They've Taken This Animal and Turned It Into a Joke (The Creature From the Pit)

(56 comments)

We call it... green.
It’s October 27, 1979. Lena Martell are at number one with “One Day at a Time,” which is described as gospel-tinged country music. So that’s exactly the sort of thing that a Scottish singer is probably good at. After three weeks its unseated by Dr. Hook’s “When You’re In Love With A Beautiful Woman.” Fleetwood Mac, Sad Cafe, Queen, and The Jam also chart.

While in proper news, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines becomes independent from the UK. The Carl Bridgewater murder trial ends with all four of the accused being found guilty, though their convictions are overturned in 1997. NORAD computers in the US detect a massive Soviet nuclear strike, but it turns out to be a false alarm because someone put a training tape in the wrong slot and fooled the computer. Oops. Ted Kennedy declares that he’ll offer a primary challenge to Jimmy Carter. Also, the Iran hostage crisis begins with a mob of 3000 Iranians seizing the US embassy and holding 90 people, 53 of whom are American, hostage. Carter responds by freezing all Iranian assets in the US, and it all goes very well for him.

While on television we have The Creature From The Pit, one of the most tragically misunderstood stories in Doctor Who’s history. Some people, it seems, just don’t understand a proper anti-capitalist screed when they see one. Tragically, among them is the director of this story, Christopher Barry. Or, at least, that’s Tat Wood’s assessment, and on this point at least I’m inclined to agree.

Much like Terry Nation on Monday, I’m hardly inclined to slag Barry too hard. He directed the bulk of The Daleks, including the first appearance of the Dalek itself, he directed Power of the Daleks, he directed The Brain of Morbius, and he directed some lesser but still quite nice efforts like The Rescue and The Mutants. His sole problem here is one of the passage of time. In the normal course of things someone who was a solid television director in 1963 probably shouldn’t still be one in 1979. Virtually the entire medium changed over those 16 years. One of the things John Nathan-Turner does do a relatively admirable job of, even if he overdoes it a bit, is clearing out large swaths of the past that had stayed on past their prime and getting new blood onto the program. But to be honest, a lot of the problem the program is facing now is an inevitable part of being on season seventeen. It has to figure out which parts of its heritage are part of what the show is and what parts are things tit it should let go of. There wasn’t a rulebook on how to handle a show that had evolved continually over that kind of timespan. Science fiction had never done something like “Season Seventeen” before. It was hard.

And here Barry proved to be a poor choice. He makes two crushing mistakes, both of which Tat Wood is exactly on target about. The first is that he egregiously misreads what to do with the bandits and ends up just having them be horrible Jewish stereotypes. Even if the script didn’t have something considerably more clever in mind (and it does), the anti-Semetic stereotyping would be unbearable. Then he fails to understand the final episode, turning it into a ten minute confrontation between Adrasta and Erato followed by a fifteen minute mini-episode about stopping a different threat.

In fact both of these are the same error. Fisher’s script is doing something fairly complicated that just passes Barry by. The key thing is a point related to one of the things I was talking about in the Thatcher entry - the way in which both sides of an apparent political debate were in one sense indistinguishable because they both adhered to the same premise. My example there was the way in which the trade unions, Callaghan, and Thatcher all took for granted that maximizing profit was the right thing to do. The idea that they were opposing sides in many key ways serves more to cut other perspectives out of the debate entirely than it does to actually describe a fundamental philosophical difference between them. And this sort of false opposition is exactly what Fisher is trying to do with the culture of Chloris, but Barry complete misses it.

Essential to this story is the fact that at first glance it looks like something other than what it is. The Doctor has been showing up on planets with a powerful ruling class and a bunch of oppressed quasi-savages for, well, seventeen seasons now. And in virtually every case, assuming the quasi-savages are human-looking, he sides with the savages in overthrowing the government. The impact of this story depends on the assumption that the audience is going to mistake the bandits as the good guys.

The correct way to pitch it, in other words, is as your usual batch of oppressed miners with just a little too much edge on their part. This is the story where an Arthur Scargill figure actually would have been appropriate - no, more than appropriate, downright prescient. This needed a bunch of miners led by a seedier version of Ettis - one whose angry populist rhetoric is subtly undermined by his callousness and his greed. Instead we get John Bryans doing obsequious comedy in which he makes unwise comments about his personal wealth and then reassures his stupid henchmen that he cares about them.

If one imagines the script being executed in a manner more or less akin to what Fisher seems to have been writing the idea suddenly becomes much clearer. The trick is in the title. Plenty of people have commented on the two moments in the script in which Adrasta rather dramatically delivers the lines “We call it... the pit” and “We call it... the creature.” In both cases the Doctor (or Romana) get a brief wisecrack in response. The lines are generally pointed to as the moments in which we’re meant to see how blinkered and narrow-minded Adrasta is, and that’s clearly the case. But what all of this misses is the third moment in the script in which the joke is used: the title. If calling it “the pit” and “the creature” is evidence of a lack of imagination or open-mindedness, what are we to make of the fact that the title of the story commits the same error?

Again we get the sense that the point of this story is in part to trick the viewer into thinking that it’s a different story than it is. The audience is supposed to assume that the creature is, in fact, a monster in a pit that eats people. Even when we do start to figure out that the creature isn’t evil we’re supposed to assume that it’s just a redo of the Star Trek episode “Devil in the Dark.”

