5 May 2013

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 125: The Savages, Episode One

Dear diary,

The recently released Doctor Who Magazine special, which reprints a number of First Doctor-era teles naps (which I’m using to supplement the narrated soundtrack for this story) features an introduction for this story by Jonathan Morris, which describes The Savages as having 'the dubious distinction of being the lest-known Doctor Who story’. You know what? He’s not wrong.

There’s several eras of Doctor Who with which I’m not all that familiar. I can rattle off the order of stories pretty well for the most part, but Seasons Fifteen and Seventeen often get a bit muddled in my mind, for example. Ditto the latter few bits of the Hartnell era. I know now that it runs Savages / War Machines / Smugglers / Tenth Planet, but for a long time, this one and The Smugglers were pretty interchangeable in my mind. They both begin with ‘S’, they come at the tail end of the First Doctor’s tenure, and they don’t exist at all. Easily forgotten.

Add to that the fact that I don’t really know anything about this story - it features some people in heavy ‘old age’ make up, and Steven departs, that’s all I could tell you – and it doesn’t really shoot very high on my list of most anticipated stories. Which is a shame, really, because this first episode is brilliant!

I love it when this happens. I’ve sat down to listen to the first episode, not really knowing what to expect from the story, and I’ve been gripped from the word ‘go’. There’s a lot of the feeling of a Season One story in here – the Doctor and his companions arrive on a strange alien world which may not be where they think it is. The Doctor goes to explore (a concept that I praised quite a lot during An Unearthly Child and The Daleks), before they’re captured by the natives.

Once inside their city, the trio are treated like royalty. In many ways, it put me in mind of Morpheton from The Keys of Marinus, and despite what you might be thinking… that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Enough time has passed since then for me to quite enjoy it feeling similar in tone.

Crucially, though, there’s an added extra level to the proceedings here. The Elders of this civilisation aren’t just reacting to the arrival of the Doctor and his companions – they’ve been actively waiting for it: Plotting the TARDIS’ journey across time and space, and predicting his arrival (Interesting, since the ship until now has seemed fairly random in its landings. Is there a greater pattern to them that we perhaps can’t see?). It even leads to a great title being given to the Doctor - ‘You are known to us as the Traveller From Beyond Time’ – which helps to mythologise him even more to these people. It’s an interesting twist in the format, and one which really helped to drag me in pretty quick. I’ll be interested to see where they’re going with this, and if we discover any more about the way they’ve followed the Doctor’s adventures up to now (maybe they can pick up BBC transmissions, and his arrival was signposted by that week’s Radio Times?)

Steven and Dodo are paired away from the Doctor again, here. Surely they must be the companion team that spend the least amount of time actually with the Doctor? They’re relatively close-knit during The Ark, but spend only about ten minutes of The Celestial Toymaker together, and not a great deal more in The Gunfighters. Here, they’ve been separated as soon as we’re done with the cliffhanger reprise, and only briefly reunited later on.

It’s probably a good thing, then that they get plenty to do anyway. It’s through this pair that we first get our real exposure to the titular savages, and its via their tour of the city that we really get to see that there’s something sinister going on that’s neatly tucked away behind all this gloss and happiness. The best way I could think of describing it when Peter Purves’ narration talks of a guard slipping out of a concealed door was the ‘Utilidors’ at Disneyland – a hidden network of tunnels and staff areas tucked away from prying eyes for the use of the staff and accessed through secret doors dotted right across the park.

I’m hoping that the rest of the story continues in this vein – the Hartnell tale that I – probably – know the least about, and it could turn out to be the surprise hit of the run!

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