6 years ago
"Come in, won’t you?" calls the Doctor, "I’ve been waiting to talk to you."
Koquillion answers the invitation.
"This used to be the Peoples’ Hall of Judgement," remarks the Doctor, regarding the empty chamber sadly, "Fitting, in the present circumstances don’t you think? Mr Bennett, may I remind you that masks and robes such as you are wearing are only used on absolutely ceremonial occasions, hmm?"
Koquillion removes his face. Bennett is beneath.
He explains that he is a murderer.
"I killed a crewmember on the spaceship to Astra. I was arrested. The ship crashed. My crime hadn’t been radioed to Earth. I knew if I could get rid of the other crewmembers..."
"Get rid of the other crewmembers and blame their deaths on the Dido people, hmm?"
"When we crash landed, the inhabitants invited us all to a grand meeting. It was simple. I just arranged an explosive, using the ships armaments. The whole thing went up. All the inhabitants, the crew, the whole race."
"You destroyed a whole planet to save your own skin. You’re insane."
"The girl didn’t know I’d been arrested. When we get back to Earth, she’d support my story. I dressed up as Koquillion to show her how terrible the people here were."
According to the Doctor they were actually hospitable and sociable people, the few hundred that used to live there anyway. The ones that survived Bennett's explosion, and who turn up to get him, are pretty pissed off however. Understandably. But Bennet never had a moment's doubt that his fable of their murderous fierceness would be believed.
Implicit in the very fabric of the story is the assumption that 'Earth' or 'humanity' means Whitey. Caucasians. Westerners. This is something that is far from unproblematic, and it occurs again and again, even - perhaps especially - in SF satires of colonialism. And, when the "Dido people" appear, they're not represented as people of colour, which tends to rub people of colour out of their own story. And yet, as ever, there's a double bind here. To represent them as people of colour would be for the culture industries Western imperialism to take it upon themselves to represent the kinds of people their own societies decimated. The solution isn't to be found within the culture industries, or within the creation of TV texts. The necessary solution is a dialectical and political one that changes society, not just the attitudes of society, or the way society makes television.
And yet, all that being said... also implicit in this particular story is the assumption that Bennett would be believed without question when he dishonestly blamed the aboriginal inhabitants of an uncolonised 'New World' for a senseless massacre of his fellow passengers and crew. Also implicit is the assumption on the part of Bennett that the culture and sophistication of the Didoans counts for nothing, that their People's Hall of Judgement is just another place that he can use and abuse them without being judged.
They key figure here is the mask. In ceremonies, masks are objects of immense social significance and complexity. Bennett takes it upon himself to use the Didoan masks as a fetish outfit to scare a teenager; as a monster costume. He sees their culture and sees menace and horror in its otherness. He expects Vicki to be terrified of the mask... but isn't it the cruel and abusive behaviour of the man behind the mask that frightens Vicki? After all, the mask depicts an insect... presumably an insect native to Dido. Sandy the Sandbeast, who resembles the insect (being part of the same evolutionary pattern... as well as also being designed by Ray Cusick) is her friend. There's a whole subplot about how Barbara kills Sandy, not realising what Vicki realises: that he is not something to be feared simply because of his otherness, his 'Didoanness'.
The cermonial animal mask suggests West African and Sub-Saharan tribal cultures: the very regions among those decimated by Western encroachment and violence. These masks are one of the aspects of African culture that the West has adopted... but they still carry a sinister charge in our imperialist fantasies. Even in great art, such as that of Picasso, the mask-like faces suggest and imply something terrifying. Think of the accusing stares of the Demoiselles
. The story uses
the idea of the frightening mask, uses the fact of its being
frightening to some... but seemingly with an awareness that the greater threat is usually the white colonialist who has appropriated it and worn it.
Without Bennett behind it, the Koquillion mask actually looks rather beautiful.
Share on Facebook