Tuesday, 28 February 2012

BBC Wales

The patronizing use of Welsh stereotypes in 'The Green Death' is evidence of the employment of centuries-old imperial condecenscion.  However, Welshness alone does not straightforwardly equal idiocy in this story.  Rather, it is the conjunction of Welshness with membership of the proletariat which produces characters who don't really have a clue what's going and need everything explained to them.

Clifford Jones and 'Nancy' (note how she doesn't need a surname) are allowed to be efficient and useful only because their Welshness (which entails them using cute provincialisms galore) is offset by their educated, middle-class boffinity and right-onitude.  Meanwhile, Jo marvels openly at her own foolishness in caring so much about the death of a "funny little Welshman" (who kept her alive).  The difference between these Welsh characters - i.e. between the ones who qualify as people and those who don't - is down to class.

The workers in this story are belittled, peripheral figures.  They are profoundly out of touch and their Welshness is but a conduit by which they can be further quaintified.  They miss the big picture, even when the hippy scientists try to explain everything to them. They side with Stevens when he tries to bribe them with promises of the trickle-down effect... indeed, the validity of Stevens's claims that profits for Global will also mean prosperity for the workers is never challenged, only qualified by the criticism that pollution will be a side-effect.  There is hardly a hint of class struggle here, besides the opening scene... and even here the struggle is portrayed as over.  The mine is closed, the miners all but absent.  Their status seems unclear... some of them seem to still have access to the mine despite its apparent closure.  The mine itself seems not to be owned by the government but by Global Chemicals.

Now, in its haphazard and accidental way, some of this is actually prescient.  The UNIT stories were supposed to be 'five minutes into the future' (we're not getting into UNIT dating controversies - I couldn't care less) and, of course, by the late-90s, British mining - together with so much manufacturing industry - had been deliberately destroyed by the Tories.  Huge numbers of traditional working class jobs had been annihilated.  Working class communities were wrecked in the process.  In many ways, the sight of a crowd of workers, made redundant, closed out of their sold-off and shut-down workplace, listening to speeches about how coal is dead, being fraudulently told that their future lies in the trickle-down effect of private profit, is a sight that predicts the result of Thatcherism (which, of course, had already begun under Heath, albeit in a less aggressive form).

Thing is, viewed in the context of the times in which it was made, this is as puzzlingly skewiff as it is prescient.  'Anachronistic' is the only way to properly describe it.

You see... miners were powerful in 1973, having struck in 1972 for the first time since the 20s - and won!  Miners all over the country came out over piffling proposed pay rises, proposed by the Tory government in the midst of declining living standards and working conditions.  Miners in South Wales made a particularly good showing in the nationwide strike.  135 pits were shut down by industrial action in South Wales alone (the national total was 285), with dockers in Cardiff and Newport refusing to unload imported coal from ships in solidarity.  Miners picketed power stations of all kinds and shut down transport of fuel supplies.  Welsh miners joined a picket outside the Saltley works in Brimingham, which had been undermining the strike by continuing to send out coke.  The miners alone were unable to force the gates of the depot to close, so Arthur Scargill - the trade unionist and activist leading the picketing - appealed for help to the shop stewards of the huge engineering industries in Birmingham.  At least thirty thousand workers walked out of factories in the Birmingham area, with at least a third marching to help the miners at Saltley.

I got this image from the BBC site.  You can tell.  They chose it because
it's taken from such a distance that you can't make out what's happening.

In one of the greatest working class victories of the post-war period (the 40th anniversary has just been celebrated), thousands of workers forced police to close the gates of the depot.  A rattled Tory administration instituted a 'state of emergency' and a three day week in an effort to conserve energy supplies.  The miners returned to work, after much negotiation and a ballot, as the highest paid industrial workers in the country - and the strongest and most unified.  Their achievements were chipped-away in the context of the Middle East oil crisis and soon their pay began to slip back down the scale, so they struck again in 1974.  This time, hapless Heath called a general election and appealed to the country to decide: who runs Britain, the miners or the Tory government?  The country made its choice and the Tories were booted from office, to seethe and fester over their resounding defeat at the hands of the unionized and militant miners.

(It's worth noting that the current state of affairs I described earlier - with the British mining industry, like so many other manufacturing industries, lying in wrecked ruins alongside the devastated working class communities that revolved around it - came about as a result of the policies of the Thatcher government.  Thatcher - recently portrayed as an inspirational force for change in that movie - came to power in 1979, sworn to inflict ruinous vengeance upon the miners for daring to bring down Heath.  Her gang of class-warriors were, as Arthur Scargill rightly asserted, planning to shut down pit after pit, thus punishing and breaking the most militant and class conscious section of the British working class.  The Tories made it necessary and unavoidable for the miners to fight to protect their livelihoods and communities.  Meanwhile, they (the Tories) plotted and schemed to ensure that they could hold out against the strike they were deliberately provoking.  Scargill - a courageous and incorruptible fighter for the working class, whatever his flaws - was not the cause of the miners' defeat in 1984-5.  Indeed, he is to be credited with bringing the strike closer to victory than anyone could have expected, given the level of government premeditation, preparation, conspiracy, dishonesty, violence and spite.  Crushing defeat though it eventually was, the great miner's strike of 1984-5 is also a heroic page in working class history... and the dire results of government victory would have happened anyway, even if there'd been no Scargill and no strike.  The only difference would have been that, had the miners acquiesced without a struggle, the subsequent demoralization would have been even worse and would have left the working class with no inspiring memory of resistance.  Just thought I'd mention all this.)

'The Green Death' was broadcast almost right smack inbetween the two massive and inspiring demonstrations of working class power by the miners in 1972 and 1974.  It was aired at a time when the miners were by far the most advanced and powerful section of the British working class.  And yet, the story depicts miners as sacked, powerless, disunited, grumbling, incompetent, reactionary yokels in the background, to be patronized at best.  They play no part in resolving the issues or jeopardy in the story.  Indeed, they just get in the way.  The only political demo or march in the story is the one organized and attended by the nice, middle-class, hippy boffins.

The workers don't demonstrate, they just stand around outside the gates and grumble before they disperse back to the pub.  They are implied to be politically shortsighted and selfish.  They don't notice or care much about the environmental destruction, which is implicitly assumed to be a more important problem than their jobs and lives and livings. They are gormless, horny-handed, provincial nincompoops.  Some are nice enough but others are openly depicted as rash and violent or nosey and insinuating.  The Doctor openly becomes an authority figure when ordering flat-cap-wearing miners around (who need him to tell them how to operate the machinery in their own workplace).  Moreover, the Doctor twice assumes disguises in which he plays at being comedy working-class stereotypes.

