar to The Power of the Daleks, is in order...