Doctor Who – The Highlanders Review (Or ‘Promise You Won’t Molest The Doctor. He Asked You Nicely’)

A new era of Doctor Who has just begun, and with that we almost immediately say goodbye to a major aspect of the previous one – The Historical.

Some people would argue that the historical story would come again in the future with stories like The Visitation, but I don’t believe that’s the case. The Historical stories of the early years of Doctor Who focus on the Doctor and his companions getting involved in historical events, while stories like the Visitation, The Fires of Pompeii and Vincent & The Doctor place them in historical settings with Aliens.

Also, Black Orchid may not have aliens in it, but just because it’s set in the recent past does not make it a ‘Historical’.

No, for all intents and purposes, this story – The Highlanders – is the last of the Historicals.

The Highlanders is another story that sadly no longer exists. In fact, it was the first Dr Who story ever to have its transmission tapes wiped by the BBC (though obviously some copies were made for overseas sales). And here’s the startling thing about it; this story was broadcast between the 17 December 1966 and 7th January 1967 and was junked on 9th March 1967. So by the time the Macra Terror – three stories hence – was broadcast, the transmission tapes were gone . Imagine that in a modern context. Imagine that a TV show you watched a couple of months ago had been deleted forever?

Anyway, no episodes for this story exist at all. In terms of video clips, all there is is a censor clip of a soldier saying ‘Take the strain. Stand By.‘ and a shot of a group of mens’ feet. Exciting.

Doctor Who – The Highlanders Review: What’s This One About?

The TARDIS lands in the Highlands of Scotland just after the Battle of Culloden. Rather than this being a story about the events of the famous battle, it’s a story about corrupt Englishmen selling Scots as slaves to the colonies.

Polly uses Femine Wiles to get her way. I couldn’t really imagine Dodo getting away with that.

It also features the Doctor dressing up in numerous different disguises, Polly using flirtation as a means to get her own way, Ben getting Keel-Hauled and Jamie’s debut.


The first thing that comes to mind when you think of the Highlanders is the characterisation of the Doctor. While in the Power of the Daleks there was a bit of uncertainty over how Troughton should play the Doctor, in this story the intentions are clear – The Doctor is played as a “master of disguise”.

Throughout the story, he pretends to be a German Doctor (the awfully named ‘Doctor von Ver’ – work that one out) with a very dodgy accent, a Redcoat Guard and an old Potwoman. I have to be honest and say I didn’t find it necessary or funny – the only one that had any point was when he dressed up as the Potwoman to enable him to stay in the tavern undetected. Other than that is just seemed as though he was dressing up for the sake of it.

He also seems quite violent as well, battering Solicitor Grey’s assistant’s head off a desk for a laugh. If the current Doctor did that, there’d probably be a bit of an outcry. Not that I’m one of these boring bastards who decries anything even remotely violent and runs around saying ‘For the love of God won’t somebody think of the Children’, rather I just didn’t see the point.

Really, the Doctor doesn’t get up to that much in this story beyond his comedy disguises.

As for the other regulars? Well Ben doesn’t really get up to all that much either; he’s captured, keel-hauled, escapes certain death (inexplicably) and that’s about it. And that’s a bit of a shame because this is really Ben’s last chance to shine as the Lead Supporting Male. From this point on, he has to share his screen time with Jamie.

Funnily enough, the least stupid part of his outfit here is the womens’ clothes.

And speaking of Jamie, even though he becomes a major part of Doctor Who lore and the longest serving companion in the show’s history, if you were watching at the time you’d probably wonder why he was chosen to join the regular cast, because – like Ben – he doesn’t really do much. If you compare his role in his story to Ben’s in the War Machines, it’s night and day. Ben was very much the centre of attention in that story while Jamie just…isn’t.

So I guess the question is, if so many of the regular cast have so little to do, what’s the story about?

Well Polly has plenty to do. She ends up being separated from her companions early on in the show and spends most of her time annoyed by the pathetic nature of Kirsty (the now well known Scottish actress Hannah Gordon in one of her early TV roles). I quite liked that. The role of Kirsty is actually a bit similar to that of Susan in the first series of the show. She’s very quick to give up and play the poor little woman.

But Polly’s not having any of that. Not only does she tell Kirsty to get a grip but she also ends up mugging a Red Coat Lieutenant and then – in quite a unique move for Doctor Who at any point – uses a combination of threat and flirtation to end up getting her way and controlling him. In fact, it’s Polly’s control over Lieutenant Algernon Ffinch that results in their escape and the capture of the nefarious Solicitor Grey in the end.

Urgh – Pointless

Random Observations

  • Having the story happen after the major historical event is quite a refreshing change for the genre. If it had been in Series 1 or 2, I imagine it would have been set during the Battle, with Barbara being thrilled to meet Bonnie Prince Charlie. Either would have worked, but by doing it the way they did it, it just seemed quite different.
  • Dallas Cavell makes a return to the show, having previously been the Road Authority worker whom the Doctor bludgeoned with a spade in the Reign of Terror and one of the prisoners on the planet Desparus in Master Plan. Here he plays the nasty Captain of the Annabelle – Trask. His next appearance is very much against type, playing Sir James Quinlan in Ambassadors of Death.
  • From the File Marked: When Words Had A Different Meaning: The Doctor makes Jamie and his associate Alexander (William Dysart, who will also be back in The Ambassadors of Death) promise they will not “molest” them. Ooh err!
  • The Doctor once again uses the world’s worst catchphrase – “I should like a hat like that” – I *think* for the last time. Thank god.
  • In the War Games, Jamie and Zoe are returned to their own times at the point they joined. Zoe’s farewell scene accurately reflects that. Instead of smuggling aboard the TARDIS she just returns to the Wheel. Jamie’s scene bears little-to-no resemblance to how he joined up with the TARDIS. In the Highlanders he slips off the Annabelle before it sails to France to help the Doctor & Co get back to the TARDIS at night. In the War Games he just wakes up in a field, seemingly during a battle with a Red Coat.
  • And that’s why you don’t immediately wipe TV Shows – they could be useful again.

Doctor Who – The Highlanders Review: Final Thoughts

A bit like The Smugglers, this isn’t a story where anything really happens, and it’s not as strong a character piece as that.

I didn’t really find much humour in the Doctor’s disguises (especially the Redcoat one – that just seemed to be for the sake of it) and beyond that there isn’t too much in it. Polly gets plenty to do, which is good, but that’s about it.

I think this is one you could comfortably miss, although I’m sure it’d be better if it actually existed in the archives.


3 Responses to Doctor Who – The Highlanders Review (Or ‘Promise You Won’t Molest The Doctor. He Asked You Nicely’)

  1. Zaphod says:

    I hadn’t realised that this story had been wiped so soon after its
    transmission. Very odd. Very odd indeed. It certainly was short-term
    thinking. A shame.

  2. […] Power Of The Daleks The Highlanders The Underwater Menace The Moonbase The Macra Terror The Faceless Ones The Evil Of The Daleks The […]

  3. Ralph Burns says:

    Came across your blog randomly while looking for Daleks Masterplan images. Making my way through your reviews from Hartnell onwards and finding this blog very entertaining. Good for you!
    Personally, I quite enjoy The Highlanders and shout at the heavens that only the audio exists but I can see why it’s not that well remembered. I do like the hat catchphrase though. Sorry!


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