Tuesday, 23 April 2013

The Savages written by Ian Stuart Black and directed by Christopher Barry

This story in a nutshell: A world of peace and prosperity isn’t quite the paradise that the Doctor claims to be…

Hmm: Hartnell shows none of his supposed tiring in this story (well not until he has his soul torn from his body and that is deliberate) as the Doctor marches off determined once again to prove Steven wrong in their perpetual game of tug of war. It's nice that Steven’s first and last story start in a similar way proving that no matter what they have been through together boys will be boys). It shows a different way of looking at the series – the Doctor no longer accidentally drops in on past events and future locales but is actually expected by the people he has found himself amongst. The very thing that I was complaining about in my review of The Wedding of River Song – that the Doctor has become a bit too well known and celebrated – felt fresh and exciting back in days when the Doctor was taking his first steps into the universe. The Elders recognise the Doctor as the greatest specialist in time/space exploration and in turn he always knew that a race existed of great intelligence in this segment of the universe. Jano attempts to excuse their life sucking secret by suggesting that they get the best out of those who are chosen to represent their society but the Doctor is having none of it. Blissfully the Doctor prevents Edal from abusing one of the savages and declares that they are men like them and deserve respect. He is a real advocate for justice now and will have none of this ritual exploitation. The sacrifice of even one soul is far too great for the Doctor and he plans to tear down their disgusting experiments – he truly is a force for good now and a force to be reckoned with when he’s angry. There is a strength of conviction in his abilities that reminds me of the tenth Doctor and his ‘I am the Doctor’ speeches only a million times more effective because it is through his actions rather than clumsy speeches. Hartnell is on fire during these sequences, grasping his lapels and standing up to Jano’s authority regardless of what they might do to him. Despite the fact that he is in very great danger it doesn't hold him back. He refuses to submit to their nauseating experiments and he literally has to be dragged into the machine. Perhaps the producers will finally get their wish and remove the star from the show, the cliffhanger to episode two certainly seems to be the end for him. I admire the bravery of having Frederick Jaeger taking on Hartnell’s personality quirks, it adds a psychological dimension to the story and would have proven an ideal solution to recasting the Doctor had this been the point that they had wanted to achieve it. Like the possibility of the Doctor returning to reality in a different guise in The Celestial Toymaker, this is an intriguing portent of the regeneration to come. Jaeger does a damn fine Hartnell impression (the ‘hmms’ and ‘my boys’ are all there but it is the way he rests his fingers on his lips that seals it for me) but it is clear that nobody can capture the magic of the first Doctor quite like the Hartnell (as was already proven by Peter Cushing's sweet but ineffective attempts). Its going to take a whole new actor with a whole new approach to take the reins from Hartnell and push the show in a new direction. Trust Doctor Who to take a subject as powerful as schizophrenia and relay it to the audience in such a clear and succinct way. Jano grasps with the two personalities in his head; one, the Doctor, attempting to smash the life extracting machinery and the other, himself, trying to stop him. Jano has Steven well within his sights but with the Doctor’s mind enclosed around his own (in this battle of wills it is clear who is taking the lead) he cannot harm his friend and he falters. Even with his soul torn from his body the Doctor  is strong enough to prevent them from killing Jano when they have the chance. The Doctor shows signs of the anarchist that he is to becomes when he gets in on the fun tearing the machinery to pieces and stating that there is something very satisfying about destroying something that is evil! Steven doubts his ability to take on such a mammoth task at the climax but the Doctor’s absolute conviction in his abilities makes this one of the most touching farewells. Its not two people torn away from each other, or someone falling in love – its two men who have had to depend on each other solely as they went through hell and back together saying goodbye. The Doctor is like a proud dad who can see his son has finally become a man and its beautiful as he grants him his independence. This is one of the most subtle goodbyes between Doctor and companion and is only matched by the fifth Doctor's similarly quiet but touching farewell to Turlough.

