Yesterday I watched the recent two episode Doctor Who story “The Zygon Invasion” and “The Zygon Inversion” written by Peter Harness and Steven Moffat. It was a pretty good pair of episodes. They were not perfect, but certainly entertaining and well-made. This was another one of those stories that I needed to think over for a bit before writing about.
1) You say you want a revolution?
The dangling subplot of the Zygons from “The Day of the Doctor” was picked up here. We learn that humanity and the Zygons did manage to reach an agreement that enabled 20 million Zygons to secretly settle on Earth in human form. Unfortunately a splinter group of militants has formed made up of Zygons who do not want to live as humans, who wish to embrace their alien heritage. They regard humans as the enemy and assimilated Zygons as traitors.
I realize that these episodes were written & filmed months ago, and even aired prior to the terrorist attacks in Paris earlier this month. But the parallels here are interesting.
Those attacks, and numerous other atrocities around the globe in the last several years, are the work of the Islamic State, a fanatical doomsday cult of Muslim extremists. They wish to create a “caliphate” based upon their idea of a “pure” interpretation of Islam in preparation for the arrival of the End Times.
The actions of ISIL have led to anti-Muslim paranoia in the Western world. Many in the United States want to ban Syrian refugees from entering the country out of fear that militants could be hidden among them. This actually plays right into the hands of ISIL, who want to stop the refugees to find a safe haven, and who perceive the Islamophobia as the perfect recruiting tool.
Harness and Moffat pointedly avoid any mention of religious motivation among the Zygons. However, the revolutionaries, led by a Zygon known as “Bonnie,” are motivated by the dream of a society that is totally free from both the presence and ideology of anything that is not Zygon. They are willing to commit horrible acts of violence to achieve this “perfect” world.
Bonnie intends to cause the Zygons who have assimilated to return to their original forms, realizing this will create massive panic among humanity. This will force the assimilated Zygons to join her group solely to survive the inevitable human violence. Bonnie even recognizes that realistically 20 million Zygons do not stand a chance against six billion humans, but she would rather die on her feet in pursuit of her goals, taking as many humans with her as possible, than live on her knees.
UNIT, in turn, faced with millions of shape-shifting aliens who have the ability to infiltrate all levels of government, to assume the identities of friends and loved ones before they strike, are ready to wipe out all of the Zygons, guilty and innocent, in order to prevent more violence.
2) Working class Zygon
Bonnie forces one of the assimilated Zygons, a man named Etoine played by Nicholas Asbury, to transform back to his actual form, recording it on her cell phone and posting it on the internet as a start to sowing xenophobia among humanity.
Etoine is horrified; he was perfectly happy with his new existence as a human, and now that has been destroyed. Harness and Moffat make in very clear that this Zygon is apolitical, just someone trying to get on with their life…
Etoine: I’m not part of your fight. I never wanted to fight anyone. I just wanted to live here. Why can’t I just live?
The Doctor: We are on your side.
Etoine: I’m not on anyone’s side! This is my home!
Seeing no way out, Etoine commits suicide in front of the Doctor. It’s a heartbreaking scene, with a sad, moving performance by Asbury. It really demonstrates the suffering that ordinary people endure because self-important revolutionaries prize ideals more than they do actual lives, when fanatics believe that the ends justify any means.
3) Capaldi and Coleman
Both Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman are amazing in this pair of episodes.
Capaldi is well on his way to becoming my favorite Doctor ever. He is such an amazing actor. In the second episode, the Doctor gives a powerful speech to Bonnie…
I don’t understand? Are you kidding me? Of course I understand. I mean, do you call this a war? This funny little thing. This is not a war. I fought in a bigger war than you will ever know. I did worse things than you can ever imagine. And when I close my eyes… I hear more screams than anyone would ever be able to count!
Capaldi totally owns the episode at this moment. I could not take my eyes off of him. He was amazing.
