Doctor Who episode 119: The Savages – Episode 1 (28/5/1966)

The change to umbrella titles rather than individual episode names goes hand-in-hand with a different emphasis: no longer is this just the latest instalment of an adventure in space and time, it announces itself as the first part of a new serial. It’s possibly just coincidence that this feels different from, say, The Steel Sky – but the Doctor already knowing where he is, and the presence of a welcoming committee, mean that the element of exploration and world-building that have previously been the hallmarks of Hartnell ‘space’ stories aren’t really evident here.

That’s not to suggest there is no mystery – but the mystery is why Stone Age, skin-clad ‘savages’ appear to co-exist with humans wearing Robomen hats and carrying light guns. In a sense, it’s a twist on The Time Meddler, where anachronistically futuristic artefacts existed in 1066. This time, it’s the presence of primitive humans in the distant future that’s perplexing.

Or at least, it is until about 15 minutes into the episode, when Jano, leader of the Council of Elders, reveal that they have discovered a sort of life-force vampirism, and are able to drain the vitality of a certain type of ‘animal’ to make themselves braver, wiser, stronger. As this reveal happens immediately after we’ve seen one of the City guards hunt down and capture the savage woman Nanina it doesn’t take much to work out exactly what’s going on.

Any lingering mystery is dispelled when a couple of minutes later the City scientists are observed finalising the transfer of energy from a savage man, and receiving Nanina in their laboratory. Which means that the story has set up exactly what’s going on, who the villains are, and how they operate within 20 minutes, without this apparently leading to any more interesting questions or jeopardy. Galaxy 4 managed to spin out the mystery of the Drahvins and Rills for a couple of weeks.

The most interesting thing about this episode is Dodo. At the outset, she waspishly mocks Steven for doing whatever the Doctor says (‘You’re a grown man. Or are you?’). Later, as the creepy City dwellers Avon and Flower take Steven and Dodo round their City, Steven is blandly accepting of this apparent paradise, while Dodo declares that she ‘hates conducted tours’, spots Nanina’s arrival in the City, and goes wandering off to investigate.

Without being able to appreciate Christopher Barry’s direction or the extensive location filming, we’re stuck listening to a script that consists of people either saying every single thing that happens to be in front of them, or downloading the plot. At one point Hartnell sounds like he’s stuck on repeat:

I know very well that you are far advanced than most planets. But how you achieve this, I know not. And let’s face it gentlemen, you are much advanced. Now, I would like to know how.

After watching this, I know how he feels.

Next episode: The Savages – Episode 2

2 comments

  1. Pingback: Doctor Who episode 118: The O.K. Corral (21/5/1966) | Next Episode...
  2. Pingback: Doctor Who episode 121: The Savages – Episode 3 (11/6/1966) | Next Episode...

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