“The Savages” marks a bit of a new era in Doctor Who. It was the first serial completely developed under Innes Lloyd and his script editor, Gerry Davis, which is probably why it institutes a few important changes. This is the first episode to have an overall title, instead of individual titles for each episode. It is also the final episode for Peter Purves as Steven (and Jackie Lane’s (Dodo’s) departure isn’t too far behind). Furthermore, this is approaching the end of William Hartnell’s tenure as the Doctor. But, aside from all of these changes, I also feel that this is a slight turning point in terms of the focus of the show. The Doctor has always traveled through time, but now his adventures take on a bit more of a science fiction-y feel. Except for a few exceptions (like the later stories with the Daleks), up to this point the Doctor has been more like a time traveling anthropologist. This story deals explicitly with a dystopian society, and the upcoming stories deal with computers and robots in a way that stories hadn’t previously. The historicals haven’t disappeared yet, but at the end of the Hartnell era the show was moving towards more traditional science fiction topics.
The Doctor, Steven, and Dodo arrive on a planet that the Doctor believes is in the middle of an age of peace and prosperity. After encountering some hostile, seemingly primitive natives, Steven and Dodo are not convinced. However, it appears that he is correct when he and his companions meet two soldiers. These two soldiers take them into the much more advanced city to meet with the rulers. It turns out that the elders of the city have been expecting the Doctor to arrive (although they didn’t anticipate his companions). They have been tracking the “Traveler from Beyond Time,” and they want to bestow upon him the title of High Elder. The Doctor stays to discuss the civilization with the elders, while two younger members of the society take Dodo and Steven on a tour of the city.
Eventually, the civilization’s secret is revealed: their utopia is based on stealing the life force of the “savages” who live outside the city and transferring this force into themselves. The Doctor expresses his outrage at this practice, resulting in Jano, one of the elders, making him a prisoner. He forces the Doctor to undergo the transference process, and has the Doctor’s life force transferred into himself. In the meantime, Steven and Dodo are left to make peace with the “savages” and find a way to rescue the Doctor.
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this story. I thought the first episode of this serial established an interesting premise. The dystopian world and how the Doctor would react to it made for an intriguing beginning to the story. Unfortunately, the rest of the story doesn’t quite live up to it. The story soon abandons most of the moral issues and it becomes a story of evading capture and of rescuing the Doctor, which is understandable, since this is a children’s show. Still, it held my interest and avoided going where I thought it would go. I have to admit, I assumed that it would, once again, fall into that typical Hartnell story arc of the Doctor and his companions leading an oppressed people against their oppressors. I was pleasantly surprised that the story didn’t fit into that mold.
I felt like the characters were portrayed slightly differently from how they had been portrayed previously, but this wasn’t a bad thing. Dodo actually had a rare moment of clarity where she could sense that something wasn’t right with the society, but Steven was unable to see this, at least initially. However, she soon reverts back to being pretty useless. Steven is definitely portrayed as quite the hero in this story. He has always shown a strong morality and a willingness to risk himself to save others, but those qualities are really emphasized here. He is clever (he finds a way to turn a light gun against the soldier firing it), decisive, fair, and brave.
Steven does, however, have one change that I didn’t think fit with his personality; he is rather negative about Dodo in this story. He usually has a parental attitude towards her, even if he is an exasperated parent. However, in this story, his attitude towards her has another element to it. After Dodo has wandered off, Steven begins to look for her, like one would look for a lost child. When one of the guides suggests that Dodo may be hiding as a joke, he says, “Not even Dodo would be as stupid as that!” It was interesting that he didn’t say, “Dodo isn’t stupid”, but instead is basically saying, “she’s not that stupid.” Not that I blame him, but he seemed very critical of Dodo in this story, when he had previously not commented on her foolish actions.
The Doctor’s storyline, however, is the most interesting aspect of this story. He has come a long way since the beginning of the series. Whereas in the beginning he would’ve been content to let the civilization go on, he now becomes outraged and wants to put a stop to the practice of transference. Not being able to see how William Hartnell delivered the lines, I wasn’t sure if the viewer was supposed to think that he had a plan when he criticized Jano. It seemed rather foolish of him to think that he could simply tell the society to stop the practice and there would be no repercussions for him and his companions.
However, the results of the transference of the Doctor’s life force into Jano made the later episodes of the story enjoyable. Jano wanted the Doctor’s intellect, but he ends up receiving his personality as well. Obviously, I couldn’t see Fredrick Jaeger’s impression of the Doctor, but it sounded spot on. He had William Hartnell’s delivery down, including the slightly indignant hmmms and harumphs with which Hartnell punctuates his speech. I imagine that it would have been amusing to see the way that Jano was periodically transformed into the Doctor immediately after the transference. The Doctor seemed to understand that this had happened, so maybe that was his plan all along, to transfer his conscience in to Jano.
Unlike Susan and Vicki, Steven gets a great send off. As I stated before, Steven really plays the dashing hero in this story, so it seems natural that he would be selected as the neutral leader who will unite the two sides. Instead of leaving to get married, like the female companions do, Steven leaves to rule a planet. Of course Steven was a bit more like Barbara and Ian (rather than Susan, Vicki, or Dodo) in that Steven was older when he began traveling with the Doctor and previously had a career as a space pilot. He had also spent time as the prisoner of the mechanoids, so he was used to being fairly independent and never wanted the Doctor telling him what to do. It was totally in character for Steven to leave the Doctor in this manner.
Although I felt that Steven was perfectly capable of ruling the planet, I did wonder if things were really going to turn out okay. Much like Susan and Vicki, Steven leaves in a time of upheaval, in which a civilization needed to be completely rebuilt. I wasn’t convinced that all of the people in the “advanced” civilization were going to be willing to accept being equals with the “savages.” It’s true that once they saw that the people they considered savages really weren’t that different from themselves, they might start to realize that it was wrong, as one of the guards had, but I thought that Steven had his work cut out for him. Of course if anyone would work hard to make sure that things became equal, it would be Steven, so maybe things worked out.
Overall, “The Savages” was better than I had anticipated. It was an interesting premise, even if the story didn’t completely live up to it. I didn’t think I’d be saying this when I first met the character, but I was sorry to see Steven go. The episodes that survive really aren’t the ones that show Steven at his best. In stories like this one, he is much more charismatic. Peter Purves has said that he would like to see the Doctor revisit the planet of the savages, to see how things turned out. Anyone up for the return of Steven?