Come Out Onto the Balcony and Wave a Tentacle (The Zygon Invasion/The Zygon Inversion)
|One of the things you notice a lot more when watching television as a girl is how fundamentally ludicrous a lot of characters’ “no makeup and looking slightly ratty” looks are.|
It’s October 31st, 2015. Adele has debuted at number one with “Hello,” just ahead of Justin Bieber’s also new to the charts “Sorry,” a situation that persists through both episodes of this story. Sam Smith, Ariana Grande, Mnek & Zara Larson, The Weeknd, and Drake also chart. In news, hundreds die in Pakistan and Afghanistan after a magnitude 7.5 earthquake, Paul Ryan becomes Speaker of the House of Representatives, and a Russian plane flying from Egypt to Saint Petersburg is blown up shortly after takeoff, killing 224.
One ought never look a gift coincidence in the mouth when doing psychochronography, so let’s start with the cliffhanger, in which the Doctor’s plane is shot down by a group consciously made to parallel ISIS. On the one hand this is an eerie coincidence, but it’s also the sort of thing that happens when you ostentatiously position your story to be rooted in current events. Comment not on the abyss, as I’m sure someone or other said once.
But we’ll circle around to the politics of this story in good time. Let’s start, in the spirit of cracked mirrors, with the actual split between the two halves. The Moffat-era two-parter structure, after all, is rooted in the idea that the second part should always begin somewhere different than where the first part left off, a rule fashioned after his experience with The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances and his dissatisfaction with the feeling that the Doctor and company had just been in that basement for a really long time by the time the latter episode rolled around. And so now part twos begin by ostentatiously altering the premise of the story: UNIT shows up, we cut to Missy and Clara, the Doctor is a ghost now, or it’s just an entirely new story that shares a character with the previous one. So what’s the change that breaks the symmetry between part one and part two of this story? Clara obvs.
After all, you can’t do a Zygon story without someone important being a duplicate. The Doctor is the boring answer, the UNIT cast is all even duller, and so it has to be Clara, not least because Jenna Coleman has not to date gotten to do her obligatory villain turn. (Not every companion gets one, but they’re always a bit conspicuous by their absence.) So the big end-of-episode reveal for The Zygon Invasion (as distinct from the cliffhanger itself) is that Clara has been a Zygon all episode. Correspondingly, the big opening shift for The Zygon Inversion is her reinsertion into the narrative as the airplane shooting cliffhanger replays from her perspective. The ensuing showdown between Clara and her duplicate, Bonnie, is scintillating, not just because it’s Clara’s most extended hero moment all season, but because the underlying dynamic is so carefully worked out. Clara doesn’t just start on the back foot, what with being imprisoned inside her mind and all that, she immediately has her main tool taken away when it turns out Bonnie can tell if she’s lying. Clara has numerous moments of triumph in her tenure, but this is really the only time she’s put in peril that is written specifically for her. We’ve seen her respond to situations in ways no other companion would, but here she’s put in one that simply wouldn’t make sense for Amy or Donna, where the stakes and challenges are crafted purely in terms of playing off of her strengths and weaknesses. Unsurprisingly the results are some of her most electrifying scenes of the season, not least because of their willingness to go shockingly far, as in her failed attempt to turn the rocket launcher on herself.
This also means that we get a story whose mirrorings are entirely centered around Clara. To some extent this is a factor of Harness’s admirable decision to make virtually the entire supporting cast of this story women. But it goes well beyond that. Obviously the mirroring of Bonnie and Clara is intensely literal, but with Osgood spending the bulk of The Zygon Inversion filling in for Clara in the companion role and also being the obvious and, by the end, very literal mirror for Bonnie we really do have an episode that’s structured around iterations of Clara with a comparative lack of iterations of the Doctor, which is deeply satisfying within a season where one of the few significant flaws is the extent to which it simply coasts on her character development instead of centering her.
Around this set of mirrors, we have a story that works with the calm and efficient competency that characterizes this period’s best stories. We’ll talk on his third stories about the perils of concluding from Kill the Moon that he was “the guy who writes the political ones,” but broadly speaking deciding to take the guy who wrote a political allegory about the moon being an egg and throwing him at the genre of the conspiracy thriller is one of the savviest writing assignments of Moffat’s tenure. Harness delivers a story that both moves through a bunch of requisite thriller set pieces and is relentlessly, consistently weird in ways that validates the idea of doing that genre within Doctor Who in 2018. Each episode finds time for a sizable set piece that exists purely to confront the audience with the particular combination of stakes and strangeness that animate this premise—the first in the churchyard confrontation, which is further elevated by an unusually deft work by Murray Gold, who scores the scene with uplifting piano music that clashes with delicious horror with what’s actually going on, the second in the convenience store encounter with the schlubby and out of control Zygon, which takes the classic Doctor Who body horror of the partially transformed man and lingers with an uncomfortable sense of the pathetic. These scenes alone justify the story, doing exactly what Doctor Who should be doing, which is sticking its flag somewhere no other show has or could, presenting weird but compelling concepts that simply couldn’t emerge from anything other than its legendarily generative alchemy.
But of course these are not the whole of the story’s virtues. This is also one of the most furiously leftist stories of the Moffat era, with loads to say about immigration, xenophobia, and diversity. And it says the bulk of this with a brash imperiousness, shrugging its shoulders and just blithely going “yeah, actually, beloved 70s companion Harry Sullivan probably would create a weapon of mass destruction designed to genocide an entire species” and returning to the sort of bristling sarcasm of Terrence Dicks’s great “the rest were all foreigners” line in Robot with “they’ll think you’re going to pinch their benefits.” This is a story that never for a moment takes seriously the idea that the Zygons do not, in fact, have a right to live peacefully alongside humanity, indeed unapologetically following up on the moral logic of Kill the Moon to decide that this is not actually an issue in which there are democratic rights to be considered. Regardless of whether one agrees with the extremism of this position (I’m pretty sympathetic) there’s an admirable moral boldness here.
