March 14: The Highlanders Episodes 3 & 4

These two episodes are better than the last two.  Polly's less horrible to Kirsty and the Doctor seems more interested in helping out the Highlanders than last time.  And the Highlanders themselves get the chance to be more than just cyphers.  Ben also has more to do, with his tearing up of the indentured servitude contracts being a highlight.

The Doctor and Ben encourage Lieutenant Ffinch to help them.
(The Highlanders Episode 4 - from Doctor Who Photonovels:
The Highlanders - Episode Four
) ©BBC
But the thing is, it's hard to get a grip on The Highlanders, because as innocuous as it may be (and let's be clear: I may criticize the Doctor and Polly's characterizations, but there's not actually anything fundamentally wrong or offensive about them -- it's more a curious emphasis on the wrong aspects), as entertaining it may be while it's running, it's hard to work up any enthusiasm about the project.  The character interplay is there (the stuff with Lieutenant Ffinch, Polly, and Kirsty is quite charming), and there're even a couple villains to hate: a leering pirate-y captain and a slippery crooked lawyer.

Actually, that may get at the heart of the problem with The Highlanders.  The fact is, there actually was an issue of Highlanders being sold into slavery in the Americas, just like Solicitor Grey's plan here, but this serial barely touches upon the problem, other than as a reason for events to happen.  This is more a pantomime than anything else, and most of the characters are simply two-dimensional, with nothing for the viewer (well, listener now) to really get to grips with.  At least The Smugglers (an oddly similar story to this in some ways) had William Hartnell to concentrate on; Patrick Troughton is being a deliberate antihero here, to create a contrast with his predecessor, but it just means that it's difficult to let him be the focus of the story. 

The Highlanders would end up being the last "pure" (i.e., no aliens) historical story for fifteen years, and Innes Lloyd suggested it was because the audience wasn't as interested in those stories, and ratings would suffer.  An examination of the facts reveals this wasn't actually the case, but the fact is that Lloyd was justifying a decision after the fact to eliminate a type of story he didn't believe in, convinced that there was nothing worthwhile about journeying back into recorded history.  The Highlanders is a better example of the contemporary production team's attitude than any number of interviews.  It does its job (and even introduces new companion Jamie!30), but there's no ambition here beyond that.

30 A last minute decision of Innes Lloyd's, apparently, based on Frazer Hines' rapport with the cast and crew.  According to Hines, they'd already recorded the scene on location where Jamie waves goodbye to the departing TARDIS and had to remount it to have him join up instead.