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Jack Graham

Jack Graham wrote about Doctor Who and Marxism, often at the same time. These days he co-hosts the I Don't Speak German podcast with Daniel Harper.Support Jack on Patreon.

40 Comments

  1. David Brain
    November 12, 2015 @ 5:55 am

    I still maintain that the message of this story is nothing to do with revolution or assimilation or anything like that. It’s about acceptance of responsibility and choosing to break the cycle in a positive fashion. It’s about living with your decision and, crucially, understanding its implications. And that has to come from both sides.
    It’s perhaps easiest to depict in the form that was chosen here, because there’s a ready-made “establishment” model in the form of UNIT (and, notably, the Doctor clearly remains disappointed with them, even at the end of this story.)
    And yes, whilst I wholly agree with you that some of the positions presented here as being “correct” are extremely questionable, I am still prepared to take away from this story an extremely positive position on breaking the cycle, rather than a wholly negative one related to a perceived failure of allegory.

    Reply

    • SeeingI
      November 12, 2015 @ 10:44 am

      If anybody had turned on the Doctor and pointed out that this was all his doing in the first place, it would have been a lot stronger, as far as taking responsibility goes.

      By the way, did anybody notice the little ret-con tweak to Zygon society where they said they actually WANT to live as disguised shape-shifters? It’s like they saw the corner they were painting themselves into…but the lifeline the threw themselves just doesn’t work on any level. It’s the “happy slaves” thing all over again.

      (Except I suppose it could explain why Broton was happy to live for centuries impersonating the local gentry, before he arsed himself to try to take over the world, pro forma.)

      Reply

      • Elizabeth Sandifer
        November 12, 2015 @ 11:10 am

        It’s pretty explicitly flagged as a retcon in the opening to Invasion, where the Osgoods describe Zygon shapeshifting specifically as an ability to allow assimilation.

        I’m unbothered by it, mainly because I think “assimilated immigrant” and “slave” are pretty starkly different as moral concepts.

        Reply

        • SeeingI
          November 12, 2015 @ 12:08 pm

          Obviously they are different. But I meant it in the sense of Doctor Who writers bending over backwards to create an alien species who crave things that in the real world are, mm, problematic at least, thus allowing them to side-step the question of whether asking them to give up their physical forms and culture, basically to disappear as a species, as a condition of not being murdered is in any way reasonable.

          Reply

        • UrsulaL
          November 14, 2015 @ 11:24 pm

          There is a difference between assimilation and cultural genocide, as well.

          The Zygons using their shape-shifting as a tool to adapt and ease interactions with others makes sense. Forcing Zygons into a situation where they have to adapt a single non-Zygon identity, and “pass” with 100% success, is quite different.

          A better analogy than slavery might be the idea of Jews in Europe during WWII trying to survive by passing as Gentiles. Not just getting the right papers, but having to completely hide who and what they are, and even very young children knowing that their lives and the lives of everyone they care for depends on never, ever making the slightest mistake.

          Immigrants and refugees routinely adapt to the new culture they are living in. Wear local clothing styles. Adapt favorite foodways to the ingredients available in the new location. Zygons choosing to using a non-Zygon form as part of adapting to their situation, in a flexible way, would be like that – having times and places to be Zygon, and times and places where they will use the common local form.

          The so-called treaty was effectively being secret Jews in WWII Europe. Even a child making a small mistake in public was a disaster, leading to violence.

          The Doctor says that they’ve been through this situation fifteen times before.

          Did it not occur to anyone that the treaty wasn’t working in its current form? That having a subpopulation in permanent disguise was not a long-term solution? That without being given good information and a chance to learn to accept, humans would never magically reach a stage where they were ready to accept?

          During the initial crisis, when there were twenty million refugees needing a place with the resources to absorb this type of population increase, and to be able to feed and house everyone, the treaty was likely a good way to get people settled quickly, before the Zygons began suffering from the disease and scarcity that comes with being a large group of displaced people.