The working class identity becomes a shell of parody, cliche and ridicule, to be used by the plummy scientist hero before being thrown off.

It seems only fair to admit that I've altered this image a tad.

By contrast, all the suited businessmen inside Global - including Stevens, the main human villain - get to have their moments of conscience or indecision or remorse or redemption.  No working class character gets anything like that much flesh on their bones.  The death of Fell is implicitly meant to be more of a big deal than the deaths of either of the miners.  Indeed, even inside Global Chemicals, the workers continue to be depicted as less human than the corporate suits.  While Stevens is shown to be conflicted, his driver/henchman is just a glib, brutal thug.

In its terribly liberal-moralistic way, this attempt at an angry, political story misses the chance to engage with what unscrupulous businesses do to ordinary, working people, and also misses a chance to depict those people as a force for change.  It completely fails to notice that miners in South Wales are, at the time the story was written, powerful and successful fighters for their own interests and the interests of their class.  More, it largely misses the chance to depict working people as fully human.

Monday, 27 February 2012

White as Snowy

I'm sure I'm giving you all the impression that I'm a kind of obsessed stalker when it comes to China Miéville, but everyone should read his latest blog post.  It's about the recent decision by the Belgian Supreme Court to reject the application by Bienvenue Mbutu Mondondo...

to have Tintin in the Congo declared unacceptable under the Belgian race relations law.  However, he had made clear for years that he would be satisfied if, as in Britain, the book was published with a visible warning, a reminder of the context in which it was written (maybe even of the toxic ideology enshrined within). What Mondondo wanted was an official recognition that this text was a spitting in his face. That it came down to what was always clearly a nuclear option was due to the steadfast refusal of the publishers to countenance this - and thereby take responsibility for what they publish. The Belgian establishment went to cultural war, & it did so not for free speech, but for their right not to apologise for racist slander.
When human rights lawyer David Enright asks for the book to be sold as an adult work, while explicitly, repeatedly, stressing that he does not advocate banning it, nonetheless, cometh the resentment-spewing dissemblers in the comments insisting that he is supporting ‘censorship’. This is a degree of point-missing so great it is hard to believe it is not performative.
(Indeed, an astoundingly small proportion of arguments ‘for free speech’ & ‘against censorship’ or ‘banning’ are, in fact, about free speech, censorship or banning. It is depressing to have to point out, yet again, that there is a distinction between having the legal right to say something & having the moral right not to be held accountable for what you say. Being asked to apologise for saying something unconscionable is not the same as being stripped of the legal right to say it. It’s really not very fucking complicated. Cry Free Speech in such contexts, you are demanding the right to speak any bilge you wish without apology or fear of comeback. You are demanding not legal rights but an end to debate about & criticism of what you say. When did bigotry get so needy? This assertive & idiotic failure to understand that juridical permissibility backed up by the state is not the horizon of politics or morality is absurdly resilient.)

In case you don't know the book, here's a link (provided by Miéville in his blog post) that will fill you in.

Had a look?

Delightful, isn't it?

I'm not quoting it or putting any of the pictures on here.  It makes me feel ill.

Herge (real name Georges Remi) was, by the way, a Nazi collaborator who featured anti-semitic stereotype villains (hook-nosed, cigar-chomping financier called Blumenstein, for instance) in his cartoons.  Nice company for Spielberg and Moffat.

Aside from picking over the Tintin issue forensically, Miéville's blog post is of relevance to this blog because he goes over the various weasely excuses always wheeled out by people who want to sleaze their way out of confronting the racism often blatant in cherished old stories.

Please read the whole thing.  I am, however, going to take the liberty of quoting at length and snipping a bit in order to hone in on the points that I'm keen to stress here:

i) One may admit that aspects are unfortunate, but simply refuse to engage with the question of racism.

...Guy Staggs in the Telegraph ... segues blithely to allowing, questions of race ignored, that the book is not ‘a good read’.

As if that is what we were talking about. (This - It’s Not Racist It’s Just Not Very Good - is a sort of evil-twin variant of the more common How Can Little Black Sambo Be Racist I Read It As A Child & I Loved It & What’s More I Understood Sambo Was The Hero (cf also How Can I Be A Sexist I Love Women In Fact I Prefer Them To Men aka How Is That Racist Having Natural Rhythm Is A Good Thing) position.)

ii) One can insist that the book’s attitudes ‘reflect its time’, as the court held.

There are two interesting points about this ultra-common defence for every undeniably racist (sexist, homophobic, &c) text in existence. The first is that it is historically bogus. Such ideas, like all ideas, were - are - contested. Certainly & obviously the mainstream shifts, the balance of forces alters, but the implicit or explicit claim that there were no dissident voices on supremacist agendas is a lie. To claim that everyone talked like Tintin about the Congo back in the day is (whatever other serious political arguments we may have with them) to slander, say, Felicien Challaye, Albert Londres, the French Socialist movement that declared at its 1907 conference that colonialism ‘relies on violent conquest and institutionalises the subjection of Asiatic and African peoples’.

The second point is that even if these attitudes do ‘reflect their time’ in the sense of reflecting a then-more-mainstream agenda, so the fuck what? The point about attitudes is that they change, in response to struggle, to a battle for ideas. The question here is whether or not Tintin au Congo is racist. Which it is. That may perhaps in part be because white supremacism was less contested back then - just as well we’re not back then, then, isn’t it? & that instead we live in now, when the resistance of those deemed unable to add 2 & 2 has forced the recognition that this kind of shit is shit. These days a ‘collective synapse’ should kick in ‘forged by mass movements … that have forced a lot of people, particularly white straight men, to have a clue.’

iii) Insist that Hergé was not racist.

Ah, intent. You unfalsifiable talisman of airy exoneration. This is the second twanging string to the Belgian court’s bow, the outraged insistence that the artist was no racist, had no intent to ‘create an intimidating, hostile, degrading or humiliating environment’.

The great advantage for its deployers of this defence is that it is completely unprovable either way. Which is why, whatever one’s opinions of their actual bona fides, it is generally strategic to focus on what a person said or wrote, rather than what they think or are.

Which is exactly what Mondondo & Enright do. Their claim is that this book is racist. Because it is. Intent shmintent: whatever Hergé intended, are these disgusting sub-minstrel figures ‘degrading’? Anyone who denies that the answer is yes is a fool or a knave.

