With the release of ‘Galaxy 4‘ this year, the era of William Hartnell animations is finally here. So let’s take a look at one of the Doctor Who missing episodes that might get the animation treatment: ‘The Savages.’
At a practical level, ‘The Savages’ has a lot to recommend it. BBC Studios haven’t yet commissioned any historical stories as animations, with science fiction tales higher up the agenda so far. While ‘The Daleks’ Master Plan‘ will be right at the top of many fans’ wish lists of Doctor Who missing episodes to get animated, at twelve episodes it would be an incredibly ambitious project.
Recent animations, particularly those from Big Finish Creative, have also sought to take full advantage of the medium to expand the visuals beyond what was possible in the cramped Lime Grove studios. The Euro Gas control room in ‘Fury from the Deep‘ became a cavernous space reminiscent of Dr. No’s lair in the Bond films, for instance, while the barren world of ‘Galaxy 4’ became a vast desert.
So ‘The Savages,’ a four episode high concept science fiction story where the action shifts from a utopian city of the future to a labyrinthine cave network via the wild lands between, seems ideally placed among Doctor Who missing episodes to be Hartnell’s next animated adventure. Despite all this, ‘The Savages’ is often one of Doctor Who‘s most overlooked stories, but it’s one that’s worth a closer look.
This is a story that throws the usual Doctor Who format in reverse, with even the Doctor initially taken in by the sweet words of the Elders
There are several things that make ‘The Savages’ stand out as unique. Along with ‘The Rescue,’ it’s one of the few times the First Doctor actually seems to know anything about the alien planet he’s landed on. And he’s very excited to be there, having heard stories of the sophistication and tranquillity of the civilisation that calls it home. Even more unusually, the aliens know the Doctor too. They lack time travel themselves, but are able to track movement through the time vortex, following the path of the Doctor’s many travels and ultimately predicting his arrival on their world.
This in turn upends the normal flow of a Doctor Who story. Typically the Doctor is either immediately identified as a threat by the villains of the piece, or mistakenly accused of some crime. Either way he usually starts off his investigations under a cloud of suspicion, or actually locked up. Instead he’s lionised as a hero by the Elders of the City, who award him many of their highest honours and tributes. So this time it’s a question of how long it will take the Doctor to see through their superficial benignity. And of just how badly they’ll react to his rejection of them.
‘The Savages’ continues to resonate today with its uncompromising depiction of class warfare on an alien world
The Elders have a terrible secret, and it’s one which makes for one of Doctor Who’s most direct condemnations of racism. While the xenophobia of monsters like the Daleks approached real world bigotry side on, here the subtext couldn’t be clearer. The Elders live in an almost literal ivory tower, where everyone is free to pursue and develop their gifts in science or the arts. Everyone is happy, and everyone is full of the vitality of life. But that vitality is literally, physically, being stolen from the people the Elders call “savages.”
Forced to live in the wild lands outside the City, the so-called savages live in fear, their only refuge a nearby complex of caves. As downtrodden, ragged and listless as the Elders are smug, opulent, and vivacious, they’re routinely hunted down by the City guard, and brought to a sinister laboratory where a portion of their life force is drained away and stored, ready to be transfused into the Elders. It’s as bald a statement about the parasitic nature of the upper classes, and the self-perpetuating nature of poverty as you’ll ever see in Doctor Who, the very method of their oppression leaving the victims unable to fight back.
Superb character actor Frederick Jaeger’s performance as, essentially, the Doctor in a new body is one of the era’s missing gems
‘The Savages’ is also remarkable in how it hints at replacing William Hartnell as the Doctor. As his arteriosclerosis worsened, Hartnell was becoming ever more irascible and unpredictable, as producer Innes Lloyd was actively exploring ways to replace him. ‘The Celestial Toymaker’ had already made the Doctor invisible, with one option considered being having a different actor became visible again a few weeks later.
And in these Doctor Who missing episodes, the Elder leader Juno (Frederick Jaeger) reacts to the Doctor’s condemnation by ordering the Doctor’s own life force extracted. The process leaves the Doctor a near mute shell, while as time passes Juno himself becomes more and more, well, Doctor-ish. It’s an opportunity for Jaeger to turn in an impressively accurate Hartnell impression.
Ultimately, the First Doctor wins a reprieve, with Hartnell staying in place until the following season’s ‘The Tenth Planet.’ The Doctor recovers from the experience, and Juno retains just enough of the Doctor’s personality to take his part in overthrowing the status quo. But Jaeger’s interpretation of the Doctor being lost from the archives is one of the bigger tragedies among the Doctor Who missing episodes. Animation might not capture his full performance, but it would bring his brilliant non-quite-Doctor to the widest possible audience.
Among the ranks of Doctor Who missing episodes, ‘The Savages’ is ripe for a reappraisal
This is also a strong episode for Dodo (Jackie Lane), and resurrecting this particular run of Doctor Who missing episodes might help rehabilitate fan opinion of the companion with the wandering accent. It’s Dodo who instinctively knows the Elders’ utopia isn’t all it seems, and it’s her who investigates and uncovers the truth while the Doctor and Steven (Peter Purves) are still in thrall of the City’s glitz and glamour. She also takes the lead in inciting those in the caves to finally take a stand.
For Steven this is also a pivotal story; in fact it’s his last. It’s a low-key affair by modern standards, with the Doctor recommending Steven for the task of being an independent mediator between the two groups as they rebuild their society together. But the surviving soundtrack and ‘telesnaps’ of these Doctor Who missing episodes suggest a bittersweet farewell, with a sad final backwards glance as Steven steps through a door and out of the Doctor’s life. It’s a moment that begs to be seen in motion at last.
When ‘The Enemy of the World’ was returned to the archives in 2013, it caused a reassessment of what had been an underrated story. There’s every sign that the same could happen with ‘The Savages’ if it ever turns up. But an animation would, without doubt, be the next best thing.
In the meantime, you can discover the story for yourself through the Telesnaps photonovel on the official BBC page dedicated to Doctor Who missing episodes. Is ‘The Savages’ high on list of missing episodes you’d like to see? Or do you have another choice? Let me know in the comments below.
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