The World Behind: State of Decay

Slap-bang in the middle of the E-Space trilogy sits a sumptuous slice of gothic horror: State of Decay is a Philip Hinchcliffe-esque tale about the Three Who Rule, vampires with a monopoly of power. Indeed, this really was a throwback to darker times; writer, Terrance Dicks pitched the story during Hinchcliffe’s tenure on the show, but the BBC wasn’t fond of the idea, feeling that it made a mockery of their adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

The four-part serial would’ve worked in an era filled with mummies, shape-changers, and amalgamated monstrosities. Fortunately, State of Decay found its way into Tom Baker’s last season as the Fourth Doctor instead – and that’s just as fitting, even though it was an oasis in a desert of scientific thinking.

Aired in the winter of 1980, this tale of vampirism was more relevant than ever.

“No, Thank You. Not Dracula.”

Stoker’s creation is, of course, the most famous of vampires, and it’s often been noted that the Count is based on Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia, better known as Vlad the Impaler (or Țepeș). Links between the two are perhaps over-exaggerated, but there was certainly something gruesome about Vlad.

Big Finish DWM Son of the Dragon

Țepeș was born in 1431 likely in what is now known as Transylvania, and was caught up in the conflicts for the principality of Wallachia. His father was inducted into the Order of the Dragon (tasked with fighting the Ottoman Empire) and earned the surname “Dracul”; Vlad III was, therefore, in old Romanian, Drăculea aka “the son of Dracul.” To avenge his father’s murder by boyars (noblemen) – and prove he had what it takes to be a Voivode (“war lord”) – Vlad III was said to have invited them to dinner before revealing his trap: they were stabbed and impaled on spikes.

Vlad, who probably died in 1476, was posthumously nicknamed “The Impaler” and word of his cruel reputation spread across Europe; however, he’s often viewed in his native country as a hero, which would account for the film, Vlad Tepes, released in Romania in 1979.

But it’s doubtful he ever drank blood. Instead, this might be intermingled with Wallachian myth regarding moroi (vampiric or ghostly children who fed on the blood of cattle as a sort of purgatory), and later, strigoi (who could transform into animals and drain the life from victims).

Vampire-like creatures are often the stuff of folklore, regardless of location. There’s the Mesopotamian Lamastu, a goddess who sucked men’s blood; the long-nailed Chinese ch’iang shih (corpse-hopper) or jiangshi, which drained your life force; and in Hindu mythology, the demon-like vetala inhabit corpses, their teeth sharp when attacking, and hanging upside-down like bats around cemeteries.

Jure Grando Alilovič is the first known real person described in records as a vampire: he died of illness in 1656, but was said to haunt the local village of Kringa, Croatia, and specifically his widow, who it was said was visited by the grinning Jure at night and sexually assaulted. Sharpened sticks, though, were pretty ineffective, so his supposed reign of terror ended when his smiling corpse was dug up in 1672 and decapitated.

Kringa celebrate this gruesome bit of legend with a vampire-themed bar, perfect for morbid tourists.

State of Decay 4th Fourth Doctor Tom Baker Romana Lalla Ward

When asked for an 1897 edition of British Weekly about his influences, Bram Stoker replied: “It rested, I imagine, on some such case as this. A person may have fallen into a death-like trance and been buried before the time. Afterwards the body may have been dug up and found alive, and from this a horror seized upon the people, and in their ignorance they imagined that a vampire was about. The more hysterical, through excess of fear, might themselves fall into trances in the same way; and so the story grew that one vampire might enslave many others and make them like himself.”

“There are Vampire Legends on Almost Every Inhabited Planet…”

“I learned a good deal from E. Gerard’s Essays on Roumanian [sic] Superstitions,” Stoker further noted, “which first appeared in The Nineteenth Century, and were afterwards published in a couple of volumes” – so he may have come across the story of Vlad the Impaler.

In doing so, he reintroduced vampire myths to the realm of aristocracy. A study of vampirism also encompasses a study of class. In this respect, vampirism becomes a synonym for a symbiotic or parasitic relationship, and more often than not, refers specifically to capitalism.

State of Decay is a solid example of a system which sociologist and philosopher, Karl Marx described as having “become a vampire that sucks out its peasant’s blood and brains and throws them to the alchemist’s cauldron of capital.” There’s that clear division between the opulence of the Three Who Rule, and the enforced-ignorance of the peasants in the village (and the disposable guards).

