Doctor Who: The Savages

The episode “The Savages” is significant for several reasons. It was the first episode to have one single title for its multiple parts – earlier “episodes” had completely separate names for the individual parts, and no clear name for the unified story that was told across them. It also was, I believe, the first time the Doctor reached a planet and was clearly already famous there and welcomed on his arrival (just as the Doctor was aware of them):

EDAL : We have come to welcome you.

EXORSE : It is a great honour to have you visit our planet.

DOCTOR : Oh yes, I see. Well, I am expected. Do you know who I am?

EDAL : Not your name, of course. But our space observers have their own name for you.

DOCTOR : Oh, and what might that be?

EXORSE : You are known to us as the Traveller from Beyond Time.

DOCTOR : I see, and how would you expect me here and now?

EXORSE : The Elders of our city have been plotting the course of your space-time ship for many light years. They estimated your arrival some time ago.

DOCTOR : I see. Well that’s very clever of them.

It also tells an intriguing tale with a clear moral point, about the benefits and the cost of building a flourishing civilization for some on the back of exploitation of others. When the Doctor discovers that his hosts have created their perfect society by improving their own vitality by sapping it and transferring it from others – the “savages” of the title – he takes a stern moral stance against them:

JANO : We do not understand you, Doctor. You who have accepted our honours gladly. How can you condemn this great artistic and scientific civilisation because of a few wretched barbarians?

DOCTOR : So your rewards are only to the people that agree with you, eh?

JANO : No of course not. But if you are going to oppose us …

DOCTOR : Oppose you? Indeed I’m going to oppose you, just in the same way that I opposed the Daleks or any other menace to common humanity.

JANO : I am sorry you take this attitude, Doctor. It is most unscientific.You are standing in the way of human progress.

DOCTOR : Scathingly Human progress, Sir! How dare you call your treatment of these people progress?

JANO: They are hardly people, Doctor. They are not like us.

DOCTOR: I fail to see the difference.

JANO : Do you not realise that all progress is based on exploitation?

DOCTOR : Exploitation indeed! This, Sir, is protracted murder!

JANO : We have achieved a very great deal merely by the sacrifice of a few savages.

DOCTOR : The sacrifice of even one soul is far too great! You must put an end to this inhuman practice.

The music is also a striking feature – composed by Raymond Jones, it was performed by a string quartet.

For all these interesting and valuable aspects, the episode has been less than appreciated by fans. That is a pity, given its many endearing and powerful elementsIt is one of the completely lost episodes, but it can be enjoyed on audiobook, or by reading the scripts. There is also a photonovel version on the BBC website.

At the end of the episode, the machinery for transferring the life force from some people to others having been destroyed, Steven stays behind to lead the society in its new situation. The actor who played Steven once said in an interview that he would have loved for them to do a follow-up story in which the Doctor returns there and finds what a mess he’d made of things!

For those interested in the intersection of Doctor Who and religion, there are a few elements worth noting. The Doctor and his companions, having shown themselves able to best the technologically more advanced inhabitants of the planet, are hailed by the “savages” as gods. The episode also presumes that some sort of “life force” or vital essence can be transferred between people – and when Jano gets some of the Doctor’s, it seems to take something of his very personality with it. And last but not least, having brought profound transformation to the planet, what the Doctor has accomplished is described as a “miracle.” As Jano puts it, “Doctor, for many light years, we looked forward to your arrival on this planet. We always knew of your wisdom, but we never dreamed of the miracle that it would bring us.”

  • Erp

    It seems that Doctor Who is not exempt from misuse of ‘light year’, a measure of length not time.

    • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      Indeed, thanks for mentioning that, since I had meant to mention it and forgot to!

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  • Erp

    I did wonder whether it was a test of your readers. 

    • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      Nah, too easy. If I really want to test readers, I’ll quote Han Solo saying the Millennium Falcon did the Kessel Run in under twelve parsecs and see if they spot the problem. :-)


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