Doctor Who: The Zygon Invasion

Doctor Who: The Zygon Invasion October 31, 2015

Doctor Who has rarely addressed current events as directly as in “The Zygon Invasion,” at least not since back in the days when the Doctor wore question marks on his lapel or his sweater rather than on his underpants. Spoilers about the episode ahead, if you haven’t watched it yet.

The episode begins with snippets from “Day of the Doctor,” and the truce that the three Doctors managed to impose between humans and Zygons. In this episode, we learn that the truce has broken down. But how it broke down, and what has happened since, is what makes the episode relevant not just to xenophobia in modern Britain, but the same problem anywhere in the world.

It seems that a Zygon child living in the town of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico briefly failed to preserve its human form. The human inhabitants of the town were horrified by this monster, and lashed out. The Zygons have responded with a movement demanding the right to be who they are openly and honestly. This is a wonderful picture of any number of contemporary issues, from closeted identities of gays and lesbians to the issue of being able to wear a head covering – or have a particular shade of skin – and still be treated like everyone else.

The episode is not subtle either in making clear that that is the show’s target, or in addressing the issues. We see two Zygons from the radical splinter group making Osgood, their hostage, read a script. The Doctor warns against bombing the rebels as that will just radicalize the rest of the community, which is precisely what they are hoping to achieve. The Doctor makes reference to Zygons not settling in the UK because people there will think they are just after the benefits. And, in parallel, there is reference to the Brits (actually Zygons) arriving in New Mexico, without jobs and money, and not being wanted by the locals there. Amidst all this, the Doctor gives the British forces of UNIT a charge: “This is your country. Protect it from scary monsters…and from the Zygons.”

The Zygons are easy to dislike – they look quite disgusting to humans in their natural form. This episode forces us to imagine that the feeling might be mutual, and to reflect on human privilege – we can all live together happily in peace, as long as you pretend to be just like us – and how it relates to other forms of privilege we encounter in real life.

There is religious symbolism, ranging from the holing up of Zygon rebels in a church, to the Doctor playing Amazing Grace on the electric guitar.

The episode ends with a cliffhanger, although in a sense, the entire thing is cliffhanger after cliffhanger. IO9 has a nice piece asking what a happy ending might look like for the story that has been set up in this episode, which will be continued next week. The sense that there might not be one is perfect, since it is precisely those situations in real life which seem to have no happy ending for all constituents which breed terrorism.

I liked that they found a way to bring Osgood back, as well as revisit the situation with the Zygons. And I liked the emphasis that both races that are the main protagonists in the episode are capable of horrors. That fact is emphasized through the references to a deadly nerve gas that turns Zygon DNA inside out, and which the Doctor confiscated and which UNIT wants him to return and let them use. And I liked that there is a painting of the First Doctor in UNIT HQ – even though it wasn’t until the Second Doctor that he came in contact with UNIT. (I also like the fact that someone has already added this detail to the Wikipedia page about the First Doctor.) And I like the fact that in its very title, the show highlights the importance of framing. The Zygons are already on Earth, but when they demand rights or threaten the status quo, suddenly they are no longer refugees or immigrants but “invaders.”

What did you think of “The Zygon Invasion”?

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