The differences in technology could account for this. Though the villagers have access to computer banks, they don’t know how to use them.

However, when assessing whether similar technological advancements would level social boundaries between countries already on different standings, John Cornwall argued, in his 1977 work, Modern Capitalism: Its Growth and Transformation, that considerable investment (time and monetary) would be needed in order to catch up. This is personified in the character of Kalmar (Arthur Hewlett), whose reluctance to defend his people is due to him wanting more advanced technology. The Doctor is the enabler, as is so often the case.

State of Decay Aukon Adric

But another reason for vampires’ seeming social superiority is that their raison d’etre is dominance: taking another’s life – including their blood or life force, depending on the definition of the vampire or revenant – is a statement of power. The Three Who Rule have perfected this, enforcing a feudal system (they’ve even got their own castle, the standard symbol of a feudalist nation) and weakening the opposition by systematically abducting their brightest and bravest.

They also decided to take Adric; presumably there’s a place for mathematical excellence in their vision of the future.

Though it aired in late 1980, the serial was born of the 1970s: compared to the Hinchcliffe drafts, scripts were altered to incorporate Romana and Adric, a more morose Fourth Doctor, and the circumstances of the Charged Vacuum Emboitment (CVE), but were also no doubt informed by the turbulent climate in both the UK and USA.

In particular, the UK was fresh from the so-called Winter of Discontent, that is the winter of 1978-9, which saw mass strikes by trade unions (including lorry drivers, railwaymen, and NHS auxiliary workers) in a bid for increased wages. This was after James Callaghan’s Labour Government imposed a 5% limit on pay rises in an effort to control inflation.

Not only was State of Decay a reflection of the uneasy social environment; it also feels like a slice of the Third Doctor era. Terrance Dicks is, of course, the main common factor, but we can’t ignore the parallels between the miners’ strikes in the early 1970s and the rise of trade unions later that decade either. This central story in the E-Space trilogy is a definite relative of Inferno, Colony in Space, and The Green Death.

Your Favourite Pain in the Neck…

State of Decay 4th Fourth Doctor Tom Baker

Vampirism isn’t all about literal and figurative biting though: drama is a key element. And Bram Stoker understood this.

In fact, Stoker knew the value of theatricals better than most, being the personal assistant to respected actor, Henry Irving, and business manager of the Lyceum Theatre in London’s West End. Indeed, some argue that Vlad the Impaler has competition from Irving for being the inspiration of Count Dracula.

This is certainly the world that the Three Who Rule inhabit: Aukon (Emrys James), Camilla (Rachel Davies), and Zargo (William Lindsay) know the power of dramatic effect, and the romanticism of the gothic genre.

Vampire fiction – and horror in general – was an especially popular medium in the 1970s, with a glut of acclaimed films being released in 1979: three major movies based on Dracula hit screens simultaneously across the globe. The John Badman-directed Dracula, starring Frank Langella and Laurence Olivier, was arguably the least well-received (though was named that year’s Best Horror Film at the Saturn Awards), the romantic overtones tainted by a more comic take on the story, Love at First Bite. Critical reception for the latter wasn’t so impressive but the $44 million it raked in eclipsed its $3 million budget.

The best known of the three was Werner Herzog’s arthouse film, Nosferatu the Vampyre, starring Klaus Kinski.

Despite accusations of animal cruelty behind the scenes, this classic, based on 1922’s Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror, remains highly-regarded even by contemporary reviewers: The Nerdist calls it “one of, if not the very, most atmospheric and dour versions of the Dracula story and has a macabre feeling from beginning to end.” ComingSoon.Net says, “Through sound, [colour] and performance, Herzog gave new life to a silent classic while making it his own, not an easy task and further proof of his mastery as a filmmaker.” And Roger Ebert concludes that it “cannot be confined to the category of ‘horror film.’ It is about dread itself, and how easily the unwary can fall into evil.” That, too, is the idea at the heart of State of Decay.

Another tale very much in the public conscious in 1979 was Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot, broadcast in America as a pair of two-hour shows and in Europe as a 112-minute movie edit. Generally considered one of the strongest adaptations of a King novel, the miniseries especially is regarded highly amongst fans of the genre.

But, as a factor in why a 1980 audience would’ve engaged with State of Decay, we can’t discount the popularity of Hammer Horror films either. After all, the production company are best-known for their three main franchises: Frankenstein, the Mummy, and of course, Dracula.

