The Empire of Vanilla

Some things I’ve noticed about ‘Spearhead from Space’

There’s a lot of wood in this story.

This suggests a contrast, a conflict even, between older forms of production – the appearance of the hospital, and the Seeleys’ cottage, suggest artisanship – and newer industrial technology and mass production, represented by the factory and the evil plastic which creeps out of it.

There are lots of workers in this story.  There’s a Nurse.
There’s Mullins.
Mullins, one of the many wage labourers in this story…
seen here in the act of labouring for his wage.  

There’s a workman in the street, talking to the copper before he investigates the (off-screen) breaking of shop windows (implying the role of the police as protectors of private property and business).  There’s the guard at the front gate of UNIT HQ.  There’s the guide at Madame Tussauds.

There are the workers in the plastics factory.

I don’t know, but I’d guess that these women – together with the male worker
seen earlier in the episode, operating heavy machinery – are actual workers
in the factory where these scenes were filmed.  One of the women is Asian,
which is a pretty big clue that she’s a ‘real person’ rather than an extra.

Some of the workers are ‘fake’.  There are Auton Porters who help kidnap the Doctor.  There’s an Auton secretary at the factory.  Note how the Nestenes still employ a young woman in a short skirt as a secretary, even if she is made of plastic… but then such women are usually treated like mannequins in practice anyway.

These waxen-faced, blank, zombified workers strongly suggest an extreme form of alienation: line hypnosis, a psychological condition where people are lulled into passive, unresponsive fugue states by constant repetition of the same mechanical tasks – found most famously in people who perform extremely simple tasks at conveyor belts.  More broadly, it suggests the deadened, flattened affect of people who find their Fordist jobs dull beyond belief.

Think this is a stretch?  But the story makes a point of commenting upon automation.  The monsters are called Autons.  We see, as noted above, faceless factory workers at their tedious, repetitive, assembly-line jobs.  And General Scobie, the swaggering old reactionary establishment figure par excellence, upon hearing that the plastics factory has become largely automated (which means a load of people have lost their jobs), makes a crack about automation being a splendid idea because “you don’t find machines going on strike!”  In other words, workers should be treated like and behave like machines…. and replacing them with machines is the next best thing.

There is much literal commodification – often of people – in this story.  Ransome is paid off… even his name suggests a payment for a person.  Seeley tries to sell his “thunderball” and nearly gets his wife killed.  Mullins sells the Doctor to the journos.

“I understand you pay for stories?”

But ‘Spearhead’ really harps on about life being commodified… most particularly by its concentration upon production.…

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