Friday, 30 March 2012

How Curses Work 2: This Fez is Loaded

The utility to Western imperialism of depicting Arabs with the kind of culturalist discourse of modern vs. pre-modern, secularism vs. cultish religion, democracy vs. theocracy, civilisation vs. medievalism, rationalism vs. fanaticism (translated out of code: good Westerners vs. bad Arabs) that followed in the wake of the "war on terror" is obvious.

This way of constructing Arab and/or Middle Eastern cultural identities in Western art, literature, media and ideology, is very old.

Edward Said's seminal book Orientalism outlines the way in which the West has constructed the East as an exotic, romantic, cruel, sensuous, decadent, fanatical, inscrutable Other.  (...though it is occasionally weakened - in my presumptuous and insignificant opinion - by the problems underlying Foucault's notion of 'discourse', which Said utilises.)

Jack Shaheen's book Reel Bad Arabs reveals how Hollywood has vilified and dehumanized Arabs.  Here's a great short documentary demonstrating his thesis.  It's central message may not come as a surprise to you, but it's still salutary to see the evidence collated and concentrated.

Such representations of Arabs pop up in the Doctor Who story 'Pyramids of Mars' (1975) as part of the show's tactic, at that time, of raiding the motifs of the pop-gothic... with Hammer as a major influence.  The Hammer version of The Mummy is the place, above all others, where the Egyptian Fanatic (that character we were talking about in the previous post) is best seen.  The character in that film, played by George Pastell, is the template for Namin in 'Pyramids of Mars'.

"Where 'dem infidels at???"
Namin is a murderous, raging fanatic.  He goes one better than Pastell's character in the Hammer Mummy: he actually takes over the English country mansion of the Explorer, invading it using forged (or coerced) letters of authority from the Explorer, taking up the Explorer's place, raging at the Explorer's servant, barring the Explorer's brother, insulting and shooting the Explorer's friend, etc.  Inverting real history, the Egyptian invades England, violently taking over.  Terrance Dicks' novelisation makes it clear that Namin is the last in a long line of fanatical worshippers of the old gods, as per standard stereotypes.  At one point, Namin even insinuates that Dr Warlock is being racist - or at least xenophobic - in suspecting him of nefarious activities, asking sarcastically if Warlock will report him to the police for being "a foreigner".  Warlock then gets to smash such petty and self-serving nonsense aside.  Don't bring up racism; I only suspect you because you're a wrong'un.  Thus is the depiction of the Arab as a sinister, fanatical invader self-alibied, self-excused... with all criticism automatically and pre-emptively effaced in a "Political correctness gone mad!" moment avant la lettre.  It's a moment when Doctor Who itself says "bloody minorities, coming over here... and then squealing about 'racism' when we complain about what they get up to!"  It's one of the ugliest moments in the history of the show.

But Namin isn't just an evil Arab.  He's an evil religious Arab.  In the original version of his essay about 'Pyramids of Mars' at his TARDIS Eruditorum blog, Philip Sandifer (while, it should be stressed, criticising the use of nasty stereotypes)  accidentally referred to Namin as a Muslim... and got taken to task for it in the comments.  With good grace, he admitted and corrected the slip.  Thing is... was it really so off the mark?  Okay, Namin worships Sutekh not Allah... and, by extension, he believes in the other Egyptian deities, making him a polytheist... which puts him well outside 'really existing Islam', which is clear about there only being the one god, Allah.  I'm not saying that Namin's beliefs or practices, as they appear in 'Pyramids of Mars', bear any relation or similarity to Islam.  They don't.  Quite the contrary, in fact... which is kind of the point.... because, despite being so self-evidently NOT a Muslim, Namin as a character is still semiotically depicted in terms which carry connotations of Islam in Western Orientalist discourse.  His very fanaticism is itself a signifier often used to connote Islam in such representations.  His fez, which the text directly and explicitly connects to the ethnic and religious identity of the character - i.e. Arab Fanatic - is a cultural artifact of the Ottoman Empire, an Islamic political entity.  He does a lot of kneeling and bowing, a lot of raging at unbelievers who dare to trespass upon his private religious practices... all while being a fez-wearing Arab.  And, at the time 'Pyramids of Mars' was made, 'Muslim terrorism' was a much-hyped fear in the West.  (Nothing changes, does it?)  At that time, as now, the word 'Muslim' was frequently taken as more or less synonymous with 'violent religious fundamentalist with an axe to grind' in the media culture of the West.  (The only real difference nowadays is that, unlike most forms of racism, it's more or less acceptable to openly practice Islamophobia.)

Admittedly, 'terrorism' in the 70s was as associated with the IRA and Baader-Meinhof, etc... but there was also the PLO and the memory of Black September... all endlessly condemned in the Western media without anyone bothering to go on at equal length about much-greater Israeli and Western atrocities committed against Muslims.  The heyday of 'Muslim terrorists' in Western pop-culture was still in the future, of course... it arose in the 80s and 90s, along with the need to demonize post-revolutionary Iran, paint Libya as the ultimate rogue state and discredit Palestinian 'peace offensives'... and reached its apogee after 9/11 for obvious reasons.

Even so, there is no doubt what Namin - a fanatical, fez-wearing, gun-wielding, Westerner-killing, religiously-observant Arab - MEANT in 1975.  The fact that his stated religious beliefs and practices are about as far from Islam as can be imagined only adds insult to... well, insult.

To be honest, I find it amazing that George Pastell wasn't cast as Namin.  He was the go-to guy for such characters.  I suppose they didn't want to draw too much attention to how derivative of Hammer's first Mummy film 'Pyramids' really was.

"Where 'dem Anglo-Saxon fools at???"
Pastell, of course, had already done Who duties, playing a fanatical, generic foreigner who schemes to open ancient tombs and release hideous, stomping, undead zombies who will - he thinks - do his evil bidding, in 'Tomb of the Cybermen'.

Klieg may not be an Egyptian (it's hard to say what he's supposed to be, apart from a generic 'foreigner'), but the presence of such a character, played by an actor who had played the Egyptian Fanatic for Hammer in the past, is part of that story's recoding of the Curse of the Mummy's Tomb-type tale.

I've looked elsewhere at how 'Tomb of the Cybermen' takes on all sorts of racist connotations by recycling, in terms translated into sci-fi, the tropes of colonialist gothic horror, tropes that were augmented forever in popular awareness by 'Tutmania' during the 20s and 30s, in the wake of the 'discovery' of Tutankhamun's burial chamber.

In 'Tomb', the ancient subterranean stone burial chambers of Mummy films become technological freezers.  "Abandon hope all ye who enter here" becomes the electricity coursing through the big doors.  The curses upon those who disturb that rest of the Pharaoh / Princess / High Priest become a long-ago formulated Cyber plan to snare new recruits.  The buried treasures become the power that Klieg and Kaftan hope to co-opt.  The faded, dusty friezes become the Cyber icons that decorate the walls.  The sinister hieroglyphics become the cryptic patterns of symbolic logic.  When Klieg (with the inexplicable assistance of the Doctor) manages to work out the logic sequences which open the doors, he is also translating the magic "open sesame" contained in the sacred, arcane symbols of a tattered scroll.

