Geekbat Tunes

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Doctor Who: The Savages

Serial Title: The Savages

Series: 3

Episodes: 4
(Sadly, from this serial onwards, the episodes are no longer named! Just “Episode 1,” “Episode 2,” etc. I miss them already!!!)

Doctor: William Hartnell

Companions: Steven Taylor (Peter Purves), Dodo Chaplet (Jackie Lane)

The TARDIS arrives in… the future, at an unspecified date (aggravating for a blog-writer that likes to track these things) on an unspecified, un-named planet. (What the HECK?!?!?) The Doctor announces it to be an era on unparalleled peace, shortly before they are attacked by spear-wielding cavemen. They escape, and are taken by futuristic guards to a techno-utopia city (I smell class warfare! Sci-fi is unerringly communist in that way- if not everyone on the planet has the exact same conditions, warfare, social upheaval, and overturning are sure to follow by story’s end!) where the Doctor is greeted by the city elders, who have been monitoring his travels (How meta! They are a Doctor Who audience! Sliders did that somewhat better for its finale, I hear…) and were expecting his arrival. Gifts – a dagger and a mirror- are bestowed upon the companions, who are sent off to play while the grown-ups talk.
The Eloquent Jano

While the Doctor and the elders- led by the eloquent Jano- convene in long discussion, Steven and Dodo are given a tour of the city. During this, Dodo sees a captured and terrified cave-person being hauled into the city by the guards, but is dismissed as having imagined it. (This scenario, called Susan Syndrome, is a particularly malicious malady in which the group’s junior member, despite having never been wrong before, is instantly doubted- often over the word of strangers- as having imagined or made up what they have seen. Barbara Wright, early companion, was a particularly virulent victim, twice (An Unearthly Child, Keys of Marinus) accusing Susan of imagining things that SHE HERSELF SAW OR WAS CURRENTLY SEEING AS WELL. However, if one looks throughout sci-fi and films in general, Susan Syndrome is widespread. The command staff of the Enterprise-D was particularly hard hit during TNG’s first season, towards Wesley Crusher. It is especially prevalent in the Disney universe and children’s fantasy films, infecting those surrounding nearly every child exposed to the supernatural. In addition, a mutated offshoot known as Monk-Cadfael-Marple Disease has been known to cause local police and authorities to repeatedly doubt, question, and mock the observations of a sleuth possessing a 100% accuracy rate in all past deductions, every single time. …Okay, no more putting it off. Back to the mediocrity.)

Dodo slips out and encounters a half-dead caveman stumbling out of a laboratory. Here, the Utopian society receives its great benefits- and not from Solar Flares, as originally believed- using paralysis/obedience-compelling Light Guns, the cave-men are captured and brought to the city, where their life force is drained (never to the point of death) which is used to power the city and invigorate its citizens. The half-dead cave-men are released back into the wild to recuperate so that they can be re-captured and ‘harvested’ again.

Dodo attempts to help Nanina, a female cave-person, but is mistaken for one of the victims, and nearly life-drained… but her fighting back reveals her as an outsider (the cave-people have long-since been drained of the will to resist) and she is escorted back to the Doctor. His delight at this enlightened society turns to disgust when the life-draining methodology of the citizens’ prosperity is revealed. (NFS (Note from Sarah): I have to say...this episode sounds really weird but...I cannot remember a single second of it!!!!)

The group departs for the TARDIS, but the Doctor stops to help the half-dead savage (having come a long way from wanting to brain the last one he encountered with a rock), giving him medicine from the TARDIS, but is taken hostage by Edal, leader of the guards. Back in the city, leader Jano decides to drain the Doctor’s life energy- ‘nobly’ having it all transferred into him to test its safety. The Doctor’s half-dead body is released, but Jano himself has begun to take on an oddly Doctorish personality, set of mannerisms, and, most difficultly for him, morality.