          Reply

      • ianmcin
        November 12, 2015 @ 3:40 pm

        I never got the impression that Broton had been impersonating local gentry for centuries (a la Cessair of Diplos). The fact that there was a Duke of Forgill to survive until the end of the story suggests that that particular impersonation was a pretty recent development.

        Reply

      • ferret
        November 13, 2015 @ 6:36 am

        Bonnie did turn on the Doctor and point out that this was all his doing in the first place:

        BONNIE: You are responsible for all the violence. All of the suffering.
        DOCTOR: No, I’m not.
        BONNIE: Yes.
        DOCTOR: No.
        BONNIE: Yes. You engineered this situation, Doctor. This is your fault.
        DOCTOR: No, it’s not. It’s your fault.
        BONNIE: I had to do what I’ve done.
        DOCTOR: So did I.
        BONNIE: We’ve been treated like cattle.
        DOCTOR: So what.
        BONNIE: We’ve been left to fend for ourselves.
        DOCTOR: So’s everyone.
        BONNIE: It’s not fair.
        DOCTOR: Oh, it’s not fair! Oh, I didn’t realise that it was not fair!

        Reply

      • Simon Kane
        November 20, 2015 @ 11:00 am

        Isn’t that exacty exactly what happens when Bonnie says “This is all your fault”?

        Reply

  2. SpaceSquid
    November 12, 2015 @ 7:01 am

    The point at which things really turned sour for me here was when the Doctor mocked Bonnie for the idea that it was enough to just want a homeland. Even without the political signifiers elsewhere in the story, it was hard to see this as anything other than a reference to Palestine. The idea that we should criticise Palestinian revolutionaries because they haven’t explained what they’ll do in their homes once they have them back is sickening. “What comes next?” “Hey, how about we just don’t keep getting FUCKING MURDERED?”

    Reply

  3. Anton B
    November 12, 2015 @ 7:01 am

    Wow!
    However…
    While I agree with pretty much all your critique and you have eloquently expressed all my discomfort with Zygon Inv. I think a child watching this story might actually take away a vague echo of the ‘blips’ you describe as rare incidents in Who. The concepts of ‘morality’ of ‘decency’ and ‘fair play’ while obvious paper tigers and false ideals here are nonetheless not inherently bad things to wish for. As you (and the situationists) say ‘Be reasonable – demand the impossible’. Surely Moffatt and Harness here are ascribing entirely to your dictum of keeping politics childish.

    I think the attempt falls down (and if I’ve understood your diatribe you might agree) because the writers have built a ridiculous straw man argument and attempted to clothe it in ‘concerns torn from today’s headlines’. Equating an invading force of octopoid, electro stinger wielding, sucker covered blobby creatures FROM ANOTHER PLANET with concerns around immigration in the UK and the US and then also throwing in ISIS for good measure is at best naive allegory and at worst bloody stupid.

    I still love Doctor Who but they do make that hard to justify sometimes.

    Reply

  4. EXALT
    November 12, 2015 @ 8:09 am

    “Then we will die in the fire rather than living in chains,” says Bonnie. This is supposed to terrify us. These are the words of a fanatic. The story takes it for granted that such rhetoric is insincere and chilling. I find it wonderful. This is the kind of political statement almost designed to make me cheer.”

    Yes, Jack, it makes you cheer… because you never had to deal with it and you know there is absolutely no risk of you having to deal with it someday. During your lifetime, there never was and never will be a Great Revolution of All of America’s Minorities, or a Great Rebellion of the East Against the West. So you can have your cake and eat it too: you can make your big, risky political statement, and then you can go on, business as usual, because you know that the risk of you (or anyone) “dying in the fire” is nil.

    Reply

    • Jack Graham
      November 12, 2015 @ 8:50 am

      There’s something to that, of course. For someone as comfortable as me, there’s probably always going to be a degree of armchair generalling about it. But then I’m also very unlikely to die in the fire (or starvation, or whatever) unleashed by ‘our’ imperialist adventures. It’s a question of which fire-that-I’m-personally-unlikely-to-die-in I decide to support – the one that empowers and bolsters aggressive imperialism, or the one that a) is defensive, and b) has a liberatory potential.

