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Doctor Who story number 30

Producer Innes Lloyd and story editor Gerry Davis were keen to phase out the historical stories, feeling that they were unpopular with viewers. They certainly never rated as highly as the pure science fiction stories in the 60's, so they were making a decision that was, ratings wise, sensible. When approached by Elwyn Jones, former Head of Series (not Head of Serials, the person responsible for Doctor Who) and creator of Z Cars recently returned to freelance writing, they decided that they would give him a shot at a historical story on the basis of his experience.

The setting was to be the time of the Jacobite Rebellion, and the story was derived from the 1961 book Culloden by John Prebble. Like so many other 60's scripts for Doctor Who the writer didn't actually write the whole thing. Jones was asked to help with Z Cars and was also writing full time for that show's spin-off Softly, Softly. Gerry Davis had to write most of the script, and it beggars belief that he had to get approval from Elwyn Jones to do so. After so many lazy, incomplete scripts were turned in they should have been including non-completion clauses in the BBC writer's contracts.

The director, Hugh Davis, did not think the story he was originally assigned (The Underwater Menace) could be done on the usual Doctor Who budget (possibly ninepence and a bottle cap, but don't quote me), so he was assigned The Highlanders instead.

The most important thing Gerry Davis added to the script was the character Jamie McCrimmon, who was from the start considered to be a possible new companion for the Doctor. Head of Serials Shaun Sutton recommended Fraser Hines, who he had directed previously. Fraser had auditioned for the role of Ben Jackson, and had worked with Patrick Troughton once before. Fraser Hines' contract included an option for the BBC to hire him for three further stories. It would be a lot more though, as Jamie proved to be very popular - for rather amusing reasons.

Of course they decided to keep Jamie as a regular character after filming had finished, so they had to return to the location (Frensham Ponds) to reshoot the TARDIS scene. This gave the show a cast of four, but as is typical when changes like this are made at the last minute this caused huge problems with the next two stories, which had already been written: There was no easy way to write in Jamie so they split the lines of Ben (and sometimes Polly) between the character they were originally written for and Jamie. There would also be quite a few cases of someone being unconscious, locked up or just plain absent in the next two stories.

Though The Highlanders rated well compared to the last two stories (which is saying a lot when the previous two stories were The Tenth Planet and The Power of the Daleks) it was the last purely historical story for fifteen years. Until the mid-seventies the show would instead go for futuristic or contemporary based science fiction, while in the 70's the show would use the pseudo-historical format.

Polly is quite proactive in this story - you go, girl! This is amusing, because every female character who is envisaged as being confident and capable in this series ends up screaming and cowering at some point. Yet Polly was meant to be that kind of useless female character, and here she is threatening people and taking prisoners. The nature of the characters on this show always ends up being the reverse of their initial character sketch, and in the case of Polly the only way to go is up. It's a shame this didn't happen more often.

Like so many Patrick Troughton stories this one got burned in the 70's. There are a couple of surviving clips from the first two episodes thanks to the prudish censors of 1960's Australia. There is no known footage of episodes 3 and 4. What we have is two clips of fighting and some shots of feet. Not even Anneke Wills' bare feet so it's all pretty boring. The BBC has released the audio track of the story on CD, with Frazer Hines providing the linking narration.

If you have Realplayer you can watch the clips here:

You can read the script here:

See the photonovel here:

Elwyn Jones and Gerry Davis

This story has 4 episodes.
Episode cliffhangers are marked in subscript.

Plot Overview
The TARDIS materialises, and Ben realises they're on Earth. They hear gunfire and a cannonball lands nearby - The Doctor wants to leave right away but Ben heads off to look around, the idiot. Off in a cottage we get the exposition from a small group tending to their wounded Laird. They spot the interlopers approaching, and Jamie and Alexander sneak out to ambush them.

Back at the cottage (it's Doctor Who, they always get taken prisoner, right?) Ben grabs a pistol and the two men are held at gunpoint while the Doctor tends to Colin's injuries - though the Doctor has Ben put the gun down shortly. Ben drops it, the gunshot attracting some convenient Redcoats (as the story would only be one episode long if we don't get some action going). Ben doesn't quite see the problem with this. He should have paid more attention to his history classes.