The latter began with the massively-successful Dracula (1958), famously with Christopher Lee as the neck-biting fiend, and Peter Cushing (Dr Who and the Daleks) as Abraham Van Helsing. Five direct sequels followed in 1960, 1966, 1968, and 1970. The franchise fizzled out when Lee refused to appear again in the mid-1970s, based on the comical nature of subsequent movies, though other vampire films – including the cult-classic Karnstein Trilogy – cemented the link between Hammer and vampire fiction.

“The penalty for knowledge is death!”

Doctor Who doesn’t often mull over the notion of vampires, but in 2010, we returned to the idea with The Vampires of Venice. “I’ve never seen the crew more occupied and attentive!” Matt Smith joked about the Saturnynes. “They looked like 1980s glam-rock stars. Come back – you’re always welcome!”

1980s vampires: it just works, doesn’t it?

  • Dr. Moo

    Thanks for this fantastic article Philip, it was a very interesting read.

    State of Decay is an underrated story from an underrated season. I like it a lot but can only imagine how it could have been much more polished had it been made under Hinchcliffe rather than JNT, when Tom Baker still cared and before Adric became a thing. As the stories in season 18 go I would call it my third-favourite behind Full Circle and The Keeper of Traken. I think it needs another watch now, see you all in an hour-and-a-half!

    • Philip

      Thanks Moo! Wait, wait, wait… You like State of Decay less than Keeper of Boredom?! Crikey.

      • Dr. Moo

        Traken has Geoffrey Beevers as the Master and one hełl of an ending.

      • TheLazyWomble

        What’s wrong with the idea of a society held together by people being terribly nice to one another? It works here 🙂

        • Philip

          Ha! Well, true. Nowt wrong with the concept, but I just find the story tedious, apart from Beevers and, yep, the ending. But a good ending means you have to faff about in a garden for three episodes. I plan on a rewatch soon, so maybe I shall change my opinion…

          • TheLazyWomble

            On first showing my favourite stories of season 18 were 1) Logopolis 2) Warrior’s Gate and 3) State of Decay.
            With the passage of time, I am not sure that Logopolis holds up that well.

  • TimeChaser

    Excellent article, Philip! I love how DWC is doing these very analytical articles, talking not just about the stories but about the times in which they were made and the cultural influences that went into making them what they are.

    I love State of Decay. One of my all-time favorite Tom stories and my favorite segment from the E-Space Trilogy. Really the only time the series has tackled vampires in the classical sense, but still giving them that sci-fi twist. I love the idea that the Time Lords had once waged war across the universe with a race of vampires, who (much like in The Daemons and Pyrimids of Mars) gave birth to the legends here on Earth. Just don’t get me started on how BF tried to subvert this in Zagreus.

    • Dr. Moo

      Whoa there, don’t knock Zagreus!

      Zagreus sits inside your head,
      Zagreus lives among the dead,
      Zagreus sees you in your bed,
      And eats you when you’re sleeping.
      Zagreus at the end of days,
      Zagreus lies all other ways,
      Zagreus comes when time’s a maze,
      And all of history is weeping.
      Zagreus taking time apart,
      Zagreus fears the hero heart,
      Zagreus seeks the final part,
      The reward that he is reaping.
      Zagreus sings when all is lost,
      Zagreus takes all those he’s crossed,
      Zagreus wins and all it cost,
      The hero’s hearts he’s keeping.
      Zagreus seeks the hero’s ship,
      Zagreus needs the web to rip,
      Zagreus sups time at a drip,
      And life aside, he’s sweeping.
      Zagreus waits at the end of the world,
      For Zagreus is the end of the world.
      His time is the end of time,
      And his moment time’s undoing.

      • TimeChaser

        Great nursery rhyme, crappy story. Once again, like with the novels, BF tried to trod down the path that the Time Lords are always evil. Colin’s character, who I think is a vampire, suggests that the Great Vampires had been harmless, feeding on cattle in their own universe, until the Time Lords attacked them without provocation. Considering the actions of the vampire in State of Decay and his minions, I have a hard time believing in them being the victims in that war.

    • Philip

      D’aw shucks. Thanks TimeChaser. Glad you like what we’re doing. Much as I like Full Circle, this is my fave E-Space tale too. It’s always a pleasure rewatching it.