Ah, yes, the Star Trek episode. Miles suggests in his review that the critical divide on this story is whether it’s bad science fiction or a parody of bad science fiction. It’s an ironic divide to make, as it mirrors the central moral point of the episode itself by creating a false debate in which both sides are really on the same side of a different debate entirely.  The truth is that this story has no conscious relationship to bad science fiction one way or another. It’s quite good science fiction that just happened to be made badly. But all the same, there’s no way around the fact that it has some sort of relationship to this particular Star Trek episode, if only because it make fairly explicit references to it.

But what’s inexplicable about Miles’s attack on this story is that he for some reason thinks that the audience is supposed to get that this story is recycling a Star Trek plot. Sure, there are some cute nods in place if the audience does in fact get it, but it’s no more essential to have seen “Devil in the Dark” to get this story than it is to have read The Prisoner of Zenda (which I haven’t) to get The Androids of Tara. In fact, the audience who doesn’t see the similarities off the bat is going to be in a better position because they’re more likely to be tricked into thinking that the Creature is in fact a straightforward monster. This isn’t literary parody, it’s a good ol’ fashioned ripoff that’s then spruced up into a better moral point.

The only way in which the Star Trek story is in some way requisite to following this one is indirectly, which is that Star Trek itself falls for the second red herring in the script. The problem with Star Trek’s world, in a nutshell, is that it depicts a galaxy of utter cultural hegemony. There’s the monoculture of the federation, i.e. New Frontier liberalism, and that’s it. So in “Devil in the Dark” the default assumption - never challenged anywhere in the entire story - is that what the miners are doing on the planet is necessary. The “monster” in the mine turns out to have utterly defensible motives as well, sure, but everything comes down to a misunderstanding - the nice miners didn’t realize the Horda was basically human.

But here that’s a red herring too. Even as we start to figure out that the creature isn’t hostile our default assumption is supposed to be that Adrasta and company just don’t understand it. Especially because Adrasta is apparently so blinkered - of course she doesn’t get an alien culture and has just chained the creature up in a pit. But in truth what’s going on is subtler than that. Adrasta actually understood what Erato was just fine. The problem is that she didn’t care. She was only willing to look at the world from her own capitalist perspective.

Whereas Erato - and note that the name is picked not just from Greek myth but specifically for the muse of love and erotic poetry, suggesting a specific sense of love and harmony - could care less. What Erato was going for all along was to create a symbiotic relationship between two planets with complimentary sets of needs. In other words, the entire point of the story is not, in fact, “Erato was just like us” but “we never needed to be so obsessed with mining in the first place and the entire basis of our economy and culture was flawed.” The point is that profit as understood on Chloris was simply wrong, and that there was another way. Adrasta did misunderstand, but not because she didn’t recognize Erato’s individual subjectivity, but rather because she didn’t recognize that there was another way for the world to be.

The reason, of course, is that she’s a selfish arch-capitalist who is perfectly happy to thrive while everyone else suffers. Here I should pause and point out a particularly galling error in About Time, in which Miles and Wood do a takedown of John Fiske’s (admittedly pretty foolish) article on this story in which they say that reading Adrasta as a Thatcher figure is anachronistic. Which, given that the story was written in the midst of the general election, is fairly ludicrous. Yes, it was made before Thatcher was Prime Minister, but I think one can pretty safely make the connection while she’s merely the odds-on favor to win the election. It's not exactly a stretch to think that a female ruler written in the middle of Thatcher's campaign might be inspired by her somehow.

But to wander back towards the other error that Barry makes, he misses that the entire resolution of the story, in which the bandits and Karela, even after Adrasta is defeated, still misunderstand and remain stuck in the capitalist mode. The entire point of this resolution is that Adrasta wasn’t a special or unique villain, but rather merely the point at the top of an entire society that is diseased and unable to understand that alternatives exist. The real resolution isn’t Adrasta getting her comeuppance - which was inevitable given all the sneering about she does all story - but rather the moment where the Doctor blows up a massive pile of metal in order to demonstrate the folly of short-term materialism in response to the failings of the entire planet.

But the script and execution instead land miles apart. That said, even the execution isn’t quite as bad as people give it credit for. Other than Romana obviously being written for Mary Tamm (and it’s worth noting that at least some of the problem here is just that this was actually Ward’s first story in the part and so we’re seeing her suddenly losing two months of experience playing the role), most of what’s highlighted as flaws here just isn’t a problem. Yes, the Everest in Easy Stages/Teach Yourself Tibetan joke is a bit silly, but to blame Douglas Adams for it is unfair. One of the running gags for Baker’s Doctor, since Genesis of the Daleks, has been the multitude of odd things in his pockets. This is the sort of joke you get to on year six of that. And Erato isn’t nearly as bad a prop/costume as people say. Not a triumph of design by any stretch, but the novelty of moving away from men in rubber suits counterbalances the flaws. The wolfweeds, on the other hand, are positively charming. And while it’s tempting to rag on David Brierly’s K-9, to do so would require positing that it was ever possible to fill John Leeson’s shoes to begin with.

No, if anything we should be praising Douglas Adams here. He’s turned in what is probably Doctor Who’s best-written script ever, took at least some of the rough edges off of a Terry Nation script, and helped supervise a fantastic script here, albeit one that was badly sandbagged by the director. In the two where his hand has been most visible - this and City of Death - he’s managed to create worlds where the rules and nature of the world matter and where the action is character-driven instead of spectacle-driven. Far from his reputation as a chaotic and hands-off script editor who mostly left things alone, it’s quite clear that he’s been successfully stamping his vision on the program, and the program is unmistakably better for it, whatever other flaws still exist in it.

Comments

Tom Watts 5 years, 2 months ago

Superb article. Nothing to except to say that I used to quite like this story but after reading this, I feel crushed for what it could have been!

