The Highlanders was the fourth story of Season 4 of Doctor Who. It was the last of the “pure historical” genre of Doctor Who television stories untilBlack Orchid in 1982. These had been a regular feature of the show since its inception. It was also the first appearance of Frazer Hines as companion Jamie McCrimmon, the longest serving male companion in the series’ history.
Episode 1 (Lost)
Members of the clan McLaren, including piper Jamie McCrimmon, flee the battlefield at Culloden Moor in 1746. The Laird, Colin McLaren, is wounded, and son Alexander and daughter Kirsty McLaren help him.
The TARDIS arrives nearby. Ben, Polly and the Doctor emerge. Ben is pleased as he sees that it is Earth and suspects it may be home until he dodges an incoming cannonball. The Doctor wants to leave, but Ben has gone to look around and Polly insists they follow him.
Meanwhile, the party of Scots have taken refuge in a ruined cottage. They lament the failure of the battle. Jamie curses the prince, who fled the battle, and is berated by Alexander. They hear something outside and prepare to strike.
The Doctor, Ben and Polly are examining a “spiked” cannon. The Doctor sees a Highland bonnet on the ground, tries it on and casts it to the ground. The Scots surround them. Alexander forces the Doctor to pick up the hat. They force the Doctor and his friends inside the cottage.
The Doctor realizes the hat belongs to Prince Charles Edward, “Bonnie Prince Charlie.” The Jacobites intend to show no more mercy than the Redcoats as they suspect that they are Englishmen come to steal from the dead. However, when Kirsty hears Polly refer to the Doctor, she begs for them to live long enough to treat her father. With this distraction, Ben steals a gun and points it at the Laird whilst the Doctor disarms them. The Doctor tends to the Laird, sends Kirsty and Polly to fetch water and tells Ben to put down the gun when the Highlanders give their word not to harm them. Ben throws the gun on the table, but it discharges. This draws the attention of a half dozen nearby Redcoats.
Algernon Ffinch and his men surround the cottage, but when Alexander emerges, attempting to draw them off, he is shot and killed. The Redcoats enter the hut. They take Ben to be a Highlander, and when he reveals his accent they suspect him to be a deserter and intend to kill him. The Doctor undertakes the guise of a German, “Doktor von Wer,” and speaks with a heavy accent. He says he is waiting for an escort to return him to England. Ffinch is unmoved at Ben’s insistence that they are prisoners of war. He says rebels are not treated as such and orders them to be hanged.
Solicitor Grey and his clerk, Perkins, watch the battle and lament the needless killing of the rebel troops as a “waste of manpower”. In his role as his Majesty’s Commissioner of Prisons, Grey intends to profit from this rebellion by selling prisoners as slaves in the West Indies. After remonstrating Perkins for serving him corked wine, the two move off to try to “save” some of the Scots.
Polly and Kirsty return. They try to cause a diversion by throwing stones at the soldiers. Ffinch follows Kirsty and Polly after recollecting that the prince may be trying to escape disguised as a woman. Kristy and Polly quickly run away from the soldiers. Polly’s shoes make it hard to keep up with Kristy’s pace. She discards them and continues on barefoot.
The sergeant tries to hang the prisoners with the officer away. The prisoners are on the verge of having their stools kicked away from them but are stopped by Grey and Perkins. Grey bribes the sergeant. The men are released into his charge to be sent to Inverness. Grey rejects the Doctor and the Laird and orders them hanged, but “von Wer” quotes a point of law that convinces Grey to take him, with the Laird under the Doctor’s care.
Kirsty hides Polly and herself in a cave known to her family. Polly searches for valuables they can sell to bribe guards. She realises their friends will be put in gaol. She spots Kirsty’s gold ring, but Kirsty won’t allow it to be sold. It belongs to her father, who entrusted it to her. As Polly argues that they would need the money to get to Inverness, Kirsty pulls a knife on her. Polly, frustrated, goes off on her own. Kristy warns her she’s liable to get lost in the dark. With light fading, Polly walks down a path until she falls into an animal pit. As she struggles to get out of the trap, she’s confronted by someone above, holding a dagger.
Episode 2 (Lost)
Polly is relieved to find that it is Kirsty. She tries to help Polly out but falls in. Polly climbs on top of Kirsty and tries to get out, but spots Ffinch and his men searching, forcing them to duck back in. Ffinch decides to stay and berates his men for losing the girls before sending them back for his horse. Polly and Kirsty draw him towards the trap until he falls in, and the women take him prisoner. Kirsty disarms him and threatens to shoot him.