Alexander tries to draw the soldiers away and gets a volley of musket balls for his trouble. When the soldiers arrive at the cottage Ben gets a rude awakening - he's either a rebel sympathiser or a deserter and will hang either way. The Doctor fakes being German but gets the Sergeant accusing him of treason when he makes a quip about King George's ability to speak English.

Cut to Solicitor Grey, Commissioner of Prisons, having lunch overlooking the battlefield, lamenting the waste of English manpower in the killing of the wounded enemies. As prisoners are herded past he speculates at the price the Highlanders would fetch in Jamaica. This gentlemanly chat with his secretary is interrupted by him spitting wine in Perkins' face. Charming.

Polly and Kirsty, who had been out getting some water for the Doctor, attempt to rescue the men from being hanged, starting with chucking a rock. Polly gets called a wench (and a fine wench she is....) and the Lieutenant and two soldiers move out to capture them, in case one of them is that queen Bonnie Prince Charlie. Sgt. Bastard badmouths his CO and the Doctor tries to bargain his way out of a hanging using this as blackmail, not realising he might just be hung now.

They all narrowly avoid a hanging, but it's Grey who saves them, with fancy titles and shiny coins. The Doctor knows what he means by "needed in his Majesty's service" (even if he gets the date of the Alien Act wrong). Grey marches everyone off to Inverness while Polly and Kirsty hide out in a cave. Polly starts making plans to rescue the men while Kirsty checks out her legs. No, really: Polly is in a miniskirt. Again. She'd wear one on the Lava Planet of Volcanicus. They argue, and Polly leaves and falls down a hole.1

This isn't so bad as it sounds. If Terry Nation had written it she'd have tripped over like a frail girly girl and twisted her ankle.

Kirsty comes out to see who fell in the pit and then falls in when she tries to help Polly out. They hide in there as Ffinch happens by and sends his men off while he plays Lazy Git. Kirsty starts to bawl at the hopelessness of the situation for a second time, to Polly's amazement - she's finally met someone more gormless than herself. Polly decides that if they are both dumb enough to fall in the pit then so is the Lieutenant, and they make noises until he falls in. Kirsty grabs his gun and threatens to kill him.

Meanwhile the menfolk are in prison, with all that entails. No, NOT prison sex, what is with you people? Ben is wondering why they got themselves mixed up in this situation, whereas the Doctor is having a great old time winding up the guards by shouting "Down with King George" every so often. The Doctor also tends to Colin's wound, convincing Jamie that bloodletting isn't good right that minute via astrology. He also finds that the Laird is carrying Prince Charles' standard, which he takes in case Colin is searched. The Doctor proceeds to get out of the cell, by convincing one of the sentries there's a plot to murder the Duke of Cumberland.

Polly is getting kicks out of tormenting Ffinch, proving that all jaded posh birds end up being dominatrixes. She threatens to humiliate him if he gives them any trouble in the future, and she leaves with Kirsty. Now it's time for a standard Doctor Who scene: The bit where villains discuss their evil plot. Grey and Perkins are discussing their shipment of slaves with Trask (who actually says 'Arrrr', for god's sake). Trask leaves and the Doctor shows Charles' standard to Grey, informing the solicitor he knows a prisoner who will have information leading to the capture of Charles. The Doctor then ties Grey up with the standard, gags him and locks him in a cupboard. Perkins enters and the Doctor make up some quackery to convince Perkins to lie down for an hour blindfolded, and he escapes.

Both sets of villains get rescued by their cronies - make the most of this as it's not often the bad guys go through the captured-escaped-captured routine in this show. Ben, Jamie and Colin get taken for the slave ship, and they pass the Doctor on the way, now disguised as an old woman. Ben and Jamie are taken to a slave ship (insert any number of innuendos about sailors if you like) and get to witness the punishment for not telling the captain how pretty he is.2

In the hold the Scots already held prisoner menace Ben, but Colin McLaren vouches for him. A fellow captive, Will McKay, is in fact the original captain of the ship, which is obvious foreshadowing. Now we cut to A Barn for more lesbian subtext. Polly is practising stabbing with Kirsty's dirk, but is no good. Kirsty is complaining about no servants, and then she complains about having to pose as an orange seller. Polly is just glad she can dress in women's clothing on this trip to the past.