There is the absurd hyperbole, to turn a victimiser’s culture into a victim. In his effort to derail the issue, Staggs insists that the ‘trump’ of racism is ‘used to blot out any part of our cultural heritage that might cause embarrassment.’ ‘Blot out’. Right. Who, after all, could forget the monstrous erasure performed by Stalin on Trotsky, by putting a warning sticker on him & refusing to shelve him alongside The Gruffalo? The Tintin Vanishes. Quick, conjure images of book burning! First they came for the Boy Reporter & shelved him alongside Persepolis & Sandman, & I did not speak out, because I was not a Boy Reporter, &c.

What I've quoted above should be read by everyone who's ever defended Toberman on the grounds that he's the hero / he's of his time / the makers weren't deliberately trying to be racist / whaddayawanndo, ban it??? / etc., etc., ad nauseum, ad infinitum...

It wouldn't do any good, of course, but least they'd have no way of claiming that nobody had ever pointed out the stupid irrelevance and bad faith of such 'arguments'.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

A New Hope?

Rewatching Star Wars is an odd experience.

It's surprisingly dirty, grimey and grotty.

It doesn't introduce the hero until about 15 minutes in.

Loads of the first reel is one-sided bickering, followed by silent wandering around in the desert.

Han is really very seedy... and a murderer.

Leia is a sarcastic, bossy, combative dominatrix; a far cry from the sexual-harassment-victim / soppy-girlfriend she later became.

The tone suddenly veers from deadly serious to comic/quippy as soon as the Falcon arrives at the Death Star.

The Stormtroopers hang around and chat.

The Rebels are an unprepossessing bunch - skinny, scrawny, tubby, greasy-haired, snaggletoothed, etc.

The droids are CLEARLY slaves to the humans.

The Sandpeople are CLEARLY evil Arabs.

The backstory as explained by Ben is much better than anything in the sequels, let alone the prequels: Ben and Annakin go and become Jedis, their protege Darth kills Annakin, Ben buggers off home. Clear, simple and emotionally resonant.

Darth is clearly a first name and is clearly NOT Luke's dad, no more than Leia is Luke's sister.  Luke and Leia clearly fancy each other.

The funny thing is that, if we take the prequel canon as applying to the original film (which can be done without inflicting emotional damage upon oneself as long as its only a temporary thought experiment) then the lovechild of Luke and Leia would be absolutely LOADED with midichlorians... thus making it, in all probably, the most powerful Jedi in history. The only problem is that a lightsabre would probably be harder to wield effectively with webbed fingers.

Darth Vader, by the way, is a henchman to Tarkin... and god only knows how he comes out of the whole let-Leia-escape-with-the-plans clusterfuck with a PROMOTION!

Also... isn't destroying an entire planet, just to make a point, a bit of a fucking waste? Did Alderaan have no resources, no wealth, no strategic value, no military, industrial or economic significance to the Empire? None at all? It's a bit like Hitler saying: "just to prove how powerful I am, I'm going to completely destroy Belgium".

And ponder Luke's lack of concern over the slaughter of his adoptive parents - "ah, fuck 'em, they made me do farm work" - not to mention Leia's brusque dismissal of the destruction of her entire planet.


Saturday, 18 February 2012

Skulltopus 9: Signs of Progress and the Progress of the Sign

You can rifle the Pertwee era for tentacles and find relatively few.  They only crop up in stories in which capital looms.  They only fully-materialize as a major threat where capitalism is a systemic presence, threatening - even if only obliquely - to connect up various social and political nightmares.

That isn't to say that social and political nightmares are thin on the ground.  Far from it.  But it's only when those problems are connected to capital, commodification and trade as exploitative or destructive, that they sprout tentacles.

Evidence of Absence

The reason why 'Spearhead from Space' builds to an unexpectedly tentacular conclusion is because all sorts of things within it hint obliquely and elliptically at deep problems in the Britain of the late twentieth century, problems which seem to build towards a connection that must be occluded: namely the connection of all these problems at the economic base of society, the productive forces, the capitalist factory, the commodity form itself.  'Spearhead' is saturated in depictions of hierarchy, domination and class.  The story hints - albeit very quietly - at imperialism, and at racial and gender hierarchies.  The monsters are stalking emblems of alienation and commodity fetishism, manufactured things, products, hostile commodities in the estranged human form of consumerism.  The tentacles appear to obscure the hub of the story.  We don't even see the hub of the creature within the tank, only its flailing limbs.

'Spearhead' is, however, unusually potent, oneiric, suggestive and loaded.  That said, many of its preoccupations recur throughout the Pertween era... just not together, not in such a 'joined-up' way and not in stories that even notice capitalism, let alone suggest that evil emanates from capitalist alienation of labour.

For instance, in 'The Silurians', social hierarchy is definitely in evidence but it doesn't reach deeply into everyday normal life as in 'Spearhead'.  Work is in evidence, but almost all of it takes place in a state-owned research centre and all the main characters are professionals who are, apparently, dedicated scientists rather than, say, factory drudges.  The monetary value of the facility is mentioned but not in terms of profitability.  There isn't any poverty to be seen, or much in the way of class.  There are certainly no drastic social divisions.  There is xenophobia and prejudice but these are treated as human traits - related, if anything, to our biology - rather than social phenomena.  Capitalism is hardly hinted at, economically or culturally.  There is simply the world as it stands, as a backdrop to events.  All of this broadly holds true for 'Ambassadors of Death' too.  There are no tentacles in either story, though there is some mildly Weird inflection detectable in 'Ambassadors', in the appearance of the aliens and their peculiar ship.  It's worth noting, in this connection, that an attempt is made to commodify the alien ambassadors, whereas this is not the case with the Silurians.

In 'Inferno', fascism (or some form of totalitarianism at any rate) is a major theme, but there's no hint in the text that it's linked to economics.  This is not fascism as a form of ultra-statist reactionary capitalism, nor is it communism in the economic sense either!  There are slaves in the alt world but slaves are not proletarians.  Hierarchy is in evidence, even in the non-totalitarian version of reality, but strict adherence to hierarchies is made a pathology of Stahlman's own.  Beyond the government's stated desire for a cheap new energy source, there's hardly a hint of economics.  No capitalism to speak of.  And no tentacles.

In 'Mind of Evil', people in prison are bad because they've got badness in their brains.  The implications are, on the face of it, as biologically determinist as those hinted at in 'The Silurians'.  Nuclear weapons are simply an expression of this badness in a generalized form.  In its concentrated form (i.e. in working class thugs) it manifests as violent crime.  Crime is disobedience to the 'law and order' of the apparently functionalist 'honest broker' state.  In its general form, as it lurks in the heart of man, this innate darkness takes the form of warheads, which seem to be emblems of human 'folly' rather than of imperialism.  Indeed, the American Ambassador is an innocent victim of the Red Menace and any mention of imperialism is mere Stalinist flim-flam for the Brigadier to smirk at knowingly.  No private companies, no profits, no interest in commodification.  And no tentacles.

