The Editor (apparently he edits the whole of human society) has uncovered Suki’s true identity. Instead of being just another inoffensive wannabe employee, she’s actually…
“Eva Saint Julienne, last surviving member of the Freedom Fifteen. Hmm, self declared anarchist, is that right?” His tone is patronising. Non-mainstream political principles are a quaint and amusing affectation.
“The Freedom Foundation has been monitoring Satellite Five’s transmissions,” says Suki, pulling a gun on the smug bastard, “We have absolute proof that the facts are being manipulated. You are lying to the people.”
“Ooo, I love it,” he giggles, still in the same tone of amusement, as though he’s listening to hilariously naff dialogue in a period drama, “Say it again.”
“This whole system is corrupt. Who do you represent?”
The Editor is self-aware enough to know that, for all his power, he’s a slave himself.
“I answer to the Editor in Chief…. If you don’t mind, I’m going to have to refer this upwards.”
Suki looks up, to see what the Editor is referring to.
“What is that?” she asks.
“Your boss. This has always been your boss, since the day you were born.”
Lower down Satellite 5, the Doctor is quizzing Cathica, who has lived all her life on one level.
“I don’t know anything,” she says proudly.
“Don’t you even ask?”
“Why would I?”
“You’re a journalist.”
“What’s that got to do with anything?”
She genuinely doesn’t understand him. She doesn’t know what is on the floors above her… except that on the executive level, the place she’s been trained to yearn for, “the walls are made of gold”. She doesn’t know why “immigration has tightened up”. Forced to guess, she flails around and suggests some vague notions, all based on the random ‘shit happens’ model, none of which point any blame at anybody powerful or any powerful structures. And this is a member of society in which people are surrounded by ‘News’, in which they have holes carved into their own heads so information can be beamed directly into their brains. For all the ‘news’ and ‘information’, they don’t know what’s going on or why.
“This society’s the wrong shape…” says the Doctor.
When the Doctor and Rose reach the top floors, the walls aren’t made of gold, they’re made of frosted steel, and the workstations are manned by zombies – including Suki.
“I think she’s dead,” says the Doctor.
“She’s working,” says Rose.
In capitalism, mindless labour transforms you into the walking dead… or, in this case, the sitting at a desk dead.
“It may interest you to know,” smarms the Editor, “that this is not the Fourth Great and Bountiful Human Empire. In fact, it’s not actually human at all. It’s merely a place where humans happen to live…”
There is an angry snarl from the ceiling.
“…yeah, sorry…” the Editor corrects himself, jumping at the growl of his boss, “It’s a place where humans are allowed to live by kind permission of my client.”
His client (he’s a banker) is a gigantic slab of meat. The whole system of Satellite 5 is set up to keep it cool and fresh, to stop it turning and rotting. The Empire is system of air conditioning; designed to stop zombie meat from spoiling. But the creature is also a huge, roaring, slavering mouth. At the centre of the Empire, yet again, there is consumption, insatiable hunger… but this mouth also speaks. It speaks its version of truth directly into the brains of the human race.
“Create a climate of fear and it’s easy to keep the borders closed,”explains the Editor, “It’s just a matter of emphasis. The right word in the right broadcast repeated often enough can destabilise an economy, invent an enemy…” (it seems redundant, but I’ll mention the word: Iraq) “… or change a vote.”
“So all the people on Earth are like, slaves,” says Rose, cutting straight to the quick as usual.
“Well, now, there’s an interesting point…” returns the Editor, “Is a slave a slave if he doesn’t know he’s enslaved?”
“Yes,” says the Doctor simply. He won’t debate the issue, despite the Editor’s more-grown-up-than-thou goading. If you just concede that it’s even up for debate, the Editors of this world have already won. It becomes Question Time. It becomes safe.
Perhaps a slave is even more a slave if he just takes it for granted that he’s free.