Skip to main content

I bet his colonel would be highly interested to hear how his Lieutenant F-finch was captured by two girls.


Doctor Who
The Highlanders: Episode Two


Episode Two is near-perfectly choreographed dance of comedy plotting. And it scores on that front with not just the Doctor’s antics but in Polly and Kirsty’s interaction with F-finch. There’s certainly a strange mix here, as the perils facing Ben and Jamie (and, at first, the Doctor) are very real, but the energy and brio that tear through what was initially a sombre setting are infectious.

The Doctor isn’t remotely dispirited by being imprisoned, unlike ever-cheerful Ben.

Ben: Why’d we ever get mixed up in this, Doctor?
The Doctor: I’m glad we did. I’m just beginning to enjoy myself.

This might be the best episode that Troughton gets full stop. The Doctor is at his most irrepressibly buoyant.

The Doctor(shouting): Down with King George!
Jamie: So you are for the Prince, after all.
The Doctor: No, not really. I just like hearing the echo, that’s all.


Ben continues to be slow on the up-take, until the the point where he tells Jamie the Doctor has escaped prison as a ruse to enable their release, misunderstanding the Doctor’s deferral to astrology as a reason to prevent Colin from experiencing curative blood-letting. Another example of how the new incarnation has been sketched so far; he doesn’t lay out explanations or pronouncements on a plate. Rather, he assesses a situation and acts in a manner that requires the audience to catch up with him. Often that behaviour is humorous, but his goal is a serious one. As he says, he’s enjoying himself (along the way).

On discovering the Prince’s standard in Colin’s possession, he wraps it around himself.

The Doctor: What chance do you think he has of avoiding the gallows with this on him? Besides, it’s really rather warm.

And then he launches into a Jacobite tune on his recorder “to cheer us all up”.
One might argue that his reversion to Doctor von Wer as a means of extricating himself from jail is rather reckless, but apparent recklessness sums up the Doctor at this early point. It runs the risk of instant (deadly) response from his fellow prisoners and means that Ben, a known associate, is left in the lurch once the Doctor is released.


His claim that there is a plot to murder the Duke of Cumberland gains him an audience with Grey, and the ensuing scenes are surely some of the purest comedy (certainly physically) that the series ever indulged in. He tells Grey upfront that there isn’t a plot, and sets out a potentially dangerous game when he reveals the standard and the chance for him and Grey to lay their hands on fifteen thousand pounds reward each when they locate the prince. He also informs Grey that the prisoner who knows where the Prince is will remain his secret for now.

But, having done this, he doesn’t continue with this plan. He throws the flag over Grey’s head, takes the solicitor’s pistol (“Don’t cry out. I’m not an expert with these things and it might just go off in your face”), binds and gags him (getting him to open his mouth by telling him his throat looks swollen) and bundles him into a cupboard.

The Doctor: I’ve never seen a silent lawyer before. Would you mind just waiting in here? Another patient, you understand.


The other patient is Perkins, as the absurdity and trickery escalate. Trout’s pronunciation of “Yurr ay-es” (your eyes) is off the radar. He convinces Perkins he has a headache by banging the clerk’s head on the desk and tells him he must rest his eyes for at least an hour. Meanwhile Grey is knocking on the cupboard door.

Perkins: What’s that knocking?
The Doctor: There is no knocking. It’s in yurr myend! In yurr ay-es! Rest yurr ay-es and the knocking will grow fainter and fainter.


Apparently he then blows Perkins a kiss as he exits the room. That’s not the end of the Doctor’s antics. He drags up as a washerwoman (eat your heart out, Pertwee) and distracts a guard into leaving a door unlocked. And, even though the room he accesses is empty, as Ben, Jamie and Colin are en route for Trask’s ship by this point, it shows that there’s method to his madness.


Polly has almost as much fun with F-finch. The cliffhanger resolve is pathetically weak (it’s just Kirsty) but once F-finch falls down the animal trap with them Polly gets to show off a feisty confidence and resourcefulness so delicious that it’s all the sadder that this is something of a one-off for her.  She refers to F-finch as “her gallant officer” and obtains a piece of his hair and his identity disc (and his money, 20 guineas) in order to blackmail him into future loyalty.