      • TimeChaser

        Correct me if I’m wrong, but we really didn’t get articles like this much over on Kasterborous. It was much more news oriented, while I like how DWC walks the line between news/reviews and deeper analysis pieces. You’ve got a good thing going here, sir. A worthy phoenix rising from the ashes of K Towers. 🙂

        While I love practically every form of story Doctor Who has tackled in it’s long history, there’s no doubt that one thing it has always done best is the Gothic Horror genre.

        • Philip

          Thanks – that means a lot. 🙂 I think the K tried to do analytical articles now and then, but as you say, we focused a lot on news, and that probably impacted on what we had time to do re. features. On the DWC, though, we’ve got section editors so we can have a better spread of what cover, especially reviews and features. Christian was trying to get the K like that too, but I think it’s harder to re-establish yourself when an audience is used to more frequent news updates.

  • Peter Webb

    Fantastic article! Some great content on the new site. The only versions I’m really familiar with is the original ‘Nosferatu’ and the Hammer incarnation of Dracula.

    • Philip

      Cheers Peter. I’m ashamed to say I’ve never actually seen Nosferatu, but man, the images I’ve seen make it look extraordinary.

      • Peter Webb

        If nothing else it’s worth seeing for the influence it’s had: its images are very iconic and have been reflected in so many sources. Especially the colour tinted versions.

        • TheLazyWomble

          In my town there is a mural. One part is of the group Muse (I live in Teignmouth). The other is the iconic shadow of Graf Orlock from the 1922 Nosferatu. I was passing it once and heard a young (well younger than me: the gits!) couple exclaim that it was Gru from Despicable Me.

          • TimeChaser

            The younger generation. No class!

          • TheLazyWomble

            They may have been ironic, but somehow I doubt it.

          • TimeChaser

            I tend to doubt it too. Younger people these days aren’t raised with the same kinds of references those of us in the pre-internet generations were. I’m in my mid-30s, but I know a lot of older stuff, but perhaps that could just be my upbringing. It is amazing though that kids these days have the depth of human information at their fingertips, and yet it seems they tend to know very little.

  • TheLazyWomble

    The Frank Langella “Dracula” featured an actor by the name of…?

    • TheLazyWomble

      Sylvester McCoy.

      • Dr. Moo

        Based entirely upon that fact I will now have to seek it out. Sylvester McCoy makes everything good by mere association… (T&tR) Well, almost everything.

        • TimeChaser

          I remember seeing that movie once many years ago. I had to do a double-take and squint. I thought, “Nah, couldn’t be…” I don’t think he actually speaks, but his silent handyman character is pretty funny just from his reactions to what’s going on around him.

          • TheLazyWomble

            he speaks. But maybe only one line

          • Dr. Moo

            Maybe I won’t then. A movie where McCoy gets only one line…
            “The Master, he’s out there, argh!!!”

          • TheLazyWomble

            “Maybe” only one line. He’s certainly not in it much.

    • TimeChaser

      I believe Lalla Ward was also in a vampire movie. Search brings up the title Vampire Circus.

      • TheLazyWomble

        Oh yes. Vampire Circus. Lalla wasn’t a Doctor though. Shall we widen the search?

        • TimeChaser

          Oh well I didn’t realize you were confining it to Doctors, just people who starred in Who. 🙂 I was just skimming the comments. No wonder I didn’t find Lalla’s name then!

          • TheLazyWomble

            let’s widen it then. Susan Penhaligon from The Time Monster was Lucy in the BBC mini series that got Terrance Dicks’ script postponed

          • TimeChaser

            I’ve got a Doctor one that no one’s mentioned. How about David Tennant in the remake of Fright Night? 🙂

          • TheLazyWomble

            Blimey yes. How could I forget Fright Night?

          • TheLazyWomble

            Paul McGann was in Lesbian Vampire Killers. I’m not sure he’d thank us for reminding him though.

  • TheLazyWomble

    An excellent article, Philip. Vampires have fascinated me since I was a child. Or to be accurate, Vampire films- especially the Hammer series (Seven sequels by the way or eight if you include “Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires”).
    The John Badham “Dracula” in 1979 was not well received, but it is nowhere near as bad as it is remembered. Laurence Olivier plays Van Helsing in a way that can be best described as “interesting”. Frank Langella was a matinee idol Dracula and Kate Nelligan and Jan Francis played Lucy and Mina. Trevor Eve was Jonathon Harker. The film is a version of the stage play that toured England and America at the beginning of the 20th century and on which the Bela Lugosi (and superior Spanish language version shot on the same sets at night) was based. The film looks stagey and that doesn’t help. But it is worth watching fro Tony Haygarth’s Renfield and the scene where Syl complains that a patient in the asylum has hit him in the unmentionables. It is available on dvd and is worth a look.