Aggressive Astronaut: I think I am quite in love with Steven Taylor and certainly with Peter Purves’ portrayals and I think I would have been quite heartbroken at the end of this story when he decided to leave the Doctor if I were watching at the time. Early indications that he might be about leave comes as soon as they leave the TARDIS and Dodo tells Steven that he is a grown man and he doesn’t have to do everything the Doctor tells him. Whilst she may have a point Steven certainly seems to have learnt that sticking close to his older companion and listening to his advice is the safest way through their adventures. Steven is intelligent enough to realise that other civilisations haven’t made the kind of advances they have and that there has to be secret to making it so successful. Chal shows deference to Steven almost immediately (perhaps because he shows Chal some respect – Steven has come to accept the consul of wise old men) and you can see his position amongst the savages being solidified come episode three. Steven armed with a light gun, screaming ‘Do as I say!’ to Dodo and standing his ground to give his friends the chance to escape – he’s now a confident, resourceful young man that no longer needs the Doctor’s guidance. Jano says that the man they need to lead them into a future of co-operation must inspire trust and his judgements must come from his heart even more than his head. If you could say anything about Steven Taylor it is that he always follows his heart – that was why losing Katarina and Sara was so hard on him. He refuses, naturally, since he cannot imagine a life without the Doctor after everything they have been through. For once the Doctor wholeheartedly endorses a companion leaving him saying it is a great honour and an exciting challenge to help build an entire planet. It's not until the Doctor tells him that he is quite ready for this task that he accepts the role.

Dead as a…: The funny thing about Dodo is that whilst she was never the most successful of companions (for breadth of backstory and her ability to convince as a person in her own right she might the least successful companion - I simply cannot see this person functioning outside of these adventures) it is other peoples reactions to her that give her her most successful moments. She is at her best when paired with Steven and Purves somehow makes Lane’s performance a credible one. The Doctor says his two companions are very pleasant apart from ‘juvenile exuberance’ which must be aimed at Dodo! She should have kept hold of that mirror inlaid with real diamonds and she could have made a fortune selling that back in 1966. I enjoyed her inquisitiveness in this tale (some would call it being nosy but there is a corrupt government to bring down so her instincts ultimately prove legitimate). Stoic defiance brings out the best in Jackie Lane and she proves a feisty lass once she is caught observing the life sucking procedure and threatens to smash all the equipment if they come anywhere near her. When the Doctor infects Jano describes Dodo as ‘the child with the ridiculous name’ which sadly might be the kindest thing anybody has ever said about her character. Now Steven isn’t around any more to make her character plausible it wont be long before she is for the chop.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I am going to oppose you just in the same way that I oppose the Daleks or any other menace to common humanity! Human progress, sir. How dare you call your treatment of these people progress!’
‘You wanted my intellect. You got it and along with a little conscience, hmm?’

