Sunday, June 21, 2009

FF4 - The Highlanders 4

At the end of this story, it turns out that the whole point of the it wasn't to ensure that the laird of the McLaren clan was kept alive, it wasn't to get the Highlanders made it safely to France, it wasn't to have The Doctor and his friends escape unscathed, it wasn't for history to take its right and proper course, and it wasn't to see off Jamie on the start of his long trek in the TARDIS.

No, the person who advances the most throughout the course of this story, with great effect, is Algeron Ffinch. Ffinch took his knocks early on - falling down a pit, being disarmed, robbed, and blackmailed by Polly and Kirsty, being mocked by his men, and winding up poor and dishonoured in a tavern, drinking his sorrows away. While still being blackmailed, his services are used one final time to escort The Doctor and friends safely back to the TARDIS. As a result of this, though, Ffinch takes Solicitor Grey into custody for slave trading, and all because, despite the grief that Polly has given him, Ffinch has taken a bit of shone to The Doctor's blonde companion. Aww.

Ffinch actually turns out to be the hero of the piece, which is actually quite charming. It's the topping on the cake of what has been a fun little romp, the last such historical one that we will see for some considerable time. I enjoyed the historicals, as a whole, but did find they were remarkably limited. A few of the classic series historicals share one main aspect in common with the new series "celebrity historicals", in that they often feature famous historical figures. In the classic series, we met Marco Polo and King Richard I; in the new series, Charles Dickens and Queen Victoria (amongst others). The main difference, though, is how those characters were treated. Whereas the new series almost paid worship to these historical figures and involved them full on in The Doctor's world (because, as geniuses, it was told, they would be able to cope with such alien wonders), the classic series historicals deliberately kept these figures in the dark for fear that their knowledge of things outside their realm of possibility would alter history.

The same approach extended to the different eras that these historical stories were set in. On no account could any changes be made to the events that were occurring for fear of disrupting the timeline. For the most part, the historical stories were mishandled. It's not as much fun to watch something wrong almost happen, but then not. What would have been far more interesting would be to have The Doctor land in the past, see that something had gone wrong to upset history, then be forced to right the timelines by setting the events straight again (just as the Back To The Future movies did successfully some 20 years after Doctor Who stopped meddling with the past).

The move away from historicals finally decided the war between history and science to see which would draw the viewers in. It was a battle that had its lines drawn from the word go, literally, by both a history teacher (Barbara) and a science teacher (Ian) joining the TARDIS crew so that Barbara could basically narrate to the viewer the historical events that were being shown, and Ian could describe what a litmus test is or what acid does to poorly made shoes. After three and a half years, science had won, soon to enter into another war over the coming years between "science fiction" and "science fantasy".


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