    • Philip

      Thanks, Womble! Really interesting comment too; cheers. What are the two sequels I’m missing? I only counted ones that stared either Lee or Cushing, but I probably missed some!

      • TheLazyWomble

        Technically, Philip, you are correct to say five direct sequels. The other two are contemporary films and Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires is a sort of parallel (and was a co-production with Shaw Brothers)
        The films in order are: Dracula; The Brides of Dracula; Dracula: Prince of Darkness; Dracula Has Risen From The Grave; Taste The Blood of Dracula; The Scars of Dracula; Dracula AD1972; The Satanic Rites of Dracula and The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires.

        • Dr. Moo

          Most of those titles sound like parodies.

          • TheLazyWomble

            or films that gave rise to parodies…

        • Philip

          Those contemporary ones sound intriguing! Any particular recommendations?

          • TheLazyWomble

            It really depends on what you are looking for. They all have something to recommend them. My personal favourites are “Brides of Dracula” (doesn’t have Dracula but does have Peter Cushing as Van Helsing) and “Dracula: Prince of Darkness” (no Van Helsing but Drac is back).
            Dracula AD1972 is odd. It is set around a group of Chelsea teenagers who bring back Dracula using an occult ceremony. Unfortunately they are played by twenty-somethings and are decidedly non-rebellious. They meet in a coffee bar. They also fail to spot the Johnny Alucard is a wrong ‘un. But it does have Peter Cushing and Stephanie Beacham and there is a song near the beginning called “Alligator Man” by Stoneground that is worth hearing.
            The Satanic Rites of Dracula is set a year later. Joanna Lumley replaces Stephanie Beacham. It is a sort of spy-adventure/horror. William Franklin, Richard Vernon and Richard Matthews (original Rassilon) are in it.
            Van Helsing in the first two films is an adventurer and romantic lead. He gets to do quite a bit of running. He could almost be the Doctor 🙂

  • TheLazyWomble

    It got me thinking of Doctors in vampire films. Let’s see: Jon Pertwee played a vampire actor in “The House That Bled To Death”; Peter Capaldi played Angus Flint in “The Lair of the White Worm”;… erm that’s all I can think of at the moment.

    • TheLazyWomble

      Patrick Troughton was Klove in “The Scars of Dracula”

      • bar

        Colin Baker was a wonderful vampire in Zagreus.

        • Dr. Moo

          It’s Colin Baker, what else should we expect?

    • TheLazyWomble

      Jonathon Morris (from Snakedance) played a vampire in The Vampire Journals- very badly I might add.

      • Dr. Moo

        Is that the same Jonathan Morris who writes for Big Finish?

        • TheLazyWomble

          I don’t think so. It’s the Jonathon Morris who played Adrian in Bread.

    • TheLazyWomble

      Martin Jarvis (The Web Planet, Invasion of the Dinosaurs & Vengeance on Varos) got fanged in “Taste The Blood of Dracula”.

  • Ranger

    Great article, Philip, but then I don’t expect anything else from you.

    Of course there’s always been a sexual element to Vampires, more prevalent with the rise of feminism and women writers generally, the penetration of the teeth in the neck as metaphor for, cough, another type of penetration. Even your earliest example doesn’t say that the vampire drank blood, just that he came back to his wife for some slap and tickle. Poor man, probably missed her. No wonder he died (again!) with a smile on his face. State of Decay, thank heavens, doesn’t really go near this – it was still a wholesome family programme then – unlike Vampires of Venice. State of Decay is not one of my favourites, I think Tom’s moroseness and lack of caring does bring it down, and Adric just needs a damn good slap, but I do watch it on occasion and enjoy it.

    Love the mix DWC is producing. I see Kasterborous has posted a couple of new articles in the last couple of days, but has been infected with a virus that takes you to different dodgy sites when you try and access the article page. I only went there to get the web address for DWC as when I tried to find it on my tablet through a google search it wasn’t coming up – though this was just after the announcement of the new companion, so perhaps I was being optimistic when I typed in the words “Doctor Who Companion”!