This is a treat: the first extant Troughton episode. I was in the audience at the BFI when this was unveiled in 2011, and can still remember the slight deflation (the rumours were The Tenth Planet 4), followed quickly by surprise and delight as the episode unfolded.
There’s a lovely scene at the start of the episode where the TARDIS team contemplate where they might have arrived this time. Polly hopes it’s Chelsea 1966 – still desperate to get back to normality. Ben is sarcastic, Jamie is fearful and the Doctor is excited by the thought of ‘prehistoric monsters’. It’s a lovely little introduction to the new crew
There are two noteworthy things about The Highlanders: it’s the last “pure historical” for 15 years, and it’s the first story with Jamie. Neither fact actually says anything about the story. It’s relationship to the actual history of the 1745 Rebellion is fleeting, and, other than being played by the telegenic Frazer Hines, Jamie is a less significant character in it than either the equally-telegenic Kirsty (who gets a lot more screen time and dialogue with the Doctor) or Colin. The Doctor’s ready agreement to Polly’s suggestion of taking him along at the end is the first time a companion has been introduced quite so casually.
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.
This episode sees the regulars running rings round the locals which, taken alongside Ben’s cruel ‘witchcraft’ pranks in The Smugglers, doesn’t necessarily cast them in the best light. Polly has no time for Kirsty’s greetin’, and lures the hapless Ffinch into the trap they’ve fallen into before robbing him, and threatening to blackmail him.
The second and last of the short-lived Celtic Fringe historical sub-genre: like The Smugglers, this is based less in historical fact and more in historical fiction, with Davis, like Robert Louis Stevenson, “following rather the poetry of history than its chronology: his business is not to be the slave of dates; he ought to be faithful to the character of the epoch”. It features loads of nice-looking location filming (and caves), and pits earthy locals against well-spoken but ill-intentioned toffs.
There’s an odd moment near the start of this episode when two armed Daleks, issued with orders to conquer and destroy, lets the Doctor chat to them and walk away. It epitomises a script that seems to have developed amnesia about things that happened just a few pages before.
Events come to a head this episode, as Lesterson’s dire warnings are dismissed as the ravings of a madman, Bragen and Janley move against Governor Hensell, and the Daleks have their own power, literally and metaphorically.
Essentially a procedural episode that moves the characters into place for the final two episodes. The two plots of the Dalek resurgence and the internal politics of Vulcan begin to converge, with the rebels, egged on by Janley (the best female villain since Maaga) co-opting the Daleks as their soldiers.
Most of this episode focuses on the burgeoning crisis in the colony. While Governor Hensell sets off for a tour of the perimeter, Bragen’s plot to discredit Deputy Quinn succeeds and propels him to be the Acting Governor in Hensell’s absence. At this point, it transpires that Bragen essentially has the same plan as Chancellor Palpatine in the Star Wars prequels. The ‘rebels’ have been secretly cultivated by him as a threat that he will sweep in to defeat, to much popular acclaim and the certainty of winning the office of Governor. Which makes Janley the Count Dooku character – ostensibly the rebel leader, but actually Bragen’s partner in crime.