Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...
Day 149: The Highlanders, Episode Two
The Highlanders is proving to be one of those awkward stories where I just don’t really have all that much to say having finished each episode. I’ve ended up listening to the latter half of the episode twice, because by the time I came to write about it, I simply couldn’t remember what had actually happened! The answer, seemingly, is ‘not a lot’.
I don’t know what it is about this story that hasn’t appealed to me, but something really isn’t clicking. What I will say is that I’m still loving Troughton’s Doctor, and the way that he feels so different to Hartnell. I commented on it yesterday, and during The Power of the Daleks, too, but it’s worth repeating. I love the way that he bamboozles people into letting him out of the prison, and dressing up as a washer woman is fantastic - and completely bonkers. I have to admit, I can see it wearing a bit thin in the long run, but since I know it does get toned down, I can at least enjoy it now.
Still, as much as I’m enjoying Troughton’s presence in the series, I’m sorry to say I’m going to have to give this one a measly…
Wait, what’s that? Yeah, that is a woefully short entry for today’s episode, isn’t it? Shortest in the history of The 50 Year Diary, in fact. But fear not! I have an ace up my sleeve! It’s time to take a bit of a side-step into unexplored territory…
The Highlanders Episode Two was first broadcast on Christmas Eve 1966 (and can you believe it’s been a year since The Feast of Steven and the middle of The Daleks’ Master Plan? The series has changed so much since then - this really is a programme that’s constantly evolving…), the same day as TV Comic issue #784. This is a particularly important issue of the publication,because it sees the arrival of the Second Doctor in comic strip form.
I’ve always had something of a soft-spot for the world of Doctor Who comics. I tend to count Doctor Who Magazine’s The Flood to be my favourite Who story ever, in any medium (seriously, it’s stunning), and I don’t think it’s hard to argue the virtues of much of that run of Eighth Doctor comics. Recently, I had a good chat with a friend about what we’d each do given a season of Doctor Who to preside over, and I suddenly realised how much all my choices were inspired by Scott Gray’s work on the comic.
And yet, there seems to be something of a stigma attached to the comic medium. People don’t tend to talk about it. When I first waded into Doctor Who fandom about a decade ago, people often talked of the books and the audios - but the comics were the younger sibling, the one no one liked to mention and simply pretended wasn’t there. Even among those Who did accept the sheer brilliance of the comics, any of the stuff from the pre-Doctor Who Magazine era tended to be dismissed as a load of old rubbish.
I always thought it was magical, though! I loved that it presented a kind of Doctor that didn’t really exist on the TV series (‘Die, hideous creature, die!’ etc.), and one Who travelled with his two grandchildren, John and Gillian. It’s an absolute world away from Doctor Who in any other format, and it’s filled with a kind of light-hearted, joyous charm. A sense of sheer, child-like fun. And, let’s be honest, that’s exactly what I need when I’m lagging in the middle of The Highlanders.
To that end, this evening I’ve sat down to read The Extortioner, the first Second Doctor story, and the one which started contemporaneously with this episode. Unfortunately, I’ve been looking at it in a digital format on my computer, rather than in the form of the actual aging comic books (though I did continue to sniff an old Beano book of about the right vintage between parts of the comic, just to give the illusion).
Coming in at just eight pages (two per issue), this strip is never going to be the most in-depth Doctor Who story ever, but it’s fun enough if you just go along with it. The Doctor on display is nothing like either of the two we’ve had so far in the series, but he’s a good enough version of the character, if you can suspend your belief a little further.
There’s also an appearance from the Doctor’s lighter, the laser beam inside of which has apparently saved the day for him at least once before now. It’s interesting to see him using this to cut his way out of a cell, since we’ll be seeing the introduction of the Sonic Screwdriver at the end of next season.
The plot itself - the Doctor arrives outside a volcano. Inside, he finds an evil madman, Who has missiles aimed at a number of planets, and plans to fire them if these planets will not send him all their valuables - can only really be described as ‘comic strip’, but it’s something that I reckon a young me would love to read if I were a fan of the programme on TV. It’s not the best example of the Doctor’s comic adventures (I tend to love the ones where they fight off the Tenth Planet Cybermen with flowers. Very 1960s), but it’s proved an amusing distraction from The Highlanders if nothing else, which I imagine is a role it would have filled back in 1966, too. Having come from six episodes where the Daleks are plotting and gliding around on a planet with mercury swamps to please the eye, this one must have felt like a bit of a comedown…
Oh, and the comic agrees with me that his name is 'Doctor Who', so that's always a plus!
(If I’m rating The Extortioner as a story - and heck, if I rated The Destroyers, then it only seems fair! - then I think I’d be giving it a ‘5/10’. Nothing special, but good enough…)