Dodo and Steven, meanwhile, have returned with the injured cave-man, Wylda- there encountering Nanina, the female from before, as well as tribe leader Chal, and traditional “I don’t like their face, boss… let me kill ‘em!” second-in-command Tor (or Gaston-Zentos-Tor, to his friends. Of which there aren’t any…)- an antagonistic brute who wants to kill Steven and Dodo, and is rebuffed by Chal. So, he… demands to do so again. In fact, for the remainder of the review, mentally insert “Tor says that they should kill Steven and Vicki” after every sentence, and it will come out about right. Tor says that they should kill Steven and Vicki. That will be quicker than me typing it every time. Tor says that they should kill Steven and Vicki. The cavemen lead them into the… well, caves- their home base, and the one place that the city-dwellers fear to go. Tor says that they should kill Steven and Vicki. Chal shows them the wounded recovering. Tor says that they should kill Steven and Vicki. Okay, I think that’s got you started… ready to take over on your own? Tor says that they should… you finish the sentence on your own this time. And don’t forget- after EVERY SENTENCE for complete accuracy to this story. (Yes, I’m doing whatever I can to make this story entertaining, and mostly, that means talking about something OTHER THAN THIS STORY.) Meanwhile, Exorse, a chief guard, arrives outside and demands their surrender.

Eventually, Exorse comes in after them (Tor insisting they be killed for causing this trouble the entire way), initiating a cat-and-mouse in the dark that ends when Steven turns one of the city’s gifts, a small mirror, back on them- reflecting the Light Gun rays back at Exorse long enough to overtake him and steal his weapon. Exorse is made a captive (guess what Tor wants done to him? Go on, I’ll give you three tries…) and Steven takes his new weapon to break into the city. There, Steven and Dodo find the Doctor’s wandering body, but in trying to escape, are trapped. However, the Doctor’s persona again overtakes Jano and he manipulates the trap at the last moment to allow their escape- in secret, of course. Back at the caves, Tor urges the other to try and kill the captive guard Exorse, and even tries to do so himself, but the guard- the same one that had captured Nanina- is defended by her, much to his gratitude. She treats her captive as a human, something he failed to do when their positions were reversed.

The Doctor’s body is brought to the caves, and a dose of the TARDIS-medicine helps him to recover… meanwhile, a group of guards led by Edal, and accompanied by Jano, pursue them into the foothills. Jano dispatches his guards back to the city, announcing that he will handle the prisoners- suspicious, Edal leaves under protest. Under cover of darkness, Jano slips into the cave- laboring under the Doctor’s conscience, he agrees with the now-recovered Doctor’s plan- the life-transference equipment must be destroyed and the practice abolished.

Exorse manages to escape, but Nanina pursues him- intercepting him before he reaches the city, and pleading with him on the evidence of his own eyes not to interfere- he has seen that the savages are people, and he owes her his life; he should also know that the life-transference incidents must end.

He runs off without answering.

In the city, Edal claims command in the absence of Jano, whom he believes (rightly so) to be compromised, and the testimony of the scientist who performed the transference and noted Jano’s odd behavior seems to corroborate this. Exorse, however, freshly arrived, provides a counter-testimony, claiming Jano’s competence and not revealing the savages’ plan.

The Doctor and Jano lead a raiding party composed of Steven, Dodo, and the cave-people into the city. Encountering the coup-in-progress, Jano re-asserts his authority by claiming that he has captured the group he leads as prisoners. He wrests power back from Edal and orders the laboratory sealed… than allows all within it to run amuck, smashing the equipment and trashing the instruments of oppression, as Edal- proved right- and the guards, sealed out of the laboratory, can only watch helplessly. Even Exorse joins in to smash the equipment. Edal breaks in and attempts to intervene, attacking the leadership- but Steven saves all present by disabling him with a Light Gun.

