“All the resting ones I have used were people of status, ambition,” says Davros.
The quintessential 80s heroes. They had themselves brought to his business, Tranquil Repose, when they wanted to pay to cheat the ultimate human frailty. Death was a weakness they felt they had a right to buy off. They paid to rest until they could be awoken and cured. They would then resume their positions of power. Money would conquer death. Just as Timon and Marx knew, as the ultra-commodity in a system of total commodification, money has a fantastic and phantasmic power. It can dissolve even the most drastic boundaries and oppositions. It can even make the dead into the living.
Davros’ clients had the same dream as all ruling classes. Their ancient forebears had themselves buried in their finery, surrounded by their treasure, expecting to take it with them. If they couldn’t take it with them, they weren’t going. That was the logic behind the pyramids… and those monuments to dead pharoahs helped bolster the power of the living ones. They were a unified statement of divine and material power.
When Jobel and Takis prepare the body of the President’s wife, it looks as though they have put her in an Egyptian sarcophagus. In the long shots of Tranquil Repose, the facility is made of pyramids.
But Davros has been harvesting the bodies of all these thrusting executives, billionaires and society ladies (the only people that are considered of any value by people like him) and turning them into Daleks. In this story, the Daleks have become Cybermen: zombies constructed from bodies eviscerated and infibulated by technology… except that Cybermen are labour power reduced to pure meat, whereas the Daleks are the rulers refined and rendered into fascist tanks. Capital is still gothic. ‘Dead labour’ as Marx called it. Zombie labour. Undead labour. The property created by past work, accreted and collected and owned, towering over the living labourer and sucking on his or her blood. In Doctor Who, such dead labour, alienated from people until it becomes literally alien, fetishised until it comes alive, constantly meshes with the human body. The Daleks are another expression of this. In this story, this vampire capital feeds even on the bodies of the rich… but, for them, this is an opportunity for expansion. It salvages them, the way fascism always salvages capitalism when it comes under existential threat. It opens up new vistas and markets, the way imperialism always does.
Like Milo Minderbinder in the movie, Davros thinks the rich will get how this works.
“They would understand,” he claims blithely, “especially as I have given them the opportunity to become masters of the universe!”
Masters of the Universe was a range of mega-successful toys in the 80s, one of the quintessential commodities of the decade. Tom Wolfe would adapt the phrase to describe the new bucaneers of Wall Street in his satire The Bonfire of the Vanities. Those people made money even more phantasmic, floating it around the world in clouds of information, making it a spirit… but one that still commanded material things and living bodies.
The Doctor wonders what will happen to those deemed unworthy of promotion to the top level of Davros’ new corporate/fascist regime. The non-Masters of the Universe; those bodies who fail in the marketplace of Dalek ideas.
“Will they be left to rot?”
No such luck.
“You should know me better than that, Doctor,” says Davros, “I never waste a valuable commodity.”
Again, human bodies as commodities.
“The humanoid form makes an excellent concentrated protein,” he continues, “This part of the galaxy is developing quickly. Famine was one of its major problems.”
Needless to say, this wasn’t because there was not enough food. Under global capitalism, famines are allowed to happen essentially because the market is a shitty way to distribute resources. You can make more profit selling too much food to a few than you can selling enough food to a lot.
“You’ve turned them into food?” splutters the Doctor, “Did you bother to tell anyone they might be eating their own relatives?”
“Certainly not,” replies Davros, “That would have created what I believe is termed consumer resistance.”
He learns the rules of business fast, this parochial fascist scientist. His background allows him to mesh himself seamlessly into the pyramidal structure of the corporation, with its absolute apex and its total lack of accountability. Chomsky says that corporations are “pure tyrannies”, among the most ‘totalitarian’ organisations ever devised. I might quibble with his analysis here and there, but he describes something utterly real. Davros knows how the propaganda model works too: the provenance of commodities, and the brute pragmatism of power, needs to stay behind closed doors. Davros keeps himself hidden behind a decoy, in a cellar, at the centre of a labyrith, under the presentable foyer and the marble corridors of his going concern. He hides himself and his name behind his connections and deals.
In his crude way, Davros has literalised something about the nature of capitalist relations in the age of consumerism. Consumerism, in its material form as advertising and branding, is cannibalistic. It feeds us back to ourselves as images. We consume the human form – suitably treated and cooked-up and filled with unnatural additives – all the time, in advertising, fashion, celebrity culture, dolls in shop windows, TV, movies, pornography. We consume media ideas about how to look, how to dress, how to eat, how to speak. We eat ourselves all the time, every day, as a meal prepared for us by the hidden and the powerful
Davros has adapted to capitalism so well that he has realised one of its strategies into real, literal, material terms. He has fed us to ourselves.