The Savages

Written by:
Ian Stuart Black
Directed by: Christopher Barry
Starring: William Hartnell
Year: 1966
Audio Availability: Try Amazon

We begin with the Doctor walking off with his "Reacting Vibrator", a turn of events that causes much consternation from Dodo. Okay, let's get the factual stuff out of the way - this is the first Doctor Who story to introduce an overall story title and episode numbers, thus saving any arguments over that "100,000 BC/An Unearthly Child/The Tribe of Gum" nonsense.

Hartnell's unusually hammy and OTT here (I know his detractors would claim he always is, but it's not an opinion I share), almost as if he's getting a little tired of the whole thing. But although Ian Stuart Black would improve on his satirical penmanship with The Macra Terror, this is still pretty interesting stuff, playing neat twists with generic SF values to create a masked social commentary.

With a working title of The White Savages and Frederick Jaeger in black face, some might question the political motivation behind this one. Yet it could very easily be argued that it opts for Who's traditional reversal of types - the black leader as the perpetuator of enslavement - as an inverse aesthetic take on social commentary. Certainly, despite detractors of his private views, Billy plays the Doctor as a capital L liberal here, offering us "Exploitation indeed! This sir, is protracted murder!" in the following instalment.

It's a story of two directions. On the one hand it's trying to do something different with the programme and take it into previously unexplored directions. On the other it could be viewed as a stock Who story, and the principle plotlines are ones we've seen many times before in only three years of the programme being on air. I can understand it being overlooked, but some polls have seen it fall into the bottom thirty stories… that does surprise me.
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The only episode to have Billy Fluffs, this one gives us three for our troubles: "I've had a very enter… interesting discussion with these gentlemen"; "Did he come out of that ler… laboratory?" and "Now I want you to go to the emergency cannet - cabinet."

There's a nice build in menace with this one, where we find that the populace knew about the Doctor and his travels right from the first episode. Here we learn more of their covert experiments, and also see a more scheming side to the first Doctor, as he pretends to be pals with the Elders, all the time keeping his suspicions secret. Hartnell also gets to show some moral righteousness, which is to be treasured.
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I suppose with the "science vs. nature" themes of this one then you could say it's a little reactionary, but that's probably not intentional. Sadly, this one degenerates into something of a runaround, with Jaeger doing an embarrassing impersonation of Billy after his life force has been swapped. I have little else to say about episode three, because episode three has little else to say.
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Okay, I wanna talk about Steven for a minute. Post-Ian and Barbara then none of the Hartnell companions were particularly regarded, which was sometimes warranted (Dodo, Katarina, Sara Kingdom…) and often not (Vicki, Ben, Polly). Yet I can understand why people are a little lukewarm towards Steven Taylor as a companion. He's sarcastic, conceited, opinionated, overbearing and his slightly disagreeable personality means he finds it hard to build a genuine relationship with anybody. In many ways, Ian Chesterton is the companion we'd all like to be… Steven Taylor is the companion we all really know we are. The Savages sees his final appearance in the series, and while it may not be a great last story for him, his slightly more level-headed persona is one that had been developed over the previous four stories. In case I haven't made it clear, I rate the bloke, I think he successfully brought authority to the companion role, which was a large void to fill when Ian and Babs left, and kept his dignity even when up with weak team mates, as he is here. That said, this is one of Dodo's better efforts, and she does seem genuinely touched at Steven's passing. Never mind, we get Ben and Polly next week, and we only have to put up with her for two more episodes.

Episode four has the most existing material in the archives, but even then that's only 41 seconds at date of writing. (The third has just three seconds of footage, and nothing from the first two episodes exists). Although Black is skilfully adept at this kind of sci-fi satire, as the superior Macra Terror would later attest, he also wrote the next four weeks of adventure and proved to be even more skilled with a straightforward Doctor Who vehicle. One of his weaknesses as a writer seems to be maintaining a narrative. This has two strong opening episodes and two slightly flat closing ones.

We're led to believe that the intelligent scientist Jago is only aware of conscience when he receives a level of intellect akin to the Doctor's, and the resolution is an underwhelming "smash things up" conclusion. It's all okay, but oddly unsatisfying - you're left with the opinion that in a parallel universe they made another version of The Savages, but one that fully exploited its potential…
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The Savages is good, if not exceptional. However, I have a feeling that if ever it was to be found then it would the subject of much reappraisal.
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