Missing from the BBC archives and unavailable on audio CD until recently, “The Savages” is a serial that is often overlooked - a great shame considering that it’s probably better than some of Season Three’s more celebrated stories like “The Celestial Toymaker.”
Ian Stuart Black’s story is notable for three major points. Firstly, it marks Peter Purves’ final appearance as Steven Taylor; the Doctor’s fifth companion deciding to remain behind at the serial’s conclusion to lead the Savages. Having Peter Purves narrate the soundtrack for the CD release seems fitting for Steven’s swansong, and when watched in synch with John Cura’s telesnaps one can really get a good feel for the story.
The second point “The Savages” is notable for is some very clever writing. In my opinion, Black succeeds here where Emms failed in “Galaxy 4” at hammering home the ‘moral of the story’ – “it’s what’s inside that counts” – without being too cheesy or obvious. In fact, much of this story’s appeal is down the uncertain state of affairs on the planet – it takes quite a while for the audience to realise just exactly who the ‘goodies’ and the ‘baddies’ are. For example, in Episode 1’s (yes; for the first time it’s actually called “Episode 1”) cliffhanger Dodo screams at the mere sight of a Savage inside the Elders’ city, whereas later in the story we see a female savage, Nanina, actually look after an injured guard who we saw mistreating her earlier in the story, clearly demonstrating which group has the moral high ground. The ending of the story is also a lovely little piece of storytelling; the Doctor impregnating Jano, the leader of the Elders, with his very own conscience and thus using him to free the Savages from the oppression of the Elders. Not only is the ending a clever finale to the serial, but it is also highly amusing to see Frederick Jaeger’s impression of William Hartnell as he plays Jano infused the Doctor’s consciousness. “Hmm…”
Thirdly, the aforementioned sexy savage Nanina (Clare Jenkins) is close to naked throughout. Seriously! She makes Leela look over-dressed. In one of the telesnaps you can actually see her arse! I’m not for a moment suggesting that such a thing marks the difference between an average story and a good one, but hey – every little helps! In all seriousness though, “The Savages” is a very enjoyable four-parter but it’s never going to be missed as much as the likes of “The Daleks’ Master Plan,” “The Evil of the Daleks” et al. This serial seems to have no reputation whatsoever – good or bad – and so if, like me, you go into it not expecting much I think you will be very pleasantly surprised.
Of all the First Doctor stories, 'The Savages' is perhaps the most overlooked, since no clips exist and the soundtrack has yet to be released commercially. It also lacks a monster, which can help to make lost stories such as 'Galaxy Four' better known to fans. It is notable primarily for the departure of Steven, who as my previous reviews have made clear, is one of my favourite companions. The question remains however, is 'The Savages' any good?
The answer to the above question is yes, although I wouldn't describe 'The Savages' as a lost classic. At its basic level, it is a nature of evil parable, with a Beauty-and-the-Beast subplot similar to that of 'Galaxy 4', but whilst it has a simple premise, it executes its plot with some charm and is well directed and acted. Initially, it seems that the Elders are a highly advanced people who have created a utopian society, whilst the primitive Savages are an uncivilized threat to this. Indeed, the cliffhanger to episode one plays on this assumption, with Dodo screaming in terror at the sight of a Savage inside the city of the Elders. Additionally, the Elders are so technologically advanced that, uniquely in Doctor Who during this era, they are expecting the arrival of the Doctor, having tracked his travels through time and space, which immediately makes an impression on both Doctor and viewer simply because it is so unusual. As in 'Galaxy 4' however, our initial impressions soon prove false, as it turns out that the Savages are victims of the Elders' vampiric, life-draining technology, which creates their utopia at the cost of human suffering. However, whereas in 'Galaxy 4' the Drahvins ultimately proved to be unremittingly evil, 'The Savages' differs because the Elders are not beyond redemption. Whilst their actions are evil, they themselves are not evil per se, merely misguided. Crucially, when Jano absorbs the Doctor's life-energy and with it his morals, he realises what has happened to him, but rather than fighting against it, he accepts this new view point, seeing his people's actions as cruel and resolving to make changes. This is important, because it shows Jano deciding to embrace this new way of thinking, rather than simply being brainwashed, which would deny him the ability to chose to do good, but rather have it forced upon him. Exorse, who is captured by the Savages with Steven's help, also demonstrates the ability of the Elders to change. Early on during the story, he dismisses the Savages as, well, savages, but after he is captured, he is forced to change his views somewhat. Despite the desire for revenge by some of the Savages, Nanina, whom he captured early on in the story and took for processing, insists on sparing his life and cares for him. Whilst this does not prompt quite the reversal of attitudes that Jano undergoes, he nevertheless starts to appreciate that the Savages are people too, and accepts his planet's new leader at the story's end. This basically summarizes the strength of 'The Savages', which is the characterisation of the supporting characters.