      Reply

      • EXALT
        November 12, 2015 @ 9:10 am

        Jack, the fact is that a war is nothing to cheer about, ever. That’s kinda the point of the episode: it doesn’t say that violent revolution is always and forever wrong, but that it should always be the final option. The Zygons had a treaty and diplomatic relations with the humans, so the choice was between the slower path and the fast but messier one. The episodes decide that the first one is better.

        Reply

        • Jack Graham
          November 12, 2015 @ 9:43 am

          …having chosen to write the scenario in such a way as to paint revolutionary resistance to oppression as unreasonable and akin to ISIS, Exalt.

          Reply

          • EXALT
            November 12, 2015 @ 10:18 am

            Not “revolutionary resistance” in general, THIS specific revolution.

            Also, in the analysis you completely ignore the fact that, in the end, not only Bonnie doesn’t suffer any consequences for her actions, but, on the contrary, she becomes the new leader of the Zygons. This is not your standard fate for generic-DW-baddie: the idea is that now she can continue her revolution, but in a slower way that does not involve killing most/all humans and who-knows-how-many- Zygons in the crossfire (assuming her not-exactly-sure victory).

            And the episode does not present the final result as a great victory, but as the lesser of two evils, a compromise brought upon by the fact that the alternative is worse (and, to be clear, worse in these specific circumstances).

            The message is not “figthing is always wrong, always”, but “war is not a nice thing to be in, so please, PLEASE, think well about it before starting one”. I don’t think that is an unreasonable demand.

          • Jack Graham
            November 12, 2015 @ 10:53 am

            Yes, that’s how they choose to depict these matters. I have issues with that choice. See above.

          • Mei Yin-Mun
            November 12, 2015 @ 10:20 am

            Because the majority of revolutions are certainly reasonable and not doomed to become as twisted as their oppressors. I’ve seen these revolutionaries first-hand, and they spew their “for the people” rhetoric only as a way to sound morally superior when they’re only just the old guard but with different paint. Western imperialism may be vile, but it’s only one of many rather than the chief direct conductor of atrocities in the Middle East. You may see Marxism as a perfect alternative to capitalist decadence, but my experiences have only taught me the difference between a militant Marxist and a militant Capitalist is about the same as red ants and black ants.

  5. SeeingI
    November 12, 2015 @ 10:20 am

    Thank you for this. I half-thought a lot of this while watching, but I didn’t quite have the framework to express what I thought was wrong with it.

    Reply

  6. chiles
    November 12, 2015 @ 10:53 am

    ‘No such historical context makes it into this text’ – wouldn’t ‘Day of the Doctor’ – the Doctor, UNIT, & that story’s Zygons’ decision to allow Zygons to hatch, breed, & assimilate into human civilization while keeping it all secret – be that ‘historical context’?

    Reply

    • Jack Graham
      November 12, 2015 @ 10:54 am

      It’s the in-universe context, sure. The continuity context. I was thinking more of something referring to real historical context.

      Reply

  7. Dadalama
    November 12, 2015 @ 11:18 am

    “Nobody stops to wonder if maybe, just maybe, people should’ve been told.” that actually bothered me more than anything.

    Reply

  8. Gavin Burrows
    November 12, 2015 @ 1:01 pm

    This gets it pretty much spot on, to my mind. What at one time would have just exposed the limits of can’t-we-all-just-get-along liberalism now seems almost radical, now the floor has been so comprehensively lowered all around it. It’s a sobering thought.
     
    One kind-of caveat, though. I suspect everybody guessed the button boxes were going to be empty. But what is unexpected is that its Bonnie who susses that. As that scene went on I was pretty much convinced it would end with her pressing the button, frantically and repeatedly, before realising the futility of her action and with it the folly of her motives. And she susses while Kate doesn’t, in fact Kate has failed to for the nth time. Which does suggest its her status as an outsider that gives her perspective Kate lacks. Kate has a role in this society and aims to fulfil it, hence she makes the same action over and over. Bonnie takes a step back and sees, to some degree at least, things for what they are.

