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The Savages. A satisfyingly ironic title for a Doctor Who adventure.

March 2, 2016

savages

“…every document of civilization is simultaneously a record of barbarism”

Walter Benjamin.

In 1966, the BBC decided to commission a Doctor Who story that would prove an extended commentary on this famous quote.

You can’t actually see this one any more.  It’s only available as a reconstruction – still photos creating a montage for the soundtrack.  Oddly enough I think I prefer reconstructions to animations.  You have to extrapolate more – but you are extrapolating from something real – as it were.

Worst moment – someone refers towards the end to “waiting for light years” as though light years were a measure of time rather than distance.  That one really brought out the enraged Sheldon Cooper in me.

Who are the “real” savages in this story?   It becomes a bit blindingly obvious and not a little heavy handed – but the basic fable of a “civilised “society that draws all its strength from the systematic exploitation of those it deems inferior has hardly lost its relevance.  Indeed, this adventure has something that I look for in all the best Doctor Who stories – a persuasively rendered sense of authentic evil.

In this world, the elite in their gleaming hi tech city have based both their scientific trajectory and lavish lifestyle on their ability to harvest the life force of hairy people wearing skins and living in caves.  They kidnap these hairy folk on a regular basis, suck them dry, and dump them back outside the city.

Now of course, this story is a bit clunky and obvious but it still packs something of a punch.  The importance of vilifying the people you’re exploiting is well made – the need to cultivate disgust for the untermensch, even when (especially when) you depend upon them for everything.  So what happens?  Well, the elite folk (the real savages eh? am I right? am I right?)  get greedy and decide to harvest The Doctor.  But their leader (Jano), having absorbed the Doctor’s potent life force, also absorbs some of his compassion, with the result that he ends up helping to dismantle the whole hideous system.

One of the most satisfying aspects of the Hartnell era is the range of music employed.  Raymond Jones composed a score which bristles with menace, helping to build tension and construct a soundscape that compensates for the necessarily limited budgets available for scenery and special effects.

And it’s goodbye to Steven who stays behind to help reconcile the abusers and the abused, the chair a sort of Truth and Reconciliation committee and build a new society pretty much from scratch.  In hindsight, Steven was a very underrated companion, a demanding and restless character who was never slow to answer back to The Doctor, never slow to hold him to some kind of a moral standard.  He was, in the best sense of the word – “lippy”.

 

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