So is the Doctor, as he is now playing tavern wench, being ordered around by Algernon Ffinch and probably liking it, the kinky bugger. Polly and Kirsty arrive and fawn over Ffinch, who is mortified when they rest their heads on his shoulders. He directs them to Grey's office, and then presumably goes off to look for some young soldier to spend his evening with. The Doctor has to keep quiet however, as the girls are talking to Perkins.

On board the ship Grey offers the prisoners the chance to give evidence, be hanged or sign themselves into indentured slavery. Everyone but the three main characters and McKay sign up for slavery. Ben shreds the documents, and gets knocked out. Back in the inn Perkins is flirting with Kirsty and Polly while the Doctor watches. Perkins wants to play whist and the Doctor insists he be the fourth at gunpoint. Grey returns before they can play a hand, and storms into his office. The Doctor threatens Perkins and heads off to the barn with the girls, who think the Doctor looks pretty good in a dress.

Polly proposes capturing the ship and hiding out in France - Kirsty doesn't like that idea. The Doctor nearly lets slip information about the future to convince her to try this, but catches himself in time. He comes up with a hare-brained scheme to capture the ship and dozes off. When they try procuring weapons the girls end up with a pile of rusty kitchen knives and a pitchfork, the Doctor naturally returns with an arsenal. Meanwhile, on the ship Ben is trussed up and ducked into the water.3 He escapes, in a highly unlikely resolution to the third episode cliffhanger.

Back at the docks Ben meets the Doctor, disguised as a redcoat. The Doctor drags him back to the barn and gives him the ferryman job for the trip out to the ship. The next day the Doctor boards the ship and offers to tell Grey where Prince Charles is. In the meantime the girls are passing the weapons into the hold via portholes. The Doctor leads the men to the hold and gets them killed. With the highlanders setting off for France the time travellers head for shore, taking Grey along to use as a hostage. It turns out Jamie has come along too, but before they can head off Grey alerts a patrol. The foursome deal with the patrol, but Grey escapes. Fortunately the Doctor and Polly have a fairly good idea where to get someone who can help them brush off the English....

Lieutennant Ffinch isn't too pleased with being kidnapped again. However, when they reach the cottage near the TARDIS Polly tells him about the schemes of Grey, who conveniently shows up with a patrol, which then arrests him on Ffinch's orders. Ffinch is obviously now infatuated with Polly, as are we all. Jamie is now on his own, so the Doctor agrees to take him along provided he gives bagpipe lessons. Jamie agrees to this, much to Ben's despair, and so we end the last purely period-piece Doctor Who story until the 80's with the last four-member TARDIS crew until the 80's....4

Main Cast

  • William Dysart - Alexander McLaren
  • Donald Bisset - Laird Colin McLaren
  • Hannah Gordon - Kirsty McLaren
  • Michael Elwyn - Lieutennant Algernon Ffinch
  • Peter Welch - Sergeant
  • David Garth - Grey
  • Sydney Arnold - Perkins
  • Tom Bowman - Sentry
  • Dallas Cavell - Trask
  • Barbara Bruce - Mollie
  • Andrew Downie - MacKay
  • Peter Diamond - Sailor
  • Guy Middleton - Attwood
  • Eric Mills - Wounded Highlander
  • Nancy Gabriel - Woman at Inn
  • Reg Dent - English Horseman
  • Notes

    • The Director, Hugh David, used to be an actor - He turned down the role of the Doctor in 1963 as he didn't want another leading role.
    • Ever eager to carve his own character Patrick Troughton ad-libbed the line "I should like a hat like that" twice. It wasn't taken up as a recurring thing, but the hat fixation might have been interesting if done subtly
    • While it would have been lovely if they bowed out the historical with something that has no glaring inaccuracies.... They upheld the fine tradition of getting things wrong right to the end.
    • The Doctor is surprised to find his original outfit thrown in a trash heap while roaming around dressed as a soldier. Polly and Kirsty just want him to get back into the dress. Kinky girls.

    German, from Hanover. Where your good King George comes from. And I speak English a good deal better than he does. - "Doctor von Wer"

    While the demise of the historical takes something away from a show about time travel it does mean the episode guides are much more fun to write. Lines of the "Hyper-gamma ion flux probe" bent are so entertaining!

    Oh, one more:

    The Doctor: A gentleman, at last. Doctor von Wer, at your service.
    Sergeant: Doctor who?
    The Doctor: (mutters under his breath) That's what I said.

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