At Inverness, the men are thrown into a dank, waterlogged cell. The Doctor tends to the Laird, feeling he will recover, but must use a bit of trickery to convince his 18th century friends that he knows what he’s doing as they insist on blood-letting. The Doctor discovers that the Laird is wearing (and protecting) the Prince’s standard. The Doctor takes charge of it, saying both that he won’t escape the gallows with that found on him and that it’s very nice and warm. He incites the prisoners to sing a rebel dirge, then uses his German persona to convince the guard to let him out, claiming they sung the song to incite him and saying he has news of a plot to kill the Duke of Cumberland. The prisoners turn on him but Ben sticks up for him; however, he worries about how high the water level will rise in their cell, pointing to a watermark near the ceiling.
Kirsty and Polly have taken twenty guineas from Ffinch. Finding his credentials, they threaten to discredit him with his identity disc in case they need an ally in the colonel of the Redcoats. They take a lock of his hair and leave him.
At the Sea Eagle , Grey orders Captain Trask and his men to load their cargo and the prisoners aboard Trask’s ship, the Annabelle. The Doctor is brought before Grey, who pulls a gun to protect himself before dismissing Trask and Perkins. The Doctor admits the reason he wanted to see Grey was to show him the Prince’s standard so as to split the reward for the prince’s capture. Suddenly, the Doctor throws the flag over Grey, disarms him and locks him, bound and gagged, in a closet. When Perkins arrives, the Doctor convinces him he’s ill and prescribes rest at the solicitor’s desk for at least an hour; he blindfolds him and insists that the knocking and moaning noises he hears are only in his mind.
Ffinch is delighted when the sergeant finally arrives, but enraged when the sergeant exploits the situation by refusing to help Ffinch escape the pit unless paid. Ffinch offers money — then realises the women took it all. He promises payment when they return to Inverness.
Trask returns to find Perkins and release Grey. They go to seek out the Doctor.
The Doctor, meanwhile, has hidden himself in the Sea Eagle’s scullery. He disguises himself as an old crone.
Trask takes his next lot of prisoners and selects Jamie, Ben and the Laird on a rowboat to be taken to theAnnabelle. They are led past the Doctor, who sees where they are being taken. They are led to an underground canal where they are boarded onto a rowboat.
The Doctor distracts a guard with food to get to the trap door through which the prisoners were herded.
As the prisoners approach the Annabelle, Trask orders a bound man to be thrown over the side and allowed to drown. That’s the only way they’ll ever get off the Annabelle, warns Trask.
Episode 3 (Lost)
Ben, Jamie and the Laird are shoved into the Annabelle‘s hold. A rebel prisoner threatens Ben, suspecting him to be an English spy, but the Laird vouches for him. The man, Willie Mackay, recognises the Laird and says any friend of the Laird is a friend of his. Mackay says he is the true captain of the Annabelle, having been betrayed by Trask. Ben works out that they are to become slave labourers.
Polly and Kirsty hide in a barn near Inverness. Kirsty has gone out to collect items of use whilst Polly watches the place at gun point. When Kirsty returns she comes with dresses and oranges as Polly’s plan is to pass asorange sellers to get themselves nearer to the soldiers.
Ffinch arrives at the Sea Eagle’s dining room, exhausted and humiliated. The Doctor is there, still disguised. Polly and Kirsty are brought to see the lieutenant, wading through the soldiers’ roving hands. The sergeant suspects these are the women they were chasing, but Ffinch is forced to confirm they are simply “old friends” as they surreptitiously threaten him. The sergeant dismisses his soldiers and the three speak freely. Ffinch reluctantly tells the women about Grey. When Perkins enters, Ffinch directs him to them. The Doctor is unable to alert his friends to his presence.
Solicitor Grey addresses the prisoners. They have three choices: one, become witnesses — or traitors; two, be hanged if they don’t wish to turn King’s evidence; three, sign seven-year contracts as plantation workers in the West Indies. Mackay warns the others against signing, saying they will not survive seven years. The others eventually come forward to sign, while Ben, Jamie, McLaren and Mackay hold back. Ben seemingly changes his mind and asks to sign. Under the guise of “reading it first”, he tears up the contracts. Trask breaks out his whip, knocking Ben unconscious. Grey orders Ben clapped in irons. Grey goes off to have new contracts drawn up.
Polly and Kirsty are “entertained” by Perkins while waiting for Grey. They grow uneasy and try to leave, but Perkins threatens them and they stay as Perkins offers a game of whist. An old woman offers herself as their fourth. It is the Doctor with Grey’s pistol in his hand. The Doctor threatens Perkins and explains he is not to leave. As the game starts, Grey arrives to witness this strange scene. He impatiently calls Perkins away and leaves. The Doctor insists that “we girls” leave first, ordering Perkins to wait for ten minutes or experience more symptoms of his “illness.” Perkins, fearful of being shot, complies. Polly and Kirsty take the Doctor back to the barn. He reveals that the gun is not loaded, citing his dislike of weapons. The Doctor explains that Ben is on a ship. Polly wants to make a plan, but the Doctor wants to sleep. Polly drags an idea out of him: use the money they’ve stolen to buy weapons from the British soldiers and smuggle them aboard the Annabelle.
