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Doctor Who: The Highlanders

"There's room for TWO men of action
in the TARDIS, Doctor..."
Companions from historical Earth never work. So let's write another one!

Series Four, Story 4 (FF)

Starring Patrick Troughton as the Doctor
With Michael Craze (Ben), Anneke Wills (Polly) and introducing Frazer Hines (Jamie)
Written by Elwyn Jones and Gerry Davis
Directed by Hugh David
Produced by Innes Lloyd
Script Editor – Gerry Davis

Broadcast Dates, Viewership, Appreciation
  • Episode 1 – 17 Dec 1966 (6.7m, 47%) **MISSING**
  • Episode 2 – 24 Dec 1966 (6.8m, 46%) **MISSING**
  • Episode 3 – 31 Dec 1966 (7.4m, 47%) **MISSING**
  • Episode 4 – 7 Jan 1967 (7.3m, 47%) **MISSING**

How To Watch
  • All episodes missing, and there are no current plans (as of Sep '23) to animate them.
  • Loose Cannon reconstructions of the four episodes are available here (this uses an audiobook version with a substantial amount of narration provided by Frazer Hines). Please support official BBC releases.


The TARDIS lands in Scotland, 1746, as the battle of Culloden, in which the English army has decisively routed the supporters of Bonnie Prince Charlie, is winding down. The Doctor, Polly and Ben are captured by fleeing Highlander soldiers, including a young piper Jamie McCrimmon, and are forced to help their wounded Laird. They in turn are all captured by redcoat soldiers; Jamie and Ben face being shipped to the Caribbean as slaves by the duplicitous Solicitor Grey, while the Doctor, in a variety of disguises, works behind the scenes to rescue them. Polly and the Laird's daughter Kirstie infiltrate the English army posing as orange sellers and mess with Lieutenant Algernon Ffinch to track down the location of Ben and friends. Ultimately, our heroes and Kirstie smuggle weapons onto the ship, allowing Jamie and his fellow Highlanders to capture the ship, and they sail for safety in France. Polly alerts Ffinch about Grey's treachery and has him arrested. Jamie stays behind to help the Doctor, Ben and Polly locate the TARDIS in Culloden Moors, and ultimately opts to travel with them.

Analysis, Background, Tidbits, Etc.

This is the last 'pure' historical adventure until the two-part "Black Orchid" in 1982. Producer Lloyd and script editor Davis had elected to scrap the historical adventures in the Troughton era, which initially had been intended to be just as much a part of the series as the science fiction oriented adventures. However, over the years, viewership figures made it very clear what the public wanted. So basically, "The Highlanders" wasn't intended to exist.

"Can you believe these frikkin redcoats?"

What happened was that the Head of Drama at the BBC, Elwyn Jones, had stepped down from his prestigious post to return to freelance writing, and he offered to write a historical adventure for Doctor Who, and Lloyd and Davis were pretty much obligated to say, "Okay, fine, one more historical..." And as it happened, the story originally intended to be the second Doctor's second adventure "The Underwater Menace" was proving more of a logistical challenge than intended, so it was bumped forward and this story inserted into its place. But then Jones got the offer to revive the enormously popular police series Z-Cars, so the outlines he had sketched for the story were left for Davis to effectively craft from scratch into a workable script.

During the writing of the story, Gerry Davis had an eye on the character Jamie as a potential companion, and cast the role accordingly. Shawn Sutton, current head of Drama, had worked some years earlier with a child actor named Frazer Hines, who had also worked with Troughton. During the filming of the location scenes, it was decided to offer Hines, now 22, a regular spot in the TARDIS crew, which required a re-shoot of the farewell scene, initially filmed with him bidding them farewell and watching them leave.

It always struck me as odd to note how Katarina was written out almost as quickly as she was introduced, and Anne Chaplet was considered (and ultimately rejected) as a potential companion, both allegedly due to the worry that the scripts would get bogged down by the Doctor having to explain everyday technology to them. And then they invented the character of Jamie, who would spend the next three seasons baffled by trains, tape recorders, short skirts, etc. Frazer, ironically, had auditioned for the role of Ben. And in a TARDIS where there was already a Young Man of Action, I'm not sure why they would see a pressing need for a second one. And I can't imagine what Michael Craze thought. Yet in any case, all three companions would have their contracts extended for three further serials.

The production team – and Troughton – seemed to be experimenting with several ideas as to what the direction of the show would be, and how to handle the new Doctor. There were attempts at catchphrases, i.e. "I should like a hat like that...", and here the Doctor concocts a terrible German accent (calling himself "Doktor Von Wer"), spends most of episodes two and three dressed as an old lady, and briefly as a wounded redcoat. His would-be signature costume piece, the absurdly large hat, would ultimately be phased out, as would the disguises. The recorder, for better or worse, would remain.

Poor Lt. Ffinch...

"The Highlanders" also seems to be focused more on the adventures of Ben and Polly than on the Doctor – perhaps a throwback to the Hartnell era; indeed, this script could've been written for Hartnell. Ben is paired up with Jamie in prison and on the ship, while Polly and Kirstie are left to fend for themselves. Theirs is an interesting plotline, as it's rare, especially in the sausage-fest era of the show, for two young female characters to work so closely together. They're very resourceful, never require rescuing, are almost always besting and outwitting whatever male is before them (usually poor Lt. Ffinch). How often do we see this? I must note, though, that Polly is... rather nasty to Kirstie.

