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Doctor Who: The Savages

"You say SJW like it's a bad thing?"
Doctor Who: Intergalactic Social Justice Warrior!

Season Three, Story AA

Starring William Hartnell as the Doctor
With Peter Purves (Steven) and Jackie Lane (Dodo)
Written by Ian Stuart Black
Directed by Christopher Barry
Produced by Innes Lloyd
Script Editor: Gerry Davis

Broadcast Dates
  • Episode 1 – 28 May 1966 **MISSING**
  • Episode 2 – 4 June 1966 **MISSING**
  • Episode 3 – 11 June 1966 **MISSING**
  • Episode 4 – 18 June 1966 **MISSING**

How To Watch
  • Loose Cannon's reconstruction, taken from telesnaps, complete audio soundtrack, and a few surviving scraps of home-recorded film segments, is available here.
  • Audio soundtrack, with Peter Purves' narration, available


The TARDIS arrives on an unnamed planet, presumably in the far future, where they are greeted warmly by a race of humanoids who call themselves the Elders; they have tracked the Doctor's travels across time and space and are honored by his presence. While Dodo and Steven are given a tour, the Elder leader Jano explains to the Doctor how thanks to the distillation of life energy that the Elders then consume, they are able to increase their mental, physical, and creative powers to lead a leisurely, cultured existence allowing them great scientific and artistic achievement. While on the tour, Dodo slips away and discovers that the Elders' life energy comes at the expense of a race of "savages;" primitive humans that are regularly hunted by the Elder guards and subdued to have their life energy drained, then re-released to recover before being re-captured later.

Upon hearing the news from Dodo, the Doctor instructs her and Steven to return to the TARDIS to get a specific type of medicine. Jano and the Elders are quite confused at the Doctor's outrage; they claim all higher civilization is based on exploitation. The Doctor himself is next taken for processing; his life energy – the greatest they've ever monitored – is distilled. Jano opts to receive the Doctor's life energy, and indeed starts to take on aspects of the Doctor's personality.

Meanwhile Steven and Dodo are captured by the savages, mistaking them for Elders, and are about to be killed before one of the savages intercedes. The medicine they retrieved helps revive the processed savages. In their caves, Steven is shocked to discover the great artistry on their cave walls from the time before the Elders began their campaign of exploitation. Steven is able to overpower the guards pursuing them, though a young woman Nanina stops her comrades from killing them. Having seized the Guards' light guns, Steven rallies them to storm the Elders' city.

Between Jano suddenly growing a conscience and the savages' successful infiltration of the city, they rescue the Doctor and destroy the processing machine. The Savages and Elders select Steven to lead them into a united future, and he is persuaded to stay behind. Dodo and the Doctor depart in the TARDIS.

Notes and Observations

There are really only a handful of Doctor Who sci-fi plots, aren't there? Hostile aliens imperil the Earth and Doctor stops them, or Doctor assists the liberation of one alien race from the evil grip of another. (There is only one historical plot: Doc & Co survive for four episodes or so without dying or changing history) The climax, ultimately, is the restoration of ethical balance, usually by something blowing up real good.

Dear Doctor: Help plz.

"The Savages" is a fairly textbook exemplar of the liberation storyline, and it's also worth noting how far the needle has moved on the Doctor's moral compass since the first episodes. He was fine leaving the Thals behind on Skaro, reasoning "it's got nothing to do with us," until he realized the crucial McGuffin had been left behind in the Daleks' city. He and his companions are in the uncomfortable position of convincing the Thals to help them, and potentially overthrow the Daleks despite their inherent pacifism; not because it was the morally correct thing to do, but because it was self-serving, they needed their Fluid Link back.

There's no such ethical thicket here, and the comparatively facile plot means that it doesn't quite match up with a story like "The Daleks," nonetheless it's a model for the type of story we'd see repeatedly for another 20+ years: The Doctor as a warrior for intergalactic social justice. I do enjoy the zeal the Doctor expresses as the rejuvenation equipment is being wrecked, "You know, my dear, there's something very satisfying in destroying something that's evil, don't you think?"

This is also probably Dodo's finest moment. She's the one who gets suspicious of the Elders, she trusts her instincts, sneaks off, and soon discovers the truth.

And here we bid farewell to Steven Taylor; as a male companion he holds his own against Ian and Jamie and Ben. He served the necessary role of that era as the man of action (where the Doctor is the man of science and principle). And as departures go, it's a noble one. His leadership and knowledge are enough to make him a natural choice to build a bridge between the Savages and the Elders. Peter Purves has mentioned in interviews that he thought it would be an interesting idea for the Doctor to revisit the planet and meet Steven years later only to find that he'd become a ruthless despot... Steven's future as 'king' of the planet is told in the Big Finish Audio adventure "The Locked Room."

"Wake up, Billy, it's your line."

The story, as I noted, is a bit facile, and it's interesting to note that originally this story was going to be called "The White Savages," and the Elders were to be darked up. Jano does indeed have dark skin tone, but other than this, Ian Stewart Black's notion didn't make it to the screen. It would probably have been one of the more ham-fisted social comments of the early era.

This is the first story commissioned by the new production team of Innes Lloyd and Gerry Davis. Hartnell seemed to get along much better with them than with Wiles, to be sure, but the intentional sidelining of the Doctor continues apace. Evidently Lloyd and Davis were also looking for ways to continue the show with a new actor in the title role, and indeed, they would ultimately refresh the entire TARDIS team. Steven has departed, and by the end of the next story the Doctor would have an entirely new set of companions.

Haven't I Seen You...
  • Frederick Jaeger (Jano) would return as Sorenson in "Planet of Evil" and Professor Marius (original owner of K9) in "The Invisible Enemy"
  • Ewen Solon (Chal) would return as Vishinsky in "Planet of Evil"
  • Patrick Godfrey (Tor) would return as Major Cosworth in "Mind of Evil"
  • Robert Sidaway (Avon) would return as Captain Turner in "Invasion"
  • Kay Patrick (Flower) had appeared as Poppaea in "The Romans"
  • Clare Jenkins (Nanina) would return as Tanya Lernov in "The Wheel in Space" (and a cameo in "The War Games")

Sausage Factor: 86.7% (2 women out of 15 credited roles)

Rating: Three out of Four Light Guns
John Geoffrion is a semi-retired semi-professional thespian, a professional data guy, and a Dad. He usually falls asleep to the Classic Doctor Who channel on Pluto.tv

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this review and overview as I know very little about this one. I knew Steven left here, but not much else. I do hope all the missing stories get animated sooner or later, but this one is a fairly bog standard Doctor Who story to be sure, still sounds like it'll be decent enough at least.

    Steven is a great companion and I loved his interactions with Vicki, especially in the Time Meddler, and wish he could have lasted longer, but then poor Dodo had it far worse.


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