Why do some monsters have names while others don’t?
The best place to start may be with the Cybermen. After all, they went from having names to not having names. Moreover, they did it more or less within one particular story, ‘The Moonbase’ (if I remember rightly, they had names in the script but these were not mentioned on screen).
The first thing to mention is that this is the story in which they went from being threatening because they are emotionless and logical to being threatening because they’re one of those “terrible things” bred in those “corners of the universe” that “we” have to fight, when they were no longer fighting to save their planet but to steal ours, when they lost their human hands, when they started (so early!) saying things like “Clever, clever, clever!”, i.e. when they became overtly and deliberately evil. But there has to be more to it than that. After all, vampires keep their names. Loss of humanity and the acquisition of evil intent are not enough to strip them of their names.
Moreover, the Cybermen are not the only Doctor Who monsters to lose their names. There’s also the Daleks, who lost their names when they stopped being Kaleds (or Dals).
This loss of name is very important. In the ‘Moonbase’ Cybermen, it seems more like the final stripping away of individual identity. It works similarly for the Daleks as for the Cybermen, and has similar wider connotations when it comes to both these races.
(Notice, by the way, how blithely one talks about ‘races’ in this sci-fi context… a way of putting things that would be wholly unacceptable in Western liberal discourse nowadays if applied to, say, the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians… which isn’t to say that the racialist patterns of thought don’t still pertain in the attitudes of many, just that they are not usually openly stateable anymore. This is an example of an entire cultural discourse – in this case, that of racialism – taking refuge in a ‘pocket universe’ within culture once the wider culture has largely rejected and banished it, or at least talk of it. The discourse of racialism hides out, in disguise, in the SF ‘Recycle Bin’ once it has been guiltily deleted from the cultural ‘Desktop’. Sometimes such things even get deleted from the Recycle Bin but, as we know, they remain on the hard drive, waiting to be forensically recovered.)
Veering back to the point… notice how the conversion of Lytton or Stengos into Cyberman or Dalek involves the loss of identity, thus the loss of name. When Stengos sees his daughter, his first word is her name. He remembers her name, and hence his own, which is what launches his psychological struggle against his Dalek conditioning.
The named/nameless distinction maps roughly onto the biological/robot-or-cyborg distinction, and both are really about individuality vs. the loss of individuality. The Daleks and Cybermen act far more on a kind of groupthink than, say, the Silurians. The mechanically-augmented Rutans too seem like a hive mind (the individual Rutan refers to itself as “we”). The robot or cyborg is the expression of the non-individual, the impersonal, the standardised.
At one end (the Left end, one could say), this horror of the artificial as bringing the destruction of individuality is connected with the capitalist productive mode, with mass-production, industrialism, alienation of humanity through commodification and the menacing autonomy of the product (i.e. the Autons as gothic emblems of commodity fetishism). At the other end (the Right end) it is connected with collectivism (i.e. the groupthink mentioned above). (By the way, this also seeps into the Left end, with the Nestenes being a group entity… though, to me, this seems connected to the way in which ‘Spearhead from Space’ recuperates its incipient critical convergence upon capitalism by introducing the Weird at the last moment as a scrambling effect, see here.)
The critique of collectivism implied by these monsters of conformity, mechanisation, organisation, groupthink, lack of individuality, etc., connects with the prevailing conception of collectivism as being inextricably bound up with authoritarian statist government, an absence of formal democracy, an official political ideology, regimentation of the individual, the destruction of privacy, the imposition of conformity, etc. This conception lumps together those two bogus-collectivisms, fascism and communism, in the manner of the influential theory of totalitarianism.
The Daleks and Cybermen are the two great monsters of Doctor Who, a product of the liberal capitalist culture industry in the aftermath of World War II and during the Cold War, and they actualise this set of notions almost too specifically. Akin but seperate and ultimately opposed, not from moral imbalance but because of their essential similarity, both emerging from differentiated but kindred forms of anti-individualist state control, the Daleks and Cybermen are differentiated but kindred forms of the dehumanised, collectivised, technologised totalitarian robot/cyborg monster. They are the Nazi and Soviet forms of the same totalitarian species.
|I guess this is the place for the inevitable ‘Cyberia’ pun, yes?|
The Daleks emerge from a fascist collectivism: the regimented, indoctrinated, Nazi-esque Kaleds in ‘Genesis of the Daleks’. The Cybermen eventually find their own genesis (courtesy of Big Finish) in a snowbound revolutionary emergency government: the policed and surveilled Mondasians in ‘Spare Parts’ live in a mirror version of the ’50s (the high point of the Cold War), ruled by the “champions of the proletariat” who are suppressing private enterprise. Even the critical nature of life on Mondas, and the Cybermen’s onscreen tendency to find themselves fighting for survival as well as attacking people, seems like a haunting half-memory of the fact that the Soviet regime was under external attack for much of its existence (the Russian Civil War and, later, Operation Barbarossa). The two ‘big’ monsters of the show seem like echoes of the two great ‘cousin’ totalitarianisms (as they were seen by people like Carl Friedrich and Zbigniew Brzezinski).
