The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

"What Are You Frightened Of, Soldier Boy?": The Savages

You may ask whether we should care about blogging Doctor Who in the wake of the horror in Las Vegas. I don't blame you if you do.

But stories have power, and faced with the usual post-mass shooting paralysis, I have nothing but stories. I have previously called upon gun owners to challenge the toxicity of Second Amendment fundamentalism, I have written about the Hobbesian views of the NRA, and I have seen the cycle go on, and on, endlessly repeating.

As old patent remedy nostrums used to say, "the mixture as before."

So, stories. We could no doubt find more apt stories than those told by Doctor Who, but that is the path we've been walking together these past months, and there is a value to consistency.

And, as chance would have it, we have arrived at a story where our TARDIS travelers, the Doctor, Dodo, and Steven land in an advanced civilization where they are welcomed as long-awaited heroes in the idyllic city, offered gifts and entertainment, but forbidden to wander into forbidden areas. Outside, you see, there are savages. Savages who are armed with clubs and spears, but little else. While in the nice, clean, crisp city, the guards keep order and repel savages with their fearsome "light guns."

Except they don't, you see. They capture the savages, bring them, one at a time, into the City, drain most of their life force out of them, releasing them into the wild, like animals to be captured and drained again after they have recovered.

It turns out that the only difference between the savages and the civilized is the power of the gun. The Light Gun, that is, but, for today, let's just view it as what it is--the gun.

When a lone guard tries to capture the escaped TARDIS team, the savages hide them (including the Doctor, whose life force has been drained into Jano, the leader of the so-called civilized elite, but who Steven and Dodo have rescued), at much risk to their own lives.

The gun has turned Exorse, the guard, cruel. Power to kill or to dominate with the finger on a trigger can do that, you know. When Exorse is outwitted and captured by Steven, some of the savages want to kill him, but his most recent victim, a woman named Nanina, takes pity on him, and will not let her tribe kill him. "It will do no good," she insists, showing that the so-called savages are actually the ones with an ethical grasp on the situation.

Jano, meanwhile, finds himself imbued with the Doctor's ethical qualms and reflexes, and begins grasping toward a better way. Exorse, aware of Jano's intention to betray the City, escapes--only to be confronted with his victim, who nonetheless saved his life:
EXORSE: Why did you follow?
NANINA: If you betray Jano, what will become of us?
EXORSE: It is Jano who is the traitor.
NANINA: What have you learnt, Exorse? That we are people like yourselves. What chance will we ever have if you speak?
EXORSE: You think I can keep silent about what I've heard?
NANINA: You owe me your life, Exorse. I have a right to ask you. If you are against us now, you condemn us forever.
When the Doctor, his companions, and Jano try to overthrow the City by destroying the machinery that allows for the stealing of life force, Exorse is asked to take up the gun again by his superiors. Instead, he joins Nanina in destroying the machinery of death that kept the City-dwelllers dominant and the outsiders--we can't pretend they are savages anymore, can we?--oppressed.


Channelled into hunting, skeet-shooting, target, or other basically harmless uses, the gun is just a tool. And it can be used for self-protection, although not as often as we might think.

But in this tale, the poor and oppressed are closer to the truth than the powerful and comfortable, and the basically good are corrupted by the power of their totemic guns. For Exorse, as Steven''s repeated taunts bear out, the Light Gun and the power that gun gives him helps him cover his fear of the so-called savages, of the Other. It helps him cover his fear of his own inadequacies.

I'm reminded of the similar corruption of the basically decent Logan 3 by the power his Gun (always capitalized) gives him in the novel Logan's Run (1967); filmed in 1968, and thus after this episode aired in May and June 1966).

The totemic power of the Light Gun, of Logan's Gun, of the gun in American culture, breeds a desire to wield it, to exercise that symbolic power. It corrupts, as power tends to, the more it becomes a totem.

The gun is very much a totem for many people in in today's America. So "The Savages" may have something to teach us, after all: We cannot find our truest, best selves until we are able to lay down our weapons, and meet as equals, equal in vulnerability as well as in law.


Some episode notes, for the blog's consistency. We're back to recons, I'm afraid for this story, and of them all, I recommend Loose Cannon; the CGI versions just don't work for me, and the captioning and clever use of the telesnaps the Loose Cannon team (except for the lame spears effect) do.

I don't get all the dislike for Dodo. She was the best thing about The Celestial Toymaker, was quite funny and plucky in The Gunfighters, and here she is the one who figures out the rot at the heart of paradise, while Steven is oblivious to its signs--she seems to work it out as quickly as the Doctor does, as the alternating scenes between him among the Elders and Steven and Dodo being carefully escorted by City-dwellers Flower and Avon. Jackie Lane is quite good in the part, really.

As is Peter Purves as Steven--even though he has to grasp the idiot ball early on, it's Purves's most heroic performance, cool in the face of danger, willing to spend his life mediating between the two tribes, yet believably unsure is he's up to the task. Purves sells the maturation of Steven over these episodes, and he's touching at the very end.

Hartnell is solid--this isn't his best story ("The Gunfighters" is a tough act to follow), but he's solid, and his rage when he discovers the use the Elite put he "savages" to is reminiscent of the fierceness Tom Baker could bring to the role, or even Peter Capaldi.

In sum, a well made story, with a lesson we could benefit from today.

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