Wise words from me there.

The casting of Pastell is part and parcel of this very same recoding.  I'm not dismissing his abilities as an actor, but all actors know that there's a lot more to getting cast than just how good you are.  Pastell was drafted in to play the Fanatic  in 'Tomb' because he'd already played Fanatics in things with 'Tomb' in the title.  In short - because he looked right.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Fear & Loathing of Series 7

Strange memories of that nervous night in 2005. Six years later? Seven? It seems like a lifetime, or at least a Main Era—the kind of peak that never comes again. Doctor Who in the early noughties was a very special thing to be a part of. Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run… but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant.…

History is hard to know, because of all the hired bullshit, but even without being sure of "history" it seems entirely reasonable to think that every now and then the energy of a whole generation comes to a head in a long fine flash, for reasons that nobody really understands at the time—and which never explain, in retrospect, what actually happened.

My central memory of that time seems to hang on one or five or maybe twenty episodes—or very hazy stories—when I flicked off BBC1 half-crazy and, instead of going home, aimed the big Peugeot 206 across the Severn Bridge at a hundred miles an hour wearing green corduroy trousers, a collarless grandfather shirt, a waistcoat and an army surplus jacket… booming through, not quite sure which turn-off to take when I got to the other end (always stalling at the toll-gate, too spannered to find neutral while I fumbled for change)... but being absolutely certain that no matter which way I went I would come to a place where people were just as high and wild about 'Utopia' as I was: No doubt at all about that…

There was madness in any direction, at any hour. 'Love & Monsters' and 'Gridlock' could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever BBC Wales was doing was right, and that we open-minded, open-hearted viewers were winning.…

And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Cult and Fanboy. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave.…

So now, less than seven years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Cardiff and look East, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.

(With love and apologies to the addled shade of Dr Hunter S. Thompson.)

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Breaking News!!!

In an unprecedented, game-changing paradigm-shift, Steven Moffat has cast a young white woman as the Doctor's new companion.

Apparently she's been in soaps and has been voted sexy by the kinds of people who vote in polls about who they fancy on TV.

I didn't bother looking for a picture of her.  If you want to know what she looks like, here's the first image that came up when I googled "actress".

It'll be near enough, I expect.

Friday, 16 March 2012

How Curses Work

We've all seen him.  He's swarthy, usually (though not always) with a dark beard.  He's often wearing a fez (no, I'm not going to say it) and robes of some kind.

A fanatic.  And friend.

Sometimes, he leaves his home desert and comes to England.  He may be dressed in Western clothes and live in a house with Western furnishings, but he's got a secret room, or a shrine, or a sanctum behind a billowing curtain, in which he keeps his infernal idols amidst clouds of suffocating incense.


(cue dramatic music)

...the Egyptian Fanatic!

When he comes to England, he becomes the mirror image of the English Explorer Who Has Just Returned from Egypt (henceforth, the Explorer).  This man goes to Egypt for the love of antiquities and discovery, and comes back enchanted and bewitched by the place (by the place, mind, not the people); filling his big, wood-panelled home with Egyptiana.  The question of whether the Explorer has any right to this Egyptiana is raised only by the Egyptian Fanatic in England (henceforth, the Fanatic).

The Fanatic has come to England from his native land in search of something, some inscrutable justice, some devilish retribution.  He nurses a grudge.  He clothes himself in Anglo, middle-class normalcy.  He speaks impeccable English, albeit in a heavy accent.  (It doesn't have to be an 'Egyptian accent', just a generic foreign one will do.)  He is usually treated with courtesy (at first) by the bemused English middle classes amongst whom he mixes by default because of his wealth.  These people may come to suspect and despise him, but they're often tolerant enough at the start, though a working class or yokel character may get to utter some ignorant dislike of "strangers".  The middle class characters may even initially tut at this sort of hostility (what with them being so open minded and everything) but it will turn out that the yokel's xenophobia was (accidentally) quite justified.

I'm a racist stereotype.  Racist stereotypes are cool.
Because the Fanatic is there to cause trouble.  To raise the mummified body of a long-dead Egyptian High Priest from its slumber inside a sarcophagus and set it the task of killing all those infidels who dared to trespass upon the sacred resting place of the Pharaoh, etc.  The Explorer will be the target of the Fanatic's superstitious rage (it will continue to be looked upon as superstition, despite the fact that the spells work and the mummy really does come to life).  The Explorer was just trying to further the cause of science and knowledge, to preserve the ancient Egyptian past, perhaps to delve into mysteries Better Left Undisturbed... sometimes the Explorer has been arrogant in his treatment of the Egyptians, sometimes he was rude and dismissive to the particular Egyptian Fanatic who is now persecuting him, usually when said Egyptian Fanatic turned up and begged him not to open the pyramid / break the seal on the scroll / disturb the body / take the mummy to display in England.  In some cases, the Explorer is shown to be greedy for gold or glory or knowledge... sometimes he is even a touch fanatical himself.

But, at the end of the day, it is the Egyptian who is the real Fanatic.  It is he who has devoted his life to the single-minded cause of revenge, of worshipping the evil Egyptian deity, of seeking out all desecrators and having them strangled by a rotting corpse.  Sometimes he has fanatically loyal henchmen or assassins who will kill for him, with dirty great curved swords.  If ordinary Egyptians see these men (you know ordinary Egyptians by their muteness, cowardliness and by the fact that they do the donkey work at the Explorer's dig) they run away in terror.  Maybe the Fanatic is the last in a long line of priests, acolytes of a cult that has lasted for centuries, devoted to passing the task of protecting their god down through the generations.  He is bound to savagery via fanatical superstition and cultish tradition.  And the Explorer is the victim.  The Explorer's home is violated, the Explorer's wife (who is sometimes the reincarnation of the mummy's Queen / High Priestess / lover) is menaced, the Explorer is attacked... etc.

The wife thing is interesting because it adds the anxiety of the Caucasian woman desired, possibly symbolically ravished, by the Arab... and, it goes without saying, the woman is depicted as property that the men fight over.  The theft of her from her husband is usually a perverse echo of the noble thefts committed by the Explorer.  You take our treasures in the name of science, so we take your women in the name of... well... heh heh heh heh hehhhhhh!

So we see how the Mummy story stems from European (particularly English) anxieties about the morality (or consequences anyway) of raiding other people's ancient tombs and carrying their ancient artifacts and corpses away with you, back to England to recieve the fame and the fortune and the prestige.  More broadly, we see how stories like this stem from European anxieties about their empires, about their pith-helmeted sons swaggering around other people's countries like they owned them.  It isn't that these stories try to make the Explorer come to terms with what he's done wrong... it is that his behaviour (however dodgy it may occasionally be acknowledged to be) is absolved by the disproportionate and grotesque response of the inscrutable, pre-modern, occult, emotionally deranged, immature, vindictive, fanatical, fez-wearing brown person who comes after him, wielding fetishes, chanting invocations to obscene deities (our own images of tortured hunks nailed to crosses are never questioned), burning incense, reading horrible curses from scrolls and sending his decomposing henchman out to do his murderous dirty work for him.