In this light, the confused similarity and interpenetration of these monsters seems as salient as the fact that, until long after the end of the Cold War, they never met. The Daleks and Cybermen are both races of robots with flesh hidden within them, i.e. bodies augmented and changed by technology. They are both said, at various times, to be emotionless, dependant upon rationality and logic. Both have absolute leaders which function like centralised brains (the Cyber Controller, the Dalek Emperor… with Davros, all his Hitlerian attributes notwithstanding, something of an outlier… though, of course, he eventually merges with the Emperor in ‘Remembrance of the Daleks’). They both recruit by forcible conversion. They both employ (body snatcher paranoia style) covert infiltration, brainwashing, mind control and/or replacement of people by ‘duplicates’. They are both aggressive imperialisms that attack secure, human (implicitly Western) structures (the Moobase, the colony on Vulcan, etc.). They are both defined by regimentation, conformity, unanimity, groupthink, ideology. They both have absolute political philosophies that motivate them: racial chauvinism (Nazism) in the case of the Daleks, ruthless utopian utilitarianism (Communism, as it was percieved) for the Cybermen… so it’s not hard to see the differentiation amidst the similarities, or their referants. Both alter the mind of the human as conversion takes place (c.f. Lytton and Stengos). The Daleks are even said to be played “indoctrination tapes” in their infancy according to Ben Aaronovitch’s novelisation of ‘Remembrance of the Daleks’.
It’s surely not hard to see how all this echoes the perceived features of ‘totalitarianism’: regimentation, conformity, thought control, leader cults, ruthlessly mechanised military utilitarianism, state ideologies, the destruction of individuality and personal freedom, insidious encroachment upon the freedom of others, etc.
So, Daleks and Cybermen are different iterations of the same thing, or at least of intimately similar things. (Which isn’t to say that either always mean exactly the same thing from story to story over their long histories.) And yet they never meet. They remain divided from each other by an absence, a gap, a field of silence. There is a peculiar frisson whenever this silent field is almost breached, as when both races are mentioned and shown in succession at the end of ‘The War Games’, or when a Cyberman briefly appears on Vorg’s Miniscope shortly after he mentions Daleks.
(Interesting, by the way, that near-breachings of the silence occur in those two stories. The former is about humans as fodder for regimented imperialism. The latter features a grey-faced, bureaucratic, statist nomenklatura. And, once again, neither story will permit a qualitative distinction between Right and Left totalitarianism. The War Lords could be Soviets as much as Nazis. The Inter-Minorans look like bigoted slavers as well as censorious commissars. And, being very interesting stories, both can also be read as harbouring some implied criticisms of British imperialist behaviour.)
Of course, when they eventually do meet, the Daleks and the Cybermen come into immediate conflict… just as Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Russia ended up at war. There is even a moment before this happens when the Cybermen moot the idea of a pact – “Together we could convert the universe!” – mirroring the Nazi-Soviet deal often referred to as the ‘midnight of the century’ (though it is less widely recalled that the Russian willingness to deal with the Nazis stemmed at least partly from a desire to protect themselves from attack by a fascist power that the European democracies were appeasing… interesting, isn’t it, that Molotov-Ribbentrop is always called a “pact” while Munich was an “agreement”.)
The story that best expresses the widespread cultural notion of totalitarianism, with its lack of qualitative differentiation between fascism and communism, is ‘Inferno‘, which – irritatingly – has biological monsters (albeit ones which are inextricably linked to machinery because of their origins). On the whole, however, the totalitarian idea is expressed in Doctor Who via the robot/cyborg monster that has lost its name, and hence its individuality.
Daleks and Cybermen are embedded in the basic assumption – implicit in ‘totalitarian theory’ and its colloquial and/or revisionist variants – that political forms other than bourgeois liberal capitalist democracy are pretty-much-inherently tyrannical and destructive to the freedom of the individual (the implicit flipside being that liberal capitalism offers the only opposite path and that all challenges to it run the inevitable course into tyranny).
The basic circular chain of associations that mirrors this within the semiotic system of Doctor Who runs like this: robotic/cybernetic = anti-individualist = totalitarian = robotic/cybernetic. In a superb example of the promulgation of ideology through the culture industries, freedom is thus assumed and asserted to be the freedom of the individual, apparently exemplified by the fundamentally Western ‘humanity’ of, say, the crew of the Wheel.
Notice how hierarchy, rank, patriarchy, white supremacy, etc., are all essentially supported via the implicit comparison with the featureless Cybermen, i.e. the comparison of the nameless and un-individual with human diversity. The liberal celebration of gendered, multi-racial and multi-cultural humanity is bounded tacitly by the fact that the white guys remain in charge, high-status professional females remain adjuncts and romantic interests, Oirish people remain comically pugilistic and loquacious, other ethnicities stay down the pecking order and act in stereotypical ways even as they enjoy their place in a fundamentally Westernised (i.e. business-like) power structure, etc. The humans, with their hierarchical and utilitarian military/scientific structure of position and value, weather the internal challenge of the unstable commander and emerge with their system bolstered by contact with the totalitarian cyborgs. And bear in mind… I could’ve used ‘Tomb of the Cybermen‘ to illustrate how this works, so I’m actually pulling my punches here. The point being that there’s no need for a story to be as offensively reactionary as ‘Tomb’ for it to be promulgating capitalist ideology. It works with stories that seem to celebrate ethnic diversity (though, to be fair to ‘Wheel’, it’s got nothing on Star Trek when it comes to pushing a bourgeois ideological agenda via lip-service to liberal multi-ethnic casting.)
