The Highlanders: Episode Two
Episode Two is near-perfectly choreographed dance of comedy plotting. And it scores on that front with not just the Doctor’s antics but in Polly and Kirsty’s interaction with F-finch. There’s certainly a strange mix here, as the perils facing Ben and Jamie (and, at first, the Doctor) are very real, but the energy and brio that tear through what was initially a sombre setting are infectious.
The Doctor isn’t remotely dispirited by being imprisoned, unlike ever-cheerful Ben.
Ben: Why’d we ever get mixed up in this, Doctor?
The Doctor: I’m glad we did. I’m just beginning to enjoy myself.
This might be the best episode that Troughton gets full stop. The Doctor is at his most irrepressibly buoyant.
The Doctor(shouting): Down with King George!
Jamie: So you are for the Prince, after all.
The Doctor: No, not really. I just like hearing the echo, that’s all.
Ben continues to be slow on the up-take, until the point where he tells Jamie the Doctor has escaped prison as a ruse to enable their release, misunderstanding the Doctor’s deferral to astrology as a reason to prevent Colin from experiencing curative blood-letting. Another example of how the new incarnation has been sketched so far; he doesn’t lay out explanations or pronouncements on a plate. Rather, he assesses a situation and acts in a manner that requires the audience to catch up with him. Often that behaviour is humorous, but his goal is a serious one. As he says, he’s enjoying himself (along the way).
On discovering the Prince’s standard in Colin’s possession, he wraps it around himself.
The Doctor: What chance do you think he has of avoiding the gallows with this on him? Besides, it’s really rather warm.
And then he launches into a Jacobite tune on his recorder “to cheer us all up”.
One might argue that his reversion to Doctor von Wer as a means of extricating himself from jail is rather reckless, but apparent recklessness sums up the Doctor at this early point. It runs the risk of instant (deadly) response from his fellow prisoners and means that Ben, a known associate, is left in the lurch once the Doctor is released.
His claim that there is a plot to murder the Duke of Cumberland gains him an audience with Grey, and the ensuing scenes are surely some of the purest comedy (certainly physically) that the series ever indulged in. He tells Grey upfront that there isn’t a plot, and sets out a potentially dangerous game when he reveals the standard and the chance for him and Grey to lay their hands on fifteen thousand pounds reward each when they locate the prince. He also informs Grey that the prisoner who knows where the Prince is will remain his secret for now.
But, having done this, he doesn’t continue with this plan. He throws the flag over Grey’s head, takes the solicitor’s pistol (“Don’t cry out. I’m not an expert with these things and it might just go off in your face”), binds and gags him (getting him to open his mouth by telling him his throat looks swollen) and bundles him into a cupboard.
The Doctor: I’ve never seen a silent lawyer before. Would you mind just waiting in here? Another patient, you understand.
The other patient is Perkins, as the absurdity and trickery escalate. Trout’s pronunciation of “Yurr ay-es” (your eyes) is off the radar. He convinces Perkins he has a headache by banging the clerk’s head on the desk and tells him he must rest his eyes for at least an hour. Meanwhile Grey is knocking on the cupboard door.
Perkins: What’s that knocking?
The Doctor: There is no knocking. It’s in yurr myend! In yurr ay-es! Rest yurr ay-es and the knocking will grow fainter and fainter.
Apparently, he then blows Perkins a kiss as he exits the room. That’s not the end of the Doctor’s antics. He drags up as a washerwoman (eat your heart out, Pertwee) and distracts a guard into leaving a door unlocked. And, even though the room he accesses is empty, as Ben, Jamie and Colin are en route for Trask’s ship by this point, it shows that there’s method to his madness.
Polly has almost as much fun with F-finch. The cliffhanger resolve is pathetically weak (it’s just Kirsty) but once F-finch falls down the animal trap with them Polly gets to show off a feisty confidence and resourcefulness so delicious that it’s all the sadder that this is something of a one-off for her. She refers to F-finch as “her gallant officer” and obtains a piece of his hair and his identity disc (and his money, 20 guineas) in order to blackmail him into future loyalty.
Polly: I bet his colonel would be highly interested to hear how his Lieutenant F-finch was captured by two girls.
Polly: Bye-bye, Algy, dear. We’ll be seeing you in Inverness.
It’s the subordinate characters who show the most acumen elsewhere. Sergeant Clegg only agrees to help F-finch in return for payment (“Officers don’t usually fall into pits”) while Captain Trask, oo-arring more than anyone in The Smugglers (which is saying something), is dismissive of Grey and Perkins being hoodwinked by the Doctor.
Trask: What in thunder?
Perkins: I’m resting my eyes.
Trask: Damn your eyes. Where’s your master? (Discovering Grey in the cupboard). And what might this be a cure for? St Vitus’ dance?
The cliffhanger, as with part one’s, fails to be particularly compelling. A body is thrown overboard and Ben and Jamie are told by Trask that’s the only way they will get off the Sea Eagle. Also of note, there’s an earlier conversation between Trask and Grey where it is commented that a highlander will “do twice the work of one of your black slaves”.
If I could have any single episode returned to the archives, it would be this one. It’s hugely enjoyable in audio form, but with the visuals accompanying it, and Troughton at the height of his comedy powers, I suspect it would be unbeatable.