Nestled between two popular stories that are complete in the archives, the missing Savages tends to get overlooked and doesn’t provoke much in the way of strong reactions. It is neither loved nor hated. If anything, it is forgotten, or as close to be forgotten as any Doctor Who story can get. I can see why this has happened, but it’s a shame because it is actually quite a significant one. It also baffles me that it is The Celestial Toymaker and not The Savages that has provoked the big racism controversy of recent years.
The original working title for this story was The White Savages and the Elders were going to be all blacked up. Sounds unpleasant? Well, the idea wasn’t dropped completely, because Jano was still blacked up, although the other Elders were not in the end. I suspect this was not a creative decision, but a practical one. Blacking up every Elder actor for each episode would have been hard going behind the scenes, and the alternative was to actually hire some dark-skinned actors. There was a problem with that: William Hartnell. In three stories’ time he made a big fuss about Earl Cameron being hired for The Tenth Planet, although they didn’t even have any scenes together. There is a wonderful interview with the centenarian Cameron in DWM 520 that covers all this. So the uncomfortable fact was that Hartnell was a racist. The even more uncomfortable fact is that he was far from being in a tiny minority in 1966.
The intention originally was to draw parallels with apartheid in South Africa. It would be lovely to be able to give the story the benefit of the doubt and view it as a parable about suppressing a racial group, a kind of: look, this is apartheid in reverse – see how you like it! But it’s not really doing that. This is a story of Jano and the Elders being shown as unfit to govern themselves. Their power is cruelly stolen from the white savages and without it they have nothing. It is uncomfortably close to The Ark, as two stories that show the failure of a dark-skinned race to self-govern fairly. To overlook this and then get in a huff about The Celestial Toymaker strikes me as odd, considering criticism of that story hinges on turning the volume up to the max to find an edited out word, and interpreting a word that appears twice in one episode as a piece of archaic American slang. There are about half a dozen Doctor Who stories where you can find racism if you want to seek it out, and The Savages is one of the worst offenders.
And I suppose we could try our best to overlook this, if it weren’t for the fact that the story is unremittingly sexist as well. Apart from Dodo we have two female characters of any significance: Flower and Nanina. Flower is basically a tour guide who Avon tries to protect. Nanina is objectified by the story, dressed up in a skimpy outfit and gets to show off her underwear when she is dragged down a corridor. Her function in the story is to be a victim: the character who we first see being captured and subjected to the vampiric machine. The men decide everything in The Savages.
Doctor, do you realise that with our knowledge we can make the brave man braver, the wise man wiser, the strong man stronger. We can make the beautiful girl more beautiful still. You see the advantages of that in the perfection of our race.
Brave man. Wise man. Strong man. Beautiful girl.
You could try to apologise for this because it is Jano saying it, but nobody gets called out on it. All of this is a terrible shame, because there is a lot of good stuff going on here as well. The idea of the Doctor now being such a force of nature and so widely travelled that his path through time and space can be tracked like a comet raises his mythical status in an interesting way. Like The Chase, which positioned him as somebody worth chasing by the Daleks, it sets him on the path to the big heroic, important character we know him to be today. And he is happy to play that role:
Oppose you! Indeed I am going to oppose you – just as in the same way that I oppose the Daleks, or any other menace to common humanity!
Jano’s comment that “all progress is based on exploitation” hits close to home and the story is actually an interesting rejection of the idea of the end justifying the means in the creation of a successful society at the expense of others. Importantly, the Doctor sets himself against this immediately, the minute he understands what is going on. This provides a useful balance against the blacking-up by showing the flaws in a society built on the exploitation of others and the dangers of dehumanization.
