The Story So Far...
|If only 'Pirates of the Caribbean II' had looked this good.|
Much later, long after the process in Western literary and graphic monsterology that Miéville describes, and long after tentacles had been thoroughly assimilated into the mainstream of Western Horror and SF, tentacles begin to make their presence felt in Doctor Who. In the early days, most of the tentacles that appeared in the show did so courtesy of Terry Nation. For instance, he adroitly selected an octopus as a meaningless plot-device monster in 'The Chase'. He may have done this because the octopoidal carried a residual charge of blankness or meaninglessness. Also, Nation seems to have repeatedly associated a tentacular or Weirdesque monster with economic exploitation. The Brains of Morphoton have stubby tentacles and run an entire economy on hypnotism, making scarcity seem like material abundance; the Slyther turns up when the Daleks are forcing people to mine for them and black-marketeers are taking advantage of the situation. This may be a co-optation of the 'blankness' of the tentacular inherited from the Weird. It may also be that, because the modernity that filled the Weird writers with such nebulous horror was capitalist modernity, there is something in their pre-eminent monster-type that naturally lends itself to expressing horror at economic exploitation. (They themselves would probably have rejected this, most of them being reactionaries... though, interestingly, Lovecraft - who was a disgusting racist, living in dread of 'miscegenation' - once identified himself as a supporter of FDR and the New Deal, even calling himself a 'socialist'.) In any case, surprising as it seems - and I find this as unexpected as you probably do - Nation seems to have laid the groundwork for a semiotic connection within Doctor Who between tentacles and capitalism that later appeared, fully-fledged, at the start of the 70s.
Chiming with Miéville's ideas, while also working differently to the process he describes, there is a peculiar dialectic that gets started in the show between the gothic and this half-remembered version of the Weird. 'The Macra Terror' is the harbinger of what is to come. It uses a recalled version of the Weird by using monsters that are crabs (the Weird is very maritime; Hodgson employs giant crabs a lot in his stories) and yet also undefined and/or overdescribed to the point of incoherence (this is also a trait of Weird monsters). At the same time, however, the same monsters are deeply hauntological in that they literally haunt the Colony, representing repressed fears, their very existence denied by even those who have seen them lurking in the shadows. This happens, I think, because 'The Macra Terror' is the first major attempt by Doctor Who - up to that point - to engage with some of the radical ideas of the 60s. Like The Prisoner, which it anticipates in some respects, it frets over an apparent convergence between the underlying political structures of the 'democratic' West and the 'totalitarian' East. The Colony is a political tyranny with capitalist features. There is brainwashing, surveillance, a secret police force... co-existing with a Holiday Camp style atmosphere, leisure time, makeovers, beauty contests and an ideology of cheerful team-spirit. This is a very 60s anxiety and ties in with currents of radical thought of the time. Haunted by this idea, which cannot be openly acknowledged, the text resorts to radically obscuring its hauntological monsters by co-opting aspects of the Weird.
|The most politically loaded image in 'Doctor Who'.|
The ironic thing is that this semiotic evasion almost instantly became a semiotic association. This may express an inherent instability within any sign that is pressed into the service of the inscrutable or inexpressible. Evasion of meaning is fundamentally not what signs are supposed to do. Evasion of truth, sure, but not of settled significance itself. Such a sign hunts around for a meaning, so to speak. It must find a telos, even if the one it finds is the very telos it was supposed to be evading. (This is not idealism, by the way. When I talk about the sign 'doing' things, I'm actually talking about the people using it... just as one might say that a car 'cruises' when in fact it is the driver doing the cruising.)
In 70s Who, the tentacular sign is employed to evade capitalism, and instantly starts to signify capitalism. It would be easy to see this connection between the tentacular and capitalism as a mere empty recapitulation of continuity when it reappears in Holmes' sequel, 'Terror of the Autons'... if it weren't for almost immediate appearance of 'The Claws of Axos', which is a development and intensification of the connection, written by different writers. Echoing the process described by Miéville - and that's what this is: an echo - the tentacular in Doctor Who is, almost from the first, enmeshed in an antagonistic dialectic with the gothic, the show's better-established mode. For instance, in 'Claws of Axos' the tentacular elbows out the gothic (while taking on a hauntological charge). The story was originally about a space 'vampire' in the shape of a giant skull; it became instead about a huge bag of strange, spectacular, writhing, incoherent flesh.
Later, the tentacular is so integrated into the internal sign system of 70s Who that it just rides in on an association with capitalism, even when there's nothing that needs obscuring because free trade-style capitalism is being presented as implicitly good. But even at this point - roughly speaking, 'The Curse of Peladon' - it still continues dancing with the gothic. In 'The Curse of Peladon', Arcturus is very nearly a skulltopus because he's both capitalist (a representative of the Federation with all its trade and progress, counterposed to Pel feudalism) but also a protectionist reactionary who wants Peladon to stay a feudal backwater. (This, it need hardly be said, reflects the arguments about free trade vs. protectionism which flurried around the UK's entry into the 'Common Market' roundabout the time 'Curse' was made, i.e. the dawn of neoliberalism.)
|Astonishingly enough, this character... |
...turns out to be evil.