In 'The Sea Devils', there's a cowardly, xenophobic and bellicose parliamentary private secretary (the show seems to find it particularly sinister that he eats toast as he orders bombardments) but he's clearly the exception to the rule.  Every other establishment figure in this is either a stiff-upper-lipped straight-arrow or a well-meaning dupe.  Hierarchy seems to function beautifully for everyone in this story.  There's hardly a whisper about imperialism or capitalism.  The Weird is often very maritime in its concerns (i.e. tentacles, crabs, etc.) but this story just looks like a Navy Recruitment film.  No tentacles.

'Day of the Daleks' is a densely political text that needs a lot of unpacking... which I'll probably get around to one of these days.  This is a story unusually aware of economics in the broad sense (i.e. how society is reproduced through production) and is certainly aware of the exploitation of labour... but the society of the future looks like Stalinism.  Now... I'm personally persuaded that Stalinism (or 'really existing socialism' or 'communism', whatever...) was actually a bureaucratic form of state capitalism (I'm not in the SWP but I'm convinced they're broadly right on this).  However, that idea was even less well known in 1972 than it is now, and a large majority of even the radical left at the time thought Russia and China were in some way socialist.  Pertwee's barbed comments - particularly "Then why do they need so many people to keep them under control?  Don't they like being happy and prosperous?" - seem to tally with the idea that this story is critiqueing 'communism', as does the concentration upon needing the cooperation of "the Chinese delegates".

Of course, we also have the guerillas who look like left-wing 'freedom fighters' - Shura seems to have deliberately styled himself after Che - and who are described as "fanatics" but who end up portrayed as (broadly) in the right.  Even their assassination plan is not fully disdained in principle.  But, the "third world war" seems to be something that nobody is responsible for, certainly not the well-meaning politicians.  Imperialism hardly registers (except as Dalek conquest and as a clash between rival communist states, i.e. "troops are massing along the Russian and Chinese frontiers") and neither does capitalism.  There are, you'll recall, no tentacles.  Indeed, the story explicitly talks the talk of the gothic and hauntological.  (All the stuff about ghosts.)

The Earth Empire in 'The Mutants' is only very distantly capitalist.  There is some talk about exploitation (of Solonians and their minerals) but there's no indication that this is anything but straightforward military theft, as in ancient Rome.  No tentacles.

And so on.  You get the idea, I'm sure.

What's Good For IMC...

"Ah ha!" I hear you cry, "there should be tentacles in 'Colony in Space', surely - if his bullshit theory is correct!"

Well, firstly, remember that I've never claimed that tentacles appear every time capitalism comes up, only that they tend to when the show veers towards potential systemic critique of capitalism.  But doesn't 'Colony in Space' qualify?  Not really, because the story is essentially a liberal complaint about corporations, not capitalism as a system.  IMC is strongly implied to be acting illegally and most of the colonists are surprised by their out-and-out gangsterism.  The law is also implied to be relatively impartial, with most of the colonists seemingly having realistic hopes that the state will act for the best and arbitrate between competing claims.

More broadly, 'Colony' embraces certain bourgeois ideas about individual freedom and the 'progress' of Western civilization.  It subjects the notion of technological and social progress to some sceptical questioning, but ultimately its qualms seem to be about 'technology' and warlike aims rather than capitalist industry per se.  The commodity sought by IMC - duralinium - has none of the qualities that marked out Nestene plastic or Axonite as representing the commodity form as a concept or as capital itself.

Also, the story completely fails to notice that the colonists are encroaching upon a world that is already inhabited.  In all the bickering between them and IMC, nobody stops to question that one or other group has the right to appropriate the planet and expropriate the 'primitives'.  This is a liberal whinge about unscrupulous corporations bullying petit bourgeois small-holding colonials.  It assumes the possibility of a just settlement between the claims of business and the rights of individuals.  Law and order can be achieved when the excesses of one rogue corporation are curtailed.  The right of colonists to impose colonialism upon natives is left unquestioned.

There is no more threat of a systemic critique of capitalism here than there is in your average Bond film.

The Quasi-Skulltopus and the Road Away from Serfdom (Not)

This is also true of  'The Curse of Peladon', and yet that has tentacles in it (sort of)... which demands explanation.

As in 'The Creature from the Pit' much later, the decidedly feudal nature of Peladon implies that the new system brought by the alien vistors is probably going to be, in some sense, capitalism.  Sure enough, the entry of Peladon into the Federation will entail Federation exploitation of Peladon for minerals... i.e. industrial exploitation, mining, refining, export, etc.  Arcturus makes a deal for Peladon's minerals with Hepesh because his own planet lacks them, and, in so doing, makes the minerals into commodities, although money is not mentioned (not even obliquely) so it's still only an implication.  Guess what... Arcturus is a bit tentacular.  Of course, so is Centauri... but then we all know the 'Federation' is meant to represent the Common Market.  To put it crudely: s/he's got the good tentacles of free trade and he (Arcturus) has the bad tentacles of restricted markets.

Thing is... Arcturus is also a bit like a skull.

He's actually very nearly a skulltopus.

I suppose this is allowed because, in 'Curse', the tentacular has lost all traces of its old Weird charge, its unprecedented, meaningless incomprehensibility.  It's become a sign detached from its previous associations outside Who.  Even Terry Nation's plot-device monster, the Mire Beast, is more related to the Weird via its incongruousness and arbitrariness.

What we're seeing in 'Curse' is the first evidence that the show has started to habitually associate tentacles with capitalism, even though it originally invoked them in order to obscure it.  What started as an evasion is becoming an established signifier, to be used even when capitalism is implied and characterized as bringing progress, cultural advancement, cosmopolitanism and liberalization.  In 'Curse', the tentacular is reappearing because capitalism is heralded, even if only by heavy implication.  Arcturus and Centauri represent the Federation, and the Federation is the onrush of trade and modernization and 'development' that is coming to disrupt the old ways and - we are asked to take this on faith - remake Peladon for the better.

There is no need to obfuscate the point at which the story's themes converge upon heavily-implied capitalism because capitalism is here heavily-implied to be the solution rather than the problem.  The whole point of the story is to point out that silly, old-fashioned, class-ridden Britain, littered with the relics of a feudal past, should and must embrace the free trade future.  The new system is better for all, except when it is hijacked by a corrupt, warlike, criminal reactionary like Arcturus.  This is essentially the exact same bourgeois liberal message offered by the sequel, 'Monster of Peladon': sort out the reactionary isolationist clock-stoppers and any conspiratorial protectionists (and, in 'Monster', the loony left who incite the idiotic workers) and capitalism works like a charm.

