Doctor Who: The Zygon Invasion + Inversion

Previously on Doctor Who: The Girl Who Died + The Woman Who Lived

This is finally it: the fallout from The Day of the Doctor — and, if the Doctor is to be believed, the 15th version of it: of the Nightmare Scenario.

This double-episode story, written by Peter Harness, is an overt, no-holds-barred, even if a little heavy-handed and lacking accuracy at times, analogy to terrorism in the 21st-century, especially terrorism in the Middle East; while also touching on immigration, xenophobia, and racism.

We’re hit over the head with the fact that Harness tailored this to terrorists from the Middle East by letting the Zygon rebels dispatch a video that is pretty much a carbon copy of an IS abduction/ransom video, which… I found a bit over the top at first, but then again, this along with the area the rebels are holed up in being called “Turmezistan,” really, really drives the point home. This episode is about the conflict with IS, and how the West is handling it, and how abominably white people are treating innocent Muslims within their own communities who have absolutely nothing to do with the so-called religious war IS is pretending to be fighting. I didn’t understand at first why Bonnie chose that one random guy living on the council estate to turn back, I was wondering, what’s so special about him? Then it hit me: nothing’s special about him. He tells the Doctor and Osgood when they find him, he want no part in this “war,” he just wants to live. He was happy in London, living where he did, just having found a new planet and being allowed to live in peace. This is what the rebels took away from him, this is what terrorists are taking away from the people they are claiming to speak for: their peaceful lives, their happiness, and their safety. Ultimately, he commits suicide, terrified and desperate; and that is a powerful way of pushing that part of the narrative to its logical conclusion. Terrorists only ever fight for themselves, to spread hate and fear, to create a vicious cycle of blood and destruction to further their own ends, to either radicalise more people or condemn those who oppose them to death.

Bonnie reveals herself to be Clara's evil copy.

“Then it’s time we stopped giving them a choice.”

That is why Bonnie says it. The rebels do not whether the majority of the Zygons agree with them, they fight for their own ends and out of cruelty, in retaliation, without a care for the lives and communities they are destroying.

“This is your country. Protect it from the scary monsters. And also from the Zygons.”

Considering that humanity is still numbering billions while only 20 million Zygones were allowed to settle on Earth, and only a tiny fraction of that 20 millions actually want to fight; and considering the way humanity is going about combating the threat (air strikes, suprise!), humans are definitely the scarier monsters in this scenario. I’m not entirely sure how the visibility metaphor figures into this scenario — Bonnie and the rebels’ main charge against humanity is that they “were treated like cattle,” and that the core of the peace treaty states that the Zygons must remain in disguise at all times. The rebels demand the right to live in their original form. On the one hand, that seems plausible: humanity’s inability to deal with anyone who looks different is well documented, and has been part and parcel of Doctor Who ways of explaining weird shit happening in London. Either the Doctor makes them forget (or a mysterious crack in the wall does it for them) because they wouldn’t be able to handle it, or humans simply repress it and move on, surprising even the Doctor with their mental gymnastics from time to time. The Doctor follows the Men in Black edict that a person is smart, but that “people are dumb, panicky animals, and you know it.” He doesn’t trust humanity to know about the Zygons in their midst. In MIB, too, aliens disguise themselves as humans in order to blend in and keep Earth’s inhabitants ignorant of what’s going on in the universe, where other planets’ citizens clearly are not so naive. Earth is a popular vacation spot, after all. In that sense, aliens coming through interplanetary immigration and donning meat suit is a concession — one they put up with because it’s part of the rules. It’s not far-fetched to argue that humans should be confronted with reality because, um, bigots are asshats and people should just get over themselves?

Peter Capaldi as the Doctor in The Zygon Inversion.In the Zygons’ case, Osgood explains that disguising themselves as a planet’s dominant life form and living among them has always been their primary survival mechanism; so it’s not exactly new for them. It’s a survival mechanism because, presumably, humans aren’t the only beings in the galaxy who don’t react well to strangers. Since Zygons have survived this way for millennia, one could argue (as the Doctor does, in a way) that the rebels are reacting against a perceived slight rather than outright oppression. However, visibility is high currency; it is certainly the currency of race relations in the U.S. and cultural and religious persecution in Europe and the Middle East. It ties in with how immigration policies and integration are being discussed publicly, especially now: immigrants are supposed to assimilate to the culture they migrated to, they’re supposed to be funkily “ethnic,” but not too different lest it puts off the majority culture; right-wing politicians warned (years ago) of mosques being built everywhere if Europe were to take in refugees from the Middle East. (I was in high school when that debate was a thing of public discourse in Germany. That was ten years ago. The world has not improved since.) In the U.S., (Christian) white supremacists are decrying the War on Christmas (excuse me while I laugh hysterically) and expressing outrage at there “suddenly” being “all these gays and black people” in the media. The same white supremacists, by the way, who respond to demands for representation with, “Well, if you don’t like white media, make your own!”

I’m saying that the Doctor argues that the slight may not be real because he tells Bonnie that the only way forward is to “break the cycle,” for humans and Zygons to forgive each other, for the Zygons to forgive the humans’ cruelty.

“You are not superior to those who were cruel to you!”

