Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...
Day 128: The Savages, Episode Four
Susan and David fell in love, sharing special moments in the heat of a Dalek conquest. Ian and Barbara spent almost two years trying to get back home, and finally managed it in a fully-functional Dalek time machine. Vicki remained in ancient Troy to convince her love that she hadn't betrayed him.
Katarina sacrificed herself to give her friends a chance at escape. Brett Vyon was wrongly shot down in cold blood by his own sister in the pursuit of justice, and she then met her fate when brought up against the might of the Daleks' Time Destructor.
Steven Taylor… was pretty much booted off the TARDIS when the Doctor saw an opportunity to get rid of him. Ah. Something's not right, there. When I started this story, I said that one of the two things I knew about it was that Steven departed in Episode Four. Had I not known that, though, and had just been watching through blindly… I don't think I'd have known this was his final tale. There's nothing wrong with the reasons for his departure: The Savages have seen enough from him to want him as their leader, and the Doctor concurs. But it comes from nowhere, and looking at the tele snaps, Steven himself even looks confused by the way things are unfolding.
Every time a companion has left the series so far (or, at least, in the case of the 'regular' companions, for which there;s no debate over), I've praised how well it's been handled. There's always plenty of little hints in the story that the time has come, and when we reach the end it only feels natural that they should be on the wrong side of the TARDIS doors when it departs. What this story needed was a few instances of Steven musing that there was a 'better way' to rule this planet, and a solution that would allow the two peoples of the world to live in peace.
We needed a few more moments of his imparting wisdom to the Savages, really stepping up and showing them that he knew what he was doing. As it is, we know he'll probably make a pretty good job of things, because we've been following his journey for some time now, but they've only known him for a few days! It's a shame to see the age of 'sudden departures' coming into play here (and even more prominently in the next story), knowing that it will stretch out across a good deal more companion exits in the future.
Before listening to this episode, I heard a Peter Purves interview online. I think it had been cobbled together from a number of sources, but it was pretty well done, and I certainly enjoyed it. In the interview, Peter made a statement that I've heard him say on a number of occasions before now - that he'd like the Doctor to return to the world of the Savages, and find that Steven has become a total despot. The more I think about it, the more I really like the idea, and I think it could work. It's almost needed as a counter balance to the sudden departure - Steven just doesn't know what he's doing, so he makes things worse. I'd love to hear something like this… maybe Peter needs to pitch the idea to Big Finish?
I'll speak about this episode as a whole in a moment, but first I want to just take a moment to think over how fantastic Steven has been in the series. For years and years, now, I've always simply listed Ian as being my favourite First Doctor companion. Having done his stories in order, followed by Stevens, though, I think it's fair to say that my allegiance has switched. I think it has something to do with the length of time that both characters have stayed with the TARDIS. By the end of Ian and Barbara's time in the series, I was just sick of them. I'd stopped enjoying their adventures, and I think it had a negative effect on the Second Series for me.
Steven has stuck around for just about half as long as those two did, and he leaves now with me wanting to see a bit more from him. I'm not really ready for him to go. Even if it's just another story or two, to round out the season, I'm keen to have more from him. That, I think, is the secret. Get the companion out before i tire of them. A similar thing happened with Amy Pond - while I was never overly keen on her from the beginning, by the time that Season Seven rolled around I'd just had enough. I didn't care about the character. Now that we've embarked on this second half of the series, with Janna-Louise lighting up the screen every week, it feels fresh and new. Fantastic.
On the whole, I think The Savages has been something of a surprise. It's never been a story that people often speak about, but rather just lump it in as part of the 'missing' episodes. It hasn't got the reputation of something like Marco Polo or The Web of Fear to pull it out from the crowd. Having just had a look at the DWM 'Mighty 200' poll from 2009, in which readers were asked to rate all the stories up to that point, The Savages came in at #162. Out of 200! Even Love & Monsters came in nine places higher, and a large proportion of fandom seems to hate that story!
I have to wonder if it simply is a case that people just don't know about this story. That's pretty much the boat I was in, knowing it was there at the end of Season Three, but not really knowing what it was about. In many ways, it's Doctor Who by numbers: and there's lots of similarities to other tales throughout (I've compared it to bits of The Keys of Marinus, The Space Museum, The Celestial Toymaker, and The Gunfighters over the last few days), and there's bits of it that will crop up so many times in the future of the programme (mostly the look of the TARDIS stood in the quarry) that it feels a bit like we've seen it all before… but everything here is done really very well!
I'm so desperately keen to give this episode an '8'. I've really enjoyed it on the whole, and the scene of people trashing the lab must have looked fantastic, but I just can't bring myself to do it. Letting Steven go so suddenly and with no warning is too unforgivable. I'll be lowering the score a little, but moving The Savages right up my list of 'stories I'd love to see recovered soon please'. Seems like a fair trade-off to me.