Skip to main content

You know, those dresses really do suit you, Doctor.


Doctor Who
The Highlanders: Episode Three


If Episode Two is the highlight of the story, the third is only slightly its lesser in terms of pleasures. There’s more concentration on the serious plotline, Ben and Jamie’s fate aboard The Annabel, but also no let-up in the madcap enthusiasm for his adventures that the Doctor displays.


So it’s Ben who must engage in the earnest dramatics, first being defended by Jamie and the Laird against accusations of Englishness from Willie Mackay (ex Captain of the ship, usurped by Trask).

Jamie appropriately claims Ben is a deserted English sailor while Ben aims to convince the Scots that Grey is working a fiddle to have them sold into slavery. This has the potential of being dreary stuff, but maintains interest as there’s forward momentum throughout. With everyone but Jamie, Colin, Mackay and Ben signing a seven-year contract to work in the West Indies (the alternative is hanging), Ben indicates that he will sign too but then tears up the contracts as he appears to be reading them. Which results in him being beaten to the deck and sentenced to keelhauling. That’s pretty much it for him until the climax, when he gets the first decent cliffhanger of the story, dropped into the water as a “useful encouragement to the rest”.


The lines drawn between Grey and Trask suggest only more finesse from Grey in planning than any fundamental disagreements.

Grey: Once they’re safely sold in Barbados, they can be whipped to death for all I care. Until then, use a light wrist or you’ll answer to me.

There are more derogatory comments about slaves, although notably these come from the villains of the piece; the highlanders are not slaves, they are “men of high courage”.
Polly shows the same resourcefulness as in the previous episode; there are no signs of fear or any risk that she might start screaming. She suggests that she and Kirsty masquerade as orange sellers (“Nell Gwyn and all that”). Highlighted here is that Kirsty (despite being labelled a peasant in a previous episode) is of noble stock. Her family had their own servants and she regards orange sellers as “Common girls, the sort that hang around sailors”. Indeed.


Many of the best moments come from her reteaming with the Doctor, but there’s another meeting with F-finch before the Doctor rescues them from Perkins. She and Kirsty discover him in The Sea Eagle, and it’s another chance for Wills to be at her most seductively playful. Sergeant Clegg suspects them of being rebels.

Polly: What a nasty man! Tell him we’re not, Algy dear.

The initially priggish Ffinch is thawing a bit in terms of audience identification. He’s not really a bad sort, and his long-suffering acceptance of the problems Polly and Kirsty are causing him begin to make him more appealing.

F-finch: Can I go? Dash it, I haven’t had a wink of sleep.
Polly: Oh, you poor thing! Go on, but be careful. Not a word to anyone.


It looks like Perkins, arrived in The Sea Eagle, will expose them to Grey. But the Doctor-washerwoman – as ever in this story – appears at just the right moment and points a gun at the clerk. It’s true that the Doctor is never in any real danger, but the pleasure and involvement comes from him being on top of every situation he encounters. His ruses are thoroughly inventive and amusing, exposing the slow-wittedness of his adversaries. He tells Perkins to leave it 10 minutes before answering Grey’s summons (“You wouldn’t want another headache?”) but back in the barn reveals to Polly that the pistol isn’t loaded (“They’re dangerous things”).

And this exchange is delightful:

Polly: You know, those dresses really do suit you, Doctor.
The Doctor: Oh, you saucy girl!
Polly: You’re wonderful, Doctor.
The Doctor: I know.

I love the Doctor’s complete lack of modesty when informed of his brilliance (which happens on several occasions) and it’s difficult to think of another Doctor/companion combination with the rapport he shows with Polly in his first two stories.


The desire of the Doctor for a bit of shut-eye at this point is bizarre, certainly at variance with everything we expect of “the Doctor”. But this is a story where he has absolute confidence in his powers to resolve the situation for the best, and he does. If he wants 40 (post-regeneration) winks, who are we to deny him? He stirs himself long enough to set out a plan to buy weapons, lots of them, and a rowing boat (with the 17 guineas Polly and Kirsty have left). They will procure them from English soldiers.

Polly: Will they sell?
The Doctor: You don’t know the English soldier. He’d sell his own mother for tuppence ha’penny.


True to form, when Polly and Kirsty return with a few weapons, the Doctor has disappeared. Only to arrive with a wheelbarrow full of assorted swords, muskets and pistols.

Kirsty: You must have robbed the Duke’s arsenal!
The Doctor: Yes, something like that.
Polly: You’re fantastic!
The Doctor: I know!

We also see re-introduced another element that is illustrative of how deceptively simple Gerry Davis’ plotting is. The Doctor spies the Stuart seal and drops the giddy man act to persuade Kirtsy, sincerely and touchingly, that he she should let him use it as “bait, for a very greedy man”.


There’s no sagging in this story; it’s both tightly plotted and breezy in its energy. Mostly, though, it’s just a joy to witness the Mighty Trout.

Popular posts from this blog

You were this amazing occidental samurai.

Ricochet (1991) (SPOILERS) You have to wonder at Denzel Washington’s agent at this point in the actor’s career. He’d recently won his first Oscar for Glory , yet followed it with less-than-glorious heart-transplant ghost comedy Heart Condition (Bob Hoskins’ racist cop receives Washington’s dead lawyer’s ticker; a recipe for hijinks!) Not long after, he dipped his tentative toe in the action arena with this Joel Silver production; Denzel has made his share of action fare since, of course, most of it serviceable if unremarkable, but none of it comes near to delivering the schlocky excesses of Ricochet , a movie at once ingenious and risible in its plot permutations, performances and production profligacy.