Thus, as always in the stories told by imperialist cultures, is the imperialist absolved by the inhumanity of his own victims.  This task may be best accomplished by tales of the uncanny precisely because it requires such a massive leap outside the realms of reality.

The Fanaticism of the West

It's quite something, the way our popular culture has managed to associate Egypt almost entirely with curses, fanaticism, evil and the theft of white womenfolk, given the nature of actual European relations with that country.  Egypt, after all, has never invaded Britain.  Britain, however, has invaded Egypt.  A lot.

In July 1882, British warships began bombarding Alexandria.  Supposedly, this was done because the Egyptians refused to surrender some coastal forts.  In reality, the forts were no threat, as the British knew at the time.  By the end of the shelling, much of Alexandria lay in ruins.  This was blamed on rioting mobs by the British but the evidence shows that a huge amount of the damage was done by British shells.  Estimates of Egyptian dead and wounded range from about 600 to 2,000, many of them civilians.  Gladstone, who was always ready to push aside his tearfully-proclaimed moralistic scruples about empire when the time came to protect British imperial interests, told one queasy colleague in the Liberal cabinet that they had taught "the fanaticism of the East that the massacre of Europeans is not likely to be perpetrated with impunity".

Gladstone was referring to riots that had claimed the lives of 50 Europeans (and of 250 Egyptians at the hands of Europeans) before the shelling.  The riots were an expression of outrage over European interference in and domination of Egypt.

A fanatic. 
The construction of the Suez Canal, in the decade from 1859, benefited only Britain.  It was the principle waterway leading to the glittering jewel in the imperial crown: India.  It secured British strategic and trade domination.  It led to the bankrupting of the Egyptian economy.  The Egyptian government had to go to European shareholders and banks for loans to pay for its share of the construction costs.  Through ruinous terms, huge interest demands, siphoning off of money in commissions, payment in overvalued bonds, etc. - fraud, in other words - the Europeans bilked Egypt into bankruptcy, whereupon the defaulting government effectively fell into receivership to European bondholders.  Gladstone himself - the great, principled, lachrymose humanitarian - was a bondholder.  Egypt came under the effective control of European creditors and governors.  Payments were extracted from Egypt with utter ruthlessness.  The fellahin - the peasants - suffered most.  They were subjected to terrible brutality, whipped and tortured and imprisoned into paying up even during years of failed harvests and famine.

The Khedive, Ismail, made some efforts to frustrate Euro control of his country, but when he became too intransigent, Ismail was simply removed by the British and replaced by his son Tewfik.  The Europeans in Egypt, aside from the arrogant racist contempt they showed the Egyptians, lived high on the hog even as the Egyptians sank into greater poverty.  Opposition grew, much of it Islamist in character - understandable, given what Christians were doing to Egypt - but also largely of a nationalist and democratic character.  This was the "fanaticism of the East".

When the British and French started reducing Egypt's army to help pay the debts, many people feared that this was a prelude to a military occupation... understandable, given the French occupation of Tunisia.  The Army - under General Urabi - went over to the nationalist side.  It's been said that Egypt fell under Army dictatorship, but this is false.  The Army programme was surprisingly moderate, demanding an end to the autocracy of the Khedive and an economy not entirely yoked to debt repayments.  But this was not acceptable to the European bondholders.  With neither side backing down, force would inevitably decide.  Anglo-French warships were dispatched to intimidate the nationalists.  The anti-European riots - quite understandable, given the years of intense provocation - provided the Europeans with a self-righteous cause.  The coastal forts provided an immediate pretext.  And so, Alexandria was shelled.  Civilians were crushed, blasted, blown, burned and smashed to pulp.

British humanitarian interventionists gallantly
save Egypt from the fanatical Egyptians.
Gladstone, with the overwhelming support of the Commons, ordered a full invasion.  In the early morning of the 13th September 1882, a British expeditionary force launched a surprise attack against the Egyptian army at Tel-el-Kebir.  The British techniques of colonial warfare were well honed.  The result was an easy victory and a pitiless slaughter.  57 British soldiers were killed and nearly 400 wounded.  Nobody bothered to count Egyptian dead (they didn't do body counts then either) but estimates range from 2,000 to 10,000.  Gladstone was delighted and rushed to make political capital out of his great victory.  It should go without saying that the subsequent British occupation of Egypt had the character that all imperial domination inexorably assumes.  The prisons filled, the secret police ran rampant.  Torture and military terrorism became institutional and systematic.

If, by the way, a lot of this sounds depressingly familiar to you, eerily reminiscent of imperial adventures in our own recent times, then stand by...

In 1916, the British forced 1.5 million Egyptian men to work for them - and 'requisitioned' (i.e stole) huge amounts of crops, animals and buildings - in aid of the British war effort in the Middle East... which took the form, essentially, of an invasion and occupation of Iraq (or Mesopotamia as it - essentially - was then).  One of the big causes of WWI was the race between the British and German empires to control Iraq (they'd both recently switched their major railroads over from coal to oil).  That's another story... suffice it to say that the first British regiments in 1914 were sent to Basra and, by 1917, the British had invaded Iraq wholesale.  The point here is that this process further worsened the terrible impoverishment and suffering of most of the Egyptian people.  This, together with insulting British refusals to allow Egyptian nationalists to put Egypt's claim for independence to the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, lead to a nationwide rebellion.  Initially, the British lost control of much of the country... but they machine-gunned, bombed, burned, hanged, flogged and beat the Egyptians back into line, killing more than a thousand in the process.  Unrest continued and, by 1922, the British granted Egypt formal  independence.  It was very formal indeed, and left Egypt a financially-dominated, militarily-occupied client state.  Resistance and repression continued.

By 1946, the British were forced to withdraw to the Canal zone.  The British knew that the Canal was still vital to their trade and strategic interests.  However, the Egyptian government demanded full British withdrawal.  Showing their customary dedication to democracy, the British instead poured more troops into the country and threatened a renewed national occupation.  Winston Churchill increased troop numbers again and, under his watchful eye, British forces started bulldozing whole villages in retaliation for guerrilla attacks.  Eventually, heroic resistance to ferocious British repression brought the country to the point where, with massive rioting in Cairo, a powerless puppet king and an entirely rebellious Egyptian army, Egypt had become ungovernable.  British elites backed down, realising that they could not risk a reoccupation of the whole country.

After a CIA-sponsored army coup in 1952, Nasser took over Egypt.  He began trying to renegotiate with the British over the Canal Zone.  Churchill told Eden that the Egyptians should be driven back "into the gutter from which they should never have emerged".  But Churchill was forced to agree to withdraw British troops from the Canal by 1956.  Nasser wanted Egypt to tow an independent course.  Seeking protection from Israeli aggression and getting no help from Eisenhower, he turned to the Soviets and nationalised the Suez Canal.

