Hasslein Blog: Doctor Who Retro Review: Serial 026—The Savages


Hasslein Blog

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Doctor Who Retro Review: Serial 026—The Savages

By T. Scott Edwards

The Savages is another of those much-maligned serials, tragically, since it is, once again, one which is missing in its entirety. And again, this is a pure travesty. After the questionable validity of some claims that certain serials are brilliant, but with no evidence either for it or to the contrary, comes yet another lost story which, again, sounds fabulous. There are one or two moving moments, but overall this is another audio with a few telesnaps.

The first thing of interest about this serial is the lack of individual episode titles, which is both a good and bad thing – whilst it ensures the audience know exactly what they are watching throughout, and it saves confusion arisen from naming crises such as "which one is The Mutants?", I can't help but feel that it takes a dash of the fun out of the thing in future episodes, where we are consciously aware that it's "a Dalek story!" well in advance of the tin-pot terrors ever turning up. Having said that, the rise in popularity since the show started pretty much guaranteed to ruin any shock factor anyhow, with the Radio Times often featuring them anyhow, and destroying spoilers. But more on that in the future – yes, I'm talking about you, dinosaurs!

The incidental music for this serial is simply magnificent, and the use of strings is wonderful – at times majestic, and often contrasted with a fuller, more melodious tune, it is at its most effective during the Savage attack in episode 1. Throughout, though, Raymond Jones' score complements the serial beautifully.

The stark contrasts are not just on the score, though, and from what we can tell the differences between Savages and Elders is rather striking – against the quarry backdrop which will become such a trademark of Doctor Who in the future, with some wonderful location filming, the Savages look positively horrific, brandishing their spears with gusto and dressed in their finest cloth bags. To juxtapose this, the Elders are dressed wonderfully in magnificently luxurious tunics.

The Elders themselves are fascinating, and bring a new dimension to the mythos of Doctor Who. These days, we take it for granted too readily that the Doctor is a known entity, the oncoming storm, the predator, or whatever the new series decide to obscurely call him. Here, though, for the first time, the Doctor and his team arrive somewhere new, and they are known. Well, the Doctor is, at least. And far superior to any of his new names, the title bestowed upon him by the elders could not be more fitting – "the Traveller from Beyond Time". It is grandiose, mightily powerful. The scenes of Hartnell's flattery is wonderfully played, too, with Hartnell playing the coy object of desire wonderfully – of course, it's all an act, but he plays it with a great deal of conviction, and the audience are genuinely wrong-footed.

My only issue with this serial, really, is the bizarre decision to have Frederick Jaeger black-up for the role. As far as I can tell, none of the other Elders are wearing black-face – although the photos are grainy and some impossible to interpret, so I may be wrong – and, whilst the working title of the serial was "The White Savages", and the xenophobia on display here is far more unnerving than that seen in serials like The Daleks and The Ark, there doesn't seem to be any real reason for it. The precise reason that this serial works is that, whilst in earlier stories the victims of the racism of others have always 'looked different' (whether they be humanoid in contrast with the Daleks or have only one eye and no natural voice box), here, instead, we are faced with racism far more specific – they look exactly the same, save for their clothing. They hate each other for no reason other than one group lives indoors, with technology, whilst the others are outside, dirty and living in caves. It's a far more stark reflection of the sort of persecution seen in World War II than a bunch of Daleks waving their arms around, and far more subtle too.

The Elders are marvellously performed, too – the naivety and innocence of Robert Sidaway and Kay Patrick as Avon and Flower is wonderful, and again the juxtaposition between their wide-eyed wonder at the magnificence of their lives and the scenes in which the Savages are dragged away begging for their lives is all rather unnerving. In fact, the entire premise is rather unnerving – the Elders live their grandiose lifestyle simply by absorbing the life essence of the Savages captured from outside the city walls. What makes it so disturbing, though, is the genuine enjoyment and satisfaction which we can see on the faces of the scientists. They don't even realise that they're the bad guys. And that's just so horrific.

Jackie Lane is given the chance to shine again in this serial, which is great – in episode 2 in particular, Dodo is given some backbone, some panache. She is, somehow, written as the bright one, able to see through the facade of the Elders and their dirty work. She also manages to help to bring the mistreatment of the Savages into the open, leading Hartnell to deliver one of his best performances yet. When given a great actor to come up against, Hartnell thrives, and with Jaeger his scenes are fantastic – the disgust he shows for the experiments are wonderful, and his comparison of the Elders to the Daleks is superb.