    But overall… like you say…

    Reply

  9. David Ainsworth
    November 12, 2015 @ 2:10 pm

    Great analysis: it’s especially telling that Kate, as the human/UNIT representative, gets her memory wiped at the end of the episode. It’s not simply that humanity doesn’t get to find out the Zygons are here and try to learn to live with them, it’s that Kate isn’t allowed to learn from her role in the whole affair. Still, I think the episode opens up a lot of room for discussion of the issue in ways that, say, the “would you time-travel to murder Hitler” doesn’t. And I think it’s fair to say that this ending represents an advancement from the ending of And the Silurians.

    One place where I’d push back strongly against your analysis, though: the Doctor’s long speech. Who the hell is he to forgive them? I feel like you missed the part where he explains that he’s a far bigger war criminal than Bonnie could ever hope to be, and that he not only holds onto the memory of that shame but that he uses it to try to prevent others from doing what he did. If one insists on extending the analogy, this would be like an American leader expressing deep shame over what was done to the various Native American tribes and vowing to prevent others from doing the same things; granted, the Doctor isn’t redressing the wrongs he’s done. Part of the power of this speech comes from the sense in which the Doctor knows what’s really unforgiveable, and that isn’t Bonnie’s revolution (that, I’ll point out, kills plenty of people).

    And I’m not convinced that some of the Doctor’s needling (especially the “childish” accusation) was meant to be taken as what he genuinely believed. He was trying to provoke her into thinking, into rethinking, and he picked an accusation he figured would hit home because SHE didn’t want to be seen as childish. After all, as any adult knows, there’s no point in being grown-up if you can’t be childish sometimes.

    Two last thoughts: I think reviewers so far have been missing the importance of “thinking like” someone else to the story. Sure, Osgood’s conveniently taken on human form, but if the human Osgood is trying to “think like” a Zygon, does that matter more than her physical appearance? Can an Israeli “think like” a Palestinian?

    Also, as a though experiment, consider these two episodes again but from the standpoint of Zygons as closeted homosexuals. How would that reinflect our understanding of what went down and our satisfaction with the conclusion, which demands that Zygons remain so closeted that humanity can’t even start to accept their presence because they remain ignorant of it?

    Reply

    • Jack Graham
      November 12, 2015 @ 5:01 pm

      I understand that the next episode of the (excellent) Web of Queer Podcast is going to touch upon a queer reading of this story – which should be interesting.

      Reply

    • Cornelius Dybdahl
      March 3, 2019 @ 10:07 pm

      More than three years late to this comment section, but I’m a gay guy who grew up extremely repressed for my own personal safety and I was mortified at this scene. I could not help but sympathise with the Zygons as being somewhat analogous to closeted gay people and the doctor’s speech as suggesting that the stonewall riots were a morally abhorrent act of terrorism. His remark of “so what” in response to Bonnie’s complaints about the repression left a really sour taste and I actually stopped watching the series after watching this clip. However, even my distaste for this scene was completely dwarfed by my horror at reading the comment section and finding that almost everybody was praising the speech as being insightful and just as opposed to what it really was: A slap in the face to every repressed minority in history.

      Reply

  10. Haygee
    November 12, 2015 @ 2:54 pm

    In the end Bonnie was the one who had the agency and the power. She was given the choice. What I took away from the “15 times” line is Kate and UNIT had to be manipulated, banged over the head again and again until they made the right decision. The Zygons were actually treated with some respect.