Meanwhile, Grey and Perkins return to the Annabelle with three fresh sets of contracts. Grey orders Trask to ensure that all prisoners sign the contracts. When Trask says he’ll use the whip, Grey orders that he is to treat them mercifully until they arrive safely in Barbados. Regarding Ben, he orders a ducking and for him to be brought on deck.
The women return to the barn. They have had little luck getting weapons, their haul consisting of a broken sword, a pitchfork and a couple of knives. The Doctor returns with a wheelbarrow full of swords, muskets and pistols. He spots the ring on Kirsty’s hand and recognises it as the prince’s. Kirsty confirms that her father saved the prince’s life. She is finally willing to part with it, and the Doctor intends to use it to save her father’s life as “bait for a very greedy man”.
That night, Ben, completely bound, is tossed overboard the Annabelle.
Episode 4 (Lost)
Trask pulls up the rope. Ben is no longer attached to it. He emerges from the water on the other side of the ship and swims through the freezing water. Exhausted, he makes it to shore, only to find a musket pointed at him. Fortunately for him, the Redcoat at the other end of it is the Doctor. He takes Ben to safety but not before alerting him to the rowboat full of weapons.
Grey tells Trask to set sail tomorrow with his cargo. Trask questions Grey’s authority but is soon overruled.
Ben tells his friends about his escape, and they put their plan into action. The Doctor will return to the ship, rowed by Ben. While the Doctor distracts Grey and the crew, Ben will deliver the weapons to the prisoners in the hold. Polly and Kirsty insist on going along, so the Doctor gives Ben a different job.
Meanwhile, Mackay laments their brothers’ playing into Grey’s hands and the Laird, seemingly resigned to death, and longs to see his daughter Kirsty one more time.
Preparing to go ashore, Grey is surprised when Trask enters with the Doctor in his grasp. The Doctor presents the prince’s ring and claims he got it from the prince himself, who is, at this moment, in prison. The Doctor tries to strike a deal for his whereabouts asking for 10,000 guineas.
Meanwhile Polly and Kirsty row out and find access to the hold. Kirsty whispers to her father and delivers the arms to him.
Grey agrees to the Doctor’s demands, and the Doctor claims the prince is in the hold of the ship. He claims the piper, Jamie, is the prince. They all go to the hold to see for themselves. They make their way quietly, and the Doctor points out Jamie at the far end. As they make their way over to the figure, the Laird lets out a battle cry. All the prisoners are up, and the fight begins. The captors storm the deck. Most sailors are quickly taken, but Mackay and Trask fight. Both men are wounded, but Trask escapes from Mackay out of the hold. Up top, the fight continues: Ben, who was prepared for such an attack, confronts Trask and is almost killed, but Jamie saves him by cutting a rope and swinging it into Trask, knocking him to the ground. Jamie fights Trask until Trask is forced over the side. Mackay takes command of the ship and bids his newly established crewmen to make ready to leave for France.
The Doctor, his friends and Grey pile onto the rowboat where Kirsty is reunited with her father, and the Doctor and Ben are reunited with Polly. Perkins begs to be allowed to accompany the Scots to France, to which Mackay agrees.
Back on the dock, Ben and Polly watch the ship disappear. The travellers and Jamie intend to use Grey as a way of evading the Redcoats whilst returning to the TARDIS. Redcoats come snooping along the quayside, and they duck into a boathouse. Grey cries out, and the Doctor, Ben and Jamie must fight the Redcoats. They win, but Grey escapes. They realise they’ll have to find another “ally” to help them.
They head to the Sea Eagle where they find Lieutenant Ffinch. The Doctor uses the ruse of the prince’s ring to extract Ffinch from a colonel, with whom Ffinch has been drafted to play whist. Polly produces Ffinch’s identity disc to ensure his cooperation.
The next morning, they are back at the cottage where they were captured. Ffinch is now on their side, having heard the tale of Solicitor Grey. Suddenly, they are surrounded by Redcoats led by Grey, who congratulates Ffinch on capturing the rebels. As Grey threatens them, Ffinch silences him, claiming he is a villain. Grey argues that he has done nothing wrong: the prisoners signed contracts and it is thus perfectly legal. He reaches for the contracts in his coat pocket, but they are gone. The Doctor, Jamie and Ben deny their existence. Ffinch has Grey arrested, gagged and marched to Inverness prison. Once Ffinch has gone, with a kiss from Polly, the Doctor produces the contracts from his pocket. Encouraged by Polly, the Doctor asks Jamie to join them on the TARDIS. He agrees as long as Jamie teaches him the bagpipes. They all leave in the TARDIS.