Between them, the Daleks and Cybermen represent the two flavours of ‘totalitarianism’ that menaced the free West (i.e. the liberal capitalist order), their innermost and most essential evil being the suppression of individual liberty.
Individualism and liberty are cornerstones of bourgeois democratic ideology. They are the quasi-truths upon which capitalism has based its prevailing ‘optimum mode’, i.e. electoral democracy (which leaves the basic class structure intact and untouched by genuine popular sovereignty), property rights, free trade (at least in appearance), a free media (at least in appearance) and the ethical ideology of human rights. While undoubtedly a great advance on feudalism, or upon capitalism as it originally developed, or upon capitalism as it is still practiced sucessfully in many parts of the world, the above features of the Western capitalist order are all based on a fundamentally ‘market’ idea of social life, with all of us confronting each other as competitors and dealers, seeking our greatest advantage, freedom, etc. The individual as the focus of human life (rather than the social) is an expression of bourgeois property relations but presents itself (partly truthfully) as an ideal of freedom, the fruit of progress. (Of course, such freedom as exists is largely the result not of ‘History’ or ‘Progress’ or enlightened leaders or the free market, but of organised popular struggle… but that truth is largely suppressed.)
None of this is to say, by the way, that individual freedom is actually ‘bad’ or unimportant… on the contrary. But the best expression of how our culture really views individual freedom is the fact that corporations are legally classed as people, thus entitling them to many personal liberties, while real people are usually far more circumscribed and punished by the law than the corporations they work for or buy from. As usual, capitalism’s boasts are lies. It is actually a very bad system when it comes to the individual liberty of most people (who have to spend most of their lives working for others just in order to live) while there is nothing inherently destructive of personal freedom and individual liberty in the idea of social collectivism.
Nevertheless, these ideas are cornerstones of liberal capitalist democratic ideology in the 20th and 21st centuries. Capitalism IS democracy and democracy IS an aggregation of individual liberty… meanwhile, collectivism is inherently undemocratic and will always destroy personal freedom and self-determination. To be fair, the great self-trumpeting collectivisms of the 20th century were destructive of personal freedom in many ways, but the idea that they were ‘socialist’ may be evaluated by remembering that ‘Nazi’ actually stands for ‘National Socialist’, and the Nazis’ favourite early slogan was “Death to Marxism”, their central idea being the Bolshevism was a Jewish conspiracy to conquer the world. To think that their (or Stalin’s) authoritarian statisms were collectivist or socialist is to fundamentally misunderstand collectivism or socialism… indeed, it is to misunderstand these ideas in the exactly the way that Hitler and other capitalist leaders wanted people to misunderstand them. The Nazi hatred of Bolshevism, the American anti-communist rhetoric, the banalities and misprisions of ‘totalitarian theory’, the hollow impostures of the nouveau philosophes and the revisionist historians of revolution, the tendency of the modern U.S. looney-right to call Barack Obama a socialist, the assumption of those in favour of humanitarian interventionism that – unlike Ba’athist bullets – bombs from liberal capitalist countries are somehow humane, the widespread feeling (evinced in ‘Inferno’ for example) that fascism and communism were so alike in their opposition to individual freedom as not to need differentiation…. these are all (amongst other things) expressions of that over-arching ideological notion: the liberty of the individual is essential to capitalism (which is thus inherently democratic) and inimical to collectivism (which is thus inherently totalitarian).
That, essentially, is what’s in a name: the individual human right… to live under capitalism forever.
NOTE: There’s a lot more to be said about this. The Cybermen, for example, may stem partly from reactionary conceptions of totalitarianism as the only possible alternative to capitalism… but they also sometimes work as an unflatteringly honest mirror to capitalism. They are, initially, the dark side of Wilson’s “white heat of technology”. As Simon Kinnear once pointed out in Doctor Who Magazine, they can sometimes look and act and think like the psychopathic corporation… indeed, this thought leads to all sorts of other issues. The extent to which corporations work like authoritarian states, for instance. It’s no accident that the Cybermen have frequently meshed with and emerged from capitalist concerns, from International Electromatics to Cybus Industries. But going into this would mean going into how the Cybermen (and, incidentally, their cousins the Borg) reflect the ethic of the self-interested rational actor of the mythology of mainstream economics: the unicorn-like utility maximiser of the theoretical equibalanced market, always perfectly well-informed and logical… and, in some versions, morally obliged to be utterly ruthless. It would also involve going into the way that Communism (as it actually existed after the decline of real revolution) was actualy a form of bureaucratic state capitalism. All of which would take us well away from our brief for this post. But don’t worry, I’m obsessive enough to write it one day. Meanwhile… happy new year!