“The colonists shouldn’t be here,” says Dent. “My Corporation has been assigned the mineral rights on this planet. Our preliminary survey indicates a very rich concentration of duralinium. You know how the Earth needs that mineral.”
“Earth, or your corporation’s profits?” asks the Doctor.
Dent and his mining corporation will go on to prove that they will do literally anything, including mass murder, to obtain the duralinium they want.
“What’s good for IMC is good for Earth,” says Dent, echoing a famous statement once made in the real world. “There are one hundred thousand million people back on Earth and they desperately need all the minerals we can find.”
“What those people need, my dear sir,” asserts the Doctor, “are new worlds to live in like this one. Worlds where they can live like human beings, not battery hens.”
What nobody mentions during this conversation, or during any of the conversations anybody has about the controversy, is the notion that no non-Uxarians might have the right to appropriate Uxarius. There are people already living there, you see. But those people don’t count. They’re “primitives”.
This story is a reiteration of Western tropes, in both the sense of the genre ‘the Western’ and in the sense of the culture of Western civilisation. IMC are the cynical railroad men; the colonists are settlers being expropriated by them. The Uxarian natives are ‘Indians’. They conform to the stereotypes. They’re silent and sullen and irrational, scrabbling around in the dirt and waggling staffs aggressively.
In a way, this complete failure to acknowledge the claims of the aboriginal Uxarians adds to the suffocating nastiness of what’s going on. In the real world, aboriginals were displaced by settlers who then complained when big powers or big companies came to displace them in turn… and the settlers often remained blissfully unaware of their own hypocrisy. The original inhabitants of settler-colonial states usually ended up enslaved, massacred, and/or crowded into ghettos or bantustans or the Gaza Strip, like battery hens. Nobody in ‘Colony in Space’ seems aware of this; but then, as I said, that’s only realistic.
It’s a bit like the way Conrad’s Heart of Darkness manages to be both an appallingly racist tract of loathing and contempt for black Africans and a searing indictment of imperialism. It does this by, as China Mieville observed, allowing no hope within the text that the Africans will liberate themselves. ‘Colony in Space’ isn’t a visionary, feverish masterpiece… and yet, it does have something of the sublime and terrifying wasteland about it, mirroring Conrad’s nasty view of Africa as a soulless jungle. ‘Colony’ has the people of the future replaying ancient mistakes (and all for the same reasons) amidst a bleak, hard-scrabble wilderness of grey, dull, flat, featureless rocks and mud. There’s a protracted fight in a mud pool that is almost nihilistic, like that Goya painting where two guys are still trying to club each other to death while both sinking into the same quicksand.
Uxarius is, of course, a world ravaged by its own technological triumphs, by its trajectory towards total weaponization. The Uxarians aren’t really ‘primitives’, no matter what the colonists think. They’re actually more ‘advanced’ than the humans. If the story has a blind spot about the “primitives”, it sees clearly enough the true nature of ‘advancement’.