The Savages

Doctor WhoThe Doctor brings the TARDIS in for a landing on a world whose inhabitants have, according to him, achieved peace and balance. As the Doctor surveys the planet, Steven grows impatient and goes to look for him, but he and Dodo run into stone-age primitives – hardly an advanced civilization. The TARDIS travelers are saved by the Elders, who welcome them to their city and offer the Doctor a seat among their most revered leaders. The Doctor is honored, but continues to ask questions about his hosts. But the more questions he asks, it becomes clearer that there’s trouble in paradise. The Elders and their guards capture the “Savages” and drag them into the city, where they are subjected to a process that extracts their life energy and transfers that vitality to recipients in the city. When Dodo discovers the process, the time travelers are suddenly less welcome, and instead of a place of honor, the Doctor becomes the next in line to
have his life force drained.

Order this story on audio CDwritten by Ian Stuart Black
directed by Christopher Barry
music by Raymond Jones

Guest Cast: Ewen Solon (Chal), Patrick Godfrey (Tor), Peter Thomas (Edal), Geoffrey Frederick (Exorse), Frederick Jaeger (Jano), Robert Sidaway (Avon), Kay Patrick (Flower), Clare Jenkins (Nanina), Norman Henry (Senta), Edward Caddick (Wylda), Andrew Lodge, Christopher Denham, Tony Holland (Assistants), John Dillon, John Raven (Savages), Tim Goodman (Guard)

Notes: The master tapes of this episode were destroyed by the BBC in the early 1970’s, and no video copies exist.

Broadcast from May 28 through June 18, 1966

LogBook entry & review by Earl Green

Review: One of the more intriguing adventures of William Hartnell’s era, The Savages is surprisingly mature and sophisticated. And if that’s not enough, it also provides a plausible exit for Peter Purves as Steven, who, while occasionally a walking cliche, really was the first Doctor’s most effective male sidekick.

The script delves into some quite advanced concepts for a show that was, at the time, aimed squarely at children. The relationship of hunter and prey, and the concept that no society thrives without exploiting someone to ensure its level of comfort, are brought up, and while the story doesn’t get bogged down by those ideas, they’re clearly being flagged so that they’ll be in the viewers’ mind when watching the rest of the story. Or, in our case these days, listening – The Savages is a fascinating story, and yet it’s represented by a mere handful of photos, barely enough to get a taste of what it looked like upon its first broadcast.

It’s also a retcon dream come true: long before Time Lords or regeneration ever became part of the Doctor Who mythos, this story makes clear that whatever life force the Elders can extract from their victims, they get even more of it from the Doctor (which, in hindsight, makes absolutely perfect sense – also see Mawdryn Undead). Almost more intriguing than that bit of future-proof plotting is the revelation that the Elders have tracked the Doctor’s travels through time extensively, but what I can’t let go of is the fact that the Doctor winds up there in the first place. Though not implicit in the script, I wonder if the Doctor was seeking this advanced, “peaceful” civilization out as a possible new home to settle down, away from the Time Lords. That he seems receptive to joining the Elders (before he knows their terrible secret, of course) makes this a very interesting possibility indeed. It makes me want to track down the novelization – written many years after the fact – to see if its author picked up on this as well.

At first I rolled my eyes at the somewhat corny twist that brings things to an end – in addition to the Doctor’s life force, Jano also winds up with some of the Doctor’s conscience and wisdom – but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this made for a more satisfying ending than just blowing the problem to smithereens. And Steven winds up with the winner of the award for a companion whose departure makes the most narrative sense in the entire Hartnell era, staying behind as the only person who both the Elders and Savages will trust to help rebuild their society into one civilization. Of all the companions’ departures in the first Doctor’s era, I found Steven’s to be the most effective, and the most genuinely emotional. More consistently written than Ian, and all-around more useful than Ben, Steven was a great foil for Hartnell’s Doctor, even when the writers fell back on his hotheaded impetuosity as the character’s only defining feature.

The Savages is one of the best stories I’ve yet seen or heard in the first Doctor’s travels through time. I only regret that I can’t see it as well as hear it.