“I’ve known many times,” says the Doctor, “some of them much more pleasant than others.”
“Well, I quite like it here, I must say,” interjects Jo to cover the awkward moment, “Everyone’s been most kind.”
The Controller (what a giveaway that title is) nods in appreciation of her remark.
The Doctor, however, is unimpressed. He swills more wine. He looks like an sozzled, opinionated guy at an unsuccessful party, spoiling for a fight.
“Well, I met some people today who were far from kind,” he says. He spent the earlier part of the day taking a forced tour of the Controller’s utopia, being subjected to the tender mercies of a surprisingly well-sketched terror state.
“That was a simple mistake, Doctor, I assure you,” says the Controller, his voice as smooth and silvery as his strange, quasi-robotic face, “You must not jump to conclusions.”
“Better than jumping from the crack of a whip from some security guard,” snaps the Doctor, “Do you run all your factories like that, Controller?”
We have been granted an unusual thing earlier in this episode: a glimpse into the productive centres of a Dalek-ruled regime. It looked like a gulag. People in rags lugged grain while being monitored at every moment. At one point, we cut straight from that to the Controller handing Jo a plate full of grapes.
Grapes make wine, of course. Wine is strangely present in this story. Back at the start, the Doctor raided Sir Reginald Styles’ wine cellar.
“That was not a factory, Doctor,” returns the Controller mechanically.
“Oh? Then what was it?” The Doctor looks still more like a half-cut guy, up for some aggro.
“A rehabilitation centre. A rehabilitation centre for hardened criminals.”
“Including old men and women, even children?”
“There will always be people who need discipline, Doctor,” says the Controller, as though the point is beyond debate… but then, to people like him, it always is.
“Now that’s an old fashioned point of view,” says the Doctor “even from my standards.”
I love that line, but it makes me feel sad. It dates this story far more than the mullets and flares and glam rock facepaint. I mourn a long lost time, before neoliberalism got to work on popular culture, when it was a mainstream assumption that we could dispense with crusty, reactionary stuff about some people basically being indolent animals who needed to be forced to work… so much so that even the Third Doctor could come out with it.
“I can assure you that this planet has never been more efficiently, more economically run,” says the controller.
Note that. It’s never been more efficient and more “economically run” than when the bloody Daleks are in control.
“People have never been happier or more prosperous,” he continues.
“Then why,” asks the Doctor, “do you need so many people to keep them under control? Don’t they like being happy and prosperous?”
This cuts right to the quick. It cuts to the delusion – still widespread on the left at that time – that ‘really existing socialism’ was in some meaningful way an improvement. But if it was so great, why was there a dirty big wall keeping people in East Germany? As Mark Steel once put it:
If you had a party, and discovered some of the guests secretly building a hot air balloon in an effort to escape, you wouldn’t say, “Well that was a successful night.”
In many ways, ‘Day of the Daleks’ is a story about the failure of socialism or communism in the 20th century, and it confines itself to the predictable liberal assumptions. The Dalek economy looks like a gulag system. The terrible new world was brought about by the Chinese and Russians starting World War Three. Some revolutionary guerillas in fatigues try to change history with bullets and bombs and just make things worse (natch). Some of these “fanatics” (as the Doctor calls them) even have Che moustaches. (And let’s not even get started on the racefails and politicsfails that come with having stupid, grunting, dark-skinned, low-browed aliens recycled from Planet of the Apes.)
And yet… as has been mentioned on this blog before, ‘really existing socialism’ or ‘communism’ were actually authoritarian and bureaucratic variants of state capitalism that arose for complex and contingent historical reasons. So you can ask the Doctor’s question about social control in our society too.
I’m not an anarchist, though I have much sympathy with many anarchist ideas. One of the founding fathers of anarchism was Joseph Proudhon. I have my issues with him, but he did say something I love:
To be governed is to be at every operation, at every transaction, noted, registered, enrolled, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, authorized, admonished, forbidden, reformed, corrected, punished. It is, under the pretext of public utility, and in the name of the general interest, to be placed under contribution, trained, ransomed, exploited, monopolized, extorted, squeezed, mystified, robbed; then, at the slightest resistance, the first word of complaint, to be repressed, fined, despised, harassed, tracked, abused, clubbed, disarmed, choked, imprisoned, judged, condemned, shot, deported, sacrificed, sold, betrayed; and, to crown all, mocked, ridiculed, outraged, dishonoured. That is government; that is its justice; that is its morality.
This is all still pretty much true where I am. I dunno about you. I expect the NSA knows you’re reading this. The British government is currently engaged in a concerted effort to make public protest effectively illegal. And yet we live under capitalism, which we are constantly told is the best of all possible worlds. Even the recession is getting better, we’re told.
What’s the matter with us? Don’t we like being happy and prosperous?