And so, we arrive at the Tom Baker years - always spoken of as quintessentially gothic.
Broton's Zygotic Mynci
|"Go away. You're always hovering. It makes me nervous."|
"I just want to be near you."
"I've told you - not at work!"
The semiotic connection between the tentacular and capitalism is being continued, albeit it in a faint, garbled and undeveloped form. 'Terror of the Zygons' features rigs owned and run by an American oil company which is traumatically bringing on the collapse of an old, feudal way of life in favour of new capitalist development. Seven centuries of 'service' seem not to count "these days". All Forgill's servants leave to work for the rigs. Huckle's men trespass upon Forgill's lands, showing no respect for feudal land ownership in their pursuit of capitalist accumulation of a fossil fuel that will power modern technology. As in 'Green Death', the eruption of the Weirdish occurs in something of a gothic manner - the hidden erupts from beneath - as a result of the intrusion of modern, explicitly capitalist technology.
It's tempting to say that the Zygons are associated more with the 'old ways', the feudal aristocracy. Broton disguises himself as the Duke of Forgill and the Zygon ship is linked to the land by a tunnel that leads up into the dusty old library of Forgill Castle. Speaking in his Forgill persona, Broton seems convincingly to voice the resentment of the obsolete aristocrat in the time of the oil corporation. But this is to impose a clear-cut distinction where in fact there are complex interrelationships. The real Duke's ancestors would probably have been among those making 'improvements' to the land, i.e. enclosing it and evicting people from their homes to make way for sheep. This actually happened to land around Loch Ness. These were among the first steps in the rise of modern capitalism in Scotland. Huge tracts of private land used for bourgeois farming and/or rents, leading to the filling-up of industrial towns with displaced new proletarians and/or the expansion of the 'New World' colonies, vital because of their roles in the slave trade and production of commodities like cotton, or coal - the oil of its day.
Similarly, the Zygons plan a massive exercise in invasion and colonialism... chiming with the invasion and annexation of Scotland by England (re-enacted in a miniaturized, comic mode through UNIT's invasion and takeover of Angus's inn... a process he resists by loudly playing the bagpipes at the occupying, armed Sassenachs). But we can't straightforwardly associate Zygon colonialism with English colonialism. The Zygons are also refugees, driven away from their home and seeking a new one. They plan to colonize Earth using the slave labour of the humans. A great many of the Scottish Highlanders driven out of their homes by the Clearances ended up in the Carolinas in America. The Carolinas were, of course, slave states. If the Zygons work as the echoes of English domination of Scotland, they also work as an echo of the forced migrants who ended up dominating the New World. (Meanwhile, we can't straightforwardly assume a connection between Forgill's old-fashioned Scots aristocratic posture and Scottish nationalism. A lot of those dukedoms were created by the English crown.)
|The National Trust will have something to say about this.|
Also, there is much talk of 'revolution' in the story, and the inversion of power relationships... caused by an invasion and colonisation. Chase conceives of plants and flowers as being an oppressed group, as though they stand in a colonial relationship to animals. Even from the first, long before he seems to be 'possessed' by the Krynoid (not that he ever really is, if you ask me), he whinges to Dunbar about the "mutilation and torture" of plants in the practice of Bonsai, the favouritism allegedly shown towards animals by the World Ecology Bureau and the unnatural criminality of creating hybrids. Later, he talks of animals like a tyrannical ruling elite, about to be conquered and enslaved by the coming of the Krynoid, which he appears to see as a huge, plant-version of Che Guevara. The invasion and colonialism of the Krynoid is like the ousting of a native ruling class. He almost anticipates the doctrine of 'humanitarian intervention' - invade and conquer to (supposedly) free the oppressed - but for the fact that it isn't the humans he wants to save.
It's open to doubt whether 'Zygons' and 'Seeds' work this way because the show is still trying to evade noticing capitalism as a generator of modern nightmares. It feels more like the recapitulation of a settled sign, almost as a matter of habit. It also feels as though the studiedly gothic atmosphere of the Hinchcliffe / Holmes era is squeezing the Weird tentacles into an increasingly small corner. First there are tentacles that are not really tentacles (arms and legs with decorative suckers), then there are tentacles that are actually vines and creepers and roots. Capitalism still tags alongside these almost-tentacles (or is it the other way round) but in a decidedly muted, faint and compromised form. It appears mixed up with feudalism, in a very tangled way.
There is very little else in the Hinchcliffe years which qualifies as Weird or quasi-Weird or even almost-Weird. The tentacular returns with a vengeance, however, in the more political Williams era... just in time to notice that the world is changing, neoliberalism is flowering, class struggle is waning, Thatcher is rising and capitalism no longer anything to be worried about - at least not officially. Consequently, by the near-end of the Williams years, it no longer feels right to wrap capitalism in tentacles. But, as I say, this only happens after the tentacular/capitalist semiotic connection re-erupts... in ways that range from the furtive to the ambiguous to the angrily and hugely explicit.
In the text above, I say that "A lot of those [Scottish] dukedoms were created by the English crown." That's just plain wrong. Factually inaccurate. Sorry. Thanks to Jennings for pointing this out.