Wednesday, May 22, 2013

"The Savages"

Aired May 28 – June 18, 1966

4 Episodes

Story 26

Written by Ian Stuart Black

Directed by Christopher Barry


Having arrived on a far-distant and seemingly idyllic world, the Doctor, Steven and Dodo discover that it hides a terrible secret: the apparently civilized Elders maintain their advanced society by draining off and transferring to themselves the life-force of a group of defenseless Savages. Outraged at this exploitation, the Doctor is seemingly helpless to prevent it when some of his own life-force is tapped by the Elders' leader, Jano. However, in the process, Jano also acquires some of the Doctor's attitudes and conscience. Turning against his own people, he enlists the help of the Savages to destroy the Elders' transference laboratory - a task with which the time travelers gladly assist.

Steven is asked by the Elders and the Savages to remain behind on the planet as their leader. He agrees to do so, and the Doctor and a tearful Dodo leave him to his new life.


Season 3's great run continues, with Ian Stuart Black's enjoyable, if simplistic, scripts and Christopher Barry's tight direction resulting in satisfying story. The series rarely took on allegory so directly as it does here, telling a tale about both the benefits and inhuman degradations of one society exploiting another.

Other science fiction series would tackle this issue, but they would tend to focus on the physical and emotional impact of slavery on the subjugated. The story does that, of course, but it also talks about the cultural impact on both sides of the coin. Other stories would depict the oppressors as indolent and pampered, but it also true that this kind of exploitation often does allow a society the ability to make great strides. Additionally, the cost to the culture of the oppressed is examined as well. Steven and Dodo see the cave paintings of the savages, and Chal admits that they used to be capable of art, but have lost that talent through their "sessions". This mirrors how the exploited become so focused on mere survival that they have no time for advancement.

The Elders are not cruel per se. The scripts don't depict them as slavering racist thugs. Their racism is far more insidious and, to my mind, realistic. As such, it renders them even more distasteful and less of an outlier than a broad depiction of evil. But their position is still repugnant, and Hartnell's fiery reaction is terrific. The prevailing opinion is that Hartnell was deathly ill and terrible in his final period on the show. Based on this story, that's rubbish. I've yet to see him phone one in, and his outrage and commitment to stopping the Elders' barbaric practice is wonderful.

This story marks the end of episodes having their own individual titles, a decision which I think works to the series' advantage. Now, casual viewers would know when a new adventure would begin a little more easily.

This story is also momentous for the departure of Steven Taylor from the TARDIS crew. If there's a Companion Hall of Fame, surely Steven is in there. I think there is a substantial argument to be made that Steven is the first companion to actively develop over his time on the show. He grew from the wilful, cynical and traumatised man of The Chase, to the man who leaves in this story; a man who convincingly could be asked to mediate this conflict. He was a superb foil for Hartnell, and carried Doctor-lite stories such as The Massacre… and The Celestial Toymaker with ease. This character arc was not necessarily ever in the scripts proper, but was carried out mostly by Peter Purves himself in subtle shifts of his character. All in all, it's fitting send-off for one of the greats.

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