Doctor Who and The Savages
Transmitted 28 May – 18 June 1966
Written by Ian Stuart Black
The Doctor has managed to land the TARDIS in the midst of an advanced civilization. They are so far advanced in technology that they not only know of him but have predicted his arrival. Their society seems to good to be true, prompting suspicion from the Doctor’s traveling companions Steven and Dodo. just before he is honored as a respected guest, the Doctor feels compelled to ask how this world has accomplished what appears to be a reality that is too good to be true. The grim reality nearly costs his life.
When Innes Lloyd took over as producer, he inherited a great number of scripts that were already in production including the 13 week-long epic, the Dalek’s Master Plan. The Savages is an unusual script and being that so much of it is lost, an accurate judgement is all but impossible to make. What we do have in regards to information is rather intriguing, however.
The story opens with the Doctor not only aware of the location of his arrival, but he is exuberant about it. Promising an advanced and perfect society, he leaves his companions Steven and Dodo to survey the area and confirm his suspicions. How and why the Doctor knows of this place is never explained nor is it ever touched upon in subsequent stories which makes it all the more intriguing in my opinion. What the Doctor is not aware of is that he is being watched from the bushes by frightened savages dressed in tattered clothing. Bearing similarities to prehistoric man, they are in direct conflict with the sleek Utopian citizens that greet the Doctor. Not only is the Doctor expected, he is to be given a great honor from the governing council of the planet’s civilization. The Doctor mentions his companions as a passing thought which rankles his welcoming party who counted on him arriving alone.
Just how these people can know of the Doctor and are able to track the path of his TARDIS is a complete mystery to me. It remains part of the plot as the society is technologically advanced to the point that it impresses the Doctor and tickles his fancy (hence his continuous giggling). As he is brought before the council, Steven and Dodo are rounded up. However, the pair of companions have gotten bored in the TARDIS and decided to venture outside, narrowly missing a spear hurled from a craggy cliff side.
Once inside the great city, Dodo is hardly relieved and if anything is far more suspicious of her surroundings. During a guided tour, she scarpers off and finds herself in a forbidden laboratory where a deranged man wanders down a corridor, half-blind and unable to communicate. It is a terrifying moment that must have had quite an impact with the viewers at home.
It is clear that there is more going on than meets the eye. Savages are rounded up like quarry through the use of light guns and drained of their life essence, the secret behind the super advanced society that houses the select few chosen to live there. The Doctor is chosen by the council of Elders, but he is disgusted by their practices. The process needed to maintain their society drains the life of so many, leaving them dried up husks of their former selves, living like animals in fear of another attack.
Like many of the mid-late 1960′s Doctor Who stories, the companions play a vital role in the Savages, especially Dodo. The Mancunian Dodo takes a lot of flack for being useless, but judged on her behavior in stories such as this she’s not half bad. Rebellious and headstrong, she is dwarfed the massive gangly Steven Taylor but is rarely intimidated by him. She not only gets herself into trouble but can even extricate herself from a tight spot as well. The unfortunate thing is that we only have two whole stories to judge her on and a bit of the War Machines where she barely registers. I’ll throw my vote in for Dodo Chaplet being a decent companion worth re-evaluation.
I’ve often thought of Ian Chesterton as the character that I’d like to think I’d be in the universe of Doctor Who. Brave, intelligent and reliable, Chesterton is a noble hero (he was even knighted!). The reality is that I’d probably be more like Steven Taylor. While Steven is an astronaut from the future, he’s something of a doofus, often stumbling through problems and causing as little mess as he can. He is frustrated by the Doctor and can’t get Dodo to listen to him at all, leaving him with very little positive impact with his traveling companions. I quite enjoy Steven as he is an interesting alternative to the more successful and resourceful characters on the program, but he is a bit of a waste, isn’t he?
At the conclusion of the Savages, Steven remains behind to help rebuild the society from the ground up. We are shown the Doctor as being supportive and more than a little shaken at losing yet another traveling companion, but what is the likelihood that Steven would make a great leader… or even a good one? Actor Peter Purves jokingly stated that he would have loved to have seen the Doctor return only to find it a shambles.
The most interesting part of The Savages is when the Doctor is subjected to the process and drained of nearly all of his energy, all of it transferred to the Elder known as Jano (played by Freddie Jager, later to appear in the Planet of Evil with Tom Baker). It’s a startling development as it leaves the Doctor a deranged, barely conscious creature whom Dodo and Steven must lead around by the hand. Even more interesting is that Jano takes on the Doctor’s mannerisms and speaking pattern, as well as a disdain for Jano’s world.
In 1966, the BBC were aware that they would have to replace leading man William Hartnell if they wanted to keep the program going. Plans of introducing a younger version of the character could be part of the reason why Jano retains the Doctor’s persona for so long. It’s an interesting theory, but I wager that it is as much a coincidence as the Doctor having his life essence drained in this story while he dies two stories later complaining that ‘this old body of mine has worn thin.’
All very interesting but it implies that not just the production team but the BBC were thinking far ahead… and all of the evidence implies that they were in fact flying by the seat of their pants week to week.
In any case, the mind transference is one of the more striking elements of this story along with its message about imperialism and the subjugation of others to advance society. The plot may sound ham-fisted and awkward at times, but the ideas are incredible and the possibilities of a dark secret lying in the middle of a utopia something that would be revisited several times later in stories such as the Macra Terror.
Like many other adventures from this time period, The Savages remains complete with only the audio track and a few still images remaining to give any clue as to what it was like back in the day. From the little information that we have, the Savages sounds like it was a creepy atmospheric story with some nice location work, skillful camera direction and a number of fantastic supporting actors.
Until we actually get to see more of it, there are only a few ways to experience the Savages, through the magnificent Loose Canons reconstructions:
LC29 The Savages (loose canon 29)
There’s also this:
… and the resources below.