Fang Rock, Class and the Tentacular Revolution
If you ask me, ‘Horror of Fang Rock’ is one of the best ever; a thriller that focuses on characters who really interact while they’re trapped together, featuring Tom and Louise at their acme.
It investigates the nature of belief in an age of rising science and technology: Adelaide’s astrology fetish compares to the superstition of Vince and Reuben, with Vince’s terror as real as hers, and Reuben’s fear of monsters more a manifestation of melancholy stubbornness at the rise of unsympathetic forces he doesn’t understand (like electricity… which is also the weapon of the monster that kills and impersonates him). Meanwhile, Leela lectures Adelaide that consulting her “shaman” (despite Adelaide’s denial, that is the right word for people like Miss Nethercote) is a “waste of time”… but, with relishable irony, the semi-educated Leela simply believes in science because her mentor has told her to.
‘Fang Rock’ has a quiet undercurrent about sex too. Adelaide is understood by Harker to be Palmerdale’s “fancy woman” and Skinsale obviously envies this (though god knows why)… but he’s also clearly very taken with Leela. Paddy Russell gives us a whole shot simply to establish how much Skinsale digs Leela on sight. Vince is very flustered by Leela’s impromptu striptease (which she completely fails to understand) and pays attentions to Adelaide, which she simply treats with a patronising indulgence (to her he’s an instrumentum vocale, not a young man). And then we have the porn under Reuben’s bed. Mind you, I’m not a Freudian so I’m not saying anything about phallic symbolism. Sometimes, a lighthouse is just a lighthouse.
‘Fang Rock’ is also very interested in class and the way it was changing in the early 20th century. Palmerdale is loaded and is therefore a scumbag, obviously. Crude but very Whoish… and true enough in general terms. He seems dead posh to the keepers… but to Skinsale (a wonderfully apt name, considering the manner of his death) Palmerdale is a nouveu riche, arriviste, vulgar little money-grubber… and such things obviously matter to Palmerdale since he has evidently purchased his lordly title. He tries to buy everything. He even seems to be paying his mistress (albeit for being a secretary rather than a concubine). Skinsale, meanwhile, considers himself Palmerdale’s social superior, despite obviously being skint (old money, obviously… and with a reputation built on enforcing empire in India). Palmerdale gets loads of his sailors killed but makes sure that he escapes (there are lifeboats enough for the gentry, as with the Titanic disaster, but not for the commoners) after causing the crash because he’s anxious to use insider info to fleece the markets… and then views Harker’s recriminations as irrelevant impertinence, and the keepers as more servants.
It’s worth noticing that the Doctor treats the workers (other than the cloddish and xenophobic Reuben) with respect. He starts off calling Vince “Mr Hawkins” while the poshos automatically talk to him like he’s a footman.
Vince, upon realising that Palmerdale is dead, burns the cash that His Lordship gave him, instinctively understanding that if he’s found in possession of it, the society he lives in will simply assume that he murdered the venal, titled git for the money.…