Doctor Who Project: The Savages

Though we know you only as a record in our charts of space and time, yet you seem to us like an old friend.

It’s not often that the Doctor is expected. Typically he turns up as an uninvited guest at best—and a meddlesome pest in need of eradication at worst—or else, as in “The Celestial Toymaker,” he is plucked from the time-space continuum against his will. Yet in Ian Stuart Black’s “The Savages” (Production Code AA), the highly advanced civilization where the Doctor, Dodo, and Steven land has been tracking the TARDIS and eagerly awaits his arrival. Very shortly, however, the Doctor turns into said meddlesome pest.

From the start of the four episode story, we see the central conceit at work: this highly civilized planet is also home to the eponymous Savages, whose spear-and-loin-cloth costume and speech patterns stand at odds with the funky helmets and futuristic stylings of the Elders and those who live in the City, where art and culture and scientific discovery reign supreme. Not much narrative effort is spent providing a cohesive back history for this planet—the City has no name, nor does the planet, and no dates are given. But quickly, we realize that not all is as it seems in this utopia. How could it be with those helmets?

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The Doctor is at first warmly welcomed by the Elders, who have studied his travels through space and time and plotted his eventual arrival. “You are known to us as the Traveller from Beyond Time,” proclaims Exorse, one of the City’s guards, upon greeting the Doctor in the scrubland beyond the City walls. (Given that the Doctor cannot at this point direct the TARDIS in any direction at all, he somehow manages to conceal his wonder at their ability to do so.) The Elders wish to learn from the Doctor, even granting him a position as an honorary Elder. The Doctor seems eager to share his knowledge, as he too is aware of this civilization, apparently reputed far and wide for its advancement, but first he wants to understand how they have built this remarkable civilization.

The head Elder, Jano, tells the Doctor that they harness “only a very special form of animal vitality” to give new power to members of their community who are in need of it, forever keeping them full of energy. This “one simple discovery” has allowed them to create a miraculous civilization.

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Dodo, in her customary function as plot device, gets separated from the guides showing her and Steven around the City and follows a secret passage to the laboratory where the truth is revealed: Animal Vitality is People!

The vital energy transference process drains not just energy, but drive, intellect, and willpower from its victims, progressively diminishing them, and the Savages who live outside the civilization have been drained and released and re-captured for what seems to be generations, a sort of catch-and-release vitality fishing. There’s never an explicit statement that the Savages are the result of the civilization using part of its own people as fodder for the other part. But while the story suggests that the Savages have always been apart from the inhabitants of the City, there’s an ominous undercurrent that the process is used as a punishment for dissidents and miscreants as well.

Regardless, the story stakes its moral ground in an opposition to the technological exploitation of one group of people by another, who see the victims as sub-human, in the name of progress, and the Doctor refuses to countenance such behavior. He gives the Elders a stern talking to, thinking that their esteem for him will help his words sway their actions. It doesn’t work, so Jano decides to harness the Doctor’s life energy for himself. Much as in “The Celestial Toymaker,” the net effect of the energy transference process is to prevent William Hartnell from having any lines for most of the third episode. It must be noted that the Doctor has relatively few lines in this story regardless, and Hartnell added his trademark Billy Fluffs to most of his dialogue that stretched for more than two sentences.

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Frederick Jaeger, who plays Jano, pulls off a sadly convincing First Doctor imitation when he absorbs the Doctor’s life energy, holding his chin in the air, sputtering with indignation, peppering his speech with “Hmph!” and “Good gracious!” and “My boy!” interjections, all in a pinched voice. The story no longer exists on film, but in the audio tele-recording, one can easily visualize the facial expressions that went along with the pantomime, verging the whole performance close to pastiche.

Jano’s absorption of the Doctor’s conscience along with the Doctor’s intellectual energy marks the sole saving grace for the story, which sputters along on fairly predictable lines. Jano struggles with the Doctor’s conviction that their civilization is based on an evil foundation and must be changed, ultimately deciding to help the Doctor, Steven, and the Savages destroy the energy transference laboratory and overthrow the Elders. The internal struggle is not much explored, however, with Jano simply switching sides at some point because he and the Doctor share similar thought patterns. The Doctor is somehow inherently aware that his moral sense was also transferred to Jano.

While the Doctor is being zombified, Steven and Dodo team up with the Savages to capture one of the guards, Exorse. The sight of Steven besting their former tormentor captivates the Savages, who begin to believe in Steven. At the moment of truth, in a scream-filled three minute orchestra of destruction where the laboratory is destroyed, the Savage leader Chal and Jano both agree that Steven is the only person who can lead the two peoples into the future. And the Doctor agrees without hesitation (as though he knew Jano would say that…)

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So, Steven departs from the TARDIS after a ten-story run as a companion (dating back to “The Chase“). And, perhaps fittingly, this story refers to the companions as such:

Captain Edal: We’ve had no information about your companions.

Doctor: Oh, they’re very pleasant, yes, they’re both very pleasant, apart from their juvenile exuberance.

Peter Purves plays Steven as he usually does, bold and committed, but at the end, when he’s faced with the prospect of staying on this nameless planet, he hesitates, both because of the challenge ahead and because of fondness for both the Doctor and Dodo. The Doctor is his typical stoic self when it comes to these matters, leading Dodo back to the TARDIS, proclaiming, “We mustn’t look back.”

In all, Steven’s departure feels rather abrupt, on a level with Vicki’s disappearance in ancient Greece. The current iteration of Doctor Who goes quite too far in the opposite direction, turning a companion’s farewell into a saccharine tear-fest, but a bit more time spent on Steven’s decision to stay and become “king” would not have been out of place.

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Dodo has less to do than is typical even for her, with Jackie Lane screaming enough in the first two episodes to last two stories. Her curiosity does spur the discovery of the energy transfer process, but beyond that, she serves mostly as an expositional tool. Her emotion at Steven’s leaving seems quite real, the first time we have strong sorrow shown for a companion’s departure.

The Doctor’s non-violence is referenced here explicitly, with the guards sent to fetch him at the beginning wondering if the scientific device he was using was a weapon. He proclaims that he never uses weapons. The mystery over the Doctor’s name is also brought up:

Doctor: Do you know who I am?

Captain Edal: Not your name, of course.

One wishes that more had been done with the story’s theme, that of technology, progress, and oppression; instead, “The Savages” serves up a standard good-vs-evil morality tale where the bad guy turns good (in one case, that of the guard Exorse, because of the love of a good woman). Still, we get to learn that the TARDIS has an emergency cabinet with miracle pick-me-up pills (but no dental medicine, of course) and we see the departure of the strongest companion to date, Steven. Coming as it does so close to the end of the Third Season (and shortly after the change in production team), perhaps those tidbits will be enough to keep us until the next outing, when the Doctor and Dodo wind up (again) in the one place they spent the first two seasons trying to reach: 1960s London.

(Images via BBC Photonovel for “The Savages”)

(Previous Story: The Gunfighters)

(Next Story: The War Machines)

Post 26 of the Doctor Who Project

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