The Highlanders: Episode Four
Like its predecessor, The Power of the Daleks, the final episode is very much an action affair, so we can only guess at how well-staged the centre-piece take-over of The Annabel is. But, even without being able to eyewitness its effectiveness, we’re offered an immensely satisfying resolution to easily the most underrated Troughton story.
Ben’s escape through the “old Houdini trick” gives him another creditable act following tearing up the contracts; after being a bit dense in the first two episodes he pulls through during the last half of the story. But this isn’t really his tale, highlighted when he finds the Doctor, dressed as a redcoat, on the quay. His popping up at just the right moment is sublime.
Ben: It’s you, Doctor!
The Doctor: Who else would be walking around the jetty at this time of night dressed as a soldier who had been wounded in battle?
And asked why:
The Doctor: Because I like it here. Besides, it keeps the other soldiers away.
Returning to the barn, there’s a few more choice exchanges.
Polly: Hey, you’ve got your own clothes back.
The Doctor: Yes. Can you imagine? I found them thrown out on the rubbish dump, behind the inn.
Polly: I liked you better in your dress, Doctor.
Kirsty: Aye, you made a good granny.
He also repeats his “I would like a hat like that” when Ben puts on a tam-o-shanter.
The initiation of the take-over of the ship, with Trout once again as Doctor von Wer, is structurally satisfying. The ring comes into play, with the Doctor offering a lure for Grey with the promise of identification of the disguised Prince (appropriately, the Doctor points out Jamie as the royal). Meanwhile the prisoners have been armed below decks.
If the action climax of the story is the take-over of the ship, there’s still a fair way to go with several epilogues before we’re safely back in the TARDIS.
Ben: Well, the real job’s only just beginning. Getting back to the TARDIS with only a rough idea where it is and the whole of the English army out to stop us.
Perkins’ continued service, now as a clerk to the Scots in France, seems somehow appropriate. The Doctor comments that, “He’ll stay loyal enough. Until the wind shifts again” while Grey is taken ashore as hostage. He manages to escape, by which point Jamie has revealed himself as their guide back to the TARDIS. Presumably he’s referring to both Ben and the Doctor when he says “I’m certainly glad you’re on my side” after the two overpower the redcoats that Grey alerted.
Having F-finch reappear as the back-up hostage again illustrates how well-conceived this story is (even if Davis did have to solo-write it in a bit of a rush, which is apparently why all the costuming suggestions for Trout in the writer’s memo appear here). Not only does it give him the opportunity to become a nice fellow, really, but we get to see that there’s genuine affection between him and Polly (for all her feisty control and his pathetic submissiveness). There’s also another amusing bit with the Doctor introducing himself to F-finch’s colonel.
The Doctor: Doctor von Wer at your service. Remedies for the ages, the twitch, the colics, the warts and the gout.
When Grey arrives at dawn with Redcoats, F-finch’s honourable qualities finally surface. Mind you, Grey’s language is vividly sadistic.
Grey: As for you, wench. I’ll have you tied to the tail of a cart and whipped from one end…
Polly asks why F-finch why he has arrested Grey.
F-finch: A chance to put paid to a villain, ma’am.
Polly: It wasn’t just that, was it?
F-finch: Not quite, ma’am.
Polly: Thank you, Algie. Goodbye.
The Doctor’s “So sad. Once a promising legal talent” is the last we hear of Doctor von Wer.
And then they’re off, with Polly (well, she is a saucy girl) particularly keen to take the hairy-legged highlander with them in the TARDIS and the Doctor agreeing (“If he teaches me to play the bagpipes”).
A lovely story, full of wit and playfulness. Structurally it seems near-effortless in setting up and resolving its plot threads. And Troughton’s performance as the Doctor/ von Wer/ washerwoman/ Redcoat defines The Highlanders as something unique in the series’ history; he’s very rarely on screen just being the Doctor, so it’s a showcase for the actor. But, however much free rein he was given to be big and broad in his performance, it’s all backed up by the script.
(Episode rating below: overall story rates five stars.)