on 10 September 2012
It may be small - it constitutes a mere three-disc set - but it is both perfectly formed and perfectly performed.
Gerry Davis' novelisation of the 1966 four-parter story, DOCTOR WHO - THE HIGHLANDERS may not garner any accolades for "outstanding" writing but this new audio version of the Second Doctor's foray back to 1745 is wonderfully dynamic and should be on your `listening list' for the coming months.
And that's solely down to the passionate reading - it's more of a superlative one-woman performance that eclipses the most recent NEW SERIES audiobook tie-in - of Anneke Wills. Gloriously decorative.
Over the three-disc set, released on 6 September 2012, Wills unleashes her inner talent and delivers a box of delicious characterisations that traipse across the slightly damp heather-cushioned Culloden Moor.
From a delicately subtle tones of Patrick Troughton's Time Lord, to a broadly eager young Piper (Jamie McCrimmon), to a cheeky Cockney Mariner (Ben Jackson), to the sadistic Trask, to the marginally effete Solicitor Grey, Wills encompasses the mix of dramatic (Ben's untimely plunge into a seemingly watery grave) and comedy (the Robert Holmeseque relationship between Solicitor Grey and his underling, Perkins).
This unabridged reading is creatively supported by MEON SOUND's (Simon Power) post-production in painting an aural landscape and the minutiae of everyday sound effects that are invaluable in adding contextual depth.
With no science fiction-based alien invasion or mad Earth scientist, DOCTOR WHO - THE HIGHLANDERS is an oddity, especially if you are new recruit to DOCTOR WHO fandom stemming from the NEW SERIES, and may be, yes, odd, to listen to but it is a rewarding romp - with multiple heart-stopping segments - that will listen to again and again.
This is another in the great series, where the Doctor Who novelisations are read, always very well. In this story, set in the time of the Second Doctor, travelling with Polly and Ben, we are taken back to the time of the Battle of Culloden; a band of desperate Highlanders seek to escape from the British Redcoats, and the young Highland piper, Jamie McCrimmon, is seen (or heard) for the first time in the Doctor Who stories. Those who are familiar with this story will know that Jamie is set to become a long-term companion of the Second Doctor, so it is good to have his first introduction immortalised in this story. I do not recall ever seeing this story on tv, so it was good to hear a great rendition of it in novelised form, read by Anneke Wills (who played Polly). Great characters abound in this story, particularly the British Algernon ffinch and Solicitor Grey - well-rounded characters, and a great story. Over three hours of great listening to a classic Doctor Who story.
A dashing tale of clans and claymores, perfidious English, gallant Highlanders and the Doctor as you've never seen (or heard) him before. Through the cannon smoke of Culloden Moor comes the last of the classic historicals - and a young piper by the name of Jamie McCrimmon ... 5* (3 CDs, 3 hours 20 minutes)
One of the shortest of the Target novelisations, Gerry Davis' adaptation of his own scripts is a cleverly written, exciting and fast-paced `costume drama' set in the dangerous days immediately after the battle of Culloden Moor in 1746, where the last gasp of the Jacobite cause died before the might of the new, Hanoverian order. That much I'd expected; what took me by surprise (this was my first experience of what is yet another `lost' Second Doctor adventure) was how unusual the story is in its portrayal of the Doctor, and how laugh-out-loud *funny* it sometimes is.
Anneke Wills makes this audio a total delight with her brilliant narrating performance and interpretation of the characters. It's their personalities and interactions that make this story (as a classic historical, there isn't an alien in sight), so giving each character their own `voice' is perhaps even more important than usual - and it's done perfectly. With a wide variety of Scottish and English voices to portray it's a lot of work for the reader but the result is excellent.
The cold, calculating Solicitor Grey, his obsequious clerk Perkins, the ffancy ffop Lieutenant Algernon ffinch and splendidly over-the-top `Captain' Trask (one of the `ah-ha-haarrr' style of piratical sea-dogs!) make a fine set of adversaries. For the Highlanders, there's the noble Laird, his daughter Kirsty, impetuous Alexander and young Jamie - all given voices that are not only Scottish but distinctly different.
For the TARDIS crew, Polly is back sounding just the same as ever and Ben's irrepressible Cockney accent is unmistakable. Then there is the Doctor ... not just one, but no less than three voices needed here ... Anneke Wills portrays not only the `real' Second Doctor very well but also spends long periods in vocal disguise with a German accent and even turns up as an `auld wimman' - and they're all the Doctor!
