It’s the story no one likes to talk about. Is it because it’s tedious, missing or racist? It’s up to Sue to find out…
Sue: I miss the individual episode titles.
Me: Already? But at least you know what the story is called without having to ask.
Sue: I can’t read it properly – the background is too white. What does it say? The Sky Ages?
Me: This is proper Doctor Who. Look, we’re in a quarry.
When the Doctor wanders off to take some readings with his Reacting Vibrator (“I’m surprised that didn’t catch on instead of the sonic screwdriver”), Dodo and Steven are attacked by spear-welding savages dressed in primitive furs.
Sue: What’s the deal with the weird string music? I feel like we should be watching Frankenstein.
The Doctor is eventually greeted by some futuristic guards, who are armed with guns that look suspiciously like those telescopes you find on beach promenades and skyscrapers.
Sue: Do they have to put a coin in the slot when they want to shoot someone?
Me: They must be an advanced civilisation, they’ve invented BMX helmets.
The Doctor is escorted to the city to meet the Elders, who simply can’t get enough of him.
Sue: It’s the Doctor Who fan club! Hartnell is in his element here. Look at him – he’s loves it when people make a fuss of him.
Me: How have this lot been tracking the Doctor through time and space? That makes no sense at all.
Sue: Is this what’s it’s like at a Doctor Who convention? Will he have to do an autograph session?
The Doctor is very taken with this ‘advanced’ civilisation, and Sue is concerned that all this flattery is blinding him to the truth.
Sue: He’s very naive. It’s obvious this lot are the bad guys and the savages are the good guys, so what’s he playing at? Blimey, he looks like he’s about to join their version of the bloody Freemasons, now!
It’s at this point I decide to draw attention to Frederick Jaeger, who is playing the Elder’s sycophantic leader, Jano. For no immediately apparent reason, he has been blacked-up.
Sue: No wonder I didn’t recognise him. I thought his voice was familiar.
After trawling through IMDB, Sue finally pins him down as the pilot who gave flying lessons to Frank Spencer in Some Mothers Do Have ‘Em.
Me: It doesn’t make any sense. Why black-up at all? The rest of the Elders are white.
Sue: Are you sure? I can’t tell from these photos.
Now that she comes to mention it, I’m not sure anymore, either. At times, it looks as if the cast are wearing silver or gold make-up. Or really heavy foundation. It’s hard to tell.
Sue: Dodo is very inconsistent, isn’t she? You never know which Dodo you’ll get from one week to the next. She’s really bolshy in this one. Steven is acting out of character, too. He’s very gullible today. It’s as if their roles have been reversed.
Dodo wanders off from a guided tour – a bit like C-3P0 in The Empire Strikes Back – but instead of getting her head blown off, she stumbles across the secret hidden at the heart of the city. Sue was right all along – this “great civilisation” is rotten to the core, and they are performing horrific experiments on the savages, including some poor woman who looks like she’s just walked off the set of One Million Years B.C.
Sue: It’s turned into a zombie film, now. I bet this would have been pretty scary at the time. Even the music has improved a little. Yeah, this isn’t bad at all.top
Sue: So, is this racist or not?
Me: Well, assuming that it is possible to black-up and not be racist, I’m still not 100% sure.
Sue: But what is it trying to say? Is it that you can be an arsehole regardless of the colour of your skin? Or is he black because he’s the bad guy? Why are all the savages white? It’s got to be intentional.
We’re still scratching our heads when Dodo and Steven make it back to the Doctor, who is still Time Lording it up with the Elders.
Me: What a complete idiot.
Thankfully, Sue has more faith in the Doctor than I do.
Sue: Don’t be silly. He knows damn well that there’s some serious shit is going down in the city. He’s not stupid. He’s just trying to be inconspicuous.
Of course, she’s right. The Doctor is biding his time, and when he works out that the Elder’s are literally sucking the life out of those left outside the city, he is determined to stop them.