In the 'Peladon' stories, the tentacles straightforwardly ride in on the back of their past association with capitalism.  They do not obscure, they signify.  Arcturus has them because he is part of the system.  But he is also very-nearly a skull because, in 'Curse', the overtly gothic is being used to represent the old ways, and Arcturus is a drag factor - a protectionist, market-cornering, monopolist reactionary - who might threaten to pull Peladon back into hopeless feudalism.  Indeed, he is directly conspiring with Hepesh to achieve just this aim.  Arcturus and Hepesh want the same thing.  They want Peladon to stay an undeveloped backwater.  What Hepesh does not see - and Arcturus does - is that keeping Peladon out of the galactic Common Market is only possible by keeping it as a powerless and exploited client state to a foreign monopolist.

In the semiotic schema of the Peladon tales, the gothic is used to express everything that is abhorrent or pitiful under the liberal free-trade ideological assumptions.  Aggedor haunts a torch-lit castle because we are being asked to contemplate a society stuck in the past.  Arcturus is a quasi-skull because he too is a force of reaction, a block to progress.  He has tentacles because Doctor Who is starting to associate tentacles with what, in this story, is the system of the future.  This is not the Weird fused with the gothic.  This is the gothic, fused into Doctor Who's emergent internal system of signs, juggling different forms of capitalism.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Law & Order: Blame the Victims Unit

I bought my Mum a DVD Box set of Law & Order for Xmas. 

Sat with her today and watched a few episodes. 

The first disc had one of L&O's occasional 'race' episodes. Like every previous 'race' episode, this one portrayed black people as hysterical, touchy, unreasonable, and unjustifiably obsessed with racism. 

As always in L&O, the defence attorney was slimey, unscrupulous and cynically playing the race card. And, as always, there's a black politician who is a ruthless demagogue using the issue of race further his career. 

The only people in the story to be impartial, ethical and reasonable were the police and prosecutors.  Poor them, they spend the whole episode battling hysterical black people who fantasize non-existent racism everywhere and, by demanding special treatment, create racism themselves.

So, no disrespect to my Mum, fuck off Law & Order.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Skulltopus 8: Society of the Tentacle

The quasi-tentacular returns in 'The Claws of Axos'.  Big time.

What's more, this story is an orgy of strange flesh... to the extent of looking like a precursor to John Carpenter's The Thing.

Now, if my idea is right - that, in the 70s,
Doctor Who starts invoking Weird tentacles as a kind of evasion/signification of capitalism when it veers too close to potential systemic critique - then this really, really should show up in 'The Claws of Axos'.

Not to keep you in suspense: it does.

Taking it on the Chinn

Now don't get me wrong.  I'd hate you to get the idea that I was claiming that 'Claws' is 'subversive' or anything.  I'm not.  It isn't.  As political critique goes, objectively, 'Claws' is feeble.  Yes, it is very cynical about the government, but that in itself doesn't amount to subversion.  After all, Clear and Present Danger  (to take an example more or less at random) features a secret plot by the President, the White House Chief of Staff and high-ranking CIA people to launch a covert war in South America - but Clear and Present Danger isn't remotely subversive... indeed, it is a highly reactionary film that entirely supports the specious ideological assumptions of the American empire.  This is slightly unfair to 'Claws', since it has, well, sharper claws than Tom Clancy via Hollywood ('Claws' is cynical about establishment power, while CaPD depicts the cynicism of powerful people as a danger to a fundamentally well-meaning establishment), but it does illustrate the point that simply depicting the wrongdoing of the state does not necessarily or automatically amount to a radical critique.

With its bourgeois patrician hero, its stiff-upper-lipped and self-sacrificing scientist/peer, its bog-standard sexist representation of Jo as dollybird-in-need-of-saving, its depiction of the American lawman (FBI?  CIA?  ...something like that) as a square-jawed straight-arrow, the comic neutralisation of the issue of poverty, the implication that people starve because there is a lack of food rather than a lack of profit in feeding them, and many other such representations, 'Claws' is as well integrated into capitalist ideology, and as likely to 'manufacture consent', as any other Doctor Who story, the vast majority of which are straightforwardly and entirely unthreatening to the status quo.  What political critique there is consists, for the most part, of moralistic liberal finger-wagging about greed, nationalism and xenophobia, which is itself compromised by the Axons turning out to be evil, shifty, bogus asylum seekers (that sort of thing didn't start with Gatiss, sadly).  Such moralistic liberal finger-wagging is inherently non-subversive and non-radical because it is inherently reformist rather than revolutionary, i.e. vote out the reactionaries, and get the common herd to be less materialistic, and capitalism will be fine and dandy.

However, everything is relative and context changes things.

The fact is, 'Claws' has probably the most straightforwardly, explicitly, non-metaphorical depiction of the British state as cynical and machiavellian of all Pertwee stories (though the impact is softened by Chinn's comic incompetence).  In 'Claws', the problem isn't one slimey bureaucrat, one idiotic authority figure, one cowardly warmongering parliamentary private secretary... the problem is Chinn and his boss and the government they work for.  They're not just arse-covering or being unimaginative or showing prejudice.  They're actively and covertly colluding in what is described (by Jo, the character that we - the audience - are meant to identify with most directly) as a "contemptible, underhanded deal".  Only the bias in the Cabinet Room in favour of Global Chemicals in 'Green Death' comes close to the level of systemic cynicism shown by Chinn and his Minister.  It's impossible to imagine that Chinn's Minister is acting without the sanction of the rest of the government, or at least the expectation of approval.  Indeed, his worry seems to be about public, worldwide perception.

Whatever Ministry Chinn represents (nominally he's MoD, but the very lack of specificity about his job gives it a general character that suggests a systemic problem), the nature of the "contemptible, underhanded deal" that he's trying to cut is clearly implied to be aimed at cornering economic and military power.  Chinn's behaviour is very deliberately linked to xenophobia and nationalism, via his (offscreen) remark about "England for the English".  The lack of any genuine commitment to isolationism is shown by his willingness to snuggle up to the Axons when he thinks there's advantage to be had from them.  However true to life this may or may not be, the British government is shown to be at loggerheads with the U.N., with the British state depicted as self-serving while the U.N. is implied to be universalist in its desire to spread Axonite around the world... free.  This last detail is raised so briefly that its easy to miss, but it clearly implies that the British government's plan was to capture the sole right to sell Axonite.

