Doctor Who and the Zygon Cease Fire

Welcome to Earth. Time period: Now. Population: Approximately 7 billion H umans and 20 million Zygons, plus sundry and assorted other aliens. Universe: Doctor Who.

Hey Everyone! It’s finally time [no pun intended]. PLIS is finally going to post in the elusive “TV” tab. And of course, as tradition would have it, it’s going to be nerdy, political and written by me. So let’s get nerdy.

In the finest traditions of Cold War paranoia, the Zygons (first introduced in 1975) were a race of shapeshifting aliens who can steal the identity and memory of their victim, provided they remain alive. In a time where the fear of the Other became obscured by the fact that the Other could be anyone, the Alien Infiltration trope gave birth to classic sci-fi such as the Invasion of the Body Snatchers or Robert Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters. The Zygons remerged in 2013 as part of the 50th Anniversary Special Episode “Day of the Doctor” and only the intervention of the Tenth, Eleventh and War Doctors prevented catastrophe. As part of the treaty brokered, the President of the World aka The Doctor  agreed to accept 20 million Zygon refugees provided they disguise themselves as humans and live incognito amongst humanity. Refugees who were created as a result of the Time War—a great cataclysmic war fought between the Doctor’s species (The Timelords) and the ‘perfect warrior race’ the Daleks that spanned time and space itself, trashing across the universe. This is where it gets good.

While the “Day of the Doctor” brokered a deal in which Earth accepted war refugees from a war only the Doctor himself can claim direct connection with, it didn’t explore the ideas any further. The ninth season (counting from the reboot) returns to the Zygon plight in the two-part arc “Zygon Invasion”/”Zygon Inversion”. The episodes aired on October 31st and November 7th of 2015 respectively… just a week before the November 13th terror attacks in Paris. The truce brokered in “Day of the Doctor” is breaking down. While the majority of Zygons wish to live in peace, a radical splinter group, primarily made up of younger Zygons, has become fed up with the conditions of assimilation they live under. This splinter group begins pushing for a change to the treaty, to allow them to live as they want (un-shapeshifted) and “Truth or Consequences” becomes their rallying cry. You later find out that Truth or Consequences is also a town in New Mexico where a young Zygon had accidentally reverted back to its natural form, only to be killed by twitchy Americans and starting a whole war. The splinter group plans to unveil their own existence to the world, backing the majority of the peaceful Zygon population into a corner where they’ll be forced to either join their movement or die, either at the hands of the splinter group or the humans. Shenanigans happen, Peter Capald as the Twelfth Doctor finally gets to have his moment, in which the true nature of this incarnation of the Doctor shines through and the fans can start to understand him. (Seriously, I’m going to link to the speech, it’s that amazing) And in the end, tensions are dismantled and the splinter group returns to the fold but lives remain lost.

Does this sound familiar yet? In a brilliant bit of prescience and political astuteness, Peter Harness managed to encapsulate our current immigration and refugee crises while also exploring the nature of radicalization. The two-part comes complete with commentary about the effect drone strikes can have on their operators and civilians, a fake country called Turmeszistan and sleeper cells having infiltrated UNIT (the global earth defense force). It explores American paranoia of immigrants. The splinter cell uses a bold, easily tagged logo (Top picture) to mark its own operations. Even more impressively, Harness uses the now familiar imagery of Al-Qaida and Daesh propaganda videos with prisoners reading prepared statements and being executed and those videos being posted to the internet to reach their intended audience. The entire arc, and its conclusion especially (see video) are a scathing condemnation of our current societal panic and fear of the hidden enemy while also being a companionate warning about the horror and futility of war itself.

There is something else from this arc that I fell in love with and that’s how it depicts the Osgoods. A UNIT scientist Osgood finds herself duplicated in the aftermath of the “Day of the Doctor” and the two of them, coexisting as Zygon and Human consider themselves neither Zygon nor Human and come to embody the spirit of the treaty. One of them is later killed by the Mistress (the Doctor’s arch-nemesis and foil). Throughout the arc, various characters, including the Doctor, try to figure out which Osgood survived. Osgood however rebuffs the questions by simply replying “I’m Osgood”. Osgood gently but consistently demands the right to define her identity herself, pushing off the rest of the world’s attempts to define her as either Human or Zygon. This self-determined identity even rebuffs the Doctor’s attempt to logic his way to an answer, when Osgood reveals that the rules have changed and the host ‘body print’ doesn’t need to be alive if the Zygon has spent years sharing the identity.  We leave the story with the Doctor finally accepting Osgood’s chosen self-identity and I think it’s a beautiful subplot. Now as a cis heterosexual male, I’m not about to make any sweeping claims about how closely Osgood’s struggle to define her own identity mirrors the struggles of the LGBTQ community but from my own point of view, I found it a great analogy for the side of the struggle I’ve seen. I’d love to hear other people’s thoughts on this, so drop a comment below!

I ended up watching this arc on November 14th and in the newly sparked American panic about refugees, terrorists and Muslims it stuck with me. Because of the context it was left to stew in, I think this might actually be my favorite two-part in Doctor Who. It was poignant and timely that I think very few other moments can match it.