Viewing posts tagged skulltopus

Excuses, excuses...

Things have been weird for me lately.  In a bad way.  Personal stuff.  Worries.  Health issues.  Melancholia.  And other obsessions, plans, dreams... including a recurring one that I really should've abandoned by now...  but haven't.  In short: no time (and not much inclination) to blog.  The promised Skulltopus post on 'Image of the Fendahl' is stalled, swollen to vast and unruly size, stuck at an impasse, erupting out of the Skulltopus category into all sorts of other genres (appropriately enough).  Bear with me, Reading Few.  I will rally.

Skulltopus 13: Return to Fang Rock

My monomaniacal focus on the quasi-Weird(ish/esque) in Doctor Who resumes (after a bit of a hiatus... during which I just couldn't be arsed) and reaches the Graham Williams years, the heyday of the tentacular in the Baker era.  See here for links to all previous Skulltopus posts and here for the last one (which includes a summary of the whole thing so far).



I started the whole Skulltopus thing with 'Horror of Fang Rock', but that was ages ago (and before I really knew where I was going with this topic) so I feel the need to go back to it, if comparatively briefly.

Okay, so 'Fang Rock'.  Hmm.  Well, it's a Terrance Dicks script, isn't it?  Uncle Tel is, as we all know, well dodgy on politics.  He writes about how the working classes are happy being poor, and aristocrats are dandy, and the empire was kind of okay.  His baseline assumption is one of contented 'capitalist realism', of unquestioning acceptance of the status quo.  Plus he's rubbish on the question of women and sexism.  He's so bad on ...

Skulltopus 12: Come Out onto the Balcony and Wave a Tentacle

Okay, first a quick (well... relatively quick) recap and a few clarifications... because we've come a long way. And then onto some hot Zygon action.


The Story So Far...

If only 'Pirates of the Caribbean II' had looked this good.
According to China Miéville, the tentacular monster was introduced to Western SF/Horror literature in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by the loose style/affect/trend known as 'the Weird'.  Lovecraft, Hodgson, Machen, etc.  They used various new forms of the monstrous, especially tentacles, as a 'novum', unfreighted with previously accreted meanings and associations, which could express something of the unprecedented, inexplicable, inexpressible catastrophic horror that was engulfing modernity with the onrush of world war, mechanised imperialism and endemic economic crisis.  (There were a couple of important pre-eruptions of the tentacular and Weirdish courtesy of SF pioneer H.G. Wells and 'ghost story' writer M.R. James.)  Mieville says that the Weird represents a way of trying to express anxieties that is alternate and incompatible with the gothic.  The gothic - or hauntological - is an expression of something we already know which has been hidden (or repressed) and which haunts us, threatening to return.  The Weird is what we ...

Skulltopus 11: Changing States

Before the Skulltopus series moves on to the Baker years (and beyond), I feel the need to settle accounts with the Pertwee era, particularly with Peladon.  Also, I need to clarify something about the way capitalism is portrayed and perceived in - and by - Doctor Who.


The maggots in 'The Green Death' are the Pertwee era's last gasp of the Weirdesque.  'Green Death' is also the last Pertwee story to properly notice capitalism.

Admittedly, there is some riffing on 'greed' in 'Invasion of the Dinosaurs'; and 'Monster of Peladon' regurgitates (in a reduced form) the political semiotics of its parent story.  However, in these stories, while class is in evidence... class struggle even!... there is no tracing it back to anything recognisable as capitalist social relations.

I'll get to this, but first I want to loop back to address something about 'Carnival of Monsters' that I should've mentioned previously: Vorg as an entrepreneur and how this relates to the society in which he finds himself.  Firstly, Inter-Minor isn't recognisably capitalist.  The latent revolution in 'Carnival' - the imminent revolt of the Functionaries that President Zarb (the panicky social democrat) is trying to placate and Kalik (the fascist ...

Skulltopus 10: How Green Was My Death?

'The Green Death' is a ghost story.  Doctor Who itself may actually be best described, from one standpoint, as an anthology of ghost stories.


Okay, let's go back a bit.

