The Highlanders is not the best remembered of stories and was apparently one of the first to be junked (unless I have got that entirely wrong, which is entirely possible), so we only really have the audio to work with, and the odd few pictures that exist from the story, but they don’t give us much of an idea as to the direction of the story but at least we can follow the story itself. Not forgetting the sterling work of the people who do the recons which sometimes really help when married with the audio soundtracks.
The story itself is rather straightforward and quite unremarkable in a lot of ways and features the TARDIS crew getting involved in a plan by an ordinary, but calculating and conniving, man (Solicitor Grey) to capture a load of rebels (including the Doctor and Ben) and ship them off as slaves, getting seperated and how they managed to find each other, rescue the others, and foil Grey’s plans.
That is the story in a nutshell so it isn’t quite as exciting as a monster based story but is very typical of its type of story which had been ever present in the series since it began but, in various different styles, of which this a sort of amalgam of humour and seriousness in equal measure given the fact that people are threatened with lashes; threatened with hanging; threatened with deportation; threatened with life as a slave, and threatened with being thrown overboard which is a bit full on.
The humour in this story is mainly in some of the rather hammy performances on show particularly by Dallas Cavell as Captain Trask giving it the full Robert Newton as well as the character of Solicitors clerk Perkins who comes a cropper a couple of times against the Doctor to great comic effect, and is played with great aplomb by Sydney Arnold.
David Garth was very good as Solicitor Grey, the main villain of the story who was perfectly willing to sell all of the rebels as slaves and was a very despicable and blood thirsty individual but also very human which makes him probably even more evil than some of the alien menaces that the Doctor has fought previously.
Patrick Troughton, in only his second story as the Doctor, gets to disguise himself a number of times throughout this story, and begins in episode one where he claims to be Doctor Von Wer, a German Doctor in order to stop himself from being executed at the start of the episode.
In the second episode he outsmarts Solicitor Grey and locks him in a cupboard before then making his clerk Perkins think that his eyes are going and persuading him to sit there whilst Grey is ratting about in the cupboard, and then later on he disguises himself as an old woman to keep out of sight.
Troughton is particularly good in the scenes in episode two with Grey and with Perkins. He also does another disguise in the final episode which is certainly a trait of his in this story at least which seems to not get used as much from then on.
Polly certainly gets a lot to do in this story and for the most part is paired with Hannah Gordon’s excellent Kirsty for much of the story and she really gets some great stuff to do in this story and this is a real showcase for her character showing a great deal more resolve than she normally does.
True, she does fall in a pit at the end of the first episode for not looking where she was going when she was running away, which is text book for a Doctor Who companion, but in the second and third episodes she really gets to use her feminine wiles against poor Algernon, who is really putty in her and Kirsty’s hands.
She also persuades Kirsty to go pose as an orange seller with her (the kind of girls who hang around sailors apparently)and again gets Algernon to stop the Sergeant from taking both her and Kirsty away and once again she gets Algy to do whatever she wants without a great deal of effort it has to be said, but Algy is only human. She even insists on getting in on the act when they go and rescue the Laird at the denouement of the story. This really is a great story for Polly and Anneke Wills does some of her best work in the series here.
Ben has his moments, almost getting lynched for having an English accent (well he is Scotland after all and at that moment in time they really didn’t get on) and is part of one of the grimmest cliffhangers ever when he is thrown overboard the Annabelle at the close of episode three as for a week at least you really didn’t know if he would make it or not.
Frazer Hines is also good in this story, his first appearance as Jamie and it would have been a great shame if he did not choose to join the TARDIS crew at the end of the episode as was originally planned.
It does have to be said that Jamie is quite a basic character at this point and not the character that he later grew into over the years but he did make an immediate impact and you can see why they chose him to join the TARDIS crew at the end of the episode.
This is very much the sort of adventure that you might expect to see on a Sunday afternoon and does have a hint of Kidnapped and Treasure Island about the whole thing.
After listening to this story it really isn’t that bad, as it is entertaining enough, and there are some really good moments with the Doctor in his scenes with Grey and Perkins and Polly getting lots to do and it features one of the grimmest cliffhangers of all time. At the very least, it is worth a watch, if it won’t stick in your mind for very long afterwards.