In the aftermath, Jano and his new conscience agrees with Chal that it is time for both peoples to live in harmony, and for the technological benefits of the city to be shared with the savages. However, for the two people to become one, there will need to be a mediator, a neutral party that both sides trust to arbitrate and guide them through what will undoubtedly be a rocky and difficult process. Steven, seen as a hero by both sides (for saving the savages from Exorse in the caves, and for saving Jano and the elders in the laboratory) is chosen as that man. Though he initially protests, the Doctor encourages him, knowing that Steven can handle this… and the 23rd Century ex-pilot accepts, lead off half-boldly and half-haplessly to begin his new life as leader, and healer, of the planet. (NFS: Seriously? This episode was Steven's last and I didn't even remember it? Must have been a really boring story then...)

In making my notes for this blog, I typed a single sentence- "Trite, a bit predictable, maybe stretched."

Yep, that's about it.

The first episode-title-less wonder is about as forgettable as can be, save for the finale- don't get me wrong; it's no Sensorites or Galaxy 4... but it just doesn't have all that much to recommend it.

The story is very predictable. Were it not for a few scattered gems, and Steven's departure, this would probably be almost forgotten by the public at large. Plus, it's all missing- so 100% reconstruction (minus a few little clips). Is it just me, or are Edal and Tor essentially counterparts of each-other… leadership-usurping, closed-minded kill-the-strangers archetypes in the mold of Gaston, Zentos, and a thousand others- while I am especially irked by, and tired of, this archetype… it is interesting how they parallel each other by having one on each opposing side in this story… both rendered irrelevant and unheeded by peace at the ending of the story, spinning them into Cold-War allegory models reminiscent of Star Trek VI… long before Cold War reconciliation was a palatable concept!

The aforementioned gems are: The excellent impression of the Doctor performed by Fredrick Jaeger, which really steals the show and is an absolute highlight (NFS: Probably would have been even more a highlight if you could have actually seen him moving! Even so I think it's a testament to his talent that him acting like the Doctor was conveyed just through sound.), and the 'smashing' ending in which the life-force-draining laboratory was smashed (I hope the life-forces didn't just fade away then, and could be restored to their original hosts)- not only cathartic, but also amusing, as several characters stand there in the midst of the chaos having a calm, simple discussion in the eye of the storm, as if they were standing in a lounge, as the lab is torn apart around them. (NFS: ...Now I want to watch "The Great Race"! :-D)

Other than that, the only other noteworthy item- Steven's departure, seemed rushed, uninspired, and un-foreshadowed- while not necessarily an unpleasant fate, it felt dreamed-up-at-the-last-moment and meaningless- unlike his departure in The Massacre, which carried some real dramatic weight. This one had no weight, no meaning, no motivation, no tie-in to the character, no connection, no emotion- nothing! While I'd like to have kept Steven around a while longer (I'd be interested to see how he'd respond to the Second Doctor), if he was going to depart, The Massacre's scene was the equivalent of the first episode of Space Museum, or The Rescue, or the Keys of Marinus- and the departure scene here is Galaxy-Freakin'-4. (And both are in bloody stills!)

I will also say that I liked the sympathy-for-the-captured-guard bit- it was well done (genuine sympathy showing these to be good people, minus the blockheaded Tor), but not over-the-top ("We are to be wed next week- the first union of our two peoples!" as the ending scene, as some shows like the original Star Trek might have done.) And Nanina rightly leverages on that sympathy to try and prevent a genocide- we tend not to think of "You owe me!" as an especially heroic behavior in our characters- but it felt especially realistic as it was justified, crucial, and everything hung in the balance of this guard's decision. This little Androcles-and-the-Lion subplot was more compelling than the by-the-numbers, cliched, predictable plot it was enmeshed in. And Nanina was the strongest female character Who had seen since Barbara ascended the Aztec throne (a shot, her first seating in Yetaxa's judgement chair, which was so iconic that it remains clearly in my head as Barbara's 'head shot' default image to this day, over a year after last seeing it.)

