The new house style, introduced with The Savages, is very much in evidence again here. It’s the typical “Ten O’Clock News” approach where you’re told what you’re going to see, then you see it, then are reminded what you’ve seen. As such, there is absolutely nothing that’s in any way surprising in this episode. We were told in Episode 1 that Solicitor Grey was planning to sell the captive Highlanders in the West Indies. We are now seeing this exact plot happen.
Barely anything happens in comparison to the Hartnell historicals – this is all period flavour and arr’ing pirates. The educational aspects of The Massacre, or even The Gunfighters, are almost entirely absent. The Doctor even stops himself when he’s about to let slip an actual historical fact to Kirsty.
Instead, the pleasure comes from seeing how the regulars fare in this picturesque setting. Polly gets to be gutsier than ever, probably the feistiest a companion’s been so far, as she dresses as an “Orange seller” (a euphemism for a prostitute), plunges into enemy camp and confronts Ffinch, wrapping him around her little finger. Ben’s almost as saucy, pretending to scrutinise Solicitor Grey’s contract for the Highlander’s to work themselves to death or freedom in Barbados, before ripping it up.
But again it’s the Doctor who’s the oddest, most unpredictable character. He threatens Perkins with a beating and a gun – which he reveals to Polly and Kirsty is not loaded (‘They’re dangerous things’) before then going and getting a haul of British weapons to rescue the Highlanders. As Polly frets about Ben’s fate, the Doctor wants to go to sleep – suggesting the slightly callous streak glimpsed in The Power of the Daleks is going to be an ongoing aspect of his persona. However, Polly already knows he is always planning ahead, and she’s not mistaken, leading to a very Ninth/Rose exchange:
POLLY: You’re fantastic.
DOCTOR: I know.
Next episode: The Highlanders – Episode 4