Saturday, 28 May 2011

26: The Savages - A Genuine Moral Metaphor But Ultimately Forgettable.

Written By: Ian Stuart Black.
Companions: The Doctor, Steven Taylor & Dodo Chaplet.
Monsters/Villains: Jano, The Elders.
Brief Synopsis: The ruthless Elders are sucking the life force from the helpless Savages.
Rating: 7/10.

Maybe I was having an off day when I listened to The Savages but I was rather underwhelmed. I had read mainly good things about the story, and although I though it posed an interesting question it was ultimately forgettable. Having perused the internet for images, I have to say that the story fails to stand out as it lacks a strong visual hook. The Savages is the first story to have an overall title. I will miss each episode having an individual title, it must have always been a nice clue as to what was going to happen next week. With the current series of Doctor Who, I am so excited to discover what will happen in saturday's adventure, The Almost People. It must have been much the same for an audience back in 1966, except much bigger as there were only three channels to choose from. What an event it must have been each saturday!

I'm also sad to be saying goodbye to the wonderful Peter Purves. He has been such a strong figure in Doctor Who for a while at this point and although his departure is handled fittingly, it's a shame he goes out on a fairly unmemorable story.

The other contentious point in The Savages is that of 'blacking up.' The leader of the Elders, Jano, played by German born white actor Frederick Jaeger who blacked up for this role. Being a story that has none of it's episodes available in the archives, this issue obviously didn't bother me greatly. I don't think it's necessary to get into this one in great depth, the character didn't need to black, things were different back in the 1960's, it was an odd choice. 

However it's not all bad, we get the rather unusual choice to have the main players of the story not just knowing who the Doctor is but they've been expecting him. The Elders know of the Doctor, calling him 'The Traveller From Beyond Time'. They say they have watched his progress through Time and Space and awaited his arrival. The planet, run along similar lines to the Capitol, could be a Gallifreyan colony, similar to Minyos (Underworld), Dronid (Shada), or the planet of Mawdryn (Mawdryn Undead). 

When the Doctor arrives they offer him the position of high elder, and present Steven with a ceremonial dagger and Dodo with a diamond encrusted mirror (sexist presents?). I like the ironic statement Dodo gives, saying "the Doctor has no idea of time." The Elders claim to have granted all of their people greater energy, intellect and talent with just one simple discovery. They have discovered how to transfer the energy of life directly, like recharging their batteries. They do this by absorbing a special type of animal energy which turns out to be the life force of the Savages. They don't kill people, because they take their power from the living. The Elders use light guns which capture their prey and enables them to effect their movements like a puppeteer.

Once the Doctor learns of this barbaric process he commands them to stop. They take him to the laboratory to transfer him and take the Doctor's life force. Jano decides that he will take the doctors intransference. Steven and Dodo join with the Savages and rescue the Doctor. Jano starts to sound and behave like the Doctor.

Along with his life force, Jano received the Doctors conscience and wants to put an end to the evil that has been done. Jano smashes the control panel destroying all the machinery, ending the energy transference process forever. Steven elects to stay behind to help rebuild the civilisation. The Doctor and a tearful Dodo depart as the TARDIS Dematerialises.

It's odd that this story didn't grasp me. The music throughout is very atmospheric. It presents an interesting point. The Leader of the Elders Jano asks the Doctor, 'How can you condemn this great, artistic and scientific civilisation because of a few wretched savages?' In our society today there is a large part of the population who work in order to make the country a better place. They are poorer, less healthy and have fewer privileges, but the country and those closer to the top of the economical hierarchy would crumble without them. The Savages presents this dilemma at a critical and exaggerated level. Is it wrong to cause a few lower-class 'savages' to suffer (but not die) in order to maintain a "great, artistic and scientific civilisation?" The Savages (a story in which nobody dies) plays intelligent games with witless science fiction clichés and whilst not aspiring to greatness it does create an effective atmosphere. 

After some reflection I feel I have been quite harsh on this story, it did a lot and has a valid place in the Whoniverse.

Join me next time for a story that will define a whole new era of Doctor Who: The War Machines

As for the Hartnell era it's 26 down and 3 to go.


mrbig1316 said...

I must disagree with your rating of this stiry. It's one of the best Hartnell stories and it showed "Who" evolving into more intelligent stories and thus makes it a 7 out of 10 at least, sir.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't normally do this, but I do feel I was a little harsh on what was a very impressive and important story. So...


Jackknight said...

Just read the Target novelisation of this story. Pretty good read. Just wanted to point out that on the cover of the book Jano is depicted to be blue; not sure if he was this color in the actual show or not being it's black and white. But it's very possible the actor isn't black faced.

Corby Kennard said...

I enjoyed this one, quite a bit more than I usually enjoy the photo-recreations. I'm glad you changed your rating.