Aired 28 May – 18 June 1966
‘The Savages’ is possibly the most unknown and unheralded of Doctor Who’s third season, yet another story that only exists in audio format. With a strong display of morality interlaced with rather satisfying action and drama, though, as well as the departure of another TARDIS stalwart, ‘The Savages’ certainly presents a rewarding experiences for those seeking out what remains of it.
As the Doctor and Steven continue their sort of tussle for dominance that mirrors their first story together nicely, the story presents a very novel and refreshing concept by having the Doctor be expected where he lands. The Elders of this unnamed planet, an extremely advanced race that the Doctor knew existed somewhere in this area of space, recognize the Doctor as the greatest expert on time and space. However, the Elders are not quite the benign people that they seem, sucking the very souls or life force out of individuals to achieve their means. While Jano tries to explain that they get the best aspect of those that they choose to represent their society, the Doctor sees through this charade and even stops Captain Edal from abusing one of the planet’s savages.
It is during these scenes of morality that William Hartnell truly shines, giving one of his strongest performances as his actions wholly support the strong belief in righteousness and justice he holds so dear. The man who was once hesitant to even interact with his surroundings is overtaken by rage, the ritual sacrifice of even one soul too much for him as he attempts to destroy the experiment’s machinery. Even knowing that he is putting his own life in danger, he refuses to shy away from those in control, and fights all the way as he himself is dragged into the machine.
It is no secret that there were notions of replacing Hartnell among the production staff at the time, and this psychological element provided them with another potential reason for doing so after opting not to recast as the Doctor returned to this reality at the end of ‘The Celestial Toymaker.’ Though this again did not occur, full credit must be given to Frederick Jaeger for taking on the personality quirks of Hartnell’s Doctor wonderfully as he grapples with the resultant multiple personalities within his head, the Doctor within him still wanting to destroy the machine while his own essence wants to save it. Even when disembodied, the Doctor has a strong enough force of will to assert moral control over others, saving Steven along the way before reveling in his eventual destruction of the evil machine, a portent of sentiments that would become a mainstay for the character in the future.
Peter Purves again offers an outstanding performance as Steven Taylor. Though he has come to accept the counsel of the Doctor through his travels, he has at the same time become a very intelligent and resourceful man who is unafraid of being guided by his heart. He gets some fine moments as he takes command at various points through this story, but his decision to stay to help rebuild an entire civilization feels completely earned, albeit a bit rushed as most early companion departures do. For once, however, the Doctor is fully supportive of one of his friends leaving him, proclaiming that Steven is the perfect man to take on such a massive and honourable undertaking. The final farewell is a fitting scene of mutual respect, and ‘The Savages’ is certainly a strong way for Steven to exit.
Although once more the script doesn’t quite know how to integrate Jackie Lane’s Dodo successfully, she does get to act out a few moments to juvenile defiance and curiosity that are actually quite successful and well done. Otherwise, though, the overall production is quite successful and bold. The existing telesnaps showcase a sense of perspective and depth to the filming and camerawork that was quite rare for this era of the programme, and the incidental and background music is wonderfully atmospheric. Though the metaphor of the upper class sucking the life out of the lower class isn’t the most subtle, this horror-laden morality tale- even with its televised format missing- has all of the elements of a very successful Doctor Who tale that showcases the Doctor and Steven exceedingly well while providing a poignant farewell to the latter.