Another fanatic.  
The French, who hated Nasser because he was supporting the Algerian bid for independence from France, offered to cut the British in on their alliance with Israel.  Together they came up with a secret, illegal conspiracy.  The Israelis would attack Egypt and occupy the Canal area.  Britain and France, posing as peacemakers, would demand that both sides withdraw from the Canal.  Obviously, it would be impossible for the Egyptians to agree.  The British and the French would then invade the Canal area, ostensibly to separate the warring sides.  Once in, the European invaders would overthrow Nasser and end his irritating attempt to run Egypt for Egyptians rather than for the benefit of European imperialists.  Aside from the moral repugnance and hypocrisy, it was a lunatic scheme; a last and desperate roll of the dice by two declining empires.   But I'm not giving you a 'conspiracy theory'.  Of course, Eden, Macmillan, Kilmuir and the rest lied their heads off until their dying days, denying the whole thing... but it's a matter of historical record.

The Israelis launched their unprovoked surprise attack.  French collusion was more or less open.  Nobody was fooled by the pretence.  The Egyptians, quite reasonably in my view (call me nutty), refused to withdraw from their own territory.  So, the British began bombing Egypt.  Again.  Soon, British troops were invading Port Said, where they put down resistance using the usual ruthless violence.  About a thousand Egyptians died at Port Said.  They were mostly.... it gets depressing having to say this over and over.... mostly civilians.

The Americans, however, were not prepared to tolerate this half-arsed attempt by the detumescent powers of Europe to impinge upon their own ascendancy.  They condemned the invasion and launched sanctions.  The British and French had to agree to a ceasefire without having achieved any of their war aims.

With typical self-deception, we remember this sordid and bloody affair as the Suez 'Crisis'.

The Brits were out of Egypt by 1956.  For once, the British had to keep their word.

So why do we keep on telling stories about Egyptian curses, when it's clear that we have been the curse upon Egypt?  Looking at the reality of Anglo-Egyptian relations - i.e. decades of swindling, abuse, domination, invasion, oppression, impoverishment, repression and slaughter of them by us - it's a little hard to understand why we keep telling stories about how sinister and frightening Egyptians are, about how their culture and heritage and history is an uncanny minefield of curses that threaten to destroy us.


(cue dramatic music again) it?

To Be Continued...

Sunday, 11 March 2012

In the DNA

Happy birthday Douglas Noel Adams.  Shame about you dying, but still.

I hear there's a new TV series based on Dirk Gently.  I haven't watched it.  With is odd.  If someone had told me, even ten years ago, that there would one day be a Dirk Gently TV show and I wouldn't watch it, I'd have thought they were insane.

But look at this.

That's Dirk, apparently.

Funny.  It reminds me of something.

Oh yeah.

In the novels, Dirk is described as fat, ugly and toadlike with a wildly mismatched clothes, a long leather coat and a ludicrous red hat.

Still, that wouldn't make good telly, would it?

Adams was, in his way, as concerned with entropy as Bidmead.  He even has Skagra mention it in 'Shada'.  Entropy, of course, is the shuffling of everything into predictability.  The ultimate terminus of increasing entropy is the reduction of all things to homogeneous porridge.

Just saying.

Adams himself was very concerned with the corporate crapization of everything into synthetic banality.  It's a running concern of the Hitch Hikers books, from the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation to Infinidim Enterprises.

Funny thing is, if you were going to do Dirk as he's written, you'd probably end up with something not entirely unlike this.

Damn that Nutrimatic Drinks Dispenser.

Pudgy, loud, obnoxious, loquacious, domineering, tasteless, grumpy.  Just add chain-smoking, pizza-addiction, slovenliness and a tendency to con rich old ladies.

Adams was sometimes very influenced by Doctor Who.  For instance, the cricket-commentator stuff in Life, the Universe and Everything is highly reminiscent of similar scenes in 'Volcano' (but funny) and Arthur Dent even finds himself faced with a gigantic stone image of himself on an alien planet in the second series of the Hitch-Hikers radio show, just a few years after pretty much the same thing happened to the Doctor.

I'm not accusing Adams of plagiarism, you understand, just of having been influenced... and no writer can work without influences.  Indeed, one view of writing is that it consists of the shuffling around and misinterpretation of what other people have already done in some way or another.  Nothing wrong with that.  And Adams was one of the most brilliant comic writers who ever lived, so....

But I've often wondered if the Sixth Doctor bequeathed a little something of himself to Dirk.  Was Adams watching the show in 1985-6?  The first Dirk book came out in '87.

Perhaps its just the elision that I created in my own mind when reading the Dirk Gently novels as a teenager.

In any case, happy posthumous birthday Douglas.  Thank you for 'Pirate Planet' - a deceptively angry story about imperialism and the cost of prosperity - and for co-writing 'City of Death'.  Sorry about what they did in that fucking film.  And sorry about that Artemis Fowl  bloke pissing on your grave while lighting cigars with banknotes.  And thanks for creating an award for The Most Gratuitous Use of the Word Fuck in a Serious Screenplay.  I remember reading that at about the age of 16 and laughing so much I nearly suffocated.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Great Disguiser

It's been bad lately.  Loads of great actors have passed away.  Freddy Treves, Peter Halliday, Dennis Chinnery.  In non-Who-actor news, Nicol Williamson.

And now... Philip Madoc.

This is genuinely hard for me to take in.

Philip Madoc was a great actor.  An actor who could bend his whole shape into the character he was playing.  An actor who could move like an entirely different person from role to role... and watch the way he moves.  Solon moves in an entirely different manner to Fenner, who moves in an entirely different manner to the War Lord.  And he was a great vocal actor, able to give every character his own vocal rhythm and tone.

His performance as Solon in 'The Brain of Morbius' is burned into my memories of childhood.  I imagine that's true of many of us Who fans who grew up in the VHS years.

And there's the slimey, posh, ruthless spiv Brockley in the film version of Dalek Invasion.

Later, of course, (later for me, I mean) there was the War Lord.  A totally different entity to Solon.

Solon is flamboyant, jittery, vain, pompous, self-consciously machiavellian (to his own immature delight) and deeply inadequate as a person.  Madoc's performance always dances just on the knife edge of comedy without ever quite tipping over.  Solon is the quintessential jumped-up and zealous servant.

The War Lord, by contrast, is cold, introverted, calculating, quick, almost feline.  The mask of control occasionally slips, showing glimpses of the sociopath beneath.  The quintessential tyrant.  And yet, he is human.  Look at the way he shows quiet outrage over the murder of his incompetent compatriot, the Security Chief.  Look at the little moment, after the Time Lords have tortured him into compliance with their court, when he regains his dignity by straightening his tunic before he turns back to face them.

And then there's the weary, doubtful, morally-queasy yet cowardly Fenner.  Madoc's performance radiates lip-chewing ambivalence and tired timidity masked by the persona of the cynical old pro.  I, personally, am glad he didn't get the role of Thawn.  His Fenner is more interesting.  He gets to spar with Tom Baker over the word "progress".  He gets to look embarrassed when he's left at the mercy of the natives that, quite understandably, hate him.

These are, undoubtedly, among the finest guest performances in Doctor Who.  Including Fenner.  (We'll just gloss over Eelek in 'The Krotons'.  It's fine.  He does what needs to be done with what he's got.  The essence of professionalism.)

But he's also burned into my memories in another way.

