“All the resting ones I have used were people of status, ambition,” says Davros.
The quintessential 80s heroes. They had themselves brought to his business, Tranquil Repose, when they wanted to pay to cheat the ultimate human frailty. Death was a weakness they felt they had a right to buy off. They paid to rest until they could be awoken and cured. They would then resume their positions of power. Money would conquer death. Just as Timon and Marx knew, as the ultra-commodity in a system of total commodification, money has a fantastic and phantasmic power. It can dissolve even the most drastic boundaries and oppositions. It can even make the dead into the living.
Davros’ clients had the same dream as all ruling classes. Their ancient forebears had themselves buried in their finery, surrounded by their treasure, expecting to take it with them. If they couldn’t take it with them, they weren’t going. That was the logic behind the pyramids… and those monuments to dead pharoahs helped bolster the power of the living ones. They were a unified statement of divine and material power.
When Jobel and Takis prepare the body of the President’s wife, it looks as though they have put her in an Egyptian sarcophagus. In the long shots of Tranquil Repose, the facility is made of pyramids.
But Davros has been harvesting the bodies of all these thrusting executives, billionaires and society ladies (the only people that are considered of any value by people like him) and turning them into Daleks. In this story, the Daleks have become Cybermen: zombies constructed from bodies eviscerated and infibulated by technology… except that Cybermen are labour power reduced to pure meat, whereas the Daleks are the rulers refined and rendered into fascist tanks. Capital is still gothic. ‘Dead labour’ as Marx called it. Zombie labour. Undead labour. The property created by past work, accreted and collected and owned, towering over the living labourer and sucking on his or her blood. In Doctor Who, such dead labour, alienated from people until it becomes literally alien, fetishised until it comes alive, constantly meshes with the human body. The Daleks are another expression of this. In this story, this vampire capital feeds even on the bodies of the rich… but, for them, this is an opportunity for expansion. It salvages them, the way fascism always salvages capitalism when it comes under existential threat. It opens up new vistas and markets, the way imperialism always does.
Like Milo Minderbinder in the movie, Davros thinks the rich will get how this works.
“They would understand,” he claims blithely, “especially as I have given them the opportunity to become masters of the universe!”
Masters of the Universe was a range of mega-successful toys in the 80s, one of the quintessential commodities of the decade. Tom Wolfe would adapt the phrase to describe the new bucaneers of Wall Street in his satire The Bonfire of the Vanities. Those people made money even more phantasmic, floating it around the world in clouds of information, making it a spirit… but one that still commanded material things and living bodies.…