Audio Review: Doctor Who: The Highlanders
ONE of the original features of the first few years of Doctor Who was the proliferation of stories set during periods of Earth history, free of any science-fiction trappings beyond the presence of the Doctor, his companions and the TARDIS.
Whether it was joining Marco Polo on his expedition to China, helping the Siege of Troy, pitting wits against Emperor Nero or taking sides at Tombstone in 1881, the time travellers frequently found themselves encountering some of the greatest figures from our planet’s past, with not an alien invader in sight.
But as viewer tastes and production teams changed, the “pure historical” began to lose popularity, and the trend came to an end with this 1966/1967 adventure. There would be no more of these stories until 1982’s Black Orchid, any subsequent tales featuring at least some sort of alien incursion in Earth’s past.
As effectively the end of an era for the show, The Highlanders is unusual in that it doesn’t feature any historical “celebrities”, but instead focuses on the aftermath of the Battle of Culloden in 1746 and the defeat of Bonnie Prince Charlie, and a scheme to transport Scottish prisoners to the West Indies for slave labour.
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The Doctor and his friends Ben and Polly join forces with young piper Jamie McCrimmon, a character who eventually joins them onboard the TARDIS, and find themselves fleeing English Redcoats intent on crushing the last remnants of the Scottish rebellion, resulting in one escape after another in a series of set-pieces which do get somewhat repetitive after a while.
Only the second story to feature the newly regenerated Second Doctor, the character has still to find his feet here, and often does relatively little compared to the more active Ben and Polly, although he manages to enjoy a handful of stand-out scenes which show how this version of the Time Lord will evolve in future.
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The latest audio reading of a Target Books novelisation, this release is read by Anneke Wills (Polly) and enjoys added atmosphere from sound effects including Scottish drums and pipes, and the ring of cannon and musket fire.
Anneke takes obvious relish in portraying the variety of accents featured in this tale, ranging from the Doctor’s faux-German through the different Highlanders and up to Ben’s Cockney swagger.
Gerry Davis’ original book isn’t as detailed as some of his other work, originally coming out during a period when the book range’s word count was somewhat curtailed, but what material he does supply shows an obvious love for the source material and a desire to expand as much as possible upon what was seen on screen.