Doctor Who Reviews: The Savages

You know that feeling you get when you’re running The London Marathon? Especially towards the end, when your legs feel like they’ve just turned to soapy water and your heart feels like a mouldy old dishmop?

No don’t worry, neither do I. Lazybones that I am, I’d be lucky to complete 2.6 miles, let alone 26. Plus, I’ve never seen the attraction of running alongside countless giant comedy carrots on legs either.

But having seen the latest Doctor Who adventure of Season Three, I’m picking up on that same feeling of slowly running out of steam. Back in the day, Doctor Who fans were spoilt rotten, since the programme was on for practically the whole year. Like school, Doctor Who had a summer break of six weeks, and then got back on the treadmill for the remaining 46. The downside of this feast of Who was that the creative well started to run dry towards the end of each season.

Stories like The Chase or The Space Museum - stories that featured in the latter half of the season - hardly demonstrate Who at the top of its game. Now add to that list, The Savages, an oft-forgotten Season Three story, which again no longer exists in the archive. It’s hard to figure out what the real cause is of The Savages’ anonymity: The lack of televised footage or the lack of story.

Up till now, Season Three had proven to be greatly experimental with different styles and genres being introduced in every story. For The Savages, it’s back to tried and tested lines with a set of warring colonies in a quarry: that hoary old chestnut makes an unwelcome return and only adds to the drab feel of proceedings.

The premise, however, is an intriguing one. Harking back to the “Don’t Judge A Book By Its Cover” message of Galaxy Four, The Savages presents two opposing factions: The Elders and the eponymous scruffs who resemble a Stig Of The Dump fan club. Naturally, you’d think that the Elders, with their advanced society, are the goodies. Mind you, you can tell a mile off that they’re not quite as friendly as they seem when they claim to have been tracking the progress of the TARDIS. Quite how far this surveillance is taken, we’re never told. You can imagine some Elder hunched over a screen showing everything that goes on in the TARDIS. Yes, it’s true: The Elders are sneaky Peeping Toms, and for that reason alone, must be the villains of the piece.

The Elders’ villainy is only heightened when it’s discovered that they’ve been sponging off the Savages in order to acquire their new powers. Previously an advanced, intelligent race, the Savages have now been reduced to ignorant grunts, after the Elders have drained their life force. First Peeping Toms, now Sponging Leeches. The Elders would have made great politicians.

The Elders then compound their sins in an attempt to drain the life force of The Doctor. This aspect is the most successful of the story, and it’s jarring to see the First Doctor at death’s door. With hindsight, it’s a spooky premonition of what’s going to happen to The Doctor only three stories later. Hartnell acts this very well, having been his normal commanding presence throughout the story, especially when raging at Chief Elder, Jano and taking him to task for his actions.

Of course, Jano, having absorbed some of The Doctor’s life force, hadn’t bargained on absorbing the most important element of all: The Doctor’s conscience. Now outraged at what he’s done, Jano turns against the Elders and convinces the Savages to destroy the transference laboratory in an act of violence that ranks alongside any 3am brawl outside a tacky nightclub. Even the newly restored Doctor gets in on the action, the old rebel.

Admittedly, this is a neat twist, and a well-thought-out resolution to the problem. Frederick Jaeger is also excellent as Jano, and contributes a very convincing Hartnell impression to boot (He’d apparently received extensive coaching on this from the man himself). Apart from this, finding good points in The Savages is about as easy to do as finding gold down a drainpipe.

The story’s premise, while intelligent and sophisticated, doesn’t translate well to the screen at all. The story’s boring and generally low on action. There’s no spark to light the fire here, and there’s a whole sense of déjà vu throughout. The idea of misplaced trust was explored to greater effect in Galaxy Four. The end rebellion brings back horrible memories of the climax of The Space Museum, a story that I don’t want to be reminded of again. The Savages themselves are a cut-price version of The Tribe Of Gum, even if Ewen Solon does give a strong performance as Chal.

Funny how Solon and Jaeger would be in opposite roles nine years later in Planet Of Evil…

About the only notable thing to happen in the story is that Steven leaves The Doctor to lead the united Elders and Savages. What’s gratifying about Steven’s exit is that he puts the skills and knowledge that he has learned with The Doctor to good use. The wilful, cynical Steven of The Time Meddler has matured considerably, especially after dealing with the events of earlier stories like The Daleks’ Master Plan and The Massacre. It’s a fitting send-off for one of the most successful Sixties companions: Peter Purves has delivered time after time as Steven, but the world of Blue Peter was just around the corner…

Apart from this strong conclusion, The Savages does feel like a show running out of steam. But that’s the great thing about Doctor Who. It has the power to renew itself when it gets too repetitive or stale. Luckily, a wealth of changes is waiting in the wings, not least with an adventure that’s about to drag The Doctor and Dodo kicking and screaming into the Swinging Sixties…

* But full steam ahead to the classic decade of the 1970s with my exhaustive ebook guides!