    Reply

  11. Ross
    November 12, 2015 @ 5:18 pm

    The truth is that I found watching ‘The Zygon Inv’ a wearisome, dispiriting, deeply unhappy experience… not so much because of anything wrong with the story itself, but rather because, as it unfolded, it seemed to have been designed to demonstrate to me that, blips aside, I don’t really like Doctor Who, not even old Doctor Who. It’s not a happy experience to realise that you don’t really like something that has consumed a great deal of your interest and passion throughout your life. It’s bad enough knowing what I always knew: that I was emotionally and intellectually over-invested in a commodity. Messers Harness and Moffat have, with ‘The Zygon Inv’ ably demonstrated to me that I have also allowed myself to focus too much on the blips.

    Oh my. You seem to have found the words I’ve spent two years looking for. Thank you.

    I started out really liking this episode, but over the course of today, partly but not entirely independent of this article, it occurred to me that Bonnie’s central argument is #ZygonLivesMatter, and the Doctor’s central argument “Nope. All lives matter.” (A position I zeroed in on in the third blog post I’ve done on this episode in the past two days: http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com/2015/11/12/the-zygon-apotheosis/ )

    Reply

  12. Citizen_Alan
    November 12, 2015 @ 5:57 pm

    I find it interesting that you have such disdain for the Tivolians when you apparently think the human race should passively accept the arrival of 20 million technologically advanced shapeshifters whose race has attempted outright conquest twice in the last 40 years (the first time in an overtly genocidal form) before finally “settling” for assimilation.

    Also, if not the Doctor, then who /does/ have the moral authority of “forgive” the Zygons? The friends and family members of everyone slaughtered in Truth or Consequences (pop. 6411 per wiki)? The mother of that soldier brutally murdered by the Zygon made up to look like his mother? None of those people have any say in the matter — they’re just little people.

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  13. Jane Campbell
    November 12, 2015 @ 11:52 pm

    A stunning essay, Jack. Thank you for this.

    Reply

  14. plutoniumboss
    November 13, 2015 @ 7:32 am

    I think we’re approaching the limits of what Doctor Who can reasonably be expected do. Nothing is inflexible, not even an ageless alien who can travel any time and anywhere. This is evident from the fact that Moffat is three Doctors in, and he’s still basically writing for Tennant and his hoochie companions.

    The longer the series goes on, the more it becomes hamstrung by convention and capitalist oversight. Toss in some towering actor/producer egos and you have safe, vanilla, middlebrow entertainment which goes for broke on fanservice and cheesy meta marketing.

    Reply

  15. Richard Evans
    November 13, 2015 @ 7:39 am

    What makes watching Doctor Who frustrating is that it continually hints at subversions it hasn’t quite got the faith to follow through on.

    There are constant feints at a more joined up critique of the kinds of power relations typically enacted in popular adventure stories. There is the vaguest whiff of liberation, the sense of a story that can revisit and comment on and disrupt entirely any other story.

    The hint is in the vision of His Nibs as a one man revolutionary wave, a spectre haunting the galaxy,
    arriving at sites of oppression and critiquing them to death. And from the ruins of the old, new growth.

    Ultimately, the message is muddled, the consequences of the critique are fudged and out come the big empty words – peace, forgiveness -and the great liberal back-pedal begins. The hinted subversion turns to business as usual but with an aura of hard-won wisdom to be displayed proudly as proof of compassion.

    Bit of a pisser…

    Reply

  16. Doctortrue
    November 13, 2015 @ 9:40 am

    Imagine if Truth and Consequences had been in Mississippi or Alabama. Nina Simone Mississippi Goddam: https://youtu.be/fVQjGGJVSXc

    Reply

  17. EvilBug
    November 13, 2015 @ 9:59 am

    I think all the problem with this episode could summarized with a bizzare contradiction in vilification of rebels. Not because they killed humans and zygons, no sir. This is oddly forgiven.

    But for trying to tell the world truth. This is her crime.
    “Humans will murder all the Zygons they find! Also, what oppression you are talking about?”

    Reply

  18. UrsulaL
    November 15, 2015 @ 7:46 pm

    I am reminded of something Fred Clark at Slacktivist writes about, the obligation to “afflict the comfortable, and comfort the afflicted.”