He also asks her what will happen once Zygons have killed and/or enslaved humanity. He is certainly right in painting a Dystopian image of tyranny and rebellions following on each other’s heels, but that is when you view the metaphor from only the angle of political and religious terrorism. The underlying metaphor of immigration (remember the Doctor’s quip about benefits? That component is definitely in this narrative) runs against that grain, because I’m pretty sure that the way out of racial oppression is not “forgive and forget” on the part of those hurt by it, with no change in status quo. I’m not saying that this episode has to try and solve both problems at once, I’m saying that there is a conflation of metaphors, manifesting in the Zygons’ different factions, in here that don’t quite jibe with how the Doctor approaches convincing Bonnie not to push any of the Osgood Box’s buttons when we look at the demand of visibility in itself. If the demand for visibility came from those Zygons who lived peacefully, if they lobbied the British government into letting them live openly, that would be a legitimate discussion. In that sense, the terrorists are using a real concern that is plausible and legitimate for their own ends, betraying the majority of Zygons who wish no ill to humans. The script ignores, in that instance, that there may be those among the peaceful Zygons who wouldn’t mind living in their real skin, next to those who genuinely don’t care as long as they have a place to live, and those who think it would be best for all involved if the humans never knew. Rather, it implies that all other Zygons are fine with living in disguise. It also does not resolve whether the Doctor agrees that forcing the Zygons to live in human disguise forever constitutes as cruel.

The Doctor and Osgood in The Zygon Inversion

“There is no question to answer.”

I do love that Osgood refuses to answer the Doctor’s persistent questions as to whether she is the human or the Zygon version of Osgood — she’s both, and she shouldn’t have to answer that question. She is what she is, and even though she is technically a hybrid, that in itself is a misconception, too. There’s a strong parallel here to children of two faiths, or ethnicities, or cultures — one culture will alienate them because they are Other, but the culture that is being Othered will turn them away because they look/feel/think too much like the first group. Think of Spock, think of Asian-American actress Lucy Liu, think of biracial children in South Africa — Trevor Noah, for instance. Why should they have to decide which one they are? And why should we feel the need to ask them?

“They’ll think you’ll pinch their benefits.”

I’m actually a little upset that this episode aired last autumn, and not this year, in the wake of the Brexit referendum and England working itself into a xenophobic frenzy over foreign(-looking) workers and students.

Clara plays Bonnie in the Zygon Invasion.
That’s very Ace of you, Bonnie.

Alright,  so. Bonnie broke the cycle, she opted for neither Truth nor Consequences, but for peace. Of course the Osgood Boxes were empty, have Doctor Who villains learnt nothing from the Master’s downfall in Series 3? Remember Martha’s laughter as she mocks him for truly believing that the Doctor would make a gun, parts scattered into the seven winds. Honestly, the Doctor would never put controls for nerve gas, a nuke, or decloaking an entire civilisation without their consent into anyone’s hands. Not even his own — especially not his own. He nearly pressed a button once, and it was only the combined force of Clara, Rose, and two more of his own selves who saved him from making that mistake.

That final speech the Doctor makes… Peter Capaldi crushed it in that scene, he just… let loose. Everything. We’ve seen Twelve upset, furious, incandescent with anger, but not like this. The scene could have, perhaps, be a minute or so shorter, with a little less back and forth, but then again, scenes like this are incredibly hard to write. Persuading a character away from what has been driving literally the entire time we’ve known them on-screen, that doesn’t just happen in the space of two sentences; so I appreciate the work Peter Harness put into that scene, and I love what all the actors did with it.

Speaking of supporting characters: Rebecca Front was wasted as a Colonel.

Clara manages to contact the Doctor to let him know she's alive.In this story, two other underlying themes are present that rather define this series run: the Doctor and Clara being separated, and being unsure if the other is still alive. As he was in The Girl Who Died and The Woman Who Lived, where the Doctor explains what would become of him if Clara died, the Doctor here is very vocal as to what it does to him, not knowing if his companion is safe.

“Hell.”

“Longest month of my life. […] I’ll be the judge of time.”

One day, “the memory of that will hurt so much that [he] won’t be able to breathe,” and knowing that these next episodes will be Clara’s last aboard the TARDIS, the foreshadowing is heartbreaking.

“I let Clara Oswald get inside my head. Trust me. She doesn’t leave.”

When Osgood starts to realise that the message could have only come from the original Clara trapped in her pod (and inside her own consciousness), when she questions the Doctor, knowing Clara was “strong, yeah?”

“She was amazing.”

It will hurt so much. Because Clara Oswald is the woman who once spent years keeping Daleks from breaking her mind and her humanity by baking soufflés, because Clara isn’t intimidated by Bonnie, doesn’t doubt for one minute her ability to withstand whatever mental siege she will have to endure. Because the Doctor knows this about her and losing her will break his hearts.

Considering I’ve talked mostly about the Zygons as a metaphor — what did you think of Jenna’s transformation into Bonnie? When did you catch on that she couldn’t be the real Clara, and what did you make of her? I was intrigued by her exclamation that she’s enjoying herself, which does point back at her becoming a bit more like the Doctor ever since Flatline

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