In the early 90s he toured with the RSC in Trevor Nunn's legendary production of Measure for Measure, alternating with a stage production of The Blue Angel, based on the 1930 von Sternberg movie which starred Marlene Dietrich.  Madoc played the Duke in the Shakespeare and Professor Raat in The Blue Angel.

I won't go into the details of the productions.  The point here is that the Measure for Measure was the first live Shakespeare I ever saw.

Madoc's Duke was amazing.  He's still the benchmark by which I judge the character.  When I read the play, I hear the Duke's lines in Madoc's voice.  I can precisely recall the way he inflected certain crucial lines.  I can exactly recall the way he modulated his characterisation between empathy, judgement and detached, almost clinical, interest... invoking the psychoanalysts of the Freudian Vienna in which Nunn had set the play.

And I - the fanatical young Doctor Who fan - didn't recognise him.  (I wasn't, at that point, the type to be much interested in the names of actors.)

It wasn't until I next watched my edited-down VHS of 'The Brain of Morbius' that I realised I'd seen Professor Solon in the flesh.

He'd fooled me.  Me, who'd watched him transplant the brain of a war criminal about a thousand times.

That's acting.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Legless in Legoland

I've become mildly obsessed by this image:


How do you get a Lego figure to look traumatised by the death of the woman it loves, and the supposed deaths of its newborn children, and the loss of its legs, and third degree burns over all of its body?

And what kind of a culture is it that even tries?

(Of course, as Richard Pilbeam - who brought the image to my attention in the first place - remarked, the Lego figure does a better job than Hayden Christensen.)

It strikes me that, the more Lego tries to cope with reconstructing scenes from movies - especially from movies like the Star Wars  prequels or the later Harry Potter  movies, that are self-consciously 'dark' - the more it has to bring in elements of painful 'realism', i.e. scars on Anakin's face... but the addition of such features to the Lego aesthetic has an unfortunate effect... it starts to make it look like they're taking the piss, South Park  style, by representing things like serious injuries in crude, cartoon form.

This is particularly evident in the way the figure above simply has no Lego legs provided.  Is there any child who ever played with Lego who didn't, at some point, hold up a Lego torso/head combination without the legs attached and scream, on behalf of the figure, something along the lines of "AAAARGH!  WHERE ARE MY LEGS????", thus causing themselves wild hilarity?  I know I did.  (I hope I'm not telling you things about myself that I shouldn't... but, to be honest, I write a blog that tries to subject Doctor Who to Marxist analysis, so, realistically, what have I got to lose in terms of being taken seriously?)  The thing is that this exact same strategy - the leaving off of the legs - is now being deliberately employed by Lego to depict horrific mutilation.

Partly this is to do with the fact that a generation who grew up watching Star Wars  are now writing and filming stories... and, in common with the fan mindset everywhere, they want to do the same kinds of stories, but better... more serious, more 'dark', etc.  This is a double edged blade.  It gave birth to the good and bad of the Virgin New Adventures, the good and bad of 2005+ Who, the good and bad of modern SF/fantasy fiction and film making.  The apotheosis of the bad may be the awkward attempts to do 'realist' but bloodless and politically illiterate depictions of urban terrorism in the Nolan Batman films, with the urban terrorist opposed by a moralist ninja in a 'realistic' bat outfit.  One side effect of this is that, increasingly, SF/Fantasy tries to be 'serious' and often tries to do this using what we might call The Gatiss Manoeuver, i.e. it tries to bring in pain and suffering.

Of course, there is a big dose of knowing, sly-winking, in-on-the-joke irony inherent in the whole Lego Star Wars / Harry Potter / Pirates of the Caribbean  thing, the toys and computer games and film-recreations.

I think it goes back to the fact that my generation had Star Wars  and stuff like that (and the Potter  and Pirate  films are, indisputably, the offspring of Star Wars ) AND we had Lego... and there was a conceptual connection between them which took the material form of Kenner Star Wars toys... and yet, somehow, Star Wars and Lego never met... even though they lived side-by-side in our toy boxes... even though they both existed as piles of plastic figures and plastic places... even though they both allowed us to construct and deconstruct and reconstruct material worlds in miniature...  even though, in short, we always kind of thought they could and should.

Of course, they did meet... but only when we made it happen.

I mixed up Star Wars figures and Lego all the time.  I had Lego people inside my Millenium Falcon.  I knew kids who never did this... who looked at it askance, as though doing it were, in some way, conceptually indecent... but even they tended to use Lego to build characters from non-Lego worlds.  I certainly did.  I built my own versions of Star Wars characters using Lego.  For that matter, I built Lego Doctors and Lego TARDISes.  I built Lego Masters of the Universe and Lego Clash of the Titans.  I built Lego James Bond.  I built Lego E.T. and Ghostbusters.  I built Lego Blade Runner and Lego Hitchcock films.

Increasingly, there is an attempt on the part of the marketers to close the space in which children to do this kind of thing themselves.

We adults take delight in the Legoification of imagery that we recall from childhood, or from the fan experience (which is, I suspect, intimately psychologically linked with childhood)... we all, I'm sure, have felt that peculiar pleasure of recognition, solidification, interpretation and miniaturisation that comes from seeing a model of something that is embedded in our memory of visual storytelling.  (It is, by the way, entirely different to the non-recognition / surprise / disappointment that comes with seeing the visual or physical realisation of something that had previously only existed as a set of descriptions in a book.)  The more obscure, unlikely and intricately accurate the image that is solidified, miniaturized and recognised, the greater the pleasure.

For instance:

Of course, Lego Star Wars works in a different way to the above figure.

For a start, Star Wars is mass culture on a scale that old-Who can't match.  It's images are recognisable globally, to a huge number of people, part of the visual alphabet of Western culture, whereas the figure above lives in the collective memory of a comparatively small fan-gestalt.  Only a few images from Doctor Who even begin to be as widely recognisable as Star Wars.

Next, the figure above is meant to be faithful in a very literal, plodding way.  It is meant to appeal to that bit of the fan soul that cherishes 'seriousness' (something that toy-collector Charles Daniels subverts with his usual genial ingenuity).  It might even be treasured by the fan because it, in a way, reclaims and straightfacedly re-presents an image crucial to the history and internal mythos of the show but also long found risible.

The whole concept of Star Wars Lego contains a degree of self-mockery that is possible in the context of a huge, global audience of viewers and customers who are not fans in the way that you probably have to be a fan to buy and cherish the model of the 'Tenth Planet' Cyberman.  There is something inherently, nose-tappingly, insinuatingly 'knowing' about Star Wars Lego.  It not only trades upon the memory of those self-created elisions between the fundamentally not-joined-up narratives of Star Wars and Lego that so many of us engaged in during childhood, it also seems to use the Lego aesthetic to quietly insult - in that self-conscious, too-cool-for-school way that is almost always an attempt to obscure insecurity above a genuine but unfashionable devotion - the Star Wars aesthetic.

This kind of double-dealing is endemic in a culture that relentlessly sells things created to cater for deeply-ingrained human tastes (i.e. stories about monsters) while also insisting on supposedly contrary standards of behaviour (i.e. grow up, stop thinking about monsters, don't be childish, be cool not geeky, etc.).

