Wednesday, August 31, 2016
Written by Ian Stuart Black, The Savages was broadcast between the 28 May 1966 and 18 June 1966. England still hadn't won the World Cup. That was to come at the end of the following month. And there endeth my only attempt to contextualise a Doctor Who story with its broadcast dates. Except to note that this story goes out in a decade were the British exit from its Empire was speeding up. After all, we're six years after Macmillan's 'Wind of Change' speech in the South African parliament. A speech that clearly indicated that even the Conservative Party could see which way the wind was blowing for Britain's colonies even if it was to take white South Africa another 30+ years to accept it.
Why do I mention all this? Well, I think The Savages is meant to reflect some of the atmosphere of the time. In a similar way that The Mutants is also about the end of Empire. Except that in this story The Savages are white and the Elders black. Or so it appears from pictures and surviving footage. Obviously, this being 1966 we can't cast black actors so unfortunately and uncomfortably the Elders are white actors in blackface.
The original title for this story was going to be 'The White Savages' so I'm pretty sure that my point about the story is correct. This is about colonialism and about one group of humans willingness to profit from the exploitation of another. In this case, it is their life energy. The Savages - and we're never given a name for the group apart from this - are effectively farm animals. They are bred to be drained of energy so that The Elders can life in the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed. The Elders don't even appear to use the Savages as slave labour. They're simply left to get on with it until someone needs an energy boost. I mean this is a story about what a world would be like with the vampires in charge. Perhaps we're expected to see colonialism as vampiric. Perhaps I'm thinking about this far, far too much.
The truth is this is a bit of dull story enlivened by Jano's impression of the First Doctor or to put it more accurately Frederick Jaeger's impersonation of William Hartnell playing the First Doctor. O and a bit of smashing up of stuff in the final episode as the revolution comes. Frederick Jaeger does a fine job as Jano as head of the Elders. A man satisfied with the way his society is until he ingests some of the Doctor's conscience.
It is the Doctor that is the catalyst for the end of the status quo. The Elders have admired The Doctor on his travels through time and have been expecting him to arrive for some years. The odd thing is having followed him they don't seem to have been prepared for him to question the cost of their lifestyle or who is paying it.
Hartnell's quite good in this too but once more gets to spend a chunk of time unconscious or zombified. You get the impression by this point that Innes Lloyd has done everything short of leaving a sticky note on Hartnell's dressing room door to elbow Hartnell out of the show. Hartnell doesn't go yet, though. However, Peter Purves does.
Steven Taylor leaves at the end of this story. He is chosen by both groups to lead them through the undoubtedly messy process of creating a new and fairer world. It's all pretty sudden and the Doctor seems pleased to have Steven off the premises. Not in a horrible way but in a 'and now you are ready' way. It's all pretty sudden and rushed but in an odd way seems a fitting end for Steven who, on occasions, had beome the lead character in Doctor Who whilst the production team found ways of keeping Hartnell out of the picture. It's not the worst companion exit ever.*
It leaves us with Dodo. Now Jackie Lane's not bad but Dodo is a character with almost no character. She's pretty good in the first couple of episodes. She refuses to believe in the paradise their being presented with whilst Steven seems oddly naive for once but then she starts to fall prey to the stupid. Then she treats a clearly unwell Doctor with all the sympathy of a Jeremy Hunt. I'm not sure Jackie Lane ever really got a break with Dodo. There's nothing to get a hold of, which is a shame.
So, all in all, The Savages is a dull-ish story with some interesting ideas that don't quite work. It's not a terrible story but would be pretty forgettable were it not for Steven's exit. I have barely talked about the other performances: Ewan Solon as Chal, Patrick Godfrey as Tor, Geoffrey Frederick as Exorse, Clare Jenkins as Nanina and Peter Thomas as Captain Edal. Solon is great but Thomas is a bit too obviously marked up as the bad guy from the minute he gets the line about not trusting strangers. Captain Edal would have fitted up the Doctor, Steven and Dodo for something if he'd got the chance believing, like corrupt policemen the world over, that they'd be guilty of something even if he could find out what is was.
The Savages: could do better.
*That's not far away, though.