Viewing posts tagged tentacles
6 years ago
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 ...
6 years, 8 months ago
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 ...
6 years, 10 months ago
This is a slightly-tweaked version of something originally published in the January 2011 edition of
Panic Moon. Back issues of this excellent fanzine (now, sadly, on hiatus) are still available, here.
Plant monsters. That’s an old one. Where does it come from? Maybe it’s about the Venus Fly Trap, the cactus or the thorns on the stem of a rose. Maybe it’s about the faces that we see in the gnarled bark of trees; the faces that gave us generations of tales about tree folk. We see this in 'The Seeds of Doom', in the initial humanoid shape of the monster, in its booming threats, in its communion with Chase, in the way that the Doctor keeps calling it Keeler ironically, having chided Sarah for referring to the transformed Winlett by name.
Maybe it’s the sheer unnerving silence and mindlessness of things that nonetheless seem to have flesh and veins and skin, that nonetheless grow and move and breed. We see this in 'The Seeds of Doom', with all the emphasis on skin, blood and pain… and Chase’s obsessional desire to “see
what happens when the Krynoid touches
human flesh”. We see this in the way the Krynoid moves, unfettered ...
7 years ago
'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 ...
7 years, 1 month ago
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 ...
7 years, 1 month ago
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
7 years, 2 months ago
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 ...
7 years, 2 months ago
According to China Miéville, the
classic, early 20th century haute
Weird of Lovecraft and Hodgson is the nebulous, meaningless, reactionary scream of incomprehension that greets the onrushing horror of modernity.
I think that, for 70s Doctor Who
, a resurrected and processed form of the Weird is what the show draws upon when it finds itself haunted by repressed knowledge that it cannot face: the knowledge that the modern nightmares upon which it dwells are generated by capitalism. When the themes of a 70s Doctor Who
story suggest the possibility that capitalism could be noticed and indicted in systemic terms - particularly in terms of the exploitation of the worker, race and/or imperialism - the show tries to jettison the hauntological (realising that it is itself being haunted... nay, stalked) in favour of the Weird.
I intend to justify these outrageous claims in a forthcoming post.
In my last post - here
- I casually asserted that the Weirdish ab-crabs in 'The Macra Terror' are a "prelude" to the connection the show will make in the 70s between the tentacle and capitalism. It occurs to me that I need to expand a bit on my Skulltopus post about the Macra - here
- in order ...