Firstly, let me defend my notion about 70s Doctor Who sprouting Weird tentacles when it notices (and thus needs to evade and/or signify) capitalism.  'The Green Death' is clearly aware of capitalism and, sure enough, shows signs of Weird inflection.  (I'm aware, by the way, that I keep talking about the show as though its alive... a form of commodity fetishism that I'll address some day.)

Apart from anything else, there's a dirty great tentacle in 'The Green Death'.  It's only in it for a few seconds, during the Doctor's abortive trip to Metebelis III, but still...




As in 'Curse of Peladon', this is the tentacular riding in on past associations... however, it can't be said to work quite the same way as previous tentacles in the Pertwee era.  This tentacle is clearly not obscuring any potential thematic convergence upon the subject of capitalism, as in 'Spearhead from Space' and 'Claws of Axos'.  Nor is it standing in for implied ...

Skulltopus 9: Signs of Progress and the Progress of the Sign

You can rifle the Pertwee era for tentacles and find relatively few.  They only crop up in stories in which capital looms.  They only fully-materialize as a major threat where capitalism is a systemic presence, threatening - even if only obliquely - to connect up various social and political nightmares.

That isn't to say that social and political nightmares are thin on the ground.  Far from it.  But it's only when those problems are connected to capital, commodification and trade as exploitative or destructive, that they sprout tentacles.


Evidence of Absence

The reason why 'Spearhead from Space' builds to an unexpectedly tentacular conclusion is because all sorts of things within it hint obliquely and elliptically at deep problems in the Britain of the late twentieth century, problems which seem to build towards a connection that must be occluded: namely the connection of all these problems at the economic base of society, the productive forces, the capitalist factory, the commodity form itself.  'Spearhead' is saturated in depictions of hierarchy, domination and class.  The story hints - albeit very quietly - at imperialism, and at racial and gender hierarchies.  The monsters are stalking emblems of alienation and commodity fetishism, manufactured things ...

Skulltopus 8: Society of the Tentacle

The quasi-tentacular returns in 'The Claws of Axos'.  Big time.




What's more, this story is an orgy of strange flesh... to the extent of looking like a precursor to John Carpenter's The Thing.










Now, if my idea is right - that, in the 70s,
Doctor Who starts invoking Weird tentacles as a kind of evasion/signification of capitalism when it veers too close to potential systemic critique - then this really, really should show up in 'The Claws of Axos'.

Not to keep you in suspense: it does.


Taking it on the Chinn

Now don't get me wrong.  I'd hate you to get the idea that I was claiming that 'Claws' is 'subversive' or anything.  I'm not.  It isn't.  As political critique goes, objectively, 'Claws' is feeble.  Yes, it is very cynical about the government, but that in itself doesn't amount to subversion.  After all, Clear and Present Danger  (to take an example more or less at random) features a secret plot by the President, the White House Chief of Staff and high-ranking CIA people to launch a covert war in South America - but Clear and Present Danger isn't ...

Skulltopus 7: Tentacle, Plastic and Bone

The first fully-fledged tentacular monster in Doctor Who - in the senses of being both properly cephalopodic and of being a central monstrous antagonist of the Doctor's - is the Nestene entity at the end of 'Spearhead from Space'.  That's seven years in before the show does a proper tentacular monster with real plot significance.

Apart from 'Image of the Fendahl' (which we'll get to one day) and the Cyber-head in 'The Pandorica Opens', 'Spearhead from Space' is also the closest Doctor Who has ever come to merging or (horrid word coming up, but needs must...) juxtaposing the skull and the tentacle.  If you don't know why I think that's significant, please go back and read my other Skulltopus posts, starting here.

The Nestenes manifest as a tank full of tentacles...

Yes Jon, pull a comedy face and go cross-eyed.
That's the perfect way to express mortal terror.

...inside which we can see a pulsing, vaguely obscene-looking anus/oesophagus/lung thing.  Meanwhile, the same story's main images of the monstrous are unfinished-looking plastic replicas of human beings.  There is something faintly but definitely skull-like about their faces, especially when they're not wearing wigs ...

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