Link | Reply

Carey 5 years, 2 months ago

Have to agree with Tom Watts here-- I love season 17, and have always liked this story (although I do have to look beyond the jewish stereotypes to be able to). Much of the season, unfortunately, is in the "crushed as to what it could be" category, and Adams comes off unfairly because of it. A talent such as Steven Moffat himself says on the documentary about Adams on the City of Death dvd that he wasn't a very good nuts and bolts script editor, and I'd massively disagree.

The problem Adams had as script editor was to do with the channels of communication between himself and the directors and actors. He himself remarked that any comedy has to be played seriously, and unfortunately too much of his comedy was taken by others and exaggerated instead of downplayed (the bandits being the best example of this). And his is a problem every script editor will have on Doctor Who from here on in, and one that won't be resolved until 2005 when Russell T Davies assumes the dual role of script editor and producer.

I'd suggest watching Mark Lawson's interview with Davies, where he reminisces how, while writing Second Coming he wrote a screen direction on how the demons in the story had white pinprick reflections in their eyes to denote their demonic status. And everyone, from producer to director to cgi men read this as demons with red eyes. The interview can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QuflZEaBzt8 and is a rather good look into his time as producer, and an interesting contrast to the plight of the cript editors in Dr Who for much of the 80's. Not that the producer didn't have different problems as well...

Link | Reply

Tom Watts 5 years, 2 months ago

That's the definition of an academic I guess – to complicate enjoyment and spoil people's innocent fun. ;-)

Link | Reply

The Lord of Ábrocen Landmearca 5 years, 2 months ago

Have to break in here without finishing the article to defend the idea about "solid television directors." not aging well. My grandfather was Norman Campbell, and he directed the first television program ever broadcast on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (Uncle Chichimus, September 8, 1952). HE stayed as a contract director for the next forty years, winning Emmy awards, Geminis, and both the order of Ontario and the Order of Canada (officer) for his service to broadcasting. As a television pioneer, he was one of the earliest people to work with Chroma key compositing, and helped the CBC make the transition from Black&White to lurid, lurid colour.

THis is not to just brag about my grandfather (well, mostly not), but I have to insist that just because someone started in the infancy of television as a director does NOT mean they couldn't learn some things in the next couple decades and be at least as competent, if not better, directing something twenty years on. Just because Christopher BArry didn't adapt to the change in television doesn't mean no one else did, and I will not stand for that kind of slander on directors.

That being said, having not seen the episode, there is no reason to thin that Barry didn't bugger up the direction like a filmic dinosaur behind the camera. Don't consider that a truism for ALL long-time directors, though, just consider it true for poor Barry. Hell, maybe he was having a bad month.

Link | Reply

Alex Wilcock 5 years, 2 months ago

Yay! It’s a great script for me, too, and always lovely when someone else finds intelligent ways to say so (I remember a superb review celebrating the story many years ago, from a man who grew up to be a Dalek). David Fisher’s a massively underrated writer, with this for me the best script of the year – and the first ten minutes of this, like those of City of Death, are near-flawless… Before, as happens in City of Death, something jarring naff turns up to spoil it (though I’d blame John Bryans at least as much as Christopher Barry). It’s far, far better than the year-before-last’s ho-hum remake The Beast Below, too.

And the DVD has that marvellous extra feature in which Tom takes the piss for an ‘educational programme’ and stalks off murmuring, “Oh, God forgive me,” which is worth the price of entry alone.

There is, though, one element of the review where I think you’ve got completely the wrong end of the stick – where I’d disagree with About Time (about which I could go on about its missing the point about social mobility and thinking everyone sees everything in market terms at length, but shouldn’t) in a completely different way to the way you do – and, ironically, it’s when you say “Some people, it seems, just don’t understand a proper anti-capitalist screed when they see one.” Nor, I think, do you. As far as I can make out, you attack Adrasta as “a selfish arch-capitalist” because she’s greedy, as if the only greedy people in the history of space and time are capitalists and so she must be one. Nope. The story’s against greed, certainly, but to misquote you slightly, you’re only willing to look at the world from your own anti-capitalist perspective. She’s an old-fashioned feudalist, greedy for power and wealth, and understands what free trade would do to her own power base. She’s actively suppressing free-market capitalism to maintain her own monopoly control.

This is, surely, a free trade fable, with metal in place of the Corn Laws, and so the most pro-capitalist story Doctor Who’s ever made. The main believer in the free market is the victim for most of it, and the happy ending is the Doctor fixing up a trade deal, while the villains are crooks and a protectionist – free trade’s a good thing, while greedily hoarding power and goods and doing nothing with either isn’t. Whether this moral’s right or wrong, it’s surely the moral the story’s aiming for.

I’d still like to read what John Fiske had to say, though, even if it’s only to point and laugh. One day someone’ll bung it up online (hint, hint)…

Alternatively, you could write an erudite and in-depth thesis on exactly why alien ambassadors in sci-fi TV (Erato, Alpha Centauri, Londo Mollari) are always shown as having gigantic penises.

Link | Reply

Philip Sandifer 5 years, 2 months ago

Lord -

Instances like your grandfather are what the phrase "in the normal course of things" was meant to hedge against. Some people remain extraordinary across their careers, whether they be writers, actors, or directors. More often, particularly in more technical areas where changing technology is added to the normal problems of changing taste, one's heyday is rather shorter. So quite right to brag about your grandfather - the length of his career demonstrates how extraordinary he was.