And, at the risk of making an obvious point, it’s all just very well made. It hits all of its moods correctly, it shifts among them well, it’s paced and structured pleasantly, with an artful ability to deftly pocket a ball in order to bring it back out at the perfect time. It finds new things for Capaldi and Coleman to do, from the rightly praised fireworks of the Doctor’s final speech to the delicious villain turn, and they predictably raise their game to match it. And the supporting cast is solid too—while Jemma Redgrave continues to struggle to make Kate Stewart her own, she makes a far better show of it here than on any of her previous four attempts, while Ingrid Oliver absolutely relishes the opportunity to demonstrate that she earned her fan favorite status instead of having it handed to her on a ten-foot knitted platter. It’s a perfect example of the sorts of things this golden age does.
You can presumably see the “but” coming at this point, but let’s be clear: virtually every era of TARDIS Eruditorum has involved me shanking some good stories, some of them ones I actually like. I stand by my ranking of this as the fourth best story of the Capaldi era. It’s one of my favorite pieces of television. But golden ages can’t and shouldn’t go on forever. Even the best of things has limits. And we can’t very well find those limits by going and taking a Toby Whithouse story out behind the woodshed. For an era as good as this, understanding its shortcomings requires looking at one of its good stories, not one of its turkeys.
The best take on this issue, and one I cannot hope to top, remains Jack Graham’s “The Zygon Invocation,” in which he makes the simple but devastating point that the story is crippled by its all-consuming liberalism. This is, to be fair, usually Jack’s problem with Doctor Who, unless it’s that it’s crippled by its outright conservatism. I have a more mixed perspective—someone asked me on Tumblr a bit back about how my politics have changed since starting TARDIS Eruditorum, and I noted that “early Eruditorum is written by a liberal with aesthetic sympathy for extremism, a position that’s basically shared by Doctor Who. Later Eruditorum is written by an extremist, albeit one without much interest in a nailed down policy program, and its relationship with Doctor Who is roughly analogous to appreciating someone’s allyship but still rolling your eyes a lot and going ‘ugh cis people.’” That was already true in 2015, and is even more true now. But even then details like haranguing Bonnie for not having a detailed post-revolution plan jarred. Now, frankly, for all its dramatic satisfaction and obviously strong writing, the entire speech rankles.
The crux of the problem is simple, which is that Bonnie’s only role in the entire scene is to get steamrolled by the Doctor. I don’t mean this simply in the obvious sense where her dramatic role is to be defeated, but in the sense that as a spokeswoman for any sort of radical insurgency she’s only there to give the wrong answer at every point. Actually, it’s not even that. The Doctor’s reaction to “we’ve been treated like cattle” is literally “so what?” He dismisses the entirety of their suffering as “facts” that are apparently to be ignored before plowing into Bonnie for her cruelty. Bonnie, meanwhile, is left to give ridiculous answers like that what she actually wants is war and her long-term plan is simply to always win.
It’s not, obviously, that I think Bonnie is right. How could you? The story leaves no space whatsoever for that conclusion. She’s sympathetic, sure, in the way that revolutionary villains often are—her demand to be able to live authentically is genuinely moving. But the idea that she’s actually right is never taken remotely seriously. Indeed, it’s not entirely clear what her being right would even mean. She’s deliberately oversignified, simultaneously representing Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and immigrants within Britain. This does not, as some critics have suggested, mean that the story is equating immigrants to ISIS—that reading requires you to ignore the repeated message that the Zygons have a right to live here. But it means that Bonnie doesn’t actually resolve into commenting on anything. Heck, the dispute between Zygons who want to assimilate seamlessly into their new identities and Zygons who want to live openly as they are can just as easily be read as a metaphor about trans people going stealth, especially when you factor in the Doctor’s unpleasant fixation with the species of Osgood’s birth. (I mean, who among us hasn’t broken down in a convenience store sobbing about how we just want to live?)
We talked with Harness’s last story about the way in which it tore across a swath of new ground, creating a new extreme for Doctor Who to explore the space around. Here we encounter a very different sort of limit. I am not so naive as to think that Chibnall can meaningfully challenge all of this. The show isn’t going to become a rousing endorsement of revolutionary anarcho-socialism. But there are Moffat-era conventions that are exacerbating the problem here. However admirable Moffat’s disinterest in conventional “monsters” is, the basic decision to simultaneously push this story towards “Zygon ISIS” and “Bonnie is a misguided revolutionary who can be shown the light” leaves this story in an impossible muddle that nothing entirely satisfying can come out of. There are phenomenal Doctor Who stories to do about most of these elements (I’m not convinced an ISIS story in 2015 could possibly age well) but this isn’t any of them.
What it is, though, is a phenomenal Doctor Who story that is vaguely around these things. That’s far from nothing; for all my reservations, only the fascist-baiting of The Witch’s Familiar comes close to it in political quality. But every era, good or bad, lays down challenges for the next era to try to meet. Maybe the Chibnall era won’t rise to them. Certainly I understand anyone who’s pessimistic on this point. But nevertheless, we see hear what the challenge is. Going forward, Doctor Who is going to need to ask more pointed political questions, and offer more substantive answers than “be nicer to each other.”
August 13, 2018 @ 11:04 am
Interesting assertion at the end – surely Oxygen and Sleep No More (quality aside) have better politics than this story?
The “Zygons as trans people” thing is an incredibly compelling reading to just toss off like that, I’m going to have to think about that next time I watch it.
August 13, 2018 @ 1:40 pm
Aye, I do think Sleep No More offers a better political vision, but the maddening inability of it to line that political vision up with its storytelling mechanics shoots it in the foot – whereas this story gets its politics perfectly in gear with its storytelling – the problem is that the politics are just a bit gross in places.
