Chapter 90. Doctor Who – The Highlanders (1984)

Synopsis: In the aftermath of the battle of Culloden in 1745, a group of Jacobite rebels try to evade capture by the English army. The Doctor, Ben and Polly help a wounded laird but are then captured by an incompetent English officer. The Doctor adopts a fun disguise as Polly uses guile to free her new friends and escape. One young Scot in particular impresses the time-travelling trio – a piper by the name of Jamie McCrimmon.

Chapter Titles

  • 1. Where are We?
  • 2. The Cottage
  • 3. The Captives
  • 4. The Handsome Lieutenant
  • 5. Polly and Kirsty
  • 6. Polly’s Prisoner
  • 7. The Water Dungeon
  • 8. Blackmail!
  • 9. The Doctor’s New Clothes
  • 10. Aboard the Annabelle
  • 11. At the Sea Eagle
  • 12. The Little Auld Lady
  • 13. A Ducking for Ben
  • 14. Where is the Prince?
  • 15. The Fight for the Brig
  • 16. Algernon Again
  • 17. A Return to the Cottage

Background: Gerry Davis adapts the scripts he co-wrote with Elwyn Jones for the 1967 serial.

Notes: The bonhomie of TV’s Ben and Polly is replaced by something closer to the bickering of 1980s companions; Ben insists on calling Polly ‘Princess’ (not ‘Duchess’) and thinks she is ‘uppity and toffee-nosed’. He also thinks the sounds of battle drifting over the moor are just celebrations from ‘the Spurs Supporters Club’ (ahem, a reference to the er, London-based football team Tottenham Hotspurs) or a historical society. Polly resents Ben’s ‘big brother’ protectiveness, especially as she is ‘about a head taller than he was’; later, it’s confirmed she’s an ‘independent girl from the sixties’ – so her ‘seventies’ origins have been properly reset from previous Gerry Davis novels. The Doctor admits to Polly that the discovery of a cannon ball makes him afraid. There’s a dump of history at the start too, as we’re told of the battle for the British monarchy between the Scottish Stuarts and the ‘Hanoverian German Georges’. The Scots had been booted out 40 years ago and we join the story in the aftermath of the battle of Culloden Moor. As this wasn’t taught in English schools in my day, this is especially welcome and helpful.

As the Doctor inspects a tam-o’-shanter, we’re told it’s a ‘standing joke in the TARDIS that he could never resist trying on any new hat he came across’; as this is the first TV story where his hat fetish became a regular thing, this suggests the trio have had a fair few offscreen adventures since the Doctor’s regeneration. He adopts the pseudonym ‘Doctor von Verner’ (not the more obvious meta-joke ‘von Wer’ on telly). Algernon Ffinch stammers ‘in a way approved by the London dandies of the time’, which could mean it’s an affectation for fashionable purposes. The Sergeant’s name is spelled ‘Klegg’, not ‘Clegg’. While in the prison, Jamie plays a mournful tune on his bagpipes before the Doctor creates a disruption in the gaol by playing the Jacobite ‘Lillibulero’ on his recorder. The name of the pub where Solicitor Grey has installed himself is called the Sea Eagle Inn. As Jamie boots Trask overboard during the final battle, Ben tries to regain some composure as he claims he was about to use karate to save himself. There’s a more pressing reason for Jamie to join the travellers; having escorted them to the TARDIS, Jamie boasts that he’ll be fine on his own as they hear the sound of muskets being fired nearby. We then join Jamie as he sees the inside of the TARDIS for the first time (see below).

Cover: A smashing portrait by Nick Spender of Jamie, accompanied by Alexander, a Saltire flag and the TARDIS. Unusually for this period, there are likenesses of recognisable actors here!

Final Analysis: Gerry Davis returns to adapt a script that he originally oversaw to production. It was the last of the pure historicals on TV, yet it’s the second one we’ve had in novel form in the space of a year. The Highlanders is often overlooked in favour of the more monster-focused stories of the era and, perhaps it won’t come as a surprise to learn that this is the first time I’ve read this particular book. Davis keeps things light, even with the threat of violence and a very sudden death early on. The stakes are high, but so’s the sense of adventure and Polly in particular has a rare old time running rings around every man she encounters. Effectively, she gets her own companion in the form of Kirsty and it’s easy to forget that this is the debut of Jamie, even though his future role as a companion isn’t foreshadowed at all, he’s just one of a number of likeable characters that we meet. Poor Ben’s experience in Scotland isn’t quite so thrilling. Despite having spent very little time with Jamie, Polly takes an immediate shine to him and the final scene sees him adopted as a fully-fledged TARDIS member at last:

As he hesitated, Polly turned back and grasped his hand. ‘Don’t be afraid,’ she said, ‘it’s much nicer inside than it is out. There’s so many wonderful surprises waiting for you, you’ll see.’

Jamie allowed himself to be drawn through into the small police box. The door closed behind him and he saw to his astonishment the large, hexagonal, brightly-lighted interior of the time-machine.