I do appreciate how the story makes heroes out of the underdog Highlanders and villains out of the English. The Doctor even says, and I quote, "You don't know the English soldier. He'd sell his grandmother for tuppence ha'penny." Oh snap! And they don't sugarcoat the storyline. Solicitor Grey (based on an actual historical figure) has a scheme to sell Highlander prisoners into slavery in the Caribbean (the ship captain Trask notes, "Arr, a Highlander will do twice the work of one of your black slaves!"... yikes) before they can be tried as prisoners. He basically gives Ben, Jamie, and the other prisoners three options: turn traitor, be hanged, or sign a legally binding contract for seven years' indentured servitude in the West Indies (where it is generally acknowledged that they wouldn't survive one year, never mind seven). Pretty grim stuff; when America has done more than its share of historical dirties, some people get verrry annoyed when we actually talk about it, so it's interesting to see a British historical adventure not shy away from the darker aspects of their own history.

I also note how the Doctor seems largely detached from the action, or makes it seem that way. He even fakes out Polly and Kirstie, telling them it's their job to take the money they've 'borrowed' from poor Ffinch and procure weapons, while he takes a nap. When they return, the Doctor has amassed a near arsenal. Cheeky.

This is actually quite a decent adventure. It's provocative, has interesting characters, makes good use of the water tank at Ealing studios, has some brutal action sequences and nasty business buffeted by moments of humor. For a story that the producers had no intention of making until they were effectively strongarmed into doing it, and for the swan song of the historical adventures, it holds together admirably. A pity it's lost.

My favorite bit of trivia in this story: director Hugh David had been a prominent actor, and was considered for the role of the First Doctor!

Haven't I Seen You...
  • William Dysart (McLaren) would appear as Reegan in "Ambassadors of Death"
  • Hannah Gordon (Kirstie) was the voice of Skaagra's ship computer in the webcast and Big Finish versions of "Shada"
  • Peter Welch (soldier) would appear as the tavernkeeper Morgan in "The Android Invasion"
  • David Garth (Grey) would appear as the Time Lord who warned the Doctor about the Master in "Terror of the Autons"
  • Dallas Cavell (Trask) previously appeared in "Reign of Terror" as the roadworks boss and as Bors in "The Daleks' Master Plan," and would later appear in "Ambassadors of Death" (Quinlan) and "Castrovalva" (head of security)
  • Barbara Bruce (Mollie) was an uncredited extra in the Empire State Building sequence in "The Chase"
  • Peter Diamond (sailor) made several credited and uncredited appearances, often as a stunt performer, and also was fight choreographer in several other stories.

Sausage Factor: 85.7% (2 females out of 14 credited guest actors, counting Frazer Hines)

Rating: Three out of Four Creag an tuires
John Geoffrion is a semi-retired semi-professional thespian, a professional data guy, and a Dad. He usually falls asleep to the Classic Doctor Who channel on Pluto.tv


  1. John, thanks for an interesting read. I actually have a tidbit to contribute!

    The character Jamie, played by Frazer Hines, inspired author Diana Gabaldon to center her time travel series Outlander on a young Scot named Jamie Fraser who fought at the Battle of Culloden in 1746. The Outlander books have sold millions and are the basis of the Starz television series that I currently review.


    1. Never knew that! What I really love about Doctor Who is how after nearly 60 years of watching it, I am still finding out new bits and pieces of info !

  2. Love it! "Jamie Fraser"... gosh, that's subtle ;-)

  3. Historical context for the program: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Culloden

  4. I really wish this one was available in its original form as Jamie has become one of my favorite companions, and I really want to see this one in all its glory!

    I love that bit about Outlander, Billie. Don't know the series myself, but that's a fun thing to know.

    I too always felt that having Ben and Jamie was an odd choice, made even more odd with how quickly Jamie overshadows Ben. Ben and Polly don't last too much longer, and are kind of forgotten among the Doctor's companions which isn't helped by so many of their stories being missing, but the 2nd Doctor and Jamie are so good together, and especially when Zoe joins them, that it's not surprising that Jamie ascends so quickly.

    I really want to see this one! I have the novelization, as I have a lot of them, but I do prefer watching them, even in animated versions, so hope we get one for this not too far off in future.

  5. Also, the Doctor Who classic page doesn't have a link on the Highlanders for me, unlike the others, only found this by seeing the recent comments!

    1. Morella, thanks much. I was trying to do too much yesterday and missed it. The link is there now.

  6. Loving reading your reviews. Just in my latest rewatch of Dr Who, this time I'm going from start to finish, always interested in well thought out views. I love The Highlanders, as you correctly say its quite brutal in places and rightly so, like all the historicals. Polly is a real arsehole towards Kirsty, and the cliffhanger with everybody about to be hanged is plain horrible! I'd recommend listening with the photonovel in front of you btw, they're still available on the BBC site if you search for "bbc classic doctor who photonovels" or somesuch. You can get quite a good idea of the visuals.

    1. Thanks, Tony!

      Yeah, Polly is awful to her! I'm like, lady, how many of YOUR relatives and friends were slaughtered in the past 24 hours? Is YOUR Dad seriously wounded? Cut Kirsty some slack!


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