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August 13, 2018 @ 4:37 pm
The politics of Oxygen are quite standard though. The story is arguing in favour of a quite old-fashioned, unionist, social democratic view of politics, that even at its most revolutionary is quite an old-school view of what left wing politics can achieve.
August 13, 2018 @ 7:02 pm
I don’t think Oxygen’s politics are standard by any means – it’s one of very few new who stories to deal with labor in a meaningful sense, and it’s the only TV Doctor Who story I can think of to ever have the villain explicitly be the influence of capital. Furthermore, at the end, it includes a worker’s rebellion leading to the complete collapse of capitalism as a system, which it depicts as inevitable.
While the Zygon Inv. is a much less typical story, the politics are very typical Miliband-esque platitudes about the status quo being preferable to radical change.
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August 13, 2018 @ 11:28 am
Hopefully, hopefully, Chibnall’s admirable push for diversity on the show’s cast and crew indicates a willingness to at least partially meet that challenge, in terms of offering writing perspectives that aren’t white men lecturing the strawman radicals (and for all that Moffat’s politics are criticized, at its best the era does do better than that, and stranger than that.)
August 13, 2018 @ 12:16 pm
I really dislike this story, because it’s so well made. Because the politics are worse than just Liberalism. Liberalism at least allows for multiculturalism. This is imperialism. The Zygons are only accepted if they stay totally hidden, and the best Zygon is the one who happily is adopted into a Western family. It’s the logic of the Stolen Generations.
Ultimately, the Doctor is fascinated with Osgood’s heritage, for ugly reasons, but the story ends by saying “She’s totally human.” It uses the fact the Zygons are a generic monster race to talk about Islam, without realising it then implies Islam is no better than generic monsters.
And one or two little changes could have done so much. Instead of having a huge stand-off at a church, show the Zygons praying or reading poetry or playing Zygon-ball or something. As with all Harness stories, it’s so impressed with its good politics it never questions them at all. So I suppose it is pretty much bad Liberalism in that regard.
August 13, 2018 @ 2:03 pm
I’m not sure imperialism works that well as an analogy, since it’s the humans who are the indigenous population and the Zygons who were the would-be conquerors. Immigration, particularly that of refugees, is surely more the register where its dubious take on assimilation plays out, with parallel analogies available, as mentioned, with minorities in terms of gender and sexuality.
Admittedly, in pursuing its likening of Zygons to Muslims it does blur the boundaries a bit with the Madeupistan affair, invoking Afghanistan, Iraq etc as though Genericistan were a Zygon “homeland”, when in the literal situation of the story the closest thing to that the Zygons have on Earth is England.
August 13, 2018 @ 2:16 pm
It does also compare Zygons to Latino immigrants entering the US by tapping into that whole aesthetic in the New Mexico scenes (and the Doctor explicitly namechecks the “Mexico border”)… except this time they’re homeless Brits who are the immigrants instead.
cf. “The Brits came two years ago. We didn’t want them. They just They just turned up. No jobs. Nowhere to live. No money. And they were… they were odd.”
This is one of the many reasons it’s a shame that in discussions of this story it tends to get boiled down so straightforwardly to “Zygon ISIS”, or “Zygons = Muslims”, when there’s actually a whole lot more than that going on. So many folks end up arguing it’s an allegory when it’s clearly not meant to be one, but the distinction between allegory and applicability is one that seems to be frequently forgotten about. The idea that this story is about Islam? Nonsense.
Turmezistan, as you suggest, is a mistake. The original intention was Azerbaijan (the signs on the training village are in Azeri, and it’s correct AFAIK). I wonder if this was changed fairly last minute to avoid presenting the nation in a negative light?
August 13, 2018 @ 3:53 pm
Turmezistan isn’t even a very good generic country name, since it’s really rather similar to Turkmenistan.
August 13, 2018 @ 2:16 pm
The problem is that while it’s certainly political and definitely about things, the things themselves aren’t always intelligible. The Zygons-as-trans interpretation, for example: Osgood wants to identify as human, so surely that desire should be respected even if, from the “immigrants must assimilate” angle, it is suspicious. And indeed, if an immigrant genuinely wants to change cultures, that should be allowable. The problem is the atmosphere of threat and coercion: the coercion aimed at trans-people does not push them towards transition, but attempt to prevent it, while the coercion towards immigrants is alternately one of rejection or forced and total assimilation (in American terms, either “go back to Mexico” or “learn English”).
In Harness’ defense, there’s a strong thread of inconsistency in some of the political positions he’s attacking. And I think it’s too easy to miss the ways in which the episodes subtly suggest that humanity is indeed the biggest problem: that if human beings were better, the Zygons wouldn’t need to hide, but that because we aren’t, they must. (Harness, as usual, makes the situation worse by having Kate memory-wiped, so she learns a lesson she immediately forgets. Though perhaps that’s an on-the-nose critique of actual political behavior.)
And I think both Jack and El’s readings, while excellent, don’t do enough to recognize that Harness seems more interested in that final big scene to collapse the story from being about political allegories to being about Bonnie. The Doctor’s mixing it up between making genuine statements about peace and revolution and lying to Bonnie’s face to provoke her into rethinking her cause. Harness doesn’t land the scene as well as Capaldi does, certainly, but I think the dismissive and callous comments, like this Doctor’s somewhat hurt Orient Express comment that he allowed everyone else on the train to die, are intended for immediate effect and not meant to be taken genuinely. It’s hard to imagine that the author of Oxygen doesn’t remember here that the Doctor too is a revolutionary.
