Doctor Who episode 121: The Savages – Episode 3 (11/6/1966)
Having drained the Doctor of his vitality, Jano is now plotting the same fate for Dodo and Steven. Which begs the question – was this what Jano planned all along (if so, it’s not clear from Episodes 1 and 2), or is this his response to their failure to appreciate the Elders’ benevolence? Did he track the TARDIS to his spider’s web, or is he trying to make the best of a bad situation?
Jano is arrogant, and cruel perhaps, but not cowardly. He’s the first to volunteer to receive the Doctor’s life energy – although again, as his motivations are murky it isn’t clear whether this is an act of self-sacrifice to protect the other Elders if things go wrong, or if this is a power play. Frederick Jaeger’s performance adds to the ambiguity – there’s no obvious gloating or overt villainy. He makes Jano inscrutable right up until he absorbs the Doctor’s life energy, at which point Jaeger does a creditable impersonation of the Doctor – capturing some of Hartnell’s vocal tics (the little ‘hmms’ and slightly vague line readings that pepper his dialogue), and – the telesnaps hint – even some of his mannerisms. He’s the most fascinating villain since Mavic Chen.
With Hartnell having an off week, and spending most of the episode lying down, the focus here is naturally on Steven and Dodo, who have joined the Savages in their cave temple, and are trying, in a very Doctor Who way (think Ian and the Thals or Vicki and the Xenons) to provoke them into a rebellion. These scenes give us some hint of backstory – the story takes place on an island, and the Savages seem to be its original inhabitants, ‘oppressed for so long’ by the Elders. Their ancestors were artists and builders, but the City has taken much of their strength and skill, and only their faith remains. All of which feels like Ian Stuart Black stretching the Socialist metaphor in the last episode to cover colonialism and the treatment of subjugated peoples, with the tricky conclusion that it’s only the arrival of other, kinder outsiders that can help the Savages to think and act for themselves.
The scenes of the City guard Exorse pursuing Steven, Dodo and Chal through narrow caves look suitably claustrophobic and scary, and there’s a nice use of Chekhov’s Mirror from the gift-giving ceremony. For the first time in the story, Steven takes the lead, turning the tables on Exorse, planning a smash and grab raid on the City, and pressing on impetuously when Dodo counsels caution – in a complete turnabout from their relative positions at the start of Episode 1.
In most respects, this feels like an archetypal Doctor Who part three of four. There are two sides, one good, one evil. The goodies are the oppressed, country-dwelling people, and the baddies are metaphorical vampires lurking in their sci-fi City. The Doctor and his friends inspire the oppressed to rise up, and take control of their own destiny. We’ve already seen something similar in The Daleks, and sort-of in The Dalek Invasion of Earth and The Web Planet, and it’s a fairly stock background for a lot of 1970s stories including Colony in Space, Death to the Daleks, The Face of Evil and State of Decay.
The interesting twist here is that the chief villain has effectively been transformed into the Doctor, while the Doctor himself has been left out of it, an incoherent zombie. The telesnaps of the cliffhanger – the Doctor uselessly slumped against a wall while his choking companions try to escape the City’s destructive vapours – look truly harrowing. From a disastrous start, The Savages is improving as it goes along.
Next episode: The Savages – Episode 4