Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...
Day 151: The Highlanders, Episode Four
Please forgive me. I was weak. The Highlanders wore me down. The thought of having to listen to another 25 minutes of it was honestly too much to bare. I gave in. I cheated. I’ve not actually listened to Episode Four. Well… not properly, anyway.
Y’see, I really couldn’t bare the thought of having to sit through another episode of The Highlanders. I’ve been putting it off all day in the hope that somehow, magically, I’d discover that it was only a three-part story and that I’d have therefore finished it. Unfortunately, as the day wore on, it became increasingly apparent that wasn’t going to happen. Bah.
Thankfully, I then mentioned it to my good friend Nick Mellish, who sympathised and then commented ‘great novelisation, though…’. That’s when it hit me. There was a way of finishing this story with as little pain as possible. It just involved the (slightly odd, considering my disdain for it) process of doubling the length of the final episode to just about an hour. I went on a bit of a spending spree on the AudioGo website as I approached the Troughton era, mopping up all the soundtracks that I didn’t yet own. This led to me amassing a number of points on their system, so I traded them in for a download of Anneke Wills reading the Target novelisation of this story.
Yes, yes, yes, I know what you’re thinking. No, I’ve not technically listened to Episode Four of The Highlanders. Know what though? I don’t care! Because listening to the Target version of the last episode, I’ve really enjoyed it! Haha! It took a bit of guesswork to work out where I needed to start listening to the audio (which meant I got to hear the novel’s version of the lovely scene between the Doctor and Polly yesterday), and I ended up settling for listening to the cliffhanger from Episode Three again, before moving into the final stretch.
I’m pleased to report that within about ten minutes, I was fully up to speed. There were even things coming through now that I’d missed in earlier episodes and now made sense. I don’t know if it’s the result of swapping formats, or if it’ Anneke Wills’ spirited delivery of the material (the first time she launches into one of Ben’s lines left me wondering if I should laugh or applaud - but it works!), or if it’s just that Episode Four is the best of the serial, but I was actually enjoying The Highlanders.
I can’t tell you how pleased that makes me. I really don’t like not enjoying episodes. I also really don’t like that it often leaves me with little to say here in the diary, because I’m simply not enthused enough to bother. I think the real seal of approval came once I’d reached the end of the reading, and I genuinely considered skipping right back to the beginning to see if I’d enjoy the whole story more listening to it in this way. Ultimately, I decided that was stretching things a little too far, so opted not to. One day, though…
Surprisingly, for the first two thirds of the episode, there’s still no indication that Jamie is going to be anything other than a one-story character. There’s a moment when the text describes the ‘four fugitives’ inside a barn, referring to the Doctor, Polly, Ben, and Kirsty. A few scenes later, when the action relocated back to The Annabel, Polly and Kirsty are carefully rowing a boat around the ship’s hull to smuggle in weapons for rebellion… and Jamie is described as being asleep inside!
It actually feels a little out-of-place when he jumps off the ship and stows away on the smaller boat, only to emerge a little later as a guide for the TARDIS crew. From there, it seems that he’s just caught up in events, and only ends up going along with them because if he remains behind, he’ll be killed pretty fast (which bodes well for The War Games, which drops him back of here and now, with the redcoats advancing!). I know from later stories in this era that Jamie is a great companion, but for now, he just feels a little tacked-on. A real shame, considering the role he’ll be playing for the next two-and-a-half seasons!
On the whole, The Highlanders hasn’t been a high point of the marathon for me. There were moments when I considered just skipping an episode and hoping that none of you would notice. I’m glad that the Target novelisation has been enough to turn things round for me at the very end, though I’m going to be left with a nagging wonder wether I’d have enjoyed the episode so much by continuing with the soundtrack. On the one hand, you’ve got the Doctor reunited with Ben and Polly, and cooking up a scheme, but on the other… the thought of actually listening to it leaves me cold. And a little bit sick. But - hooray! - it’s over, and with it goes the format of the ‘pure’ historical for a good long time, yet.
It’s been an odd path they’ve travelled down since the start of the series - with stories like Marco Polo and The Aztecs serving as early indications that I’d be enjoying these stories. By the time The Reign of Terror rolled around, though, they’d started to leave me cold. With a few notable exceptions (The Gunfighters, I’m looking at you), I’ve sort of had enough of them as a format. Thankfully, Innes Lloyd felt the same way!