Polly: I bet his colonel would be highly interested to hear how his Lieutenant F-finch was captured by two girls.

And then:

Polly: Bye-bye, Algy, dear. We’ll be seeing you in Inverness.


It’s the subordinate characters who show the most acumen elsewhere. Sergeant Clegg only agrees to help F-finch in return for payment (“Officers don’t usually fall into pits”) while Captain Trask, oo-arring more than anyone in The Smugglers (which is saying something), is dismissive of Grey and Perkins being hoodwinked by the Doctor.

Trask: What in thunder?
Perkins: I’m resting my eyes.
Trask: Damn you eyes. Where’s your master?(Discovering Grey in the cupboard). And what might this be a cure for? St Vitus’ dance?


The cliffhanger, as with part one’s, fails to be particularly compelling. A body is thrown overboard and Ben and Jamie are told by Trask that’s the only way they will get off the Sea Eagle. Also of note, there’s an earlier conversation between Trask and Grey where it is commented that a highlander will “do twice the work of one of your black slaves”.


If I could have any single episode returned to the archives, it would be this one. It’s hugely enjoyable in audio form, but with the visuals accompanying it, and Troughton at the height of his comedy powers, I suspect it would be unbeatable. 

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

Exit bear, pursued by an actor.

Paddington 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Paddington 2 is every bit as upbeat and well-meaning as its predecessor. It also has more money thrown at it, a much better villain (an infinitely better villain) and, in terms of plotting, is more developed, offering greater variety and a more satisfying structure. Additionally, crucially, it succeeds in offering continued emotional heft and heart to the Peruvian bear’s further adventures. It isn’t, however, quite as funny.

Even suggesting such a thing sounds curmudgeonly, given the universal applause greeting the movie, but I say that having revisited the original a couple of days prior and found myself enjoying it even more than on first viewing. Writer-director Paul King and co-writer Simon Farnaby introduce a highly impressive array of set-ups with huge potential to milk their absurdity to comic ends, but don’t so much squander as frequently leave them undertapped.

Paddington’s succession of odd jobs don’t quite escalate as uproariously as they migh…

Never compare me to the mayor in Jaws! Never!

Ghostbusters (2016)
(SPOILERS) Paul Feig is a better director than Ivan Reitman, or at very least he’s savvy enough to gather technicians around him who make his films look good, but that hasn’t helped make his Ghostbusters remake (or reboot) a better movie than the original, and that’s even with the original not even being that great a movie in the first place.

Along which lines, I’d lay no claims to the 1984 movie being some kind of auteurist gem, but it does make some capital from the polarising forces of Aykroyd’s ultra-geekiness on the subject of spooks and Murray’s “I’m just here for the asides” irreverence. In contrast, Feig’s picture is all about treating the subject as he does any other genre, be it cop, or spy, or romcom. There’s no great affection, merely a reliably professional approach, one minded to ensure that a generous quota of gags (on-topic not required) can be pumped out via abundant improv sessions.

So there’s nothing terribly wrong with Ghostbusters, but aside from …

What I have tried to show you is the inevitability of history. What must be, must be.

The Avengers 2.24: A Sense of History
Another gem, A Sense of History features one of the series’ very best villains in Patrick Mower’s belligerent, sneering student Duboys. Steed and Mrs Peel arrive at St Bode’s College investigating murder most cloistered, and the author of a politically sensitive theoretical document, in Martin Woodhouse’s final, and best, teleplay for the show (other notables include Mr. Teddy Bear and The Wringer).

Are you drinking the water?

A Cure for Wellness (2016)
(SPOILERS) Well, this is far more suited to Dane DeHaan’s slightly suspect shiftiness than ludicrously attempting to turn him into an outright action hero (Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets). It’s not, though, equal to director Gore Verbinski’s abilities. One of Hollywood’s great visualists but seemingly languishing without a clear path since he was cast adrift from collaborating with Johnny Depp, unfortunately, he must cop most of the blame for A Cure for Wellness, since it was his idea.