Because the one key to the story “working” is that the Doctor changes Bonnie’s mind: not by forcing her assimilation as a human being, but by making her think like him, willing to lie to preserve a peace which certainly does harm the Zygons, but protects both them and humanity. And the implication (made confusing by Bonnie becoming an Osgood) is that the revolutionary leader, the extremist, the al-Baghdadi, is now in charge of the Zygons-in-hiding. She murders the previous government, presides over a bloody revolution, and is then put in charge of her people by the Doctor once she changes her mind.
I’m not sure I can translate that into a broader political statement, nor that Harness can, but I know that isn’t a traditional liberal conclusion. And looking at what Bonnie learns, how she changes: it isn’t that she assimilates, so much as she acquires the ability to perceive both Zygon and human lives as mattering and worthy of protection. There is indeed a disturbing undertone to that construction (better to live as slaves than to die in violent revolution, killing slaveholders), but one which doesn’t absolutely apply here, and Harness seems more interested in what changes in Bonnie as a person than in the bigger picture. That, to me, implies that his Doctor does as well.
August 13, 2018 @ 2:50 pm
“Harness doesn’t land the scene as well as Capaldi does, certainly, but I think the dismissive and callous comments, like this Doctor’s somewhat hurt Orient Express comment that he allowed everyone else on the train to die, are intended for immediate effect and not meant to be taken genuinely. It’s hard to imagine that the author of Oxygen doesn’t remember here that the Doctor too is a revolutionary.”
I think you mixed up Harness with Jamie Mathieson here.
“And the implication (made confusing by Bonnie becoming an Osgood) is that the revolutionary leader, the extremist, the al-Baghdadi, is now in charge of the Zygons-in-hiding. She murders the previous government, presides over a bloody revolution, and is then put in charge of her people by the Doctor once she changes her mind.”
It brings to my mind V for Vendetta, except with one person undergoing growth where in the graphic novel we have V, the violent revolutionary, replaced by Evie-as-V, the peaceful builder of a new, anarchist society.
August 13, 2018 @ 4:07 pm
Possible real-world parallels (in a rather jaundiced way) would include the Northern Ireland peace process, where the parties that were prepared to take risks for peace, the SDLP on the Catholic/Nationalist side and the UUP on the Protestant/Unionist one, ended up marginalised as a result, being eclipsed respectively by the foot-dragging Sinn Fein and the rejectionist DUP, who belatedly embraced the peace settlement and were left in a thoroughly dominant position in their communities and the institutions of devolved government.
August 13, 2018 @ 2:52 pm
It’s also worth pointing out, I think, that assimilation and blending in are explicitly stated to be the natural way of being to Zygons. It complicates any real-world resonances this story has, but also neutralises the disturbing undertones of the ending.
August 13, 2018 @ 3:41 pm
The Zygons are not slaves though, nor anything like slaves. The rhetoric of “living in chains” is at most sympathetically understood as a metaphor for the constriction of self-policed conformism, less sympathetically as self-dramatising hyperbole. And arguably the big problem with the Doctor’s “Who cares?!” is that it implicitly accepts the contention that “treated like cattle” is a fair description of what has happened to the Zygons. The Zygons get to live just like anyone else – what the militants object to is that they have to live just like everyone else.
August 13, 2018 @ 3:44 pm
Please ignore previous comment. Sorry.
August 13, 2018 @ 3:58 pm
To clarify, that’s not a retraction of the substance of that comment (though actually the expression of it could come across considerably less sympathetically than it was supposed to), but an acknowledgement that it was redundant as a response to David Ainsworth’s comment.
August 13, 2018 @ 9:12 pm
I’ve got to push back at it at least a little bit.
The Zygons do not get to live just like anyone else. Anyone else gets to live in their actual skin, as who and what they are, instead of in a false identity cottoned up because being themselves would make them the objects of a genocidal campaign.
“Living in chains” seems to me pretty fair there.
August 13, 2018 @ 10:17 pm
Fair. Comment just generally retracted then, with apologies.
August 14, 2018 @ 11:52 am
Returning to this hole for a few more partially self-exculpatory spadefuls of clarification, having further reassessed just how bad that comment could look, especially if read in the context of my other musings below about entitlement – the line “what the militants object to is that they have to live just like everyone else” was meant to carry the implicit corollary “when that’s not how they really are”. It was about the likeness of external practicalities rather than that of experience. Also, “self-policed” was referrng, ineptly, to the lack of direct and active enforcement of conformity from a population that does not even know that they exist, and was not meant to undersell the fact that the very real prospect of lethal violence if they reveal themselves is the motivating factor.
Still, though, it was an unnecessary, negligently considered, badly expressed and generally crass comment on a subject area where I should know to be more careful, and my apology stands.
August 13, 2018 @ 9:13 pm
This is an excellent point.
August 13, 2018 @ 3:14 pm
“Ultimately, the Doctor is fascinated with Osgood’s heritage, for ugly reasons, but the story ends by saying “She’s totally human.””
What made you think the story says she’s human? Asking out of curiosity; one of the things I most appreciated about this story is that it stands against the Doctor and insists on the validity of Osgood’s self-identification not as an either/or, human or a Zygon, but as Osgood.
August 13, 2018 @ 5:09 pm
Probably CMJ123 means that Bonnie takes on the role of being the second Osgood, therefore meaning the Osgood we spend most of the time with in this story is definitely human. Personally though, I don’t see any reason the ending has to mean that at all – both Osgoods could be Zygon. Really, this theme also presages “Hell Bent”, which also argues some questions people insist on asking don’t need an answer
August 13, 2018 @ 11:20 pm
Honestly, it’s a rushed and not altogether very good comment.
My argument is more that Osgood stops being the bridge between Zygons and humans if Bonnie can become her. Bonnie stops having her own identity, and takes one which is fundamentally human. This is fine in a story about transitioning. But more of the episode is a story of immigration, and that’s certainly the iconography used through-out.
