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.
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.
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.
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…
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?