You Can Just Put the Guns Down, Doctor Who: The Zygon Inversion, Reviews, 09/11/2015

Not only was this an incredibly well-made story – the direction, the acting, writing, the beautiful weirdness of imagery like Clara’s dream and that poor shopkeeper trapped in his Zygon form – it was also a perfect expression of all the idealism and hope that Doctor Who can inspire.

Probably Peter Capaldi's best moment of raw Doctor
performance that he'll get throughout his tenure. It's
a little uncomfortable that he included so many insults
in his rant, calling Bonnie's grievances childish.
As far as following on from last week’s post, there isn’t much philosophically there beyond what was introduced in The Zygon Invasion. But 

SPOILERS

will be necessary if I’m going to talk about how the core ethical and political ideas are developed in The Zygon Inver(a)sion as a whole. And there is still plenty to work with.

The Zygon Inver(a)sion is the clearest pro-peace statement the show has ever made. Living in the middle of the Third World War, while its refugees are being turned away with racialized scorn, we need to hear this message of peace. It’s the message that the ultimate lesson of any war is that war is too terrible to wage. 

But there’s also more than that. It’s the remarkably unrealistic conclusion that, no matter the depth of blood that’s accumulated through the conflict, forgiveness and progress is always possible. Well, I say unrealistic. Really, it just sounds that way to ears that aren’t accustomed to listening to it.

In a way, it’s a lesson that British people are (or at least can be) especially accustomed to listening to. You can say all you want about the British history of empire, conquest, cultural genocide, actual hardcore genocide. I certainly would if you let me.

But that insult wasn't directed at Bonnie's grievance. It
was about how she chose to deal with it: war. Jenna
Coleman did a wonderful performance as Bonnie, you
can tell watching it how much she loves playing such
a villainous character.
You can also say all you want about Tony Blair in particular, and I’ll join you in quite loudly denouncing him for helping to create the conditions for the Third World War, leading the invasion of Iraq with George W Bush. In that regard, Blair is one of the key political figures responsible for the deaths of millions in Iraq and Syria.

But Blair also oversaw a movement for peace that was utterly unbelievable for many generations of people wrapped up in an earlier conflict that had gone on for decades. The Good Friday Accords of 1998.

After nearly a whole century of the most wretched and vile sectarian violence, the leaders of the Irish Republican movement and the Ulster Unionist organization sat down and talked. And when they were finished, the weapons were on the ground. A war, including a substantial terrorist component, ended. Not with a massacre, but with forgiveness.

The Osgoods are the living embodiment of that forgiveness, as they walk away from the dematerializing TARDIS, one in her Peter Davison collar and the other in her Sylvester McCoy scarf and overcoat. 

Their empathetic friendship is the union of enemies in love. The Zygon leader who had been committed to victory or death has embraced friendship and peace. Because it’s not as though this is a straight return to the status quo. 

As good an actress as Jenna Coleman is, she seems to have
explored all of Clara as a character that she could. As
much as I love Clara on the show, it's time for her to go.
Coleman's best story as Clara was last season, in her
tragic relationship with Danny. This year, apart from
some standout performances in individual stories
like this, she's on the sidelines.
Look at what Bonnie wanted when her finger was on the trigger: all Zygons fixed in their current human form, or all Zygons forcibly reverting to their natural squid-like selves. A situation where they would either no longer be themselves, or there would be outright war and the likely genocide of her own people. 

Either way, Zygon-kind would no longer exist. There could be no victory. Unless you, like da’esh, really do embrace total self-destruction as a reasonable political path forward.

Bonnie was in total desperation, and a viewer should remember where that desperation came from. The humans in New Mexico who reacted to the sight of a natural-form Zygon with terror, who began massacring them. Osgood turned down the Doctor’s offer to travel for a while in the TARDIS because they had a peace to maintain, and that meant she and Osgood had to figure out how to solve that problem.

They’d work it out as friends. 

Because that really is the only answer to situations like this. Friends investigating what went wrong in a horrible problem and figuring out together how to avoid it happening in the future. The Osgoods have a lot of hard work cut out for them.

But they will have an easier time than you may first think because most of the Zygons on Earth only want peace. Probably the morally worst thing Bonnie did in this story was choose this random Zygon shopkeeper to force back into squid-ish form.

He didn’t want to be part of this uprising or the war Bonnie wanted to come from it. But she chose him and made him a weapon in her war, for no other apparent reason than that he was convenient. His suicide, from the despondence of being crippled in the name of her vision, is on her conscience. He only wanted to run his shop in peace.

Every violent movement hides the same secret: most of
its people don't want war. They might not be happy with
things as they are, but they want a resolution to what
conflicts do arise that doesn't revolve around violence.
Like this Zygon shopkeeper who was happy in his
new home, and called that dingy corner of London
his home.
That act of cruelty will haunt her, even as she’s decided to stop being cruel. That’s what repentance does: it’s admitting your own wrongdoing to yourself, and letting it haunt you.

That’s essentially what the Doctor admits to feeling most of the time about his own past. One further thing I like about this episode is how it handles the Doctor’s character. While the greatest trauma on the Doctor – the destruction of Gallifrey – is gone, he still carries the snowballing cruelty of the Time War in his heart.

Peter Harness, in this climactic monologue scene, writes The Doctor as a war veteran turned peace activist. He’s traumatized, but he doesn’t let that trauma consume him, as was the danger from 2005-2013 when the harshest moments of the Time War still weight on him.

For Bonnie-become-Osgood, that trauma is now part of what she channels into her new life as a Zygon-human peacekeeper. My prediction from last week* was that the radical empathy of a shared mind would undo the Zygon terror movement.

* Not that Kate would have shot her attacker first and then pretended to be a Zygon in her form, which was a trivial guess for me because it fits Kate’s character perfectly and Queen Elizabeth I had done it already in the anniversary special.

Bonnie’s common psychic space with Clara was certainly part of that, and it was a chilling sequence to see them battle through the window of a bio-receptacle. A line of the Doctor indicated the good influence that can come from Clara being in your head.

But ultimately the answer came in a form that humans are more capable of doing, even though it often seems impossible. They were able to forgive each other, and bit by bit work through their problems as friends together. That’s ultimately what every peace is.

1 comment:

  1. It was a fantastic episode. The politics were perhaps not perfect, but for the most part they were as good as is possible within the structure of a Doctor Who story, at least for me. And the writing, design and performances... just stunning

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