I'm not taking sides here, by the way.  I'm not riding to the defence of Star Wars  (or indeed of Doctor Who, or anything else), shouting "lay off our wholesomely geeky pleasures, you 'ironic' philistines!"  I'm trying to think through some ways in which commodification works... and commodification is not something that Star Wars was ever free from in some pure way, anymore than was Doctor Who.  Star Wars is being commodified in new ways all the time... but it was always a commodity, as was Doctor Who, to which similar things are happening....

This is 'character building', apparently.
Wouldn't there have to be characters in it?

This is the further-commodification of that which started as a commodity anyway.  It isn't like the mass manufacture of inflatable versions of Munch's The Scream (which is, in any case, the sort of thing that is inevitable in a culture like ours).

Still less am I riding to the defence of the poor, downtrodden, misunderstood geeky fan.  Most active fans, in my experience, are relatively privileged people (and I include myself in that) and nothing is less appealing than their/our occasional lapses into self-pity and feelings of thwarted entitlement.

But, back to the point...

One way to square the get-people-to-buy-what-other-bits-of-culture-tell-them-they're-sad-for-wanting-to-buy circle (so you can continue selling them both supposedly contradictory sets of ideas and stuff simultaneously) is to package the uncool things (i.e. monsters, childhood nostalgia, models, etc) in ways that seem overlaid - or underwritten - by irony, by apparent self-mockery, by a ready made set of excuses utilising the concept of knowing play.

But there is a problem here, which is the fact that play is supposed to be creative, a way of thinking rather than a way of not-thinking.  If these methods of commodification that use play to elbow-out any feeling of unfettered engagement with stories were confined to adults, that would be bad enough.  But it isn't.

It seems to me that the current official and licenced Lego versions of film franchises are symptoms of an invasion - by the increasingly all-pervading neo-liberal capitalist market system - of a childhood prerogative: the task of using the tools of childhood (i.e. toys) to express, mimic, recreate, reinterpret, comprehend and appropriate, for one's own mental use, the culture into which one has been born.  In short, there is an extent to which Star Wars Lego is an appropriation of childhood play - or, at least, one strategy of childhood play - from its rightful owners, i.e. children.

Of course, selling toys of any kind - especially toys with a pre-written narrative behind them like Star Wars  figures - is, in a sense, to appropriate play from the child.  You're imposing an external structure upon the play.  Even vanilla Lego imposes a structure of shops and cars and tractors and 'everyday life' on to play... but then play always mimics the world around it.  In children, that's part of what its for.  And it isn't always a bad thing to impose external per se... and it is often ignored or subverted by the very act of play.  But it's that very avenue for subversion - through the child's own cross-referencing of narratives - that is being encroached upon.

It is, in a way, yet another example of the 'primitive accumulation' of capital.  Marx identified 'primitive accumulation' as the historical origins of capitalism, during which the rising capitalist class seized much of the property that had been 'common' under the feudal system, i.e. the enclosures.  David Harvey has suggested, plausibly, that we can see neo-liberalism as engaging in a fresh round of 'primitive accumulation', what he calls 'accumulation by dispossession', i.e. the re-conquest (privatization) of much that had been placed in the socialized or public sphere; increasing financialization, asset stripping, austerity schemes and structural adjustment.  There's the commodification of public space.  There's the opening up of new markets and forms of commodity exchange, like intellectual property rights, etc.

I'm not suggesting anything but an analogy here, but it seems as though the colonization of what had once been a task of the child - the appropriation of the toy for the creation of the child's own versions, stories and interpretations - has been subject to a kind of enclosure by the neo-liberal merchandise industry.

Or rather, something of that kind has been attempted and - as noted above - is leading to increasingly uneasy, almost self-satirising, results.  The fact is, people are still creatively appropriating and misappropriating toys by using them to appropriate and misappropriate stories they were never 'meant' or 'designed' to represent.  What Adam and Joe started in the 90s has now become endemic on YouTube.  The results range from the pathetic and embarrassing to the genuinely brilliant.

I've long hankered for staggeringly inappropriate Lego.  Lego Schindler's List, for example.  Or Lego Human Centipede.  (I mean, why not - is there anything in the logic or ethics of neo-liberalism that puts Lego Operation Enduring Freedom beyond the pale?  No, and that's the point.)  I mentioned as much on Facebook and, in a trice, Dom Kelly found me Lego Human Centipede on YouTube.  Whatever the intention of whoever made it, this monumentally inappropriate (and thus revealing) collision of two commodities is a sign that the ability to play still cuts both ways.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Cottage Industry vs. the Spectacular Tentacular Draculas

According to Miles and Wood, Barry Letts' eco views were very much influnced (as were many people's) by a text called Blueprint for Survival, co-written by Edward Goldsmith (now deceased) and published in the magazine he founded, The Ecologist, in 1972.  It was supported by many scientists and was subsequently released in book form to became a best-seller.  Miles and Wood identify it as the real-world model for Sir Charles Grover's Last Chance for Man in 'Invasion of the Dinosaurs'.  There is indeed something of Goldsmith's politics (small-c conservative; anti-industrial society) in the fictional Grover, who is simultaneously an eco-radical and an establishment elitist who wishes to turn the clock back (literally) to a kind of enlightened feudalism.  George Monbiot has described Goldsmith's politics as "a curious mixture of radical and reactionary", saying that he "has advocated the enforced separation of Tutsis and Hutus in Rwanda and Protestants and Catholics in Ulster, on the grounds that they constitute 'distinct ethnic groups' and are thus culturally incapable of co-habitation".  According to Monbiot, Goldsmith

assumes that culture is a rigid, immutable thing: that different communities can live only within the boxes nature has assigned to them. Confusing, for example, Protestantism and unionism, he fails to understand the political forces which cause splits within communities and associations between them. He fails too to see the external manipulation which first defines ethnicity inflexibly, then drives the newly separated peoples to fight.

Now, I'm not attributing similar views to Barry Letts or Robert Sloman.  However, there is something of Goldsmith's hankerings for the regional and the anti-industrial in 'The Green Death'.  The very separateness of Wales and the Welsh tells us something.  The resolutely English characters - even the Doctor is English really, and this has never been plainer than in 'Green Death' - become strangers in a strange land.

Making the workers Welsh seems like a way of quaintifying them, since quaintness was the deadly stigma that mainstream British (i.e. metropolitan English) media culture foisted upon Wales... at least before substituting constant nasty jokes about shagging sheep and Splott (i.e. standard jokes based on stereotypes about rural people and working class communities).  Welshness is a way of 'othering' them, of segregating them, of making them a separate community.  The Welsh working class is depicted as a subculture within British society, rather than, say, one of the most significant layers of the majority class in the country... which Welsh mineworkers certainly were at the time.

There's no reason for 'The Green Death' to take place in Wales but that Letts and Sloman want the story to centre on a mine (and going to Wales is cheaper than going further north).  But why do they want the story to centre on a mine?  They're not interested in miners.  It seems as though they feel the need to situate industry and industrial disputes somewhere regional, somewhere definitely apart from the 'middle England' that aliens are always invading in the Letts version of the late 20th century... but why give the story a backdrop of industry and industrial disputes anyway?  Because it's all industry's fault, all this "muck" and "devastation" and "death".

