Doctor Who - The Highlanders (c) BBC
Doctor Who – The Highlanders (c) BBC

Editor’s Note: On this Day… a look back at all things Who, past and present.

The Highlanders: Episode 4

Broadcast on January 7th, 1967 @ 5.50pm (7.3m viewers)

Historical stories had been a requirement of Doctor Who since the beginning, a decree from the show’s creator Sydney Newman that the programme should be educational. However, the Highlanders would see the final ‘proper’ historical adventure for Doctor Who. Every trip back in time from this moment on would have an alien creature thrown into the mix, such as the Yeti and the Great Intelligence in ‘The Abominable Snowman’ (1967), Linx the Sontaran in ‘The Time Warrior’ (1973/4) or the Terileptils in ‘The Visitation’ (1982). Set just after the Battle of Culloden, the last to be fought on the British mainland, the Scottish rebels were defeated by government forces. The Doctor and his companions manage to gain the trust of a fleeing group of Jacobites, including a young piper Jamie McCrimmon, being pursued by the victorious Redcoats.

Sadly the only footage left from this story in the BBC archives are some very short clips removed from the transmitted episodes by the Australian censor. They do however demonstrate that this story had particularly violent content, stabbings, hanging and Ben being bound and ducked overboard ship, but it also features another adult theme of prisoners being sold into slavery. It is the escape of the highlanders from the ship intended for the slave plantations in the Carribean, which forms the basis of episode four. The final battle can be imagined as a swashbuckling affair with a sword sounds aplenty, it is just a shame we don’t have more than a few telesnaps to enjoy from the sequence. Patrick Troughton is still finding his feet as the Doctor, obsessing about hats, playing his recorder, adopting a German accent at times and disguising himself as a Redcoat and an old woman. These quirkier characteristics would be toned down in future episodes but it is interesting to see him still experimenting, an opportunity few who followed him would have.

Frazer Hines - Doctor Who (c) BBC
Frazer Hines – Doctor Who (c) BBC

Memorable Moment

The conclusion of this episode really is a turning point, one which viewers can look back on as the end of an era. It marked the final visit to Earth’s history in a purely historical story and brought Jamie into the TARDIS. Frazer Hines would become one of the longest serving companions, accompanying Patrick Troughton on the rest of his tenure in the role and the two would become close friends. Jamie McCrimmon would also return in ‘The Five Doctors’ (1983) and ‘The Two Doctors’ (1985), proving how popular a character he had become.

After this moment Doctor Who enters an era of monsters galore, with new creatures such as the Ice Warriors, the Yeti and the Macra exciting audiences for the rest of the 1960’s. Two versions of the ending were filmed, one with Jamie joining the TARDIS crew, the other with him staying in Scotland with his Laird. Fortunately viewers were shown Polly requesting that Jamie leaves in the TARDIS with them but only on the Doctor’s condition that Jamie teaches him the bagpipes. Jamie’s tentativeness on approaching the time machine is eased by Polly in a touching moment of new found friendship.

Also first broadcast On This Day…

  • Underworld: Part 1 (1978)


  1. If memory serves, the Terileptils featured in The Visitation. The Black Orchid did in fact represent a brief return to the purely historical story.


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