Maybe I’m just paranoid, but the idea that the smaller culture must exist entirely within the larger culture smacks of the idea of the Stolen Generations in Australia, where children were removed from Aboriginal families to become part of Western families to destroy the culture of one and propogate the other. Maybe invader and aboriginal are swapped around, but the idea of a dominant, mainstream culture that will not tolerate anything else but complete subservience from the other seems a little too similar in both.
Ultimately, I don’t think my point is very well made, but hey-ho, I’m never going to be the most eloquent person on this blog.
August 13, 2018 @ 1:40 pm
Since it seems unlikely that anyone else will stick up for Harry Sullivan (was he ever really “beloved”?), the context in which the gas was devised was “We could use it to defend ourselves against the threat of invasion by the people who just tried to conquer the world and enslave us all”, not “We could use it to exterminate twenty million refugees living (mostly) peacefully among us”. Creating it is a very different thing from using it in the context that Kate plans to do.
Speaking of which, the story does seem a little cavalier when it comes to (not) asking the question “Is someone who has come to the brink of committing genocide on sixteen separate occasions in the last couple of years a fit person to be in charge of a military organisation and an arsenal of superweapons?” It’s all a bit putting-a-compulsive-arsonist-in-charge-of-a-fireworks-factory.
August 13, 2018 @ 2:04 pm
“It’s all a bit putting-a-compulsive-arsonist-in-charge-of-a-fireworks-factory”
looks at USA and North Korea
isn’t that how the world works, now, though?
August 13, 2018 @ 3:21 pm
Yeah, but that’s because we live in Children of Earth, not Doctor Who.
August 13, 2018 @ 3:26 pm
More seriously, though, I’m not convinced we are meant to take the Doctor seriously when he says he’s done this sixteen times before. It would be just like him to use the memory filter once in a key moment in that room, and then the next time he’s there just pretend to use it for a bit of theater to teach Kate a lesson about the things we don’t learn from history. And while headcanon-ing the line of dialogue into a deception means we lose the sense of the Doctor orchestrating the events of this story over and over, which has interesting connotations, what we gain in terms of it making the story feel much more urgent and necessary and significant by this being the one and only time this happens… seems unequivocally worth the trade-off. We don’t even have to lose the snark about how easily the lessons from last time are forgotten: the line remains as a moment of angry theatre. (And I’d note in passing how likely it seems that this is a Moffat addition – it so closely resembles the Beast Below view of democracy as forgetting the things you’ve learned every four/five years).
August 13, 2018 @ 3:47 pm
ETA for clarity: the key moment being DOTD, of course, not the instance in this story – in my reading the instance in this story is artifice.
August 14, 2018 @ 8:35 pm
It’s a rather self defeating piece of theatre, though. If you tell someone you’re going to wipe their memory for the seventeenth time and then don’t, they will probably immediately conclude that you hadn’t really done it the previous times either.
August 15, 2018 @ 7:16 am
I’ve explained myself terribly – what I mean is, he really does wipe the characters’ memories in-story when he says he does (apart from Bonnie and, I would add, Clara). It’s the ‘doing it fifteen times previously’ he makes up.
August 17, 2018 @ 1:41 pm
That seems possible, yeah. I mean, Kate will immediately forget he’s said it, but it’s entirely in-character for the Doctor to want to do the dramatic flourish whether anyone’s going to remember it or not.
October 20, 2018 @ 7:48 am
Separate occasions? I assumed that they’d had that specific conversation 15 times in a row. (and maybe Clara talked… at all… in the earlier attempts)
August 13, 2018 @ 2:14 pm
I think the perfect encapsulation if this episode’s political problems is how weirdly Blase the story is about the Doctor continuing to be President of the World. That just feels… off, for any Doctor, let alone the Twelfth.
August 13, 2018 @ 2:14 pm
I may be also pointing out the blindingly obvious, but part of the reason this episode can’t go fully revolutionary is that it’s set on present day Earth, and so the Zygons are like the Silurians and are never going to get to win. There aren’t giant anthropomorphic octopus tentacles (or dinosaur people) openly part of our society; it would be a brave writer and/or showrunner who makes all future writers/showrunners deal with that (not to mention the budget if a certain amount of extras are required to be in full monster makeup).
If the episode had been set on planet Zark or even a few years into the future (Harness set ‘Kill the Moon’ in 2049, after all), I think Moffat/Harness might have gone all the way.
Also, I brought up the Silurians for a reason; Chibnall already hasn’t met the challenges set here.
August 14, 2018 @ 9:07 am
This is a very good point. And what’s more, I feel like resolving a story set in the present day by showing that the Zygons can be themselves and still coexist peacefully with the humans would feel like cheating. The story would either have to present viable solutions to the real-world problems the Zygon situation alludes to (e.g. immigration) or go full fairytale and just present no solution beyond “well, everyone just got along fine”. With future/alien world stories you can go much further simply because the viewer doesn’t need to just simply look out of a window to see that your solution doesn’t work.
August 13, 2018 @ 2:56 pm
One thing the story never really tries to address seriously is the question of how “the most perfect peace treaty in history”, contrived with such Solomonic “I cut, you choose” ingenuity has produced such a mess almost immediately.
The apparent incongruity could have been dealt with pretty readily, in potentially interesting ways. Whatever the technical excellence of the treaty’s terms, it was negotiated on the human side by a secret, unaccountable security organisation, while the general population have never even been informed, let alone consulted, still less given a choice. The Zygon negotiators may have had a somewhat better claim to represent their side, and their people were at least unavoidably made aware of the situation, but it seems as though the stored masses were presented with a fait accompli and likewise denied any opportunity to give or withhold consent. The top-down imposition of the pact deprives it of democratic legitimacy, returning to issues previously touched on by Harness in Kill the Moon and playing into persistent issues concerning the Doctor’s tendency to assume the authority to reshape up people’s worlds for them, in a story where he literally says “Daddy knows best”.
