7 May 2013

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

Day 127: The Savages, Episode Three

Dear diary,

You can sort of tell that we’re reaching the tail-end of William Hartnell’s time in the role, now. In the first couple of years, ‘holiday spotting’ was something that each character went through for maybe two episodes a season. Usually, it was a case of seeing which regular had the least screen-time, and spent it away from the others. Now, the Doctor is taking more and more time away from the screen. He is in this episode, but he doesn’t really do a whole lot more than groan a bit.

I made a similar point during The Gunfighters, that the Doctor seemed to be carrying less and less of the action – and obviously The Celestial Toymaker sees him invisible for a large chunk of the time. There’s a real sense of the Doctor (and Hartnell) starting to slow up, which is a real shame. After the heights he’s hit at points recently (I’m thinking mostly of how fantastic he looks during some of The Time Meddler and Masterplan) I’m sad to see him being whittled down.

It means that we’ve got today, as in The Celestial Toymaker, a chance to think about replacing him. There we had the suggestion that he may come back as a different actor, here it’s seeing how another actor may take on the part, while still playing it in the style of Hartnell himself. Frederick Jaeger does a great job of impersonating the Doctor: I was stood giggling to myself for a while as it happened. It really is spot-on as impressions go, and it works quite well. It’s an interesting idea for the transference, though are we to assume that this doesn’t happen when they transfer the Savages? It’s only because the Doctor is a time traveller, or at least a ‘higher’ life form?

Fun as it is to see here on this occasion, I can’t imagine anyone playing the part as Hartnell’s Doctor for any sustained period of time. It’s a very good impression, but it’s just not him. The biggest shame is that, after today, we’ve only got another thirteen episodes before he leaves, so I want to soak up as much Hartnell as I can before then – to misquote the Tenth Doctor, I don’t want him to go!

Still, Hartnell not being in the episode much means that Peter Purves and Jackie Lane are left to carry the majority of the episode. The Wife in Space blog once made a point that they ‘should have called the show Ian’. At this stage, they might as well be calling it Steven. It wouldn't last all that long (I know he's off in the next episode, even if this story has yet to signpost it!), but it's good enough, 'cos I'm still really liking Steven as a companion.

I was worrying yesterday that things were about to take a sharp downturn, with not enough plot to sustain the remaining 50-minute running time of the story. Thankfully, that's not yet happened, and it's been averted by clever use of… Episode Three Syndrome!?! I'm sure I've spoken about this before, but I always think that three episodes is the optimum length for most of 20th-century Doctor Who. There's more than a few of the four-part stories that could stand to lose about an episode's worth of material from the latter half.

I tend to call it 'Episode Three Syndrome' - that feeling that you need to fill twenty-five minutes of screen time before the climax, so you mostly have the characters running up and down corridors, getting captured and escaping, and ending the episode in more-or-less the same position that they started in.

Here, all of that happens. Steven and Dodo are pursued by the guards all the way to the cave homes of the Savages, who help to shelter them, and lead them down a tunnel in an attempt to hide. They're followed all the way, though, until a guard has them cornered… and they escape! They hurry back to the city to free the Doctor, who is still begin held in the lab. They retrieve him, take him out into the corridor, where they're then gassed and are under threat from a deadly gas.

Most of this could probably have come at the start of Episode Four in a (very) condensed form: Steven and Dodo are helped by a Savage to enter the city, they rescue the Doctor, but then get gassed. It really works, though. It allows us to see more of the Savages as a people and helps to give them more depth. It's also a good thing that the tele snaps make their caves look impressive. We've seen Christopher barry directing in caves before, and he's always done a good job of it, but this looks much better than I'm used to.

And then all the stuff in the corridor at the end looks fantastic, too. I've already praised the design of this corridor in previous entries, but it looks great with the smoke billowing down it. The scene is then enhanced by William Hartnell's performance. I know I've said all he really does is stumble around and groan a lot, but looking at the tele snaps… how un-nerving does he look? There's one particular shot (It's the fourth one from the end of page 65 in the new DWM special, for anyone following along at home), where he's stood between Steven and Dodo, and he's completely out of it.

It almost looks as though he's had a stroke, and it's a state that we've never seen the Doctor in before. It'd unsettling, and really helps to sell the threat of the transference to us. Forget the Daleks, this is what you should be scared of. Anything that can do this to the Doctor is not good…

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