This may be liberal moralism (isolationism? profiteering? tut tut!), and it may be unrealistic (the U.N. isn't generally prone to demanding free, worldwide distribution of valuable substances)... but it at least raises the issue of nation states trying to corner and capture resources, and of control over global supplies of such resources conferring economic power.  And it doesn't depict the British state as either morally impeccable or morally neutral in the face of such opportunities.  On the contrary, it depicts the British state as cynically (if shambolically) conspiratorial in its efforts to seize and hold such an opportunity.  The aim of the state is to exploit the commercial advantages and economic power conferred by a valuable commodity (a commodity, moreover, that seems to represent capital itself - see below).  Edge of Darkness, this ain't... but it may actually be the most overtly negative portrayal of the British state in Doctor Who until 'Turn Left'.

This, by itself, is nowhere near enough to invoke the tentacles.  But there's more.

Get on Your Bike and Find Work

'Claws' raises the issue of poverty, by implication and explicitly.  Famine is mentioned several times.  The idea mooted by some of the characters is that Axonite will help to feed the starving millions by vastly increasing food stocks.  Of course, it's also strongly implied that this will come at a price - if it happens at all - if Chinn and his bunch manage to grab Axonite for the exclusive control of the British state.  When Chinn gives the Axons his assurance that Axonite will spread around the globe, he's betting that the globe will pay to get it.  (We'll come back to this.)  This all bubbles along beneath the surface of the story, but there is a shot in Episode One that threatens - albeit very faintly - to raise it to the surface along with some very awkward questions.  It's this one:

Let's take stock of this image.  A homeless man, clearly implied to be mentally ill, who has just been seen rummaging around in a rubbish dump, is out in the cold... next to a nuclear power station.  Winser's reactor alone is later said to have cost £50 Million.  So, the British state can afford to spend that kind of money on nuclear power, but it can't stop the kind of poverty that puts someone like Josh outside, without shelter, in freezing "freak weather conditions".  Ah, but the reactor is supplying energy to vast swathes of Britain!  Yeah... but if you haven't got a home, you haven't got any way of enjoying any of that energy, have you?  Josh has to create his own energy with his own generator: pedals.  But even his bike is useless.  The problem with Josh is that he is worth nothing to anyone powerful.  He's unprofitable.  Axos doesn't even get much sustenance out of consuming him.  The Axons say it themselves when they analyse him: "this specimen is valueless".

Later, of course, Axonite meshes itself with the reactor to the point where they seem to merge.  It is a miracle power-source that hides the deadly potential for mass destruction.  Later still, the Nuton Power Complex explodes.  There is clearly some queasiness about nuclear power submerged in Axonite.

Once again, don't misunderstand me.  I'm not saying any of this constitutes angry political comment.  It does not.

The lead characters casually saunter back - unprotected - into the wreckage of the reactor plant after it has exploded, which takes the edge off any anxieties the story might seem to have about nuclear power, even nullifying the effect of the Master's dry remarks about "sticky tape on the windows", which parody the farcical advice people used to get given about What to Do in the Event of a Nuclear Holocaust.

Meanwhile, Josh is depicted as a comedy character.  He jabbers unintelligible 'yokel' gibberish and puts up his fists at Axos.  He's a comedy nutter, backed by cutesy Steptoe & Son-esque music.  We're evidently supposed to find him funny.  (Oh yeah, homelessness - what a giggle.)  He's a parodic figure.  He serves to neutralise and naturalize poverty, to make it seem like something amusing that only happens to crazy old drunks.  Such people (whisper it) have brought it on themselves and (whisper it) prefer being homeless, which is a kind of freedom.  And all that bollocks.

However, the only thing that makes Josh so 'safe' is the tone the story takes with him.  Changing the incidental music alone could easily transform him from a figure of fun to one of pathos.  Then, the sight of him freezing his nuts off in an icy lake, a few miles away from a colossally expensive nuclear power plant (which later explodes), while the British government connives to gain exclusive control and profits from an even more deadly source of power, would have an altogether different effect.  We might even be tempted to connect Josh's condition with that of all those hungry people who haunt this story at the extreme edges.

Planet of Gold

At his TARDIS Eruditorum blog, Philip Sandifer identifies 'Claws' as utilising... well... the horror of Glam rock (as someone else once put it).

Glam rock... is in part about taking the opulence of conspicuous consumption and rearranging it into the wrong aesthetic. It's all the over the top excess of the luxury associated with power and authority, except it's all put together pointlessly and haphazardly. It revels in decadence and consumption while denying the systems that ostensibly justify that behavior in society.
Does The Claws of Axos follow this approach? Largely, yes. On the one level, the pleasure of The Claws of Axos is a revelry in spectacle and glitz. We are meant to enjoy its images for their own sake. On the other hand, look at its ostensible plot, which is a straightforward anti-consumerist parable. The Axons are beautiful creatures of gold who offer untold wealth and then drain the world of its resources. But look, these two things don't go together at all. The story is simultaneously reveling in superficial images and warning of their malign influence.
But this isn't a contradiction or a case of sloppy and incoherent execution. This is what concern about the rise of a purely image-based culture of spectacle (which was one of the major concerns of the Situationalist International in France in '68) looked like in 1971. The critique of images was phrased in an image-based, superficial form. The Claws of Axos is designed to make the viewer feel uncomfortable about the pleasure they are taking in the object. It's constantly reveling in images that are not fun but rather lurid and unnerving - images that are over the top and unlike what things should look like - while simultaneously cautioning us about the very pleasure it is taking.

He goes on to say other interesting things about Pertwee as playing a Hero, a fundamentally consumerist role where the male lead is commodified for the audience's enjoyment... except that, in 'Claws', he is a grotesque amidst a cast of unchanging and functional stock characters who always react the same way.  Thus Pertwee ends up unwittingly playing a joke version of this Hero.  His Doctor becomes a kind of Glam subversion, revelling in outrageous behaviour, flouncy togs and bourgeois ostentation while simultaneously losing the legitimacy that makes such things work they way they're superficially supposed to.

But the bit I'm interested in is Sandifer's reference to Guy Debord's idea about the Society of the Spectacle.  I wont linger over this here (how it relates to Doctor Who - and film/TV SF/fantasy generally - is a whole separate series of posts in itself).  Here's the book itself; here's [PDF] the best intro to it I've ever read.

However, I think Debord can lead us to something fundamental about what Axonite/Axos is.

Early on in Society of the Spectacle, Debord delivers this crucial disclaimer: "The spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation between people, mediated by images."  Debord locates the spectacle in commodity fetishism.  The spectacle is "the main production of present-day society" and "is the image of the ruling economy".  It "subjugates living men to itself to the extent that the economy has totally subjugated them."  It is "the true reflection of the production of things, and the false objectification of the producers."  Just as Marx wrote that capital is the material expression of social relationships of production, so Debord says that the spectacle is the expression in images of material relationships of production.  For Debord, the spectacle is the way modern society expresses the concentration of capital.