In addition, the fact that the treaty was negotiated in the face of a threatened invasion and that the Zygon population bundled into it had been expecting to take mastery as overlords of the planet where they are instead “left to fend for ourselves” is obviously fraught with potential for trouble, even if only from a minority.
One can well see, though, how the real-world resonances of addressing the issue could have been deemed inconvenient for accommodating with the story, or tending to point in uncomfortable ideological directions, whether in relation to actual migration policy and arguments over democratic consent in that connection, or in relation to political explanatory hypotheses of disappointed entiitlement of either the Islamic-supremacist or white-male-supremacist variety.
August 13, 2018 @ 3:04 pm
“But even then details like haranguing Bonnie for not having a detailed post-revolution plan jarred.”
If her plan is to kill lots and lots of people, I sure would like to hear her detailed post-revolution plan before allowing her to continue.
I don’t know what it is about this story but I just can’t get into it. The pacing is all weird for me, jarringly so, and the plot feels like half of the scenes are missing; I’m always left confused as to how exactly did this crisis unfold and what were Zygons’ actions supposed to achieve. Maybe I just don’t get political thrillers.
August 13, 2018 @ 3:12 pm
I don’t think I can add anything to El’s and the commenters on this thread’s already nuanced and thoughtful appraisals of this episode. Except to say the whole story left me feeling decidedly politically queasy. I mean, can anyone dissuade me from the feeling that the clumsily lampshaded neo-lib ‘subtext’ was any different from, say, Trump’s “There was wrong on both sides”?
Jenna Coleman’s performance was stunning though.
August 13, 2018 @ 7:05 pm
I mean, there’s an obvious difference to Trump’s comments – namely that the conflict in this story is considerably more morally ambiguous. It’s still liberal moralising, which aren’t politics I appreciate in the type of situation this story is meant to be an analogy for, but it’s a markedly less awful register of politics to that of Donald Trump.
August 13, 2018 @ 7:06 pm
*Clarification: more morally ambiguous than a conflict between neo-Nazis and non neo-Nazis
August 13, 2018 @ 3:18 pm
One missed opportunity in the new series Zygon setup, though this pertains more to Day of the Doctor than this story, is the failure to follow up on how in Terror of the Zygons their plans for fitting the Earth out for their habitation included “Polar icecaps must go, the mean temperature raised several degrees…”. (Then there’s the fresh resonance that climate change has added to Terror’s juxtaposition of that globe-warming scheme with its then-topical-in-a-different-way commentary on oil dependence.) DOTD indicates that early 21st-century Earth has become ripe for Zygon conquest because of the modern conveniences (to use an ironically dated expression) offered by its level of technological development, when it would surely have been more piquant to return to that original premise and suggest that now is the time because as a result of human action the climate is rapidly approaching suitability for their requirements.
August 13, 2018 @ 3:20 pm
I feel that as a political position ‘be nicer to each other’ is underrated. It’s true that as a political program it doesn’t consider the obstacles in its way, but as a way of identifying the flaws in a political ideology I think it’s a reasonable first approximation.
August 13, 2018 @ 4:27 pm
This story manages to avoid having any “if you don’t have the same system of symbolism as Peter Harness, you’re wrong” moments. Even though the politics are rather messy; it’s probably hard to do better with something that’s so efficiently designed to be monstrous as the zygons, the resilience of the basic “different people with different ideologies act according to them and interesting stuff happens” format means that’s not a big problem. Even if I decide something it’s getting at doesn’t really make sense, it can probably be handled with nothing more than a “that character is wrong” or the like. (And since it’s well-intentioned, I will at least have to have thought about it a bit, and the process of thought it invokes is pleasing and useful, I come out of the experience with slightly better thought out views possessing more emotional attachment. And having things to think about and things to feel about at the same time is enjoyable and stops me getting bored.)
(It may indeed act as part of some “suppress revolution by feeding everyone good-looking but ultimately hollow liberal platitudes” system, but even if so, it’s not a more important part of such a system than all those things I don’t watch, so I tend to think that sort of thing is a minor consideration when liking something, unless it really gets up your nose for some reason, or there’s nothing else to look at. Any wrongness you’ve identified is wrongness which isn’t fooling you personally.)
August 13, 2018 @ 4:47 pm
To briefly get very pretentious – at the urging of a friend of mine I recently watched the Eumenides, the ancient Greek courtroom drama. One of the main points of the play (to be extremely reductive) is that in order for any meaningful justice to be accomplished, just grievances have to be ignored. I had a long conversation with my friend about this, and the debate was whether this was a constructive way to think about justice or whether it was a way for the powerful to cow the oppressed into submission – in the case of Israel/Palestine, for instance, the grievances are not equal on both sides, and thus asking one side to simply ignore its massive grievances is deeply unfair. The counterbalance to this is the situation in Northern Ireland (where I am currently living). Because of the Good Friday agreement, which arguably asked unfair amounts of forgiveness, people are no longer being murdered in the streets and the devastated cities and towns have been able to significantly rebuild themselves.
It’s a question to which there is no easy answer, and I think this is partially the question that the Zygon Inv. gets tangled up in.
The other big problem with this episode’s politics is that it elides the question of empire. The Zygons standing in for refugees isn’t comparable to the situation of modern real refugees to Britain, because many of these refugees are displaced because of the aftereffects of the British Empire. The Zygon Inv. makes the relationship between the Zygons and Earth a more or less blank slate.
I have to agree with you though El, I find these episodes extremely satisfying to watch.