The cliffhanger at the end of episode 2 is wonderfully chilling – as "The life force is drawn out of him" – but sadly it brings us back to that issue I have with Season 3; Hartnell's relegation. Finally, last serial, he was back in the foreground, actively leading the serial and shining. Here, though, as with The Celestial Toymaker and a number of earlier serials, he has been put to one side. Unlike earlier serials, though, where at least he was treated to a holiday, the poor man is forced to still be present for all rehearsals, and forced to endure the long day of filming – despite not being given one line of dialogue. Instead, he is rendered catatonic for much of it, occasionally uttering an unnerving moan or groan.

It does lead into an interesting moment, though – Jaeger's Jano has Hartnell's life-force imbued upon him, and within moments, he is impersonating Hartnell's Doctor, all "hmm"s and "eh"s. It is an interesting performance – a caricature of the character which we have all come to love. It is an interesting experiment, too, to see how the production team are able to replace Hartnell. Whilst we are near the end of the third season, Troughton does not enter until the third serial of the fourth, so Hartnell's tenure remains, but due to his worsening illness and grouchiness on set, the crew were constantly looking for ways to replace him. In The Celestial toymaker, they had toyed with the idea of replacing him with another actor once he rematerialised. Here, though, we are seeing the Doctor's conscience and soul being transferred into another body. Fortunately, it was the former idea which stuck, and his regeneration in season 4 is far more tolerable. Indeed, had they stuck with the idea of having a new actor simply impersonating Hartnell, the series would never have run for nearly 50 years. It is the very different take which each actor has as the Doctor which keeps the show feeling so fresh and original. Having said that, it would be lovely to be able to see just how Jaeger changes his posture and mannerisms once Hartnell's life force has been transferred – allegedly, Hartnell himself spent hours tutoring Jaeger.

There are some wonderful moments for the Doctor's companions this week, too – the ideas of using mirrors to deflect the light guns is wonderful, and the escape scene, heading through narrowing tunnels, sounds like it was fantastically claustrophobic to watch. The way in which Steven and Dodo are able to see the inherent beauty in the Savages' culture is also lovely, and allows some depth to Dodo in particular.

The final episode is wonderful – Hartnell returns to form, and is excellent as he is proactive; first, stopping the group from murdering Jano on a hunch (one which is later proved correct), he shows his intelligence by reasoning that if they took some of his life force, his very essence, then it stands to reason that he will also have absorbed some of the Doctor's conscience. What I love most about this idea is that it cements what we have witnessed over the last 3 seasons; Hartnell's character has grown, thanks for the most part to his companions. He has matured, mellowed, and is now far more conscientious than he ever was when we first met him trying to brain a caveman with a rock. It is this very kindness which saves the outsiders, and brings the culture of the Elders to its knees, although not alone.

It isn't just this conscience within Jano – the Doctor and his companions force the Elders to stop the experiments by using brute force, destroying the technology which allows the dreadful experiments to occur at all. It is magnificent – usually looking for peaceful solutions, hearing Hartnell swinging into computer monitors and vats of bubbling liquids is great, and then the others join in too!

Ultimately, though, we reach the end – not only of this serial, but of the Doctor's acquaintance with one of his finest companions, Steven. It is a fitting end for Purves, though – after months of proving his versatility as a performer, he has also shown a wide variety of nuances of his character too. From slapstick comedy to singing, from well-meaning moraliser to angry wanton destruction, Steven covers every trope a companion should with great aplomb, and for him to be left here, on this nameless planet, helping to create a truce between the two factions, seems fitting. The farewell is emotional, as Jackie Lane again shows the potential of her character as she bids a fond farewell to him. But it is Hartnell who once again steals the scene – firstly assuring him that he is "ready for this task", and then soon after uttering the touching accolade "I'm very proud of you". It is a moving, and bittersweet moment, and Steven's character arc is brought to a close wonderfully – from his origins in The Chase as prisoner of the Mechonoids, he was rescued from a desolate planet, and he has now been returned to one, this time with the power to change it for the better using all he has learnt from the Doctor.

And so, The Savages and the Elders are united, and the Doctor and Dodo head off across the barren wastelands and back to the TARDIS, ready for whatever awaits them...

Scott Edwards is a teacher of English and Theatre Studies at Barnard Castle School in the North East of England, with a BAHons in English Literature and Film Studies. He is also a self-professed ‘ming-mong,' and in addition to timelordapprentice.blogspot.co.uk he also runs facebook.com/Classic.Doctor.Who. You can also follow him on Twitter: @TimelordTSE.

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