Link | Reply

Seeing_I 5 years, 2 months ago

I totally agree with Alex's analysis of the story's feudalism / capitalism content. The real issue is greed and power-mongering, and the solution, the story seems to say, is free trade between nations/planets/whatever. Symbiosis!

One thing that is not remarked upon very often when talking about this story is that there is a huge amount of un-remarked-upon backstory to the planet Chloris. It's obviously a degenerate Earth colony, since their culture is so at odds with the natural environment, and they take space travelers as a matter of (infrequent) fact. Hardly unique in Doctor Who, but unlike, say, the chumps in "Planet of Evil" who might just be humanoid for the sake of it, here it's the only way the story makes sense. But it is never mentioned in the script. I find that rather fascinating.

I always thought the bandits were supposed to be "Seven Dwarf"ish but it does rather get lost. Despite the Jewish stereotypes, there are few greater laughs to be had, for me anyway, as when the bandit leader exclaims "Adrasta!" like Snagglepuss and scampers off, music-hall-style.

Link | Reply

Philip Sandifer 5 years, 2 months ago

The flaw with the free trade argument is that it doesn't seem to be based on any sort of exchange value. The sense is not that there is some larger economy in which the goods are being exchanged. Rather it is that two planets that have an imbalance of resources are rectifying the imbalance through cooperation. It's not just an economic arrangement, but an arrangement between two planets with the wrong populations for their resources to redress a natural balance.

For similar reasons, I'm inclined to reject the earth colony argument because it breaks the symmetry between the two planets. And the symmetry is clearly stressed in the script. Which is why I view it as anti-capitalist. Erato isn't looking for profit but to restore a natural and harmonious balance of nature. Adrasta is disrupting the natural balance by insisting on private ownership and the associated profits.

(Though this can presumably be settled - Fisher is known to have written a lot of background on the planets. I don't know what of those notes has leaked, but the intended background of Chloris is a matter of record)

Link | Reply

The Lord of Ábrocen Landmearca 5 years, 2 months ago

Whenever we discuss capitalism (and, by extension, Thatcher) on these articles, i always start humming this song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0l7H1Y9ihqk

Link | Reply

Jack Graham 5 years, 2 months ago

Sorry, but in what way is Adrasta a capitalist? She doesn't pay any wages, produce anything, market anything, sell anything, pocket any surplus value, invest in production, etc.

Meanwhile, she has serfs!

Nah, I'm with Alex. Adrasta is a feudal seigneur (lots of seigneuries were run by women, especially in France) who is desperately trying to contain the encroachment of capitalism, in the terrifyingly modern shape of the shapeless monster (the formless, tentacular monster is a late 19th/early 20th century phenomenon and has no precedent in the pre-modern European tradition).

Sure, Adrasta used to own a viable mine but she purposefully shuts down that operation by shutting Erato up in the mine, thus preserving her monopoly on metal by... ummm... retarding her own ability to produce any. This is interesting, given that one factor which went into the transition from fedualism to capitalism in Europe was to do with mining. The technology available to miners in feudal Europe (i.e. the development of the productive forces) became a barrier or drag factor on further development. Despite being pro-free trade and pro-capitalist, this story might covertly acknowledge an assumption of Marxist history: that the conflict or contradiction between the forces of production and the social superstructure is part of what drives historical change. Adrasta is caught in such a contradiction. The free trade monster comes to develop the productive forces and she has to lock him away in her mine (which she has left unused and undeveloped in order to keep hold of her social power)... this is like the decadent feudal aristocracy fighting the oncoming bourgeois revolution. Look also at how the story mocks medieval notions of cosmology via Organon... and how it associates the downfall of Adrasta with the end of the "dark ages". Everyone will be happier once the new social order changes the economic base!

You say the free trade argument is flawed because it lacks a sense "that there is some larger economy in which the goods are being exchanged. Rather it is that two planets that have an imbalance of resources are rectifying the imbalance through cooperation. It's not just an economic arrangement, but an arrangement between two planets with the wrong populations for their resources to redress a natural balance."

But isn't that the free market argument to a tee? Free trade is a natural, harmonious, optimal way of addressing natural imbalances and ensuring the maximum happiness (and utility) for all... once obstacles like obstinate, reactionary local elites have been swept aside. That 'Creature from the Pit' fails to see the flaws and hypocrisies in this way of looking at things only supports Alex's thesis: that this is a pro-capitalist story. It's pro-capitalist in its ideological assertions, which it promotes through telling a story in which the basic ideological arguments of free trade are taken as the central moral truth of things.

Of course, not being doctrinaire, I rather like it anyway. Especially Tom's "I trust you'll make an exception in my case" bit, which is blissful.

Link | Reply

Philip Sandifer 5 years, 2 months ago

I don't think that you can meaningfully treat it as "free trade" absent a currency-based system that governs it, though. I mean, not all trade is necessarily free trade. The fact that two different states are engaging in trade does not automatically make it a free trade argument. The "free" portion of the phrase refers to tariffs, a concept that does not even seem to exist in this story. The fact that trade goes on does not make it a free trade market allegory.

I also think you're hard-pressed to treat the story as overly mocking Organon. He is, after all, yet another in a long line of accurate astrologers in Doctor Who.

Link | Reply

Iain Coleman 5 years, 2 months ago

Phil:

"Free trade" refers to the absence of any restraint, not just tariffs but quotas, regulations and so on.

