Everyone is down a mine.
(Incidentally, it’s funny how often Doctor Who in the 70s and 80s keeps coming back to mines. I’m sure it’s nothing to do with the fact that coal mining was a key industry in British economic life during these decades, miners were among the most powerful unionised workers in the 70s, and the 80s saw the calculated destruction of the miners’ unions and their industry by the Tory government. Oh ho no.)
Anyway. As I say, everyone – the Doctor, Romana, K9, Adrasta, Organon and a giant green blob called Erato – is down a mine. And things are coming to a head. (Head. Pit-head. Geddit? Never mind. It doesn’t really work anyway.)
Yes, so anyway… Erato is, as I say, a giant green blob.
“Erato came here fifteen years ago to propose a trading agreement,” says the Doctor, while everyone else still reels from the revelation that the blob has a name, a mind and the ability to talk. “Tythonus is a planet rich in metallic ores and minerals….”
There’s an interlude here where the Doctor and Adrasta have a little argument about the fact that the Doctor is checking his facts by asking an electric dog.
“…the Tythonions exist on ingesting chlorophyll,” the Doctor continues, “Large quantities of it, judging by their size. Now, there’s a superabundance of planet life on Chloris, so…”
“So Erato came here to offer you metal in return for chlorophyll!” finishes Romana.
“Right. But who was the first person he met?”
“The person who held the monopoly of metal here,” supplies Organon in response to the Doctor’s rhetorical question.
He means Adrasta, by the way.
“Right,” agrees the Doctor, “And did she put the welfare of her struggling people above her own petty power? No. She tipped the ambassador into a pit and threw astrologers at him.”
If you don’t know what that last bit means, well I’m sorry… I have limited space and no inclination to explain. What are you doing reading this blog anyway, if you’re not the sort of person who has already seen the DVD at least 412 times?
What Erato didn’t reckon on was the fact that he was a character in a story being written in Britain in the late 70s, when British society was laying to rest the last vestiges of the leftover radicalism of the 60s and just starting to be transformed by the crumbling of the post-war social democratic consensus and the rise of neoliberalism… By coming to a feudal society that existed in such a story, Erato was coming to a place where feudalism was a stand-in for protectionism and backwardness and all sorts of other Bad Things that hindered free trade. So Bad Things were likely to happen to him.
The funny thing is… this story actually sort-of tallies with the Marxist view of history. Marxism thinks historical change happens for all sorts of reasons, but one fundamental reason is the moment when the developing forces of production (how societies reproduce themselves by making what they need) come into conflict with the social superstructure (how relationships in society are arranged). Revolutions happen when the existing social relationships become a drag factor holding back the development of the productive forces.
To give a very crude illustration:
An opportunity comes along for a society short on metal to get lots more metal (I mean LOTS more) by entering into a trading agreement with someone who has lots of metal. If that metal-short society gets lots more metal, it can have more of the things it needs to produce stuff (like, say, farming implements… and perhaps even more complex machinery). But the society is dominated by a powerful person or layer of people – say, a feudal ruling class – whose power depends upon their near-monopoly on metal, i.e upon their ownership of the only mine. That person – let’s imagine it’s one person and she’s a woman – is, as stated, very powerful, and is thus in a position to stymie the deal. Sometimes such a person will actually retard their own economic interests in order to cling on to older social structures that benefit them.
Adrasta – and, by extension, the whole of feudal system on Chloris – 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. This is like the decadent feudal aristocracy fighting the oncoming revolution to a bourgeois mode of production. Look also at how the story 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!
The final proof that this story is about the rise of capitalism can be found in the fact that everyone on Chloris is deperate to get their hands on metal… and yet, it doesn’t seem to be valuable to them in itself. Presumably, they want to trade the metal to those who have none. Metal has become a commodity, the ur-commodity, the commodity that signifies all others and realises their value. The universal equivalent. It has become, in short, capitalist money.
Of course, as I say, this is also a story from and about the rise of neoliberalism. So it’s about the road out of serfdom in two senses: the sense of the original historical transition to capitalism and the rising ideology of neoliberalism. Hayekian class war, in the form of Thatcherism and Reaganomics, was (in rhetoric if not always in practice) about supposedly liberating money and trade from the protectionism and monopoly of an old system.
From that semi-rational but increasingly hegemonic standpoint, Adrasta isn’t a fedual seigneur… she’s Jim Callaghan.