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Jack Graham

Jack Graham wrote about Doctor Who and Marxism, often at the same time. These days he co-hosts the I Don't Speak German podcast with Daniel Harper.Support Jack on Patreon.

3 Comments

  1. Alex Wilcock
    November 29, 2011 @ 2:19 am

    Excellent piece (or pair of pieces), and where else would I be able to read a Doctor Who article talking about the rise of the semiotic octopus? It’s fascinating to look at what I’ve always thought of as near-textbook Who in a new light, with your thorough examination of potential meanings – or protean lack of them – to the Rutan, and ultimately the story itself, being both and neither cape nor tentacle. Perhaps I’m just too familiar with it, first as one of the children it was designed to frighten and later through knowing too much of the background to it (the hauntological – and “Fang”, and parasitic aristocrats, and a man named Harker – I can’t help seeing as Terrance sticking two fingers up at Dracula, for infamous behind-the-scenes reasons, and the Weird-inflected because he’s stated he was thinking of a creature that would be the opposite of Sontarans). It hadn’t occurred to me that the Rutan speaking should be a problem, so I’ll have to mull that over in your Skulltopic context, but I’d certainly go along with you on the Krynoid; that story would do much better without that scene (and with a less prosaic resolution)…

    For once, I’d also agree on “the story’s intense focus on class,” too. You probably won’t be surprised if I see Doctor Who stories in terms of class analysis less often, but here it’s so blatant it’s impossible to miss. Back when I wrote about Horror of Fang Rock a few years ago, I called it “the series’ story most about social class”, with the different layers of snobbery ranging from the Doctor being the only one to call Vince “Mr Hawkins” at one end to the extreme-through-social-insecurity of Palmerdale’s mistress at the other, and its straightforward Terrance Dicks moral: ‘being greedy gets you killed, and you deserve it!’

    One thing I’m mildly surprised you didn’t focus on more – perhaps because you see it as a given – is the level of Skinsale’s corruption. You call him “the self-consciously ‘honourable’ officer-and-gentleman”, contrasting that with his part in the Empire, but for me he’s far more of a nasty piece of work than that usual sort of character, for all their implicit baggage; most fans seem to pigeonhole Palmerdale as “greedy” and Skinsale an “affable old soldier”, one there to dislike and one to warm to, and while I’m sure you’d attack the likes of both, I’m always surprised that pretty much every other review falls for Skinsale on his own terms. Even “self-consciously ‘honourable’” is too kind, as if he’s got his own false consciousness; I’d say he’s more self-styled, and ruthless in defending that façade. I dislike Skinsale even more than I do Palmerdale because at least his Lordship is honestly nasty; the Colonel is just as greedy, though not as good at it, and wants to have it all in a way that not even Palmerdale does – “good name”, position, money – without doing the work, and is prepared to be selfish, reckless, criminal, arrogant and possibly treasonous, threatening people’s livelihoods and ultimately lives so he can get away with it. In that context, I’d have expected you to point to him as the ideal exposé of his class…

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  2. Jack Graham
    November 29, 2011 @ 3:29 pm

    Thanks Alex, nice to get such a full and thoughtful comment (plus praise, which is is always welcome).

    A clarification: I didn't necessarily mean to say that I think it's a mistake for the Rutan to speak. On the contrary, I like its words and voice. I just noticed that its explanation of its motives, together with its clear iteration of an ideology, hugely diminish any 'Weirdness' it may possess. Indeed, its articulation makes it veer back towards the hauntological – which the story as a whole had been edging towards disavowing – because "the empty rhetoric of a defeated dictator" makes the Rutan back into something recognisable (ie a militarist, an imperialist), thus turning it back into the 'returning repressed', the fears of Reuben (coupled with oncoming horrors of history that we recognise, even if they lie ahead of the characters) incarnated as a monster that is meant to mean. Reading myself back, I could've been clearer on this.

    Also, you're quite right about Skinsale. "Self-styled" would've been better than "self-consciously", since his persona of "officer and gentleman" is pure hypocrisy. His sneering at Palmerdale as a "money grubber" is particularly telling, as is his refusal to blame himself for the loss of his reputation. There's a complex dance of class here that Dicks depicts really very well indeed. Palmerdale has a title, yet he comes over as decidely arriviste. One senses a fortune based on trade and, specifically, finance. In short, Palmerdale smells of big, 20th century capitalism. That's why Skinsale, who is not an aristo as such, looks down at him. He considers himself socially superior despite being skint, presumably because his family cache is unsullied by 'making' any money. His is the status based purely on blood (which is what would allow him to be an "officer and gentleman") that Palmerdale would long for, hence his crashingly inappropriate attempts to ape it. BUT, people like Skinsale were relics. They were losing out to the rise of people like Palmerdale – and found themselves bumming money off them! So you have the 'dollar bride' phenomenon, for example. Rich American families (wealthy from business and finance) wanted the cache of English titles… English aristos needed dirty 'new' money. But, as an added twist (which 'Fang Rock' notices!) a few of the British 'new money' people, the business and finance millionaires of Britain, were titled… because it was the social privileges of the old class system that often provided titled people a way into the new system (particularly through rents).

    What's especially interesting about all this from the angle of discussing the hauntological (or gothic, to be broader about it) is that… well, you mentioned 'Dracula'. Now there's a brilliant Marxist reading of this book by a chap called Moretti, in which he identifies the vampire as standing for global monopoly capital (he wants to import and export his infection, branch out, conquer foreign markets and eventually bring the whole globe into conformity with his own system) vs. liberal free trade… Dracula's great enemy is, after all, a Dutchman!

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  3. Alex Wilcock
    November 30, 2011 @ 4:03 pm

    My pleasure, and thanks for the reply. Perhaps I was doing what Mary Whitehouse would have said about me when I was a boy and watching the story, and letting the end linger in my mind (given that, although you talk about it earlier in a different context, I remembered the last time you mention the Rutan speaking). But, yes, good points, and thanks for disentangling them. Glad you enjoyed the points about Skinsale – I have a feeling I’d always assumed he was ‘nice’, reading the book and not questioning it, then saw the VHS when it was released in the ’90s and suddenly thought, ‘But he’s a complete git!’ But excellent expansions on all that and the historical background. Suddenly, I’d like to see Terrance Dicks’ version of Downton Abbey, with Skinsale as his Lordship.

    I’m tempted by that Marxist reading of Dracula, now. Not least because it sounds like I’d side with Van Helsing. When I’ve written about ‘Breaking up monopolies’ before now, it’s not usually by literally cutting their heads off and burying them at a crossroads…

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