Patrick Troughton’s second story is another that is completely missing from the BBC’s archives and so once again I listened to the audio while watching photos from the story. It seems there was considerably less material available this time round, which is a shame.
The Highlanders is significant for two reasons. 1) It’s the first appearance of Frazer Hines as Jamie McCrimmon who still holds the record for the longest running male companion and 2) It was the last purely historical story until Black Orchid in 1982.
The historicals were rarely as popular or successful as the sci-fi stories in the early years of Doctor Who and The Highlanders is a good example of why that is. The story is hemmed in by the actual historical events. Nothing major can happen and no significant changes can be effected by the Doctor or his companions. Back in The Aztecs that limitation was turned into a story point, but you only get to pull that trick once.
So instead what we get is the Doctor and company bouncing around on the fringes of history. We don’t interact with any major historical figures and at the end of the day all they actually achieve is to leave again with one additional traveler.
Within those limitations it’s not a bad episode exactly. It’s well acted. The story, small as it is, is effectively told. There’s a suitably dislikeable villain and the historical background seems reasonably accurate. It’s just hard to care very much about it all.
There is, however, a noticeable difference here in the way Patrick Troughton’s Doctor behaves when compared to William Hartnell. Here is his deliberately, almost wilfully, antagonistic. There are also some weird moments of slapstick comedy like the sequence of him dressing up as an old woman. I guess we’re at the stage here when the writers were trying to figure out exactly where to go with their new leading man.
All in all it’s a pretty missable affair. If the video still existed there might be more reason to watch it. But as it is, it’s really just a historical artifact for Doctor Who completists.