The story certainly notices capitalism as being 'behind' industry - hence the story's Weird inflection - but it also seems to think that the real problem is that certain kinds of capitalism have predominated over other, better kinds.  The Nuthutch, crucially, has a sign advertising the sale of healthy, hippy, veggie foods.  Enterprise, when stemming from a liberal education, scientific enlightenment, social conscience, etc - can save the world with soya.  It's the Linda McCartney theory of progressive capitalism.  (Of course, Linda McCartney and Anita Roddick are all big business really, not little rural cottage industries, notwithstanding the anti-industrial fantasies of a particular breed of right-on bourgeois liberal.)  'Industry' on a big scale is BAD... but little islands of bourgeois right-onitude can correct this, especially when they are powered by a nice version of enterprising individualism (i.e. all that self-actualizing that goes on at the Nuthutch) and especially when also assisted by the UN and government grants, etc.  I'm glossing and simplifying like crazy, but the model embodied in the Nuthutch is hardy a billion miles away from the small-scale, regional economies proposed to supplant 'industrial society' by the Goldsmithian ecologists.

As I said elsewhere, the 'critique' of capitalism in 'Green Death' is decidely diffident.  Most egregiously, by representing the miners as clueless fossils and making them into the dupes of Stevens, Letts and Sloman obfuscate the class struggle and implicate the ex-miners in the crimes of 'Industry'.  (This, again, is hardly a billion miles away from the problems in Goldsmithian eco-politics.)

Also, and perhaps most obviously and crudely, the story shows us casual, routine, pro-corporate bias in the Cabinet Room... but also postulates a 'Minister of Ecology' who, in the long run, seems to represent a government that can, when needed and persuaded, put aside loyalty to business and genuinely care more about the environment.  Which is Panglossian, to say the least.

It'd be easy to overstate all this, however.  Much of the interest of 'The Green Death' is in its manifest failure to offer anything approaching a unified and coherent set of underlying ideas.  It is one of those stories that manages to be fascinating because it tries to pull in lots of different directions at once, fails and falls apart.

Firsly, the world in which Letts and Sloman situate their critique of 'industry' is oddly post-industrial.  The miners are all sacked.  The mine is closed.  There are extended sequences set amidst the abandoned ruins of industry.  The chemical plant is oddly empty, except for security guards and a very few executives.  The maggots wriggle out across a featureless, entropic, post-industrial landscape of slag.

The pollution that we should really worry about comes not from the mine, not from old-fashioned manufacturing industry, but from the Stevens Process, the magical juggling with chemicals in labs, seemingly accomplished by a skeleton crew of middle-class professionals.  Stevens, moreover, is not an old-fashioned capitalist.  He's no pit owner of yore, no more than he is a Coal Board official.  He's an administrator, a manipulator of executive practices, PR, lobbying, influence, delegated tasks, etc.  This is, in its way, strangely prescient of the outward features of neoliberalism... which was, after all, just getting started roundabout 1973.

Secondly, the story may seem to set out to absolve capitalism of its intrinsic sins - by, for instance, representing pollution as an atavistic regression amidst a general march of progress - but it then shifts gears and produces BOSS, who is an expression of alienation.  BOSS is not only, like so many Who villains, a material thing that has been produced by human labour and then turned upon his creators, he is also an expression of Stevens' own divided and alienated self.

(This, by the way, is why BOSS taunts Stevens good-humouredly about being a "superman" and a "good little Nietzschean".  Nietzsche's notion of the 'superman' or 'overman' would hardly seem credible to BOSS - who openly expresses his exasperation at human inefficiency and his belief that humans need his leadership... and yet BOSS is himself an extension of that part of Stevens which sets aside qualms and goes about trying to be the 'superman'.  The irony is that BOSS, in his/Stevens quest for efficiency and profit (note that they are assumed to be the same thing), must accept his own programming to be inefficient, even eccentric.  BOSS and Stevens go round and round in circles, just like a divided self.)

Thirdly, BOSS - and, by extension, Global Chemicals - is an expression of the drive towards monopoly.  Note how, even here, Doctor Who seems to return to the old association of monopoly with the vampiric, an association often noted by commentators upon horror and the gothic.  BOSS is vampiric in that he feeds on the mental energy and obedience of his executives (though not, you'll notice, on any working class labourers) and his maggots are vampiric in that they bite, infect and convert.  (They even bite the neck.)  This is another reason why capital gets associated with the vampire... capital doesn't just exploit (suck blood), it also converts everything into itself (I'll get back to this when I eventually finish my big post about the Borg and the Cybermen).

There's no doubt, by the way, that part of the horror of the Nestenes and Axos - those spectacular, tentacular Draculas - is in their drive towards utter monopoly.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Skulltopus 10: How Green Was My Death?

'The Green Death' is a ghost story.  Doctor Who itself may actually be best described, from one standpoint, as an anthology of ghost stories.

Okay, let's go back a bit.

Firstly, let me defend my notion about 70s Doctor Who sprouting Weird tentacles when it notices (and thus needs to evade and/or signify) capitalism.  'The Green Death' is clearly aware of capitalism and, sure enough, shows signs of Weird inflection.  (I'm aware, by the way, that I keep talking about the show as though its alive... a form of commodity fetishism that I'll address some day.)

Apart from anything else, there's a dirty great tentacle in 'The Green Death'.  It's only in it for a few seconds, during the Doctor's abortive trip to Metebelis III, but still...

As in 'Curse of Peladon', this is the tentacular riding in on past associations... however, it can't be said to work quite the same way as previous tentacles in the Pertwee era.  This tentacle is clearly not obscuring any potential thematic convergence upon the subject of capitalism, as in 'Spearhead from Space' and 'Claws of Axos'.  Nor is it standing in for implied capitalism, as in 'Curse of Peladon'.  Capitalism is something that 'The Green Death' is aware of openly.  It doesn't need to be either obscured or implied... especially since the 'critique' of capitalism the story offers is actually quite diffident, to the extent of dehumanizing the working class.  And this tentacle is only a momentarily glimpsed feature of a side-trip, taking place literally light years away from Global Chemicals.  However, it's in 'The Green Death' rather than, say, 'The Time Warrior'.  It's in a story about an evil corporation rather than one about a feudal warlord.  So, the association is still evident and active.

There is also a distinct Weird inflection to the maggots.  Their multiplicitous tubular wriggliness is hardly a million miles from being tentacular.  They have some of that quintessentially Weird incoherence.  

However, like 'Spearhead from Space', 'The Claws of Axos' and 'Curse of Peladon' before it, 'Green Death' retains a hauntological charge.  

The maggots themselves are steeped in gothic, in associations to do with death.  Real maggots breed in corpses or bad meat.  They are of putrefaction.  This suggests skulls and bones and graveyards, and it suggests them in the gothic mode: as signalling extremes and transgressions, and the haunting presence of that which has been denied and repressed.  Biological corruption is here aesthetically linked with the corruption of the environment by big business.  The maggots appear in the mine because they are generated by the toxic waste from the Stevens Process, which is secretly dumped underground.  Eventually, they erupt out of the mine into the world above, like zombies out of graves.  They make a typical gothic move.  They do it almost too literally.  They have been repressed and then they return.  They have been buried out of sight but wriggle out of their subterranean hiding-place.  Moreover, this is gothic very much in the Who mode.  It's outward form is non-spectral, material/ist, haunting us with social and political and industrial terrors (i.e. industrial pollution).