There’s a whiff of Shutter Island’s pulp psychodrama tonally, as DeHaan’s unscrupulous finance company executive Lockhart is sent to a Swiss health spa to fetch back a board member vital to pressing ahead with a merger. No sooner has he reached the alpine wellness centre, resplendent in the grounds of historic castle with a dark past, than he’s involved in a car accident, leaving him with a leg in a cast and “encouragement” to recuperate on site, taking the waters …

Space is disease and danger wrapped in darkness and silence.

Star Trek (2009)
(SPOILERS) If JJ Abrams’ taking up the torch of the original Star Wars trilogy had been as supremely satisfying as his Star Trek reboot, I’d have very little beef with it. True, they both fall victim to some incredibly ropey plotting, but where Star Trek scores, making it an enormously rewatchable movie, is that it gets its characters right – which isn’t to suggest it’s getting The Original Series characters right, but it’s giving us compelling new iterations of them – and sends them on emotional journeys that satisfy. If the third act is somewhat rote, its achievements up to that point put it comfortably in the top rank of Trek movies.

This here's a bottomless pit, baby. Two-and-a-half miles straight down.

The Abyss (1989)
(SPOILERS) By the time The Abyss was released in late summer ’89, I was a card carrying James Cameron fanboy (not a term was in such common use then, thankfully). Such devotion would only truly fade once True Lies revealed the stark, unadulterated truth of his filmmaking foibles. Consequently, I was an ardent Abyss apologist, railing at suggestions of its flaws. I loved the action, found the love story affecting, and admired the general conceit. So, when the Special Edition arrived in 1993, with its Day the Earth Stood Still-invoking global tsunami reinserted, I was more than happy to embrace it as a now-fully-revealed masterpiece.

I still see the Special Edition as significantly better than the release version (whatever quality concerns swore Cameron off the effects initially, CGI had advanced sufficiently by that point;certainly, the only underwhelming aspect is the surfaced alien craft, which was deemed suitable for the theatrical release), both dramatically and them…

You just keep on drilling, sir, and we'll keep on killing.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (2016)
(SPOILERS) The drubbing Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk received really wasn’t unfair. I can’t even offer it the “brave experiment” consolation on the basis of its use of a different frame rate – not evident in itself on 24fps Blu ray, but the neutering effect of the actual compositions is, and quite tellingly in places – since the material itself is so lacking. It’s yet another misguided (to be generous to its motives) War on Terror movie, and one that manages to be both formulaic and at times fatuous in its presentation.

The irony is that Ang Lee, who wanted Billy Lynn to feel immersive and realistic, has made a movie where nothing seems real. Jean-Christophe Castelli’s adaptation of Ben Fountain’s novel is careful to tread heavily on every war movie cliché it can muster – and Vietnam War movie cliché at that – as it follows Billy Lynn (British actor Joe Alwyn) and his unit (“Bravo Squad”) on a media blitz celebrating their heroism in 2004 Iraq …

Don't give me any of that intelligent life crap, just give me something I can blow up.

Dark Star (1974)
(SPOILERS) Is Dark Star more a John Carpenter film or more a Dan O’Bannon one? Until the mid ‘80s it might have seemed atypical of either of them, since they had both subsequently eschewed comedy in favour of horror (or thriller). And then they made Big Trouble in Little China and Return of the Living Dead respectively, and you’d have been none-the-wiser again. I think it’s probably fair to suggest it was a more personal film to O’Bannon, who took its commercial failure harder, and Carpenter certainly didn’t relish the tension their creative collaboration brought (“a duel of control” as he put it), as he elected not to work with his co-writer/ actor/ editor/ production designer/ special effects supervisor again. Which is a shame, as, while no one is ever going to label Dark Star a masterpiece, their meeting of minds resulted in one of the decade’s most enduring cult classics, and for all that they may have dismissed it/ seen only its negatives since, one of the best mo…