As for Tor... well, if Hartnell's First Doctor had still wanted to smash a caveman's head in with a rock (as he nearly did in a cold-blooded scene in An Unearthly Child, before his character had really been established), I for one wouldn't object, and I suspect Dodo and Steven could be persuaded to look the other way for a while... Man, that guy was annoying! (And also very, VERY cliche- the second-in-command that defies his superior so often you wonder how he lasted in the position this long, and who only exists to LITERALLY advocate the wrong position in every single choice facing the characters, and to drum up false tension as he tries to turn the people against the visiting main characters and the leader allied with them. This character had actually been already used in approximately 3,284 movies by the time that the phonograph was invented. He was already a tired, cliche character by the time that the Jazz Singer ushered in the era of talkies. STOP WRITING THIS CHARACTER INTO STORIES!!! I DON'T LIKE HIM!!!!!)

The Doctor is a bit naive in this one, but otherwise unremarkable- Jano, giving an impression of him, stands out far more than he does. As an interesting note, however, it has been suggested that this life-force drain, along with his hyper-aging exposure to the Dalek Time Destructor in The Daleks Master Plan, each took several hundred years off of his life, and their combined exposure conspired to leave the First Doctor severely weakened, leading to his forthcoming regeneration. Without these events, he might have had another 600-800 years as Hartnell, but as it stands, he was cut short in his prime as cruelly as his successor, Troughton (we'll get there eventually)... cruelly robbed of his life in a manner completely separate from the average consequences-of-life-and-death heroics that caused the regeneration of his later incarnations. Thus, in his extremely frail state- literally hundreds of years older at the end of this serial than he was in Galaxy 4, the Series 3 season premiere, just 'days' before, it didn't take much to push him over the edge, into the regeneration we'll be covering soon. A pity Colin Baker's Sixth Doctor had no such excuse for his pathetic regeneration. (And yes, it will be a LONG time before this blog explains that joke!)

Steven was... practically subliminal here, doing next to nothing... making it all the more insulting as his departure episode. This serial really gives him the short straw in so many ways- it would be like Star Trek having Spock's Brain as Leonard Nimoy's swan song, or Sub Rosa as a sendoff for Gates McFadden. Or Shades of Grey as a sendoff for Pula- oh....wait...Well, at least in her case, a lousy character deserved a lousy sendoff.
I think Steven was anything but a lousy character- I would say he might well be my favorite companion yet (possibly vying with strong candidates Ian and, surprisingly, Vicki, for the role), and definitely in the Top 3 of the First Doctor's companions. He was funny, smart, had the same intellectual/moral peer-of-the-Doctor that was such a refreshing dynamic in New Who with Donna Noble's tenure as companion- a willingness to challenge the Doctor on questionable points, a gung-ho attitude, and a great sense of humor. A great actor and a great role- farewell, Steven; you deserved a far better send-off, and you will be missed!

Dodo, meanwhile, was a bit more active than usual, but... she really returns to the background of obscurity here- though at least she's not actively unlikeable, as she was in The Ark.

As for the reconstruction... PLEASE TAKE NOTE: WE DID NOT SEE A LOOSE CANNON RECONSTRUCTION. We are trying to track it down at present. Thus, while I will rate and discuss the reconstruction, please do not take this rating in comparison or as a comment towards the other reconstructions mentioned in this blog- THIS LOUSY RECONSTRUCTION IS NOT A BLACK MARK AGAINST LOOSE CANNON, AS WE HAVEN'T SEEN THEIRS YET!!!!

That said... yeah, it was pretty poor. Grainy, smudgy, blurred telesnaps with a muddy audio and, essentially, a running transcript. It did it's job of keeping us in the loop- which is good, as the minimalist images and the terrible audio quality wouldn't have!

Great moments:
The lab smashing. Jano’s Hartnell impressions. And the confrontation between Exorse and Nanina- a small but pivotal, tense, well-written exchange.

Overall, 1.5 Time Destructors out of 5 for an uninspired story, raised from the scrap heap by a gem of an impersonation and a few good moments. 0.5 out of 5 for the Butterfly Productions reconstruction, about which the nicest thing that I can say is that it kept us informed. (NFS: Though to be fair, we are thankful to them for even doing it in the first place, otherwise we wouldn't have known what the heck was going on or we just wouldn't have been able to 'watch' this episode in the first place....not everyone can be Loose Canon! :)

No comments:

Post a Comment