August 14, 2018 @ 8:24 am
The argument for ignoring just grievances you present is precisely why I mostly agree with the Doctor’s speech in this story. Coming from a country that’s been getting utterly destroyed and/or absorbed by its neighbours since the 18th century – the just grievances never stop. There’s never enough justice to be had, never enough punishment for the evildoers. And the politicians know that, unburying the hatchet whenever they need the public enraged. Works like a charm, every time. I feel like with the Zygons, the Doctor was trying to make the best out of a bad situation. I’m not saying his solution was good, I’m saying for me it was still preferable to people dying in the streets.
August 13, 2018 @ 5:31 pm
I think Moffat has another (not necessarily mutually exclusive with the first) strategy for two-parters: have the first part be a slow, tense build-up to a climactic revelation that shatters the status quo of the story. (The most ostentatious version of it is probably World Enough and Time.) Sometimes it can make the first part seem a bit disposable (like The Magician’s Apprentice). But here I feel like The Zygon Invasion has enough weirdness thrown into its exploration of the premise that it feels absolutely essential. In fact, one of the things I most appreciate about both of these is that they just seem so packed with interesting ideas. After that episode, that density became one of my benchmarks for evaluating new episodes.
The decision to have the cast be mostly women is interesting to me. On one hand, it’s admirable, of course. On the other, it continues the liberal (there’s that word again) trend of casting members of underrepresented populations as authority figures in oppressive power structures. It seems to me quite often that talking about structural oppression is only permissible in mainstream media if we erase the identity aspects of it. (The example most vivid in my mind is the first season of Luke Cage, where a black boy is beaten by a black policeman, while a sympathetic white policeman is a pillar of the local community.)
The most important aspect of this episodeto me is Osgood. You talked in the Dark Water/Death in Heaven entry about fantastical developments (such as Time Lords changing gender) as not being real-life experiences, but being good metaphors for them. Osgood is an example of that for me as a non-binary person. Because she isn’t non-binary in terms of her gender identity, and yet she is non-binary in a broader, philosophical sense (and I think non-binariness, the blurring and crossing of boundaries is valuable in many aspects of life), and her interactions with the Doctor, his insistence that she must be one or the other “really” rang very true. Of course, Osgood is not perfect non-binary representation; I have no problem with her status as non-human (though I know some people who raised the issue of monstering of oppressed groups, women in particular, in Moffat Who), because she fully retains her personhood throughout the story, but, particularly as I started to experiment a little with my gender presentation, I do find myself wishing not just for metaphors, but for explicit (as well as presenting in gender non-conforming ways) representation of my identity. Even so: she brought me very close to the point where I realised I was non-binary and I will always be grateful to Moffat and Harness because of that. (I would actually be very curious to find out if they had those paralells in mind when writing The Zygon Inv.)
(As a sidenote, and because Moffat is often criticised for not being perfectly up-to-date with the latest development in queer, feminist etc. theory, I wanted to praise him for referring to Osgoods as “herselves” in the novelisation of The Day of the Doctor. Again, it’s a speculative conceit, but resonating strongly with the growing popularity of singular they, and shows, to my mind, an awareness and sensitivity to what is happening in the world. Just thought I’d give praise where praise is due.)
Am I the only person who wasn’t that amazed by the monologue at the end? Actually, I think I’m just not a fan of monologues in general, as they seem to be an opoprtunity for theactor to go: “LOOK – AT ME – ACTING!” and I think I prefer a more understated/naturalistic (for lack of better words, as I know next to nothing about acting theory) approach.
August 13, 2018 @ 5:56 pm
I was also not wowed by the monologue (well, technically it’s a dialogue, but that is, as aforemrntioned, a bit of a problem).
August 14, 2018 @ 8:41 am
Very interesting observations about the Osgoods, thank you! I’m happy to hear DW helped you to discover and express who you are and I hope you get to see yourself represented in fiction more.
Yeah, Moffat can be pretty bad at times when it comes to representation and proper terminology, but it’s good to know he’s at least trying. Even so, the Doctor’s nagging questions here annoyed me. I just feel like DW writers sometimes use the Doctor to explore some issues without ever asking themselves whether they make sense for the character. Why would he care about the Osgood’s identity? I feel the same way about e.g. Eleven’s apparent lack of understanding of sex. It made for some good jokes but then there were scenes like the infamous “a skirt that’s just a bit too tight”… And let’s not even get into the mess that is the Doctor in “The Lie of the Land”… for now.
As for the speech, I liked it a lot but I don’t get the universal knee-jerk response to it. Perhaps it was the fact that Capaldi never got a better (or more prominent) one.
August 14, 2018 @ 9:15 am
As for Twelve’s obsession with Osgood’s identity, I understand your frustration, but at the same time it makes perfect sense to me. Twelve loves a mystery, we’ve seen it as early on as Listen for example, and he does have a tendency to get preoccupied to an unhealthy extent. We are also used, I think, to seeing the Doctor as the moral compass of the show, but he’s frequently not and has to be brought around by his companions or other characters. It’s been a while since I watched The Zygon Inversion and I don’t remember how exactly it plays out in the end, maybe it would be useful to have the Doctor display more understanding and acceptance of Osgood’s identity, but I appreciated how she stood her ground and insisted, kindly and patiently, but also firmly, on being recognised on her own terms.
August 14, 2018 @ 9:49 am
Alright, that makes sense. And he does learn his lesson by the end. I guess I forgot about Twelve’s obsession with mysteries because his character was pretty inconsistent at times, switching back and forth between “kind and understanding” and “grumpy and almost cruel”… which for me necessitated some ignoring of his character traits.
August 14, 2018 @ 10:35 am
That is very true – at this stage he moved pretty strongly towards being merciful, kind, understanding. On the other hand, just a week ago he was insisting on calling Me “Ashildr”, which fits with his treatment of Osgood here, though clashes with the fact that he chose his own name.