The Good: Christopher Barry has always been a director that has tried to push the resources of Doctor Who to make the story look as good as possible and The Savages opens on a vertiginous shot of the TARDIS taken from above, nestled in a bleak featureless landscape. Location work was still something or a rarity at this point so to have so much lavish film work is something of a novelty and the telesnaps show that Barry knew how to get the best out of his location. In particular he manages to frame scenes so guards are standing atop mountainous ridges in the foreground with the characters fleeing towards the camera giving a rare depth of vision and sense of scale to a Hartnell story. He reverses the effect from the top of the ridges looking down into the valleys as well. I love the music in this story, Raymond Jones enters the world of Doctor Who with ambitions to make this story as exciting and affecting as possible and deploys the violins and oboe to fantastic effect. I particularly like the violins trembling wistfully as Steven and Dodo explore the city and the discordant twangs as Nanina tries to escape the guards. Its unusually atmospheric for a time where something more unsubtle and melodramatic was the norm. A long time before Love and Monsters and its parody of Doctor Who fans you had the Elders who have been charting the Doctor’s adventures from galaxy to galaxy! I bet they have long laborious conversations about which companions are the best and discuss in minuscule detail the hints the Doctor has made about his home planet and where it could possibly be. The Doctor causally sits around with the Elders like an ex Doctor Who actor at a convention bar having plaudits thrown his way. I can't decide whether Edal and Excorse standing around bitching about the action are a Shakespearean double act or a Douglas Adams comedy duo but their commentary is quite amusing. Barry also shoots from the ceiling down on the sets which gives a great perspective and highlights Stuart Walker’s masterful creations in their entirety. Take a look at the full size telesnaps for the end of the episode and the exquisite lighting along that corridor Dodo is pursued down – it black and white makes a standard Doctor Who cliche (horror in the corridors) a surprisingly nightmarish prospect. Scenes like Nanina screaming for help as she is shoved into the machine that drives the life force from her are genuinely frightening and give this morality tale a horrific backbone. It isn’t a very subtle metaphor for the exploitation of the poor but having this rich and prosperous society vampirically sucking the life out of its lower class citizens is such a rich and dramatically satisfying premise it is ripe for the Doctor to harshly object and bring the whole messy business to an end. There is a very exciting chase sequence in part three through some caves and tunnels that are lit evocatively by firelight so that all that can be seen is the actors faces in flickering shadows as they are pursued. It looks and sounds claustrophobic with just the telesnaps and the soundtrack to go on so I shudder to think how exciting the moving visual were. Sometimes all it takes is for one person to step up and protect the enemy and Nanina proves real strength of character by not allowing her people to harm Exorse. That is the reason he refuses to betray them once he has escaped. Two acts and the first faltering steps towards peace. There is something extremely satisfying about the savages being able to violently smash the equipment that has been feeding from their life energies to pieces. Its much more personal than a bally great explosion!

The Bad: The guards look an awful lot like cut price Robomen and considering the Robomen look pretty cut price to start with that’s hardly an endorsement.

The Shallow Bit: I have no idea what a Reacting Vibrator is but it sounds like I should find out. The Doctor enjoys the attention of the ladies once his is glammed up in the Elders robes, the old rogue! According to Dodo he’s really ‘with it’ now! Nanina is a bit of a fox and wearing little but savages rags shows a lot of leg as she runs about the quarry. Steven is in a tight black top in his last story and looks more dashing than ever.

Result: Massively underrated and practically forgotten by fandom, The Savages is a terrific morality tale directed with real class. The simple premise of the prosperous leeching from the savage works a treat because it allows the Doctor to do what he does best – protect the underdog and bring down a vampiric regime. All three regulars are treated to some fine material; the Doctor is at his domineering best as he confronts a society of hypocrites, Steven fights against the role of an action hero and leaves the series as a thoughtful man embarking on a tough new life and even Dodo gets to show some curiosity and bravery. Having Frederick Jaeger’s Jano take on the personality of the Doctor halfway through the story was a fascinating move and the way the Doctor steers the events of the story even when he is unconscious shows the strength of his will. I find Christopher Barry an underrated director and his best stories (The Daleks, The Daemons) see him pushing the limits of what the show can achieve visually whilst always giving the actors some room to showcase their talent. The Savages looks gorgeous with plenty of engagingly shot location work, fine sets and atmospheric lighting and the music by one off composer Raymond Jones gives the story a fresh, dynamic feel. It’s a tragedy that none of the episodes of this story exist because if people could see the damn thing I think it might be re-evaluated in a far more positive way but even as an audio the clear storytelling, moral ambiguity and psychological angle make the running time simply fly by. A fond farewell to Peter Purves who has performed wonders with his role of Steven Taylor and become my favourite male companion in the bargain: 8/10


Anonymous said...

I wonder is there somebody who likes Dodo? Even Susan is better in my opinion, especially older Susan from audios.
Pity that this story is survived only as reconstruction.

Anthony Pirtle said...

This story reminds me of Star Trek's The Cloud Minders, with the rather more insidious twist that it's the lower classes themselves that are being mined for resources. This is a great story and a fitting farewell for Steven. I'm not sure any companion has gotten so a great retirement package as an entire planet to rule. I love Purves' idea that the Doctor should have come back to find that he'd set himself up as a despot. That would have been brilliant.