Now, Sandifer's interest is in how the story itself uses spectacle strategically.  I'm more interested in how, within the frame of the story, Axos uses/is spectacle.  When the Axons offer the humans their most tempting aspect, they personate as images that embody various seductive elements of Western heritage and capitalist ideology.  They represent themselves as a patriarchal nuclear family (post-nuclear, more like... as someone once said).  According to Miles and Wood, the script described the Axons who greet the humans as looking like "the adman's dream Coca-Cola family".  They are commodifying themselves and their image for the humans' consumption, drawing on ideals of consumer culture.  These ideals are themselves drawn from older - sometimes classic or neoclassical - tropes about beauty, health, normalcy, etc.  The Axons actively employ classical motifs: their slender bodies, sculpted hair and blank eyes make them look like Greek or Roman statues.  They use the spectacle to dazzle the humans.  Most of all, they appear - spectacularly - to be made of gold.

Gold is the ultimate symbol of wealth.  Even with the days of the Gold Standard long gone, gold prices still have a great effect upon the world economy, heavily influencing currency rates, especially in Asia and Australasia.  Its symbolic weight is enormous.  It is associated with plenty, wealth, power, pleasure, conspicuous consumption, health, purity... but it is also tarnished with the dirt of history, of the Gold Rush and other such examples of acquisitiveness which devastated native peoples and raised cities full of miners and brothels and gambling houses, etc.  It speaks of unreasoning temptation, of a rush to gain.

Gold also stands for money, the 'universal equivalent', the commodity that stands for and realises the respective values of all others.  Gold is not money, not anymore... but it does imply money like little else.

It's hard to avoid the conclusion that, aside from deliberately using glam and glitter to ensare humans, Axos is also expressing something true about itself.  Axonite is offered as, "a gift, a payment" (in accordance with our customs).  Note that "gift" and "payment" are incompatible, even mutually exclusive terms.  It's as though the Axons do not fully understand the meaning of the word "gift", even as they go on to ask for and suggest charity.  But they are clearly offering Axonite as a payment, in return for shelter (as they claim).  Actually, they are buying human cooperation.  The spectacle of the glittering golden people expresses the fact that their entire nature is essentially monetary, commodified, capitalistic.

Axonite is inherently spectacular.  It transforms things, engorges things, shrinks things, foams, blasts, crackles and seethes.  Given that Axonite, the Axons and the Axon ship are all, essentially, the same thing, that means that everything we see inside Axos (see the pictures above) is also Axonite.  That unnerving glam rock orgy of strange flesh is all performance, spectacle... all of it, Axonite in change and motion.

In the world of Axos, everything is spectacular and everything is a commodity.  After encountering Axonite as a payment (exchange value), we are immediately shown its qualities (use value).  It can "absorb, convert, transmit and program all forms of energy".  Essentially, it can do anything.  It is omniuseful.  It is, say the Axons, "the source of all our growth technology".  Well, that sounds a helluva lot like the commodity form to me.

In our world too, everything is commodified.  Commodities can be anything and everything.  The commodity can take any form.  It can be huge or small; it can be a single bolt or an entire warship.  Commodities can absorb each other's value.  The value in the automated machinery of the production line (itself a commodity - made to be sold and bought) transfers value into the commodities produced on the production line.  (I'll have mercy on you and skip any further discussion of 'the organic constituion of capital'... except to note how interesting it is, in respect to this story, that Marx speaks of capital as being 'organic' and 'variable'.)  Commodities can transfer value.  They can be used to ship other commodities from place to place.  Commodities can transmit value.  The cable or satellite (themselves commodities) can transmit the drama (commodity) and/or the advert (the commodity that sells commodities) to the television (a commodity).  Watching the television is a person who sells their labour (commodity), gets a wage (which she uses to buy commodities) and forms part of a market based on her personal details (these markets being sold to advertisers in the form of ad space between appropriate programmes).  And so on and so on.  In a system like ours, one of generalised commodity production, the commodity can do all the things Axonite can do.  It can even engorge frogs, if you want.  Even before genetic engineering (itself heavily commodified, with patented genes, etc), the market would have found a way to breed monstrously large frogs if there'd been a way of selling them.

The humans immediately see the possible applications... which is understandable.  The Axons have offered something that humans in capitalist society understand very well.  They call Axonite "growth technology"... they mean it literally, but the humans see another kind of growth.  Economic growth.  Axonite is a new development of the productive forces, waiting to be applied to the system of commodity production.  "Unlimited food!" says Hardiman.  Now, putting aside the child-logic that assumes people starve because there's a world shortage of food, what is Hardiman really saying?  He's saying that Axonite can increase human capacity to produce... and what do humans produce in capitalism?  Commodities.  Axonite will mean that humans will produce more, bigger, better, faster, with less outlay, etc.  Even if Hardiman doesn't see this, the Doctor and Chinn certainly do... at least, in their different ways.  The Doctor doesn't usually talk about economics, so he sees the issue as one of Axonite conferring "unlimited power" of a kind he doesn't specify.  Chinn, however, immediately reacts acquisitively, nationalistically and in terms of the British state.  "We must have it," says he.  By "we" he means 'Britain'... which, of course, to him, means the British state.  Economic power is implicitly what he's thinking about.  He immediately begins trying to cut a deal for "sole distribution rights to all Axonite materials" to be "vested in the British government".  By "materials" he probably means literal materials, i.e. the stuff itself... but that doesn't stop his words sounding, nowadays, like part of an intellectual property rights contract.

Am I not overstating?  Isn't Axonite just another of those fantasy materials, like zyton-7, trisilicate, duralinium, argonite, spectrox...  well, yes and no.  You see, they are all examples of a commodity and some of them are shown to cause people and/or companies to do terrible things because they are commodities... but, with the possible exception of spectrox, none of them seem to stand for the commodity, for the commodity form itself. Axonite, however, does this through its omniusefulness, its ultra-utility, through its apparently protean nature, through its ability to be and to copy anything, through its hyper-desirability, through its resistance to analysis, and through its nature as spectacle. Like Nestene plastic (which is also spectacular and also stands for the commodity, for capital... hence the tentacles) it is autonomous, it can mass produce and re-produce, it attacks.  In one sense, it is less sharp a signifier than Auton plastic because it is not made by humans, but on the other hand there is the matter of its cyclical nature.  Auton Plastic does not circulate; Axonite does.  The Nutrition Cycle sounds very much like the circulation of capital.  The commodity dazzles, it is distributed in return for payment, it moves from hand to hand, it is shipped, it reaches every corner of the globe, increases yields and develops production, confers power and growth, achieves saturation and monopoly... and the end result is a massive collection of energy (profit) at the centre, achieved through the absorption of resources, with all the profit feeding back into the system, engorging it, enabling it to reproduce itself and start the cycle again.  Not for nothing do the Axons refer to the Nutrition Cycle also as a cycle of reproduction.  Axonite is like the commodity in that it is one aspect of an all-encompassing system, an aspect that circulates globally and 'returns with' the profit, reproducing the system in the process.

