CLASSIC DOCTOR WHO: Season 13 / 'Gothic Who' Part 2

Season 13: Gothic Who
Part 2 / Tentacles and penetration
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Wave A Tentacle: Terror Of The Zygons
The opening story Terror Of the Zygons, by virtue of its original function as a bookend to Season 12 and like many of the stories in that season, only tentatively explored the tropes and style of the Gothic. In Season 12, Holmes’ rewrite of John Lucarotti’s original script for The Ark In Space gradually began layering in many visual and narrative aspects that were formative in the direction the series would take post Zygons. The Ark In Space and Genesis Of The Daleks began to explore Gothic attributes of entrapment and claustrophobia which were central to the evocative poetics in describing Gothic space (the tunnels, air ducts and environs of Nerva and the wastelands of Skaro); the grotesque through the mutation of characters, plants and animals (Dalek mutants and the Wirrn forms); and those durable conventions - the haunted house or castle (Nerva and the Kaled bunker).

Terror Of The Zygons identified these forms, began to assemble them and add others. The supernatural made its presence felt in the presence of Angus, the landlord of the pub who claimed to have second sight, with his tales of the missing people on Tulloch moor. This reflected other Gothic tropes – superstition and the ancestral curse – where it seemed to resonate within the figure of Angus as a kind of cultural malaise, a psychic compensation for a time of troubles. It also supplemented the idea of mystery at the heart of the story – what was destroying the rigs, who was eavesdropping on the conversations and were the two related? The Gothic curse is a theme threaded through the season, be it the ancient curse of Sutekh’s tomb, the strange environs of Zeta Minor or the Sargasso Sea of wrecked ships on Karn.

The domesticity of the pub is disrupted by a cut to the interior of the Zygon ship and a close up of the glistening, knobbly hands of the creature turning the fleshy controls of the view screen with undisguised aggressiveness. At once the fantastic and the alien, pregnant with secrets, crash against the familiar and contemporary surroundings of the pub and Sarah’s own dismissal of the supernatural. The grotesque takes on a fetishistic, fleshy, undeniably phallic quality in the appearance of the Zygon creatures and their spaceship. The creatures and their environs reflect a view of the Gothic imagination where uncovering aspects of the organic environment can be repulsive or unsettling to us.

The Gothic house or castle is formalised in the third episode when the Doctor, the Brigadier and Sarah visit the Duke Of Forgill’s castle. Forgill’s home is the ‘secret’ at the heart of the narrative, symbolising one of the functions of the Gothic narrative, the reveal of the uncanny as well as that ubiquitous Gothic trope - the discovery of the secret passage - with this one leading into the fleshy environs of the Zygon spaceship. It was the first of Season 13’s symbolic dark openings into an area of alien anxiety and disturbing ‘otherness’, as many of the serials in the season repeated this visual meme – the descent into the bowels of Zeta Minor, the entrance to Sutekh’s tomb, the stairs leading down into the basement of Solon’s laboratory, the icy corridors of an Antarctic base.

The story also played with the slippage between male, female and alien identities where the Zygons, mammals who live off the lactic fluid of their Skarasen like babies suckling at their mother, could adopt human physical forms. After it is discovered that Harry Sullivan, the square jawed heteronormative companion of this era, was substituted with a Zygon doppelganger, the Brigadier succinctly sums up the contradictory nature of identity, the acknowledgement of the ‘other’ in the story, with a typically fearful reaction: “A spy? You’re not suggesting that one of us is really one of them?” Zygons introduced the ideas of physical transformation, a common Gothic theme, that marked out many of the monstrous identities, the doubles and doppelgangers appearing in the stories; from the narcissistic bestiality of Sorenson, the mongrel body of Morbius, the human Krynoid, to the walking corpse of Marcus Scarman and the androids on the replicated Earth.

Anti quark penetration: Planet Of Evil
Roger Murray Leach’s highly acclaimed set designs for the jungle of Zeta Minor supplied the scientific romance of Planet Of Evil with a suitably stylised Gothic landscape. The jungle, similarly to the Zygon spaceship, is wet, moist and shrouded in mist, pooled with water. It is fetidly organic and full of strange, twisted phallic growths. It is an architecture in which anxiety and suspense is heightened, a landscape fraught with danger and full of hidden secrets where superstition reigns (note Sarah’s ‘by the pricking of my thumbs’ tension as the anti-matter beast progressed through the trees) and any attempt to overlap it with scientific rationalism is dismissed or punished by the forces that reign there.