I don't think Adam Smith would agree with you that free trade requires currency, and this story seems to embody his oft-quoted passage:

"If a foreign country can supply us with a commodity cheaper than we ourselves can make it, better buy it of them with some part of the produce of our own industry employed in a way in which we have some advantage." [Wealth of Nations IV.2.12]

Link | Reply

Jack Graham 5 years, 2 months ago

Yes, Organon *is* often accurate, isn't he... I'd forgotten that. Fair point. However, he also openly admits that he makes stuff up!

As for tariffs, I think the very non-existence of any such notion in this story might reinforce my point. The underlying assumption is that trade is free, that its very innate benevolence puts the concept of controlling it 'off the map'. It's not about how trade actually works but about the presentation of trade itself, absent interference by the vested interests of the old order, as inherently good.

Link | Reply

Philip Sandifer 5 years, 2 months ago

I'm not sure I buy it, as the notion of "cheaper" seems to already presuppose a system of money.

Link | Reply

Jack Graham 5 years, 2 months ago

Yeah, the money is the metal.

In Adrasta's feudal set up, the metal was valuable because it was mined and used to make things (i.e. plough bits for holding back the jungle and cultivating the land). But this old system is crumbling.

In the new order, metal is valuable regardless of what kind of metal it is, regardless of what shape its in, regardless of what it's used for.

Metal has thus become the 'universal equivalent'. It's money, in other words. It's the commodity the equals all others. It's the representation of the exchange value that you were looking for earlier.

What will Erato want? Chlorophyll. What will he buy it with? Metal, i.e. money.

It's capitalism. And it's also free trade because the concept of restrictions is presented as inherently meaningless. They'll trade as much as they need for as much as they need. It's free trade as a utopian arrangement of perfect equilibrium.

Link | Reply

Philip Sandifer 5 years, 2 months ago

All metal is valuable, but it appears to all be valuable because of its scarcity. That's why the Doctor is able to bring down the existing system just by having K-9 blow up the metal - because once he's done that he's removed everyone's compelling reason to maintain the artificial scarcity of metal. That's not like currency, which is only indirectly related to notions of scarcity. But metal is valued for its apparent use - it's stressed repeatedly that the reason that Chloris is developmentally stuck is a lack of metal.

Similarly, metal is essentially valueless to Erato because the Tythonians have a preposterous excess of it, whereas they have a comparative shortage of plant matter (which is valueless on Chloris). That's not currency. What's balancing the two societies isn't capitalist free-trade but flat-out socialism in which those with too much simply give it to those who lack. Indeed, there's not even the sense that the plant matter or metal are being traded based on comparative value - the strong implication is that each society simply gives their excess to the other and thus equilibrium is achieved.

Link | Reply

Exploding Eye 5 years, 2 months ago

Are we not falling into the trap of assuming that everything has to be allegorical? Fisher may simply be telling a story about several fictitious entities. It's not necessarily either anti- or pro-capitalism, it may simply be what it is... a story about a woman who keeps a creature in a pit, with no intended message.

Link | Reply

Iain Coleman 5 years, 2 months ago

But Phil, that is surely the essence of free trade, and the basis of the theory of comparative advantage.

It's essentially the same as when my wife goes to the farmers' market, where she sells delicious Danish pastries for money. At the end of the market, it's not uncommon for some traders to have an unsold surplus, and they often barter with each other, thus enabling my wife to come home not with an excess of Danish pastries (which is something we can easily produce ourselves) but rather with delicious steak pies and pork joints (which we cannot so easily produce).

That's free trade in its most basic form. Fortunately there are no restrictions on such barter that would make it unfree, as I do like my steak pies.

Link | Reply

Iain Coleman 5 years, 2 months ago

Exploding Eye:

You may be right, but where's the fun in that?

Link | Reply

Axle Steele 5 years, 2 months ago

Trade isn't capitalism, trade is an economic activity that has been going on since tribes started meeting, whereas capitalism is an economic system that begins in 16th century europe. There different categories of things, I have no idea how they apply the to this episode because, I havnt seen it.

Loved the book Phillip.

Link | Reply

The Lord of Ábrocen Landmearca 5 years, 2 months ago

I don't think Adam Smith would agree with any of us, because he doesn't seem the type to have liked Doctor Who.

Link | Reply

Jack Graham 5 years, 2 months ago

Yeah, Adam Smith would be more a Blakes' 7 kind of guy. David Ricardo would probably quite like Doctor Who. Hayek would be more into classic Battlestar Galactica.

Link | Reply

SK 5 years, 2 months ago

It's essentially the same as when my wife goes to the farmers' market

'Though I'm no more a farmer than Morten Harket!'

Link | Reply

SK 5 years, 2 months ago

So to sum up: we're not sure what capitalism is, but this story is definitely either for or against it?

Link | Reply

Jesse 5 years, 2 months ago

@Jack: I think Hayek was more of an X Files guy.

@SK: It might help to distinguish the "horizontal" and "vertical" conceptions of capitalism. The former centers around voluntary trade, the latter around the hierarchy within the workplace. It's possible for something to be "capitalist" in the first sense but not the second, or vice versa. (Though Phil seems to be discussing yet another definition, centering around a broad conception of the profit motive. So broad a conception that it covers a Marxist labor leader like Arthur Scargill and, as various commenters have pointed out, could cover a feudal-era monopolist as well.)

Link | Reply

Adam Riggio 5 years, 2 months ago

I don't think it's a matter of the anti-capitalist or pro-capitalist interpretation being right or wrong. Both interpretations can be made. I don't come to the Eruditorum expecting to be told the genuine truth of what Doctor Who is really all about. I come here to be amazed by a narrative of interpretation of my favourite TV show that's nothing like what I heard before.