Whatever else we can say about him, at least he’s consistent in his inconsistency.
August 14, 2018 @ 12:04 pm
I wouldn’t call Twelve’s characterisation inconsistent at all – there’s a pretty clear and consistent progression from the “grumpy and almost cruel” characterisation of his early stories to the “kind and understanding” character we have by the end of his run. That’s not inconsistency, that’s just character development. You can definitely find examples of him being a little more series 8-esque in his actions later in his run, but well, becoming a better person doesn’t mean you automatically drop all your bad behaviours. Falling back into old bad habits is a thing people do.
August 14, 2018 @ 12:26 pm
Thin Ice is probably the finest example of a writer really successfully uniting both the Series 8 and Series 9 “characterisations” in one episode. (not that I really think of them as separate given they are quite consistent in the development as you say).
We should probably note, though, that one of the potential answers to this charge is simply the Doctor’s own – “ah, well, I’m inconsistent” (The Witch’s Familiar). That’s what people are like (cf Whitman: “Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself… I contain multitudes”).
August 14, 2018 @ 1:16 pm
Personally, I don’t think he’s written inconsistently in terms of character development. Just wanted to highlight his (unintended by the writers, I think) hypocrisy when it comes to telling people what they should be called/ trying to find out what species they were assigned at birth, when he is also someone who adopted a new name.
August 14, 2018 @ 3:08 pm
Oh, absolutely, I think “Thin Ice” is an excellent demonstration of the way the Doctor changed over the course of series eight – his demand that Bill choose whether to save the creature or kill it, as she’s the representative of humanity present parallels his abandoning Clara, Lundvik and Courtney to choose whether to kill the creature in “Kill the Moon”. The difference is that he’s clearly internalised Clara’s “you walk our Earth, you breathe our air” comment – he doesn’t run out on Bill, or patronise her the way he does with Clara, and makes it clear that he is going to help her with whatever decision she makes, but that he genuinely feels it isn’t his decision to make.
His grab for the screwdriver after he realises he can’t save the boy is also very ruthless series 8 twelve, as well, it’s just that the episode takes time to portray the kinder side of his personality as well – Dollard has a strong grasp on all aspects of his character, and how these seemingly contradictory character threads are in fact complementary parts of the same character.
August 16, 2018 @ 7:56 am
People are inconsistent but fictional characters shouldn’t be. Or at least not to the extent real people are. We need to feel like we have a pretty good grasp of who they are to follow and enjoy their story. That is, unless the writer’s goal is explicitly to keep the character mysterious or to pull the rug out from under the audience’s feet and go “a-ha, you’ve been wrong the whole time!”, of course.
I feel like with the Twelfth Doctor there are bits where his regression to his Series 8 persona is clearly intentional, like in Thin Ice. And he does generally become more kind as his tenure goes on. But then there are bits that just feel like the writer stopped watching the show after Series 8. That’s a personal opinion, of course, so I might be wrong.
August 13, 2018 @ 11:06 pm
Thanks El, for giving me the only politically defensible reading of this, that Bonnie and her kind are a bunch of raging TERFs.
This reading probably doesn’t hold up while watching the story; I struggle to revisit it because I know That Speech is coming. I’m sure other NuWho stories have worse politics, but they’re not as overtly political, or as well made, as this one, so this one deserves our ire. And, oh boy, that fucking speech. I can’t imagine it coming from even Pertwee’s Doctor, it’s that reprehensible. It betrays the least objectionable part of The Unquiet Dead, the demand that humanity get used to a new morality and get used to strange refugees living amongst them. Never mind that The Unquiet Dead itself betrayed this just minutes later, it established the 21st Century Doctor as being unapologetically transgressive. It’s remarkable that Harness can write a story with an all-female supporting cast and still give the last, most patronising, word on the story’s politics to the old white dude.
August 14, 2018 @ 5:28 am
The incoherence of the story- deliberately controversial iconography aside- is I think the result of a burning adolescent desire to criticise war without having to give two shits about how we got there. The Doctor wants everyone to sit down and talk, but only to stop the crisis, not to solve the problems that caused it. For all his talk of breaking the cycle, he just wants it to turn a little more smoothly.
August 14, 2018 @ 6:29 pm
This is ultimately in character for a nuWho Doctor, though. He’s never gone for eliminating the Daleks, rejecting the Warrior. One of the primary missing points in the analyses of this episode from everyone so far is how the Doctor’s politics aren’t rooted in meatspace, they’re rooted in his determination to avoid the Time War. The unfortunate implications all fall out from that core motivation.
August 17, 2018 @ 12:17 am
What is meatspace?
And we know how we got here. The Zygon planet was destroyed and a bunch of Zygons eggs were transported to Earth, where they hatched. How do you solve this problem?
August 17, 2018 @ 12:14 am
It was made clear in The Day of the Doctor (and I think in this two-parter as well) that the Zygons currently living on Earth arrived as eggs. They didn’t choose to come and they know no other reality or planet.
The Doctor came up with a solution that he thought was the best in the bad circumstances. There’s also the fact that the Doctor was personally responsible for what happened to the Zygon planet so he felt he had to fix it and probably felt that Earth owed him this favour after he saved it so many times.
I see this episode as his attempt to convince Bonnie that sometimes we have to compromise and find the best livable solution instead of fucking everything for everyone.
It’s not “dying in a bloody revolution killing slave-owners”, as someone said. The outcome would be global destruction.
The Doctor was right.
August 20, 2018 @ 7:33 am
Where did you hear the bit about the eggs? I couldn’t find it in the transcripts. If anything, the Zygons in DOTD are specifically shown to invade the Earth as aduls via paintings in the Undergallery.
August 29, 2018 @ 2:52 pm
A few of them invade through the paintings but they are not everyone. The ones that are housed on Earth later have arrived as eggs.