Skulltopus 11: Changing States
Before the Skulltopus series moves on to the Baker years (and beyond), I feel the need to settle accounts with the Pertwee era, particularly with Peladon. Also, I need to clarify something about the way capitalism is portrayed and perceived in – and by – Doctor Who.
The maggots in ‘The Green Death‘ are the Pertwee era’s last gasp of the Weirdesque. ‘Green Death’ is also the last Pertwee story to properly notice capitalism.
Admittedly, there is some riffing on ‘greed’ in ‘Invasion of the Dinosaurs’; and ‘Monster of Peladon’ regurgitates (in a reduced form) the political semiotics of its parent story. However, in these stories, while class is in evidence… class struggle even!… there is no tracing it back to anything recognisable as capitalist social relations.
I’ll get to this, but first I want to loop back to address something about ‘Carnival of Monsters’ that I should’ve mentioned previously: Vorg as an entrepreneur and how this relates to the society in which he finds himself. Firstly, Inter-Minor isn’t recognisably capitalist. The latent revolution in ‘Carnival’ – the imminent revolt of the Functionaries that President Zarb (the panicky social democrat) is trying to placate and Kalik (the fascist) wants to crush – tracks back to race (the story does some heavy riffing on race) but stops there. It comes close… at one point mentioning a strike… but we get no sense of particularly capitalist relations. There are no wages, no profits, no recognisable industrial workplaces and only the barest suggestion of a market at the very end. Vorg, like other Robert Holmes creations, can be read as an embodiment of a more likeable version of free enterprise. Like Milo Clancy or Garron, Vorg is a private operator, a colourful chancer, an individualist, a guy on the make who seems vital and amusing when stood next to grey statist authoritarians. But Vorg’s polari version of laissez faire is ultimately judged harmless, or even constructive. He gets some stick for keeping “livestock” in the scope… and it’s possible to read the scope itself as a metaphor for commodity fetishism, displaying how commodification of living people involves their compartmentalisation and alienation from proper awareness of the endless rut in which they circle. However, I think this is far more about race as an artificial construct than it is about commodification (I’ll try to address this in another post some time). And, ultimately, Vorg’s carny capitalism seems to be a potential force for change, progress and reform in the insular, ultra-statist backwater of Inter-Minor. He ends the story fleecing Pletrac… but the tone the story takes with this implies that a dose of Vorg is just what the Inter-Minorans need. To the extent that capitalism appears in ‘Carnival’, it does so through the rosy lens of Vorg.
Now, back to the post-‘Green Death’ Pertwee era.
‘Invasion of the Dinosaurs’ is a densely political text, hugely ambivalent and needing a great deal of unpacking. There is, as I say, some harping on about the evils of ‘greed’ and an implied anxiety about industrial pollution… but, ultimately, the story essentializes the social dystrophies of capitalism into malformations in human nature, which are (it is implied) exacerbated when people go around believing things.…