Sue: Hartnell’s really good here. It’s feels like the sort of thing the Doctor should be doing.
Sadly, the Elders don’t respond to the Doctor’s impassioned arguments and he is led away to the laboratory to have his life-force extracted. It’s rather morbid, really.
Sue: Is this where he regenerates?
Me: Wait and see.top
Aside from Sue’s observation that Steven has become the de facto hero of the show, there’s really only one thing worthy of discussion in this episode.
When Jano emerges from the transference machine, he sounds and acts just like the Doctor.
Sue: Is he supposed to the Doctor now? Was the machine powered by magic? And if it extracts a person’s personality, why don’t the Elders walk around like miserable idiots when they transfer the savage’s life-force into them?
Sue: Are they trying to get rid of Hartnell again?
Me: There’s definitely an attempt to sideline him again.
Sue: I never thought I’d say this, but I’m really starting to feel sorry for William Hartnell.
Me: This is a very strange episode for him. All he has to do is lie on a table and fall over in a corridor.
Sue: They could have let him have a holiday this week. It doesn’t seem fair.
Me: Rob Shearman has suggested that they are experimenting with different ways to get rid of him. A few weeks ago they made him invisible, now he’s in a different body.
Sue: Did they seriously consider changing the lead actor to this bloke from Some Mothers Do Have ‘Em on a permanent basis?
Me: I don’t think so. They were still figuring out how they were actually going to do it.
Sue: I guess they couldn’t have had someone blacked-up playing the Doctor every week. That would have been embarrassing.
Me: It’s funny you should say that. Patrick Troughton once claimed in an interview that he considered playing the Doctor blacked-up. What if he had? It would be impossible to watch his entire era. Instead of it being semi-impossible.
Me: Never mind.
Sue: Well, they’d better figure it out soon. The next story is Hartnell’s last.
Me: I never said that. I said the next story was the end of the third season.
Sue: How many seasons is Hartnell in?
Sue: I hate you.top
As The Savages hurtles towards its conclusion (I say hurtle, it’s more of a gradual jog), Sue is still engaged with the storyline.
Sue: It’s a good job the Doctor didn’t land on this planet two seasons ago – he wouldn’t have had a conscience to give to Jano. In fact, Jano would have ended up even more intolerable than he is now!
As if to prove how much he’s changed in the intervening years, the Doctor is as proactive as we’ve ever seen him, electing to forgo diplomacy for sheer brute force. He leads an assault on the laboratory and they smash it to bits.
Me: The ending is a little pat, but at least it’s a message of tolerance. A message of tolerance delivered by a man who’s been blacked-up. My head hurts.
Sue: It doesn’t ring true. I don’t believe that one man could convince a whole planet of ****s to suddenly change its mind overnight. What’s to stop them killing Jano and rebuilding the machines again?
What they really need here is an impetuous alien to help smooth things over.
Sue: Steven isn’t going to stay, is he?
Me: Looks like it.
Sue: No! Don’t do it! He’s going to be stuck there forever. What if it all goes pear-shaped? What if he changes his mind?
Me: He was marooned on an alien planet when they found him, remember? It’s a fitting end; who knows where he really belonged?
Sue: Poor Steven.
Brilliantly, tiny fragments of Steven’s departure have been captured on Super 8 film (including a very touching handshake with the Doctor, who is “very proud” of him), and as Steven turns away for the very last time, Sue sighs.
Sue: I’ll miss Steven. He’s been holding the whole thing together for weeks now. I hope he’ll be alright.
Me: The Doctor might return for him one day. I just hope Steven isn’t blacked-up when he does.
Sue: So, it’s The War Machines next. Is it time for the Daleks again already?top
The Final Score
Sue: That wasn’t too bad. For a recon, it was surprisingly engaging. The whole blacking-up thing makes me feel a little uncomfortable, not to mention confused, but on the whole, I enjoyed it. I’ll give it a solid -
The experiment continues…