Even when it comes to silly stuff like the Doctor claiming that he has question mark underpants, referring to himself as ‘Doctor Disco” and “Doctor Funkenstein,” or alleging that his real name is “Basil,” Capaldi delivers those lines with such a wonderful irreverence. Things that might sound daft coming from a lesser actor are quite witty and almost self-deprecating when Capaldi delivers them.
I know that at this point a number of viewers, myself included, are experiencing a bit of Clara fatigue. The character has been around for a while now and, as with other companions, the quality of writing given to her has been somewhat inconsistent. Given that, I think it can become easy to overlook Coleman. But she actually is a great actor.
This is ably demonstrated when Bonnie takes on Clara’s form for the majority of these two episodes. Bonnie is a completely different character from Clara, and Coleman plays the part perfectly. It definitely demonstrates her versatility.
4) Osgood lives
Despite having been murdered by Missy in “Death in Heaven,” Osgood (Ingrid Oliver) returns. It transpires that since the events of “The Day of the Doctor,” there have been two Osgoods, one human and one Zygon, the living embodiment of the peace treaty. We don’t find out until the end of “Inversion” which one this is, human or Zygon. But since they both have the same memories and personality, in a way both of them were real.
When I first heard Osgood was returning, I did feel it cheapened her death. However it’s made clear that the death of one Osgood very much affected the other, that they had become as close as twin sisters. Osgood certainly seems a more serious, somber individual here than in the past, no longer a goofy teenage but an adult dealing with great responsibilities.
5) Pod people
There is a tone to these episodes very reminiscent of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” a menacing undercurrent of paranoia. Is this person a human, or are they actually a Zygon? Who can you trust? At times it is quite unnerving.
The difference here, of course, is that the Doctor is hopeful that he can cut through the fear & distrust to find a peaceful solution. He desperately wants to find a way for the two races to co-exist.
6) Five rounds rapid
Kate Stewart (Jemma Redgrave) comes across much better than she did in her previous appearance in the Series Nine opener. Yes, it’s obvious that Kate is still very much in over her head. This time, however, we see that she nevertheless remains as rational and level-headed as one can under extremely difficult circumstances.
Kate is obviously much less idealistic than the Doctor. Like her father, she is willing to use violence as a first resort. But these episodes do demonstrate that her approach is not all that unreasonable…
Kate: You left us with an impossible situation, Doctor.
The Doctor: Yes I know, it’s called peace.
As much as I appreciate the Doctor’s noble intentions, it’s easy for him to negotiate a peace treaty and then fly off in the TARDIS. Kate was left with the difficult job of actually making it work, of ensuring that humans and Zygons peacefully co-existed. Just as Ashildr pointed out in the previous episode, the Doctor is always interfering and then running away, leaving others to deal with the consequences of his action. All things considered, Kate appears to be doing the best she can.
While it is unfortunate that Kate had to kill several Zygons, if she had not done so then she herself would have died, just as many other members of UNIT did in this story.
7) Let’s let Zygons be Zygons
The Doctor eventually convinces Bonnie to give up her crusade. He also forgives her for her crimes.
I was left wondering if Bonnie got off easy. After all, she and her followers killed a great many people, both human and Zygon. Many would argue that she was deserving of some form of punishment.
Perhaps this can be seen as the lesser of evils. If Bonnie had been killed, it likely would have turned her into a martyr, inspiring her followers to continue her fanatical path. If she had been locked up, she could have remained an unrepentant enemy waiting for an opportunity to escape and resume her terrorist activities.
By convincing Bonnie to reconsider her views, the Doctor has diffused the threat she and her organization presented. At the end we see her devoting herself to maintaining the peace treaty by permanently taking on the form of Osgood. It can be argued that she is making amends for her crimes by working to heal the rift she created and prevent others from following in her footsteps.
This is an issue that continually plagues humanity. What is more important, enacting retribution or ending the circle of violence? Do you let crimes go unpunished if it will prevent future violence from occurring? There definitely is no easy answer.
As I’ve observed before, a quality of science fiction which I appreciate is that thru its lens it enables us to gain different perspectives on contentious real world issues. Obviously these two episodes of Doctor Who gave me a great deal to consider.