Skulltopus 9: Signs of Progress and the Progress of the Sign

You can rifle the Pertwee era for tentacles and find relatively few.  They only crop up in stories in which capital looms.  They only fully-materialize as a major threat where capitalism is a systemic presence, threatening – even if only obliquely – to connect up various social and political nightmares.

That isn’t to say that social and political nightmares are thin on the ground.  Far from it.  But it’s only when those problems are connected to capital, commodification and trade as exploitative or destructive, that they sprout tentacles.

Evidence of Absence

The reason why ‘Spearhead from Space’ builds to an unexpectedly tentacular conclusion is because all sorts of things within it hint obliquely and elliptically at deep problems in the Britain of the late twentieth century, problems which seem to build towards a connection that must be occluded: namely the connection of all these problems at the economic base of society, the productive forces, the capitalist factory, the commodity form itself.  ‘Spearhead’ is saturated in depictions of hierarchy, domination and class.  The story hints – albeit very quietly – at imperialism, and at racial and gender hierarchies.  The monsters are stalking emblems of alienation and commodity fetishism, manufactured things, products, hostile commodities in the estranged human form of consumerism.  The tentacles appear to obscure the hub of the story.  We don’t even see the hub of the creature within the tank, only its flailing limbs.

‘Spearhead’ is, however, unusually potent, oneiric, suggestive and loaded.  That said, many of its preoccupations recur throughout the Pertween era… just not together, not in such a ‘joined-up’ way and not in stories that even notice capitalism, let alone suggest that evil emanates from capitalist alienation of labour.

For instance, in ‘The Silurians’, social hierarchy is definitely in evidence but it doesn’t reach deeply into everyday normal life as in ‘Spearhead’.  Work is in evidence, but almost all of it takes place in a state-owned research centre and all the main characters are professionals who are, apparently, dedicated scientists rather than, say, factory drudges.  The monetary value of the facility is mentioned but not in terms of profitability.  There isn’t any poverty to be seen, or much in the way of class.  There are certainly no drastic social divisions.  There is xenophobia and prejudice but these are treated as human traits – related, if anything, to our biology – rather than social phenomena.  Capitalism is hardly hinted at, economically or culturally.  There is simply the world as it stands, as a backdrop to events.  All of this broadly holds true for ‘Ambassadors of Death’ too.  There are no tentacles in either story, though there is some mildly Weird inflection detectable in ‘Ambassadors’, in the appearance of the aliens and their peculiar ship.  It’s worth noting, in this connection, that an attempt is made to commodify the alien ambassadors, whereas this is not the case with the Silurians.

In ‘Inferno’, fascism (or some form of totalitarianism at any rate) is a major theme, but there’s no hint in the text that it’s linked to economics.…

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