Nestene plastic is capital: labour alienated from humans, commodified and fetishized to the point of hostile autonomy.  Inside the Autons there lurk the Nestenes... i.e. within the alien/ated human images, 'Spearhead' finds capital, which manifests as incoherent tentacles.  Axos too is constituted of alien/ated human images within which there hide masses of tentacles.  Axos takes up the clues in 'Spearhead' and uses the incoherent tentacular as a spectacle in itself, but a spectacle that behaves like the commodity synthesized to the point of abstraction, which is what the commodity form is anyway: an abstraction.

Axos is capital.

Nice Tentacles, Shame About the Skull

Axos is described and depicted in many ways during this story, many of them incompatible and incoherent.  Their 'ship' (which is, of course, not actually a vessel for occupants so much as a bag of skin around a single entity) looks like a leech or a tapeworm, its opening resembling a scolex.  The thing that reaches out to grab Josh and Filer is partly a tentacle, partly a tongue, partly a stamen, with a spider on the end of it.  The interior has tendrils, eyes, fronds, membranes, claws, mouths, hard dribbles that look like scabs or dried pus, ganglions, foreskins, you name it.  Axos is an incoherent chimera.  It's a bag of bits and pieces, randomly stuck together and constantly reshuffling.  It's an obscene body landscape.  Being inside it is like being a morsel of food being digested through the internal organs of a monstrous, scrambled creature.

However, according to Miles and Wood, the original idea for the story was about "a giant skull landing in Hyde Park and offering to fulfill people's desires, for a price, by making its human-sized nerve-cells become whatever anybody wanted".

Now, I've never read that first script, but surely, inevitably, somebody would ask the Skull to use one of those "human-sized" cells to recreate a dead loved one.  Which probably wouldn't work out, I'm guessing.

This sounds like a straightforward gothic parable about the return of the repressed.  The wishes that are granted and which then prove undesirable, as in the ghost story 'The Monkey's Paw' by W. W. Jacobs.

We all know that, right up to the last minute, the story was called 'The Vampire from Space'.  The vampire being a thoroughly gothic monster.  Barry Letts changed it at the eleventh hour... apparently feeling it necessary to insert the dialogue likening Axos to a vulture in order to justify the new title.

This is almost too good to be true, from my point of view.

I've been working with China Miéville's fascinating and original thesis (see my account, here, which links to his essay) about the tentacle and skull being in "non-dialectical superposition".  They represent two conflicting ways of expressing the horrors of modernity, the gothic (hauntological) and the Weird.  The gothic is about that knowledge which haunts us even as we try to deny it; the Weird is about the lack of comprehension, the terrifyingly unknowable.  These modes do not interpenetrate, rather they oscillate back and forth.  As a result, you never get monsters that merge the skull and the octopus - skulltopuses... a combination that would otherwise seem quite obvious, given that octopuses have central bodies that are almost skull-like in shape.

In the production history of 'The Claws of Axos' we can almost see this very process of oscillation at work!

The skull is pushed out by the incoherent tentacular.

But... this isn't quite what's happening.  In his thesis, Miéville is talking about large-scale oscillations which take place across Western culture, graphics, political art and, most especially, literature.  He's talking, for the most part, about fiction in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Moreover, 'Claws' is not a case of hauntology being outright rejected in favour of Weird opacity.  In its broadcast form, 'Claws' retains a hauntological charge.  Putting aside any possible Freudian interpretations (off the top of my head... the death wish, anybody?), Axos clearly haunts us (in that material way Who has of doing hauntology) with repressed social/political/cultural anxieties about greed, materialism, acquisitiveness, hunger, starvation, foreigners and refugees, our own prosperity, etc.  Axos even becomes semi-spectral at times, i.e. the floating disembodied heads.

While it may be a very strange, almost unprecedented creature - it really is quite hard to think where any TV viewers in 1971 would've seen anything quite like it before - Axos is still, in many ways, a vampire.  Vampire is actually a much more apposite description than Letts' implied carrion bird.  Vampires drain the life from the living.  Axos wouldn't be about to feed on a "carcass".  Axos is gothic to that extent.  It even chimes with a brilliant Marxist reading of Dracula by a guy called Moretti, who saw the fanged Count as a monster of monopoly capital, trying to takeover the world and integrate all humanity into his dominating system, opposed by the British middle classes and a professor from Holland (the home of free trade).  Marx himself was fond of comparing capital to a vampire.  Axos is also, as I've suggested above, capital.  It is a single system that wishes to circulate units of itself, in commodity form, around the world, in search of a total, global monopoly of all power and profit.

This, I think, is the key.  'Claws of Axos' uses Doctor Who's materialist method of doing the gothic and the hauntological to create a gothic monster... but finds its intended critique of greed and consumerism sliding inexorably into a gothic-style critique of capitalism... of capitalism as a destructive and vampiric system (the unitary nature of Axos makes it systemic, all its parts being aspects of itself) of commodity circulation, aided by a cynical British state.

Doctor Who
, under the right-on stewardship of Barry Letts, is happier with this idea than ever before... such things were hardly even dreamt of in the 60s show until the last few seasons... but still can't fully commit to a systemic critique on this level, what with its place in the capitalist culture industry, tasked with educating the nation's goggle-eyed chidlers in the virtues of mainstream Enlightenment values and liberal bourgeois morality.  As this conflict - between ideological position and implied critique - develops, the most overt trappings of the gothic are shed and, in their place, comes a processed, stylistic, creatively misunderstood version of the Weird.  Out goes the skull that offers the barbed wishes... in come the tentacles, the claws and the strange flesh.  As with 'The Macra Terror' and 'Spearhead from Space', the themes of the story have been converging upon a point that needs to be obscured, scrambled, covered, Weirdified into incoherence... so in comes the radically incoherent monster, purloined from the Weird, the apparent opposite and antithesis of the gothic.

The connection between these two modes is never entirely severed, however.  This is not the process described by Miéville in its full sense but rather an echo if it.  The remaining connection between the gothic and the Weird is most visible in the look of the Axon 'ship'.  It looks like a leech.  It looks like a bloodsucker.  The story has found its resting point at the place where the gothic and the Weird almost meet before they repel.