Central to the narrative was Holmes’ pastiche of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde with its examination of the male ego and id then slotted into science fiction trappings borrowed from Forbidden Planet, itself a re-imagined version of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Here Holmes used Stevenson to highlight the ‘secret’ at the heart of many Gothic narratives. Jekyll arrived at the turn of the century, post Frankenstein, and staged the dialectic between monster and maker as a conflict within a single body rather than as maker and monster. Sorenson becomes the monstrous anti-man double, a predatory, bestial creature attempting to wipe out the all male crew of the Morestran rescue ship, through a form of (anti-quark) 'penetration' by the invisible monster. The invisible anti-matter force on Zeta Minor also controls the border between rational and responsible scientific enquiry and a random, purposeless, violent and irrational carnality.

In Forbidden Planet, scientist Morbius’s incestuous feelings for his daughter Altair allowed his id to manifest itself to destroy the square jawed would-be suitors of rescue ship C-57-D and, by extension, her burgeoning sexual interest in other men. Jane Caputi, in her essay Unthinkable Fathering notes: “The word ‘forbidden’ in the title of the film speaks not only to the archetypal “forbidden knowledge” that structures ancient myths and mad-scientist movies but also to the forbidden incestuous relationship that the father imposes on his daughter. If we look past the film’s false oppositions, we can discern an unmistakeable parallel between Morbius’s unbounded quest for knowledge and his incestuous depredations.” She suggests that this urge ‘to know’ has often had a sexual double meaning.


Planet Of Evil offered a much stranger relationship between Sorenson, a man equally ‘bent’ on discovering the secrets of the anti-matter universe, and his ‘otherness’ that is manifested after he is penetrated and transformed by it. His desire for the secret at the heart of Zeta Minor disrupts him physically and psychologically. He diverges from the heteronormative depiction of masculinity, undergoes an archetypal Gothic styled transformation into something immoral and polluting. A queer reading of Sorenson could be suggested by a similar examination of Hyde in Stevenson’s narrative. Sorenson’s secrecy in hiding the anti-man within him paralleled the unleashing of Hyde where Jekyll unlocked the beast of male sexuality and allowed it to wreak havoc. Sorenson’s deviancy is further underscored by the fact that he’s allowing an anti-man, a perversely sexual other, to run riot on a spaceship full of men.

There were also interesting binary oppositions within the structure of Planet Of Evil’s storyline. There was a hybridised form of the Gothic and science fiction where the Gothic tropes of supernatural occurrences and the unknown “dark” science of anti-matter merged with the enlightened reason and empirical technique so important in science fiction's imaginings of human progress. There is also the dichotomy between the Doctor and Sorenson. On the one hand is the enlightened scientific genius that can negotiate with an unnamed intelligence on the borderland of two universes (the saint) versus, on the other, a corrupted, misguided egotistical Morestran (the sinner).


There is also a dualism in the battle between Vishinsky (father) and Salamar (son) that is bound up with a struggle for command and accepting the principles of mercy and compassion. You could also see Sorenson’s secret struggle with his anti-quark exposure and the war of wills between Vishinsky and Salamar as a metaphor for substance abuse. The ‘substance’ here is power and the battle is a form of male identity crisis – waged internally for Sorenson and externally by the two men vying for command.

It is suggested that Salamar and Vishinsky represent a symbolic struggle between father and son but there is also an Oedipal schematic at work that offers a very blurred boundary between Salamar wanting Vishinsky’s experience, compassion or approval, and simply, wanting Vishinsky. Sorenson, on the other hand, is in thrall to his own narcissism, the beast in him finally ‘coming out’ in a reproductive cycle across the ship as his hordes of anti-men burst through the section hatchways.

Back to Part 1: The Gothic continuum
Forward to Part 3: Pyramid Power
Forward to Part 4: Brains and Byronic androids
Forward to Part 5: The Mary Whitehouse experience

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