Partial mergings or co-existences of the gothic and the Weird are not unfamiliar.  China Miéville writes [PDF] of M.R. James, the 'father of the ghost story' (who, it is commonplace to observe, seldom actually wrote about ghosts as such), that the "adversaries" in his stories are

disproportionately and emphatically Weird.
• Touch and touchability is central. James’s is the horror of the physical universe (a trauma that would trace into the obsessive materiality/-ism of Lovecraft’s horror). It is the cloth-ness of the notorious face ‘of crumpled linen’ in ‘Oh Whistle and I’ll Come to You My Lad’ that makes it so terrible. James even names one of his late stories ‘The Malice of Inanimate Objects’. The touchability of his ‘ghosts’ is not a return to that of their 18th-century cousins: this is a new (Weird) haptos, with little to do with human somaticism, and everything to do with the horror of matter. The most grotesque moment in ‘The Ash Tree’ is the ‘soft plump, like a kitten’, with which a just-glimpsed giant spider drops off the bed.  
•  James’s repeated insistence that he is an ‘antiquary’ is not convincing. He is acutely conscious of capitalist modernity, and a surprising number of his ‘ghosts’ manifest through it. The demon in ‘Casting the Runes’ bizarrely announces its intent by means of an advertisement in a railway carriage. The attack which the
runes occasion is brought down quite amorally on whoever took them last, according to the depersonalised passings-on of bits of paper. The horror is of the universal equivalent in mass commodification: the runes are Bad Money. Most astonishingly, in ‘The Diary of Mr Poynter’, what is haunted is not a scrap of fabric nor the materials with which it is made but the design upon it: it is the copied design, reprinted with explicitly cutting-edge modern techniques, that is the locus for the apparition. This is the work of hauntology in the age of mechanical reproduction. 
. . . 
• Most important, of his non-ghost ‘ghosts’, a disproportionate number have appurtenances of the Weird, and read now as startlingly teratologically ahead of their time. His apparitions are hairy (‘The Diary of Mr Poynter’, ‘Canon Alberic’s Scrapbook’), chitinous (‘The Ash-Tree’), slimy and/or amphibious (‘The Treasure of Abbot Thomas’), totally bizarre (‘The Uncommon Prayer-Book’), and more than once,  tentacled (‘The Treasure of Abbot Thomas’, ‘Count Magnus’).

Now, it seems to me that the giant maggots in 'The Green Death' fit in with this description of James's "adversaries".  They may not be "startlingly teratologically ahead of their time" (quite the contrary) but they are - clearly - all about "the horror of matter", "capitalist modernity", "cutting-edge techniques", etc.  They are aggressively "bizarre", "slimey" and "chitinous" (never mind that Pertwee doesn't know how to pronounce this word).

So, there is an extent to which the gothic and the Weird co-exist in 'The Green Death'.  Even the title combines the gothic 'Death' with the slimey, icky, biological 'Green'.

If the maggots are (relatively straightforwardly) the dark, gothic secrets of corporate irresponsibility - the 'externalities', the pollutants of corporate power - breaking up out of their post-industrial tomb to haunt us, then they are also quasi-Weirdified.  The maggots may, by their very garbled and arbitrary irrelevance, express the horror of the unforseen and unintended effect, the by-product, the runaway process.  In any case, there are precedents for hauntological adversaries of this kind - of the Weird, material, slimey, chitinous, capitalist kind - right at the start of the modern ghost story: the material/ist non-ghosts of James.  These are, I think, the very kinds of adversaries that 70s Doctor Who summons up when it notices capitalist relations... and this is itself consistent with the Jamesean ghost story.  As noted by Miéville, James's ghosts are often linked to or emergent from capitalism.  In very much the same way, Doctor Who's material/ist gothic slips into the quasi-Weird when it slides close to an awareness (of a positive or negative kind) of capitalist relations.

That's why 'The Green Death'... and, indeed, many other Doctor Who stories... could be said to be a ghost story.

But, I hear you scream, how can 'The Green Death' be said to be a 'ghost story' when there are no ghosts in it?  How can Doctor Who, with its outer shell of pro-Enlightenment bluster (inherited from an original remit to be 'educational'), be said to be a collection of ghost stories, especially when it keeps telling us that "spooks and ghosts" "don't exist"?  The answer is: by being more true to the roots of the modern tradition.  Stories of ghosts may date from the emergence of stories themselves, but 'ghost stories', in the sense that we usually talk about them today, date from the 19th century.  They're quite different to what we see in, say, the Renaissance, when ghosts simply appeared as and when needed in tragedy or comedy.  Hamlet  is the classic example.  It has a ghost in it, but it is not a 'ghost story' in our terms, no more than it is a 'crime thriller' or a 'whodunnit', despite having murders in it.  In many ways, the earliest modern 'ghost stories' are far less spectral than Shakespeare's spirits... and far less easily comprehensible.  It is in the very physicality and incoherence of the hauntings in 'The Green Death' that we see this. The maggots haunt, but they do it physically and materially.  They even do it Weirdly... as did some of the haunting things of M.R. James.

Now... a distinction must be made.  The classic late-19th century / early-20th century 'haute Weird' was prefigured in James, combined with the hauntological.  This, however, is clearly not what's going on in 'The Green Death', which was crafted and broadcast long after the Weird proper had burst onto the scene and then declined.  Rather, the Weird or quasi-Weird that we see in 'Green Death' is not the true-Weird but an echo of the Weird, a processed and recalled version if it... a spectre of the Weird, if you like.  This is broadly true of all the quasi-weird that surfaces in Doctor Who.  This 'Who-Weird' is an ancestral trait from the evolutionary history of monsterology, cropping up in outer form only, like a throwback.

This, by the way, illuminates another way in which 'The Green Death' uses a material/ist hauntology: it invokes the concept of atavism.  The maggots are said to be "atavistic mutations".  Atavism is the reappearance of ancestral traits.

Atavism was associated with the concept of the 'throwback' in the sense of the return of primitivism, hence Lombroso and his idea that criminals were 'primitives' walking in the clothes of modern men.  Inherent in this was the notion that the modern (i.e. more evolved) man was less likely to be a criminal... but that Man might slip backwards.  Progress marches on but inevitably brings the occasional lapse into regress.  Indeed, the regress illumines the progress.  This idea seems inherent in 'The Green Death'.  The whole raison d'etre of Global Chemicals is a bourgeois notion of progress: efficiency and profit.  Yet their progress brings also the atavism that produces throwbacks to an age of monsters (actual science aside).

If the maggots are atavistic, this makes them the genetic gothic.  They are a kind of bio-hauntology.  Once again, they are ghosts in slimey, hairy, wriggling, chitinous form.

It's interesting, in light of all this, that there is a character in 'The Green Death' called 'Mr James'.