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999) (SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet ( Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

People still talk about Pandapocalypse 2002.

Turning Red (2022) (SPOILERS) Those wags at Pixar, eh? Yes, the most – actually, the only – impressive thing about Turning Red is the four-tiered wordplay of its title. Thirteen-year-old Mei (Rosalie Chiang) finds herself turning into a large red panda at emotive moments. She is also, simultaneously, riding the crimson wave for the first time. Further, as a teenager, she characteristically suffers from acute embarrassment (mostly due to the actions of her domineering mother Ming Lee, voiced by Sandra Oh). And finally, of course, Turning Red can be seen diligently spreading communist doctrine left, right and centre. To any political sensibility tuning in to Disney+, basically (so ones with either considerable or zero resistance to woke). Take a guess which of these isn’t getting press in reference to the movie? And by a process of elimination is probably what it it’s really about (you know in the same way most Pixars, as far back as Toy Story and Monsters, Inc . can be given an insi

I can’t be the worst. What about that hotdog one?

Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022) (SPOILERS) It would have been a merciful release, had the title card “ The End ”, flashing on screen a little before the ninety-minute mark, not been a false dawn. True, I would still have been unable to swab the bloody dildoes fight from my mind, but at least Everything Everywhere All at Once would have been short. Indeed, by the actual end I was put in mind of a line spoken by co-star James Wong in one of his most indelible roles: “ Now this really pisses me off to no end ”. Or to put it another way, Everything Everywhere All at Once rubbed me up the wrong which way quite a lot of most of the time.

We could be mauled to death by an interstellar monster!

Star Trek Beyond (2016) (SPOILERS) The odd/even Star Trek failure/success rule seemed to have been cancelled out with the first reboot movie, and then trodden into ground with Into Darkness (which, yes, I quite enjoyed, for all its scandalous deficiencies). Star Trek Beyond gets us back onto more familiar ground, as it’s very identifiably a “lesser” Trek , irrespective of the big bucks and directorial nous thrown at it. This is a Star Trek movie that can happily stand shoulder to shoulder with The Search for Spock and Insurrection , content in the knowledge they make it look good.

He's not in my pyjamas, is he?

Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969) (SPOILERS) By rights, Paul Mazursky’s swinging, post-flower-power-gen partner-swap movie ought to have aged terribly. So much of the era’s scene-specific fare has, particularly so when attempting to reflect its reverberations with any degree of serious intent. Perhaps it’s because Mazursky and co-writer Larry Tucker (also of The Monkees , Alex in Wonderland and I Love You, Alice B. Toklas! ) maintain a wry distance from their characters’ endeavours, much more on the wavelength of Elliott Gould’s Ted than Robert Culp’s Bob; we know any pretensions towards uninhibited expression can’t end well, but we also know Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice have to learn the hard way.

I think World War II was my favourite war.

Small Soldiers (1998) An off-peak Joe Dante movie is still one chock-a-block full of satirical nuggets and comic inspiration, far beyond the facility of most filmmakers. Small Soldiers finds him back after a six-year big screen absence, taking delirious swipes at the veneration of the military, war movies, the toy industry, conglomerates and privatised defence forces. Dante’s take is so gleefully skewed, he even has big business win! The only problem with the picture (aside from an indistinct lead, surprising from a director with a strong track record for casting juveniles) is that this is all very familiar. Dante acknowledged Small Soldiers was basically a riff on Gremlins , and it is. Something innocuous and playful turns mad, bad and dangerous. On one level it has something in common with Gremlins 2: The New Batch , in that the asides carry the picture. But Gremlins 2 was all about the asides, happy to wander off in any direction that suited it oblivious to whet

We’ve got the best ball and chain in the world. Your ass.

Wedlock (1991) (SPOILERS) The futuristic prison movie seemed possessed of a particular cachet around this time, quite possibly sparked by the grisly possibilities of hi-tech disincentives to escape. On that front, HBO TV movie Wedlock more than delivers its FX money shot. Elsewhere, it’s less sure of itself, rather fumbling when it exchanges prison tropes for fugitives-on-the-run ones.

He’ll regret it to his dying day, if ever he lives that long.

The Quiet Man (1952) (SPOILERS) The John Wayne & John Ford film for those who don’t like John Wayne & John Ford films? The Quiet Man takes its cues from Ford’s earlier How Green Was My Valley in terms of, well less Anglophile and Hibernophile and Cambrophile nostalgia respectively for past times, climes and heritage, as Wayne’s pugilist returns to his family seat and stirs up a hot bed of emotions, not least with Maureen O’Hara’s red-headed hothead. The result is a very likeable movie, for all its inculcated Oirishness and studied eccentricity.

There is a war raging, and unless you pull your head out of the sand, you and I and about five billion other people are going to go the way of the dinosaur.

The X-Files 5.14: The Red and the Black The most noteworthy aspect of this two parter is that it almost – but not quite – causes me to reassess my previous position that the best arc episodes are those that avoid tackling the greater narrative head-on, attempting to advance the resistant behemoth. It may be less than scintillating as far as concepts go, but the alien resistance plot is set out quite clearly here, as are the responses to it from the main players.