    This episode seems to work when it follows that rule, and stumble when it gets it backwards.

    Afflict the comfortable white, western audience for showing insufficient hospitality and welcome to frightened, desperate refugees? It does that beautifully.

    Show the fear and confusion of a Zygon child attacked because it was too young to perfectly hide? Could have been better.

    But shaming a member of a minority forced into hiding and chaffing under the restrictions? Not so good. Framing the story so that the minority must hide for the sake of the comfort of the majority, indefinitely, and completely impractically? Fail.


    And if you haven’t read Slacktivist, particularly his decade-plus deconstruction of the “Left Behind” series, I highly recommend it for folks who like the stuff here. They may be the World’s Worst Books, but Fred’s take on them is a labor of ethics, story analysis, theology, morality, humor, and kindness.

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist/2015/11/05/left-behind-index-the-whole-thing/

    Reply

  19. ReggieHulme
    November 16, 2015 @ 4:17 am

    The reality is that it’s a smear on people who are genuine in their concern for immigration. I know it’s the Biased Broadcast Cast (BBC) and all but we let our children watch these things! If I wanted them in any way subject to politics I’d put them in law school, or at least put the daily politics on once in a while. But I do not, and I chose to sit and watch doctor who with my family. As I have done since I was my sons age. Yet I find rhetoric on a children’s TV program that was trying to indoctrinate children into new Liberalism, so no! I do not find it in any way tolerable. It is outrageous. Given that the show has declined ever since Moffat became “top dog” I’d say making political indoctrinations is certainly not the way Doctor Who should go. My son knows very well that immigrants are not coming to Britain purely for benefits. I’ve helped him understand immigrants come here because they can. Because we cannot them any more, because of mass immigration our nation is no longer a nation. I am not a bigot or a “pudding brain” that’s simply fact. I do not condone Doctor Who taking a political stance in any direction. The doctor should steer clear from that!

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  20. encyclops
    November 16, 2015 @ 12:22 pm

    This is a splendid essay, Jack. It’s a lot like “The Zygon Inv” in that even though (because, really) I didn’t agree with every word I enjoyed it thoroughly.

    Your penultimate paragraph really hit home for me too. I was a huge fan of the show as a kid, started losing interest during the McCoy years (for a variety of reasons), eventually set it aside almost completely during the Wilderness Years and especially after the TV Movie, and so when it came back it took me three years even to begin to trust that it might be worth rekindling the flame for. I’ve since spent perhaps (definitely) too much time and money on it, and occasionally stop to realize with a shock that I’m watching other shows with great enthusiasm and fascination, while watching this one with gritted teeth just hoping, hoping for a miracle.

    And yet it maintains its grip on me. I think there’s something about those blips for you and the ones for me that probably partially but not completely intersect with yours that remind us of the potential of the premise, the truly amazing moments lurking between the ones we see that surely MUST be there. The part of the show the BBC shows us is never going to go as far as we want it to (and anyway you and I have somewhat different directions in mind), and yet it implies time after time that it could. The tension between what we see and what we want to see is just taut enough to keep us there, isn’t it? It’s almost better this way. It’s almost the only way it would keep our attention in the long run.

    “The Zygon Inv” is, if nothing else, worth talking about. I don’t think we should regret it. You definitely shouldn’t.

    Reply

  21. Matthew Marcus
    November 29, 2015 @ 7:25 am

    This is just a brilliant piece, really thought-provoking and I’m sad I didn’t come across it until just now. It’s a source of great sadness to me that Doctor Who really probably isn’t as good as Doctor Who fans willing to invest this much brainy analysis into it deserve. And I really don’t think Moffat is the showrunner under whom it’s going to get much closer to being that good… but one day, one day, maybe.

    Reply

  22. TommyR01D
    September 17, 2016 @ 11:40 pm

    If this is how Jack responds to an overwhelmingly liberal story, just think how he’d respond to a conservative one!

    Reply

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