Chapter 88. Doctor Who – The Aztecs (1984)

Synopsis: Emerging from a hidden doorway in a temple, Barbara is mistaken for the Aztec God Yetaxa and finds it difficult to refuse the role. As the Doctor tries to regain access to the temple and return to the TARDIS, Barbara learns the difficult lesson that she cannot change history. Not one line of it!

Chapter Titles

  • 1. Coiled Serpent
  • 2. Yetaxa the God
  • 3. Chosen Warriors
  • 4. Sacrifice to Tlaloc
  • 5. Perfect Victim
  • 6. Thorn of Doom
  • 7. No Holds Barred
  • 8. Cups of Cocoa
  • 9. Bride of Sacrifice
  • 10. Offence and Retribution
  • 11. Crawl, Swim, Climb
  • 12. Wall of Deception
  • 13. False God
  • 14. Day of Darkness
  • 15. Eclipse

Background: John Lucarotti adapts his own scripts for the series broadcast in 1964. Published a week after its 20th anniversary, The Aztecs now holds the crown for the biggest gap between first transmission and novelisation. It’s also the first historical story to be adapted since The Crusaders, some 19 years earlier.

Notes: We begin with a new scene inside the TARDIS with little explanation of who the characters are or what the TARDIS is. Susan is said to be still 15 years old, while Ian is 28 and a ‘scientist’ (not a science teacher’). When the Doctor asks for a screwdriver (a normal screwdriver!) to fix a panel on the TARDIS ‘control desk’, Ian jokes that they might land on Earth in the 1980s and get help form an aerospace factory; it’s a curiously specific reference for a man from 1963. Barbara specialised in Aztec history at university and her brief summary for Susan of Mexican civilisation is a lot more heavy-handed than it is on screen. She guesses that they’re at some point in history between 1430 and 1519, and the Doctor is able to confirm it’s 17 May, 1507. We might pause to ponder how the TARDIS can produce a date so accurate when it’s 75 years before the introduction of the Gregorian calendar, but this story’s already threatening us with a huge history lesson, so let’s just ignore the issue and move on. 

Cameca is ‘a grey-haired, pleasant-faced, plumpish woman in her mid fifties’. The architect of the temple, Topau, is renamed ‘Chapal’. On the night that he meets the Doctor in the garden, Ian wears ‘only a warrior’s loin-cloth and sandals’. Ixta is startled by the Doctor’s electronic torch when he sees Ian use it, wondering if it’s ‘magic’. It was Ixta’s ‘father’s father’ who originally built the secret tunnel that is used to irrigate the garden (it’s his father on TV – and see later). Ian has a much more arduous trek through the secret tunnel, including a climb up a vertical shaft using crumbling footholds. He finds the remains of a body – which he correctly assumes is that of Ixta’s father – in the tunnel and soon discovers that the man must have fallen to his death when a foothold in the shaft gave way beneath his foot; Ian also correctly deduces that he himself was at risk of drowning because of Ixta deliberately opening the sluice. The Doctor tells Barbara of his suspicion that Ian has drowned, shortly before Ian finds them both (on telly, Barbara already knows Ian is safe by the time the Doctor reaches her). 

It’s a lot clearer that the Doctor feels utterly wretched for exploiting Cameca’s affection purely to gain access to the temple. As Cameca offers to help restore Autloc’s faith in Barbara, the Doctor is moved by her devotion and muses ‘in another world, in another time’ – but it’s definitely not the romantic relationships some fans imagine. Barbara has a long discussion with Autloc about the ‘schizophrenic’ nature of the Aztecs and her words remind him of a legend he has heard of a man from a foreign land who spoke of a ‘gentleness and love’ who was crucified, as the Aztecs do with their criminals. The climactic fight scene between Ixta and Ian is replaced by something wittier but also just as brutal, as Ian reflects light into his opponent’s eyes, which makes Ixta topple backwards and fall to his death. The scene leading into The Sensorites is, unsurprisingly, cut.

Cover: Featuring the last appearance of the coloured Target logo, Nick Spender’s first cover depicts a man with a dagger (Tlotoxl possibly?), a temple and a giant golden mask, as the TARDIS materialises. A 1992 reprint cover uses Andrew Skilleter’s VHS cover art, showing Tlotoxyl and the Doctor amid some Aztec pyramids.

Final Analysis: John Lucarotti provides a fairly loose adaptation of his own story, clearly written from the original scripts but with a relaxed approach to sticking rigidly to the text. He’s also done a lot of research and is happy to let us know it, but unlike some of the authors from the early 80s, there’s no showboating here; we’re just exposed to the history of an ancient and brutal culture – even the cuisine – of a time in Earth’s history that’s as alien to the modern reader as that of Peladon or Skaro. The descriptions of torture are particularly graphic; at one point, Tlotoxyl tells Barbara that Susan will have her eyes gouged out. I might lament that the original TV version didn’t give us the chance to hear how WIlliam Hartnell might have approached a name like ‘Huitzilipochtli’ but Lucarotti’s undiluted approach makes the story all the richer. I read this novel for the first time here and we’re now entering a period where I suspect there are more books I’ve not previously read than I have.