Skulltopus 13: Return to Fang Rock
I started the whole Skulltopus thing with ‘Horror of Fang Rock’, but that was ages ago (and before I really knew where I was going with this topic) so I feel the need to go back to it, if comparatively briefly.
Okay, so ‘Fang Rock’. Hmm. Well, it’s a Terrance Dicks script, isn’t it? Uncle Tel is, as we all know, well dodgy on politics. He writes about how the working classes are happy being poor, and aristocrats are dandy, and the empire was kind of okay. His baseline assumption is one of contented ‘capitalist realism’, of unquestioning acceptance of the status quo. Plus he’s rubbish on the question of women and sexism. He’s so bad on issues of sexual exploitation that he actually seems to be rather too keen on bringing up the subject of rape.
Weeeeell… however true the above charges may or may not be with regard to his spin-off novels, the funny thing is that, in practice, his actual TV scripts don’t show much evidence of these traits. For instance, ‘Fang Rock’ is obsessed with class, hierarchy, status, property and money… and not in an obviously reactionary, or smugly-liberal way. In fact, it’s kind of edgy (as these things go). It’s one of those relatively few Who stories outside the early Pertwee years which portrays people performing waged labour, let alone showing the working people of twentieth century Britain. And, generally speaking, the story is greatly and openly more sympathetic to the working stiffs, and what they have to put up with, than it is to the gentry. The world the Rutan comes to and fits into is a world of deep economic and social divisions between classes based on work, finance, empire and gender. The workers have to work for a living, and do. They are explicitly below the gentlefolk in a very visible social hierarchy that is painted in unmistakably negative terms, to the point where their lives are shown to be implicitly considered of less value. The business of who does and who doesn’t get a lifeboat when Palmerdale’s yacht goes down foreshadows the sinking of the Titanic, probably the most famous example of ‘gilded age’ social injustice in popular consciousness. We are evidently invited and expected to be angry about this, to side with Harker. Indeed, in his rush to indicate his line on this, Dicks makes Lord Palmerdale just a tad too obviously despicable. Palmerdale’s wealth is evidently based on financial speculation. Skinsale’s position comes from his status as an M.P., as an old imperial soldier and (presumably) his respectable birth (i.e.…