“I’m not very expert with these things.”
One thing I’m enjoying about watching everything on broadcast date is getting it all in context. It had never occurred to me that The Highlanders was a Christmas story – by that I mean transmitted around Christmas, with an episode on Christmas Eve, and then New Years Eve. But there are no Santas, snowmen or Christmas trees in 1740s Culloden, just a lot of grimy Scots prisoners being pushed around and shouted at. Not the sort of festive episode you are used to in 2016.
So it ended last week with Polly being menaced by a dagger-weilding hand. Of course we might have recognised the dirk…it’s Kirsty! Kirsty tries to help pull Polly out of the pit but falls in with her. They soon hear redcoats approaching and before long have lured their leader, Lieutenant Ffinch into the pit as well, where they proceed to blackmail him into helping them. Kirsty has gone from blubbing helplessly to “Move and I’ll blow your brains out!” in about two minutes! This is a very strong story for Polly who is on top form here mocking the Lieutenant and planning the rescue of their friends. I love how she’s amused by the two ‘F’s in ‘Ffinch’ addressing him “Lieutenant Algernon Thomas Alfred Fer-finch”, and then “Algie darling” as she sweetly threatens him. I get the impression that while she was clearly terrified in the middle of the Dalek battle, light years away on Vulcan, she’s much more confident dealing with fellow humans on (almost) home turf.
The imprisoned Doctor meanwhile is also having fun: “I’m just beginning to enjoy myself” he smiles, before yelling “Down with King George!” at the guards. I don’t think we’ve seen the Doctor relish the adventure like this before. To impress the others in the cell with him he then performs a bit of Mystic Meg jumbo jumbo on the wounded Laird. Jamie overhears the word “germ”, to which the Doctor replies “it’s a secret word”, and then explains that ‘germ’ comes from the word ‘German’! The Doctor discovers the Laird has Bonnie Prince Charlie’s silk standard, which he takes and wraps around himself, exclaiming that it’s lovely and warm.
And then they all have a sing-song as he gets his recorder out again (“I didn’t think we’d heard the last of that” despairs Ben). I’ve not seen the Doctor ‘rabble rousing’ like this since the first series, when he started hurling stones at a caveman to encourage the tribe to drive the man out, and then later stirring up a rebellion against the Daleks on Skaro. Even during the similar rebellion in the Savages, he seemed more of a bystander. The sing-song here was a ploy to lure the guard down and get the Doctor released, claiming (in his rubbish German accent) that the singing was the other prisoners bullying him. He claims to know of a plot to murder the Duke of Cumberland and so is taken to Solicitor Grey.
Grey meanwhile is plotting slave trading shenanigans with Captain Trask of the Annabelle. Trask is played with West Country accent “Arrrrrrrrr!” Long John Silver style. They claim that a highlander would be capable of twice the amount of work as a black slave. Gosh.
The Doctor is led in, and once alone with Grey he admits his story was a ruse and reveals the silk standard, which he then smothers Grey with, grabs his gun (“I’m not very expert with these things”) and ties him up. Still in phoney “doktor ” mode he asks Grey what’s wrong with his throat. Getting him to say “arrr” (he’d have had no trouble with Trask) he stuffs a handkerchief in Grey’s mouth and locks him in a cupboard.
When there’s a knock on the door he hurriedly sits at the solicitors desk and calls the visitor in. We then get some more larking around as Perkins walks in and is immediately subjected to an unwelcome medical consultation. “Do you suffer from headaches?” asks ‘Doktor Von Wer’, before walloping the man’s head against a desk, diagnosing “print blindness”, tying the man’s cravat around his eyes and ordering an hours rest before blowing him a kiss and leaving the room! Imagine Hartnell doing all that!
Later Fer-finch gets rescued from the pit, Grey gets rescued from the cupboard by Trask (altogether now: “Arrrrrr!’). Ben and the prisoners are rounded up and led to a room where a trapdoor leads to a moored boat. They are all taken away on the boat.
Meanwhile an old lady tells some guards that she has some broth for Trask. The old lady sounds suspiciously like Terry Jones in drag (a reference from my future here – we’ll understand better in just under three years time!)…it’s the Doctor! He locates the trap door.
The rowing boat moors up alongside the Annabelle, where Trask shows the prisoners what’ll happen to them if they misbehave: a bound man is pushed off a plank unto the water… Arrrrr indeed.
So actually…captains saying “arrrrr”…men in drag…slapstick comedy…I was wrong: bar the odd drowning it’s completely Christmassy!