Of the regulars, neither Hartnell nor Purves disappoint, as usual. The Doctor's confrontation of Jano when he realises how the Elders' society is maintained is marvelous, and my favourite moment of the story. His impassioned announcement that "This, sir, is protracted murder!" seethes with suppressed rage, and forms part of an exchange that deserves fan recognition almost on a par with that accorded his moving speech during the final episode of 'The Massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve'. Later, after he is forcibly submitted to the Elders' technology and his life energy has been distilled into Jano, he spends most of the last two episodes weak and disorientated, and thus we are denied the clash of personalities that we might expect; instead, as the Doctor recovers, he quietly waits for Jano to turn to his way of thinking, clearly realizing what the transference would do the leader of the Elders. This is an effective story device, but results in the Doctor being sidelined for the latter half of the story. Instead, this again gives centre stage to Steven. Steven has come along way since 'The Chase', as I've noted when reviewing the previous few stories. His departure here is entirely in keeping with his development into a leader and someone who clearly wants to help people. The scene in which he lures Exorse into the caves is one of his finest moments, as he proves to the Savages that they are capable of fighting their oppressors and throwing off the shackles of slavery under which they effectively live. It has been suggested by some commentators that the Doctor abandons Steven without warning, but I feel that this is missing the point. During both 'The Massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve' and 'The Ark', we saw him railing against the injustices around him; now, finally, when the Doctor nominates him as a new leader to unite both Elders and Savages, he is surprised, but readily accepts, as the Doctor tells him how proud of him he is. I don't think this is said lightly; the Doctor seems to genuinely believe that Steven is equal to the task ahead of him. Steven's departure is actually one of my favourite companion leaving scenes, and hopefully one that will be more widely appreciated once 'The Savages' is released on CD.
Dodo gets very little to do in 'The Savages', and despite tackling armed and dangerous gunfighters during the previous story, she is here reduced to a generic screamer, reacting rather hysterically to the sight of a Savage in the Elder's city. For the rest of the time, she plays sidekick to either the Doctor or Steven and is virtually superfluous to the plot, except when she discovers the Elders' processing centre and tells her companions about it. Even then though, the Doctor has already deduced what is going on. Of the guest cast, the most notable is Frederick Jaeger as Jano. His impersonation of the Doctor, for which Hartnell apparently coached him in rehearsals, is very impressive, and makes him a memorable character. The main problem with 'The Savages' is that, despite some decent scripted characterisation, his is the only memorable guest performance. The rest of the guest cast is adequate enough and there are no cringe-worthy performances, but nobody else particularly stands out. Having said that, they may have fared better on television, although I get the impression that 'The Savages' transfers quite well to audio. What does stand out is the incidental score, which creates a magnificent air of tension and is very sinister in places.
In summary then, 'The Savages' is not a classic, but is a decent enough story and provides a decent departure for the criminally underrated Steven Taylor. The release of the soundtrack will hopefully improve its reputation (and will be a welcome replacement for my rather poor quality bootleg recording!).