That's why I loved Phil's alchemical interpretations in the David Whitaker years: I had no idea what alchemy was historically all about, and thought of Whitaker simply as a very good writer. Now I think about the Doctor's character and nature in an entirely different way. Same with the glam of the Pertwee years: I had never made that connection, and have a new appreciation for the aesthetics of that era. Phil's interpretation of The Chase gave me a strange respect for Russell T Davies' plotless season-ending extravaganzas and Let's Kill Hitler. (Whether you think that's an improvement in my life is another matter.)

Basically, it doesn't matter whether Creature From the Pit is "really" anti-capitalist or pro-free-trade. What matters is how his interpretation of Doctor Who as a dialogue with Thatcher unfolds over the Nathan-Turner era and what we can learn from it.

And what matters is whether Phil's talk about the importance of balance here is going to juxtapose in any way against the demonstration in The Key to Time that balance is a ridiculous concept to form a politics or a morality around.

Link | Reply

Philip Sandifer 5 years, 2 months ago

Jesse - My swipe against Scargill is more accurately read as a swipe against his Marxism. Though more broadly, my use of "capitalism" here is, I think, roughly equivalent to the sense in which it is used when the Occupy protests are said to be "anti-capitalist." Which is admittedly a somewhat hazily defined sense equivalent to pornography and science fiction in that one knows it when one sees it, but that I would, if forced, define as encompassing systems in which surplus value is extracted by an elite few as profit.

Iain - if you want to treat a straight and non-monetary barter system as free trade I suppose I have no objection to it, but it seems to me to lead to decoupling free trade from capitalism. I mean, that's a straight barter economy.

I mean, to my mind the heart of what makes this story anti-capitalist is that Erato's plan eliminates the notion of profit altogether. Once the trade agreement is set up both Chloris and Tythonia move to a post-scarcity economy. There's no market involved in this trade agreement whatsoever. That, to my mind, is the key element. We're shown here a world in which profiteering is shown to be inferior to a moneyless, marketless post-scarcity economy in which those with more than they need give it to those who don't have enough.

Adam - It's unlikely to, as the Key to Time's notion of balance is really the westernized bastardization of Taoism and the Yin-Yang as being about an absolute balance of all opposites including good and evil. I don't think the ludicrousness of that calls into question all notions of equilibrium.

The more interesting juxtaposition is probably all the way back to The Tenth Planet and its notion of balance and opposition as a source of utter horror. Which is also relevant to the Key to Time, admittedly. Actually, The Tenth Planet forms an interesting midpoint between the ideas, with its notions of balance being employed both as a critique of the notion of cultural and economic planning (which the Cybermen are in part a reaction against) and as a metaphysical critique.

I suspect Logopolis will be quite a long entry.

Link | Reply

SK 5 years, 2 months ago

a straight barter economy

You know no such thing has ever actually existed anywhere, right?

Link | Reply

Jesse 5 years, 2 months ago

@Phil: I didn't phrase that well. It wasn't your specific shoutout to Scargill that I was thinking of; the line I had in mind was "the way in which the trade unions, Callaghan, and Thatcher all took for granted that maximizing profit was the right thing to do." Presumably Scargill is included under "trade unions."

Link | Reply

Philip Sandifer 5 years, 2 months ago

SK - I do, actually, but that's wholly irrelevant to fiction given how many people mistakenly believe that it did. But yes, that's one of my favorite facts about economics - that the default system is, in fact, a gift economy.

Link | Reply

Stephen 5 years, 2 months ago

A couple of points. Firstly, this story was made before we were fully aware of what Thatcherite economics meant. The 1979 Tory election campaign attacked Labour for high levels of unemployment as its main theme, whilst Thatcher actually believed unemployment to be too low. It's to early for Adastra to be based on the Thatcher we're all familiar with.

Secondly, could you clarify just how much less Erato could care about Adastra's perspective? Because it's difficult to work out from what you've written.

Thirdly, when I watched this the oft-mentioned comedy Jew stereotypes completely went over my head. I guess because I've simply never seen any of the stuff that uses these stereotypes.

Finally, I agree with the posters who think this is portrayed as a feudal, rather than a capitalist society.

Link | Reply

Philip Sandifer 5 years, 2 months ago

Jesse - Ah, that makes sense. Yeah, in that case I'm thinking of things along the lines of ideology as thought of in Marxist thought like Althusser and Zizek. Zizek likes to talk about the way in which even those forces that are nominally leftist and opposed to unfettered capitalism concede the bulk of the point and just end up asking for a slightly nicer version of capitalism. http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2011/oct/16/slavoj-zizek-perverts-guide-ideology?INTCMP=SRCH , offhand, gives an example of this sort of view.

Stephen - Amusingly, the other window I have open as I avoid writing the Horns of Nimon post is an off-topic comment on Gallifrey Base defending the "could care less" formulation of the idiom on the grounds of its superior scansion.

Link | Reply

Stephen 5 years, 2 months ago

Phil - in response to that Gallifrey Base post, I offer David Mitchell's far more amusing and erudite video comment on the issue:

Link | Reply

Wm Keith 5 years, 2 months ago

It's a long time since I watched this story, but as I recall, for all the pros and cons of a free trade economy, a barter economy, feudalism, surplus exchange, and so on, the story ends with the Creatures using a massive weapon of destruction against the Pit-planet.
There's hardly any choice. Erato may have asked nicely, but this is a classic colonial asset-grab. No doubt, when the forests have become deserts the Creatures will comfort themselves with the fact that they gave the Pit-planet democracy.