`The Highlanders' is a fine adventure story of Jacobites on the run from British redcoats after the battle of Culloden Moor. Within that is the murkier story of English Solicitor Grey, picking over the spoils of war like a legal vulture and trying to send defeated Jacobites off to the West Indian plantations - all perfectly legal (of course!) and all for his personal profit (of course!) Our friends from the TARDIS could just leave, they can't rewrite Earth history after all, but once Ben and the Doctor are taken prisoner, marched away with the Laird and Jamie and imprisoned miles from the Ship, it's up to Polly and Kirsty to rescue them.
Cue an enjoyably tangled tale of disguises, blackmail and subterfuge where Polly brilliantly leads the way, Ben is his usual brave self with an old sailors' trick or two up his sleeve - and the Doctor is very unusual indeed. This was only the second televised story for Patrick Troughton's Doctor (sadly `lost' with his first story and too many others) and I was astonished by the Doctor as he appears here. We're used now to the idea that the Doctor sometimes goes off the rails a bit after regeneration (ask Peri!) but what viewers in 1966 made of it I can't guess.
The Doctor sometimes seems in a detached state, enjoying the adventure for its own sake without being in much of a hurry to do anything about their problems, then falling asleep without warning and leaving everything to his companions. Then suddenly he bursts into life, adopts a disguise and a comedy accent and turns the tables on the villains with some pure `Carry On' business! He is also quite violent (in a comic way - and yes, it is a funny scene) and waves a gun around which may or may not be loaded but who's to know? It's hard to imagine a greater contrast with William Hartnell's serious First Doctor or even with the Second Doctor I've seen in the later, surviving adventures - but it is great fun and I wish I could see Patrick Troughton in action in this one, he must have enjoyed every minute of it!
It's a great story to listen to as we cheer on the Highlanders to make their escape. Their world comes alive thanks to the excellent sound design; wind rustles through grass and heather on the moors, water drips in cold stone dungeons, ships' riggings creak at anchor, oars splash in the firth, swords clash and the Doctor tootles `Lilliburlero' as a Jacobite tune - though this same music has also often been associated with the Protestant side of the historical divide, a small sign of how confused and conflicted Britain was in the century before the Jacobite Highlanders' final, gallant but doomed Rising for their Prince.
(Highland historical note: I was pleased to see the story makes it clear that the Jacobite risings were *not* wars of `Scots v. English'; not all Jacobites were Highlanders or even Scots, and not all Highlanders were Jacobites. Rather this was the final battle in the century of conflicts between supporters of absolute monarchy and the divine right of kings versus constitutional monarchy and the rights of the people and Parliament, as well as the usual religious aspects. The Jacobites were fighting for the crown of Britain, not only Scotland, but by 1745 most of their English and lowland Scottish support had gone.)
The TARDIS lands in Scotland shortly after the Battle of Culloden. Befriending a small group of fleeting Jacobites, the Doctor, Ben & Polly face a number of hair-raising adventures before they can return to the safety of the TARDIS. And when they leave, they have a new traveling companion - James Robert McCrimmon.
Gerry Davis' novelisation was published in 1984 and was based on his original scripts, transmitted towards the end of 1966. This is still very early in the reign of the Second Doctor, indeed this was only his second story, so he's somewhat different from the character he would become. The Doctor of The Highlanders is more oblique and cryptic, and his companions have to take his sometimes odd behaviour on trust, hoping that he's doing the right thing.
Anneke Wills, who played Polly in the original series, narrates this audiobook. This is the second in the series she has done and frankly, it's a mystery why she hasn't done more, as she has a gorgeous reading voice that effortlessly draws the listener into the story.
With a variety of Scottish accents as well as the chirpy cockney Ben, she has her work cut out, but is able to deliver. Maybe her Ben could do with being slightly less broad, but that's about the only slight criticism I have.
On three discs and running at 3 hours 30 minutes, this is the shortest release in the Classic Novels series. But it's relative brevity is it's strength, as it doesn't outstay its welcome.
The Highlanders is another quality release and it's hoped that Anneke Wills will return sooner rather than later to read more tales from her time in the TARDIS.