I doubt this is a story that would be much improved by the return of the visuals, beyond being able to appreciate a rare early example of location filming in a quarry and a sandpit, and the chance to appreciate those guard helmets in all their glory. But I still think it is a shame that it is so overlooked, because if nothing else it is very, very interesting. With the departure of Steven it also marks the point of a major transition. The last long-term Hartnell companion has gone, and Dodo’s story is virtually done as well, with only a couple more episodes before she is unceremoniously dumped from the series. Our remaining Hartnell stories will give us the last stab at a First Doctor historical story, and two stories that feel like they belong to a later era, so the majority of episodes beyond this point feel like the Troughton era arriving before Troughton does. The interesting bit will be seeing how Hartnell fits within this brave new world of Doctor Who, and we are about to get a little glimpse of what might have been. RP
The view from across the pond:
As I prepared to write about The Savages, I realized I couldn’t recall much about it. It is a lost episode with barely an image in existence but I was certain that I read the book. Of course, I read those books primarily between 1986-1990, so the likelihood of having a clear memory of them was pretty remote but surely something would pop up. Did I not own that book? Down to my library I went, and sure enough, there it was. The cover came back to me quickly, but that was it. So onto the online archives I went. And then it came back to me…
Maybe it was that it reminded me too much of The Time Machine that put me off this story. Not that I don’t like Wells’ classic, but The Savages felt like a weaker retelling of it. Yes, the Morlocks ate the Eloi and the Eloi were a peaceful people, whereas The Elders were intelligent and evolved humans draining the lifeforce of the Savages, while the Savages were more, well, savage but the idea still feels like a copycat. The Elders were like technologically empowered vampires draining that lifeforce, and even that we’ve seen before in countless movies. Granted, the most memorable for all the wrong reasons was probably Lifeforce, but it’s enough of the been-there-done-that attitude that I just didn’t love this story. Perhaps the far future setting contributed to the Eloi/Morlock struggle, although we never get confirmation that the Doctor is right about the time period. There’s also a bit of the Evil of the Daleks when you can transfer “the human factor” (or in this case “the doctor factor”) but Evil is such a memorable story that, by comparison, this one falls a little flat. The idea that the savages end by destroying the equipment by hand is noteworthy though. Rather apropos, all things considered.
I do like the idea that the Doctor is so well developed as a person that his attitudes would transfer along with his energy but it says very little about those savages that none of them felt any particular strength of conviction in anything enough to transfer those attitudes. Yes, the Doctor is an alien and we’ve seen the effect of time travel on the crew; exposure to the vortex and artron energy seem to have some side effects so maybe one is that the transfer process pulled more than just life force, but personality doesn’t seem like it could be pulled out of a person. What do I know? I’ve never had it done to me; maybe I’m wrong.
I do find it disappointing that we don’t have any scenes of this story considering Steven leaves at the end of it. All indications are that the Doctor lets him go like a proud father seeing his son take on a leadership role. And that is what Steven does; it’s a good ending for a strong character. Peter Purves played the part well; he was a good addition to the TARDIS crew and added to another top notch TARDIS team. Also of interest in this story is that the Doctor’s energy is drained. While it had a positive effect on Jano, it was still a loss for him and, story-wise, contributes nicely toward the Doctor’s depleting strength over the remaining few stories. It gives more credence to how exhausted he is by the time of The Tenth Planet. It was a long time coming, sadly. I was a huge fan of Hartnell’s Doctor.
There is also one thing about this story that, to the best of my knowledge, is never explained. When the Doctor and company arrive, the Doctor appears to have been expected and is called “The Traveler from Beyond Time”. Beyond another nod to the Time Traveler of Wells’ classic, we don’t know why they expected him. Now, I love a good mystery as much as the next guy, but what was this in reference to? Was it ever resolved? Is there still a remaining mystery from this lost episode? A mystery within a mystery, one might say! Always nice to find these little gems but perhaps we’ll never know! Or maybe he’s yet to make his first appearance with these guys, during one of his travels when he’s all alone?
Another classic lost in time, and perhaps another mystery as well… ML
Read next in the Junkyard… The War Machines