Link | Reply

Philip Sandifer 5 years, 2 months ago

The weapon of destruction was, it seems, fired some time ago and was over the whole "kidnapping their ambassador and chucking him in a pit" issue. It's not an attempt to grab the assets but a response to what is, by any standards, be an act of war. Then there's nothing they can do about the oncoming WMD because, in what is possibly my favorite line of the script, "like most stars, it has no guidance system."

Link | Reply

Wm Keith 5 years, 2 months ago

It's a disproportionate response, and at the very least it demonstrates that Chloris has no real bargaining power in future trade negotiations.

Link | Reply

The Lord of Ábrocen Landmearca 5 years, 2 months ago

@Wm Keith Proportional/Disproportional responses brings me to this scene every time: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=AJMVtP1CbOM#t=31s

Link | Reply

Wm Keith 5 years, 2 months ago

And I kept reading reviews which said "The West Wing" was left-wing wish-fulfilment! Bizarre!

Link | Reply

Alan 5 years, 2 months ago

What an interesting take on this story that I have hated for over twenty years! I may actually go back and watch it again. I just remember finding it silly that a planet that was all plant and no metal (of any kind?!?) just happened to be named Chloris, and I found the wolfweeds to be preposterous (killer tumbleweeds for those who haven't seen it). Perhaps its because I was 13, and not really interested in a discourse on the evils of capitalism as depicted via a DW story about a giant green blob.

Also, now that I think about it, how the heck would feudalism have worked on Chloris? In conventional Earth feudalism, the serfs worked the land in exchange for enough of the harvest to live on but after the food was eaten, it was gone, and the serfs had to keep working to get more food. On Chloris, after you fashion metal into a tool, it's ... a tool. And once you give that tool to a serf, it's not going anywhere. So how did Adastra maintain control without the threat of starvation hanging over her serfs?

Link | Reply

Iain Coleman 5 years, 2 months ago

Oh, don't get me started on The West Wing. Fantasy-land politics if ever I saw it.

There have only been two credible English-language TV series about politics, and they're both comedies: Yes, Minister and The Thick of It.

Link | Reply

The Lord of Ábrocen Landmearca 5 years, 2 months ago

@Iain Coleman

Certainly fantasy-land politics, that's part of its charm. There's a lot of problems with the idea of "escapism" and fiction, but I certainly say that I enjoy losing myself in a fantasy world where politicians our noble, and MArtin Sheen gets to be president. The acting is fantastic, the writing, if you like Sorkin's style, is quite good, and the drama is, well, dramatic.

So the politics could never happen in real life. Welp, I don't actually care. You're writing a comment in a blog about a madman who flies around time and space in a blue box, and then you complain that the West Wing contains elements of fantasy? Like that's some kind of criticism? There's only ever been two credible English-language films about people traveling in time and space in boxes: The Blackadder Anniversary Special, and Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure.

Honestly.

Link | Reply

Jack Graham 5 years, 2 months ago

@Alan - I think the query you raise is actually part of the point. Fedualism has stopped working on Chloris. Adrasta has filled her mine up with a dirty great monster. The flow of metal - which was used to make tools for agriculture, controlling the jungle, etc. - has dried up. To protect her wealth and power (i.e. her position as a fedual seigneur) Adrasta has actually started to destroy the system she relies on. This is clearer in the novelisation.

Link | Reply

BerserkRL 5 years, 2 months ago

Part of the problem here is that the sense of "capitalism" in which this story might be pro-capitalist and the sense of "capitalism" in which this story might be anti-capitalist are just not the same sense.

At C4SS we distinguish between three senses of capitalism:

capitalism-1: an economic system that features property rights and voluntary exchanges of goods and services
capitalism-2: an economic system that features a symbiotic relationship between big business and government
capitalism-3: rule -- of workplaces, society, and (if there is one) the state -- by capitalists (that is, by a relatively small number of people who control investable wealth and the means of production)

And then the big debate is over whether capitalism-3 is the result of capitalism-1 (as most people think, be they for or against it) or of capitalism-2 (as we think).

The short version.

The long version.

Link | Reply

Jack Graham 5 years, 2 months ago

In the capitalist culture industries, pretty much every product is, by definition, pro-capitalist. Even when it's anti-capitalist.

Link | Reply

Wm Keith 5 years, 2 months ago

Names are important, and the C4SS has chosen well. It's named its preferred system as "Capitalism", rather than, for example, "Anarchy", and it's called its bogeyman "The State", rather than "Capitalism".

But, if Capitalism-1 is not the default mode of commerce, why is that the case? What makes Capitalism-1 unstable? Is it self-defeating, destabilised by the existence of "property rights" (which I assume, rightly or wrongly, means the ownership of land) or by the unfettered exchange of goods and services? Or by something external to the model? Does that mean the model is wrong?

Isn't the big debate, for advocates of Capitalism-1, whether and how Capitalism-1 can be prevented from decaying (or from being made to decay) into Capitalism-2/-3 and whether a regulatory mechanism (a "State") is more dangerous than useful?

Enjoyed the "Find your philosophy" quiz, which pigeonholed me as a somewhat statist lefty. Or, I thought, given the American loading of the questions on gun control and abortion, as a European.

Link | Reply

BerserkRL 5 years, 2 months ago

C4SS has chosen well. It's named its preferred system as "Capitalism", rather than, for example, "Anarchy"

No, just the opposite. We mostly use "capitalism" as a term of abuse, and we explicitly call ourselves anarchists. (While we favour what we call capitalism-1, we argue that "capitalism" is the wrong term for it, as you'll see if you click on the links.)

