Skulltopus 5: Fair Exchange, No Robbery
Erato the Tythonian in ‘The Creature from the Pit’ doesn’t much resemble an octopus, but nevertheless he/it is a shapeless, amorphous creature that extends a probe which is (briefly) a bit tentacular… though this tends to be obscured by the fact that it also supposedly resembles a cock:
|If this picture reminds you of your genitals,|
seek immediate medical advice.
Neither seems to have been the writer’s intention. Indeed, in the novelisation, it is specifically stated that “you couldn’t call it a tentacle”. The probe is repeatedly described in terms of hands, fingers and fists. As the story progresses, it becomes clear that Erato is meant to be a kind of giant, disembodied brain.
However, the probe is a long, flexible, green, non-humanoid limb… so let’s not fear to call it a quasi-tentacle, whatever Fisher says.
In any case, the Tythonian is – at least until it starts talking – reminiscent of the Weird… if only via its unstable and amorphous blobbiness.
In this post, I suggested that ‘Spearhead from Space’ erupts into tentacles at the end partly as a way of obscuring something else that is going on in the story, namely a convergence of various themes towards a potential critique of modern British capitalism as a system of hierarchy, racism, imperialism, sexism and exploitation. (Click the link and read it if you think I’ve gone mad.)
I’m planning, in forthcoming posts, to suggest that Doctor Who in the 70s adopts the tentacular as a recurring way of simultaneously fleeing from and signifying capitalism. There is a prelude to this: the Weirdish ab-crabs in ‘The Macra Terror‘. There’s also a transitional story at the other end, just before the semiotic connection largely dies out in the 80s. This transitional story is the final story of the 70s to feature the tentacular even as a suggestion.
Philip Sandifer, at his TARDIS Eruditorum blog, has described ‘The Creature from the Pit’ as “a proper anti-capitalist screed”. He describes Adrasta as “a selfish arch capitalist who is perfectly happy to thrive while everyone else suffers” and notes that Tat Wood and Lawrence Miles are wrong to write off as anachronistic the idea that Adrasta could’ve been intended as a Thatcher figure (the story was written during the election that she went on to win). However, his argument is considerably more sophisticated than this and rests more especially on something he identifies in the script: the subversion of the (by now) standard Doctor Who ‘evil ruling class vs. rebels’ trope. Sandifer identifies this story as coinciding with the great shift in the ‘centre ground’ of British politics that more-or-less coincided with the advent of Thatcherism.
The key thing is… the way in which both sides of an apparent political debate were in one sense indistinguishable because they both adhered to the same premise… [For example] the way in which the trade unions, Callaghan, and Thatcher all took for granted that maximizing profit was the right thing to do. The idea that they were opposing sides in many key ways serves more to cut other perspectives out of the debate entirely than it does to actually describe a fundamental philosophical difference between them.