Isn't the big debate, for advocates of Capitalism-1, whether and how Capitalism-1 can be prevented from decaying (or from being made to decay) into Capitalism-2/-3

I think those are the same question.

Link | Reply

Wm Keith 5 years, 2 months ago

I suspect that, if the two questions are the same, there is a difference in emphasis.

I did have a look around the C4SS site and I read the "short version".
I still can't see that you call your preferred system "capitalism" (with or without a suffix) except for reasons of presentation.

Not having read the "long version" nor thought about this except briefly, I'm being careful to offer no opinion as to whether C-1 is either right or workable.

Link | Reply

Wm Keith 5 years, 2 months ago

That last comment of mine sounds really prissy. Sorry.

Link | Reply

BerserkRL 5 years, 2 months ago

I still can't see that you call your preferred system "capitalism"

Because we don't?

Link | Reply

Wm Keith 5 years, 2 months ago

OK!

Link | Reply

Henry R. Kujawa 4 years, 11 months ago

This has always been one of the silliest stories in the show's history. Yet, I've always enjoyed watching it. Which is more than I can say for most of Peter Davsion's run.

Adrasta's greed & lust for wealth and power to not only the total exclusion of everyone else's needs but to the eventual destruction of everyone else somehow, in a scary way, makes this story seem a few decades ahead of its time. Because it seems to reflect what's been going on, more and more, in the last 10 years.

Amazing how Lalla Ward can be nicer and sweeter than Mary Tamm and yet at other moments, even MORE "imperial". (More of that coming in "NIMON".)

David Brierly's "okay", but that's as far as I'll go. WHY did John Leeson depart, anyway? Hell. I could "do" a better John Leeson "K-9" than Brierly.

"Everest in Easy Stages", "It's in Tibetan!", "Teach Yourself Tibetan". As Harry Hoo liked to say... "Amazing!"

Adrasta seems to have walked off an episode of Adam West's BATMAN. Her delivery of lines gets more absurd the longer it goes on. Her sidekick seems to be channeling Betty Davis!

I never thought "Jewish" thieves. I thought they stepped out of MONTY PYTHON. And to think, until this month, I never even realized Douglas Adams had worked on the show.

Organon (Geoffrey Bayldon) steals the show. Just had a thought tonight... WHAT IF when Baker found himself down in that mine, he'd suddenly run into William Hartnell's Doctor (from some point before "UNEARTHLY CHILD")? I suspect if anybody could have reduced Baker's Doctor to "second fiddle", it would have been "the original".

Link | Reply

Isaac 3 years, 9 months ago

Here I come, very late to the game. I've only recently found this blog as I go on my own journey through the Doctor's past and just arrived at "The Creature from the Pit" about the same time as I finished reading your excellent write-up on "The Deadly Assassin." I came here in hopes for at least a little comment on an apparent facetious and throw-away line as it pertains to canon, but it's much more on my mind given where I happen to be in my journey through this blog and the show.

So, here it is. I've just read about the nature of canon and how odd it is that an episode that was lambasted for its lack of continuity upon airing is now cited as the core for today's canon. As we approach the coming of the 12th Doctor this is especially on my mind. And yes, it seems a little better established in "The Deadly Assassin" that Time Lords have 12 regenerations, but it is really quite incidental to the story. And so, in watching this, much less beloved, episode of Doctor Who I heard another seemingly incidental, and apparently treated as facetious, line. "Time Lords have 90 lives." After being asked how many he has gone through, the Doctor replies "About 130."

So, why is it that so much stock is given to the 12 regenerations and no stock is given to the 90 lives? Not terribly important, but an example of how non-canon the 12 regenerations really is, for not that long after the Doctor states that Time Lords have 90 lives. And emphasizing his unique position among Time Lords, he has been through about 130 of those.

Link | Reply

Steven 3 years, 9 months ago

I wondered the same thing as I have been making my way through the classic series. I can't shake the Second Doctor's assertion that Time Lords can live forever, barring accidents--which seems to imply immortality. In the end, however, I think that fans have adopted the 12 regenerations over 90 lives or immortality because "The Deadly Assassin" was written by Robert Holmes and is held in much higher regard than "The Creature from the Pit."

Link | Reply

Ross 3 years, 9 months ago

I think "barring accidents" introduces too much wiggle-room for the rest of the statement to trump anything else. We've seen, for instance, single incarnations of The Doctor living or being aged hundreds of years, possibly even thousands of years, and we've recently had the implication that time lords have at least some degree of control over the appearance of aging. It's easy enough (and it's the way I always have) to interpret "forever barring accidents" to mean that Time Lords have an unbounded natural lifespan, but a regeneration limit -- that there is no upper limit on how long a single incarnation can last, but that they can only play the "get out of death free" a fixed number of times.

Link | Reply

Henry R. Kujawa 1 year, 6 months ago

How did I miss that? Adrasta & Karela are doing Joan Crawford & Bette Davis!

Link | Reply

orfeo 7 months, 4 weeks ago

Hooray! I'm glad there are indeed people out there that appreciate this script. Having just watched it I quite enjoyed the first 3 episodes, and found Adrasta quite a well-developed and intriguing character. I particularly liked the moment where it became clear that she knew more about the Creature than anyone else did.

It does all fall away a bit in the finale, but your take on it definitely makes sense with the bandits and Karela looking to merely step into Adrasta's place and change nothing about the system. A system where scarcity creates value, and the suggestion that the scarcity is unnecessary is taboo.

Link | Reply

New Comment

required

required (not published)

optional

Recent Posts

Archive

Tags

Authors

Feeds

RSS / Atom