Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Political Allegory of The Doctor

STORY 261.1

Doctor Who & The Silurians is a brilliant story because it works on two levels.  It can be seen as straight science-fiction about an alien invasion from a race that lives below us, or as an allegory about the Cold War, particularly the fear and paranoia on both sides.  The same brilliance can be applied to another Third Doctor story: Inferno.  One could see it as a brilliant story about parallel universes or as an environmental message story about the dangers of overuse of the Earth's resources.  At its best, science-fiction can deliver messages about the world while telling stories about other worlds, and Doctor Who has a long history of such brilliant allegories.

The Zygon Invasion, the first of a two-part Doctor Who story, is not among them. 

It has the return of a dead character (I'M SHOCKED!), one whom is beloved by people more stupid than the character herself (explaining why they identify with her) and a trashing of another character from the Classic Era (the actor being most conveniently dead and unable to object as to what was done to him).  The Zygon Invasion thinks itself highly intellectual and sophisticated in tackling a 'ripped-from-the-headlines' story, but it's a dangerous thing to try to be clever when being so patently overt with what you're handling, particularly when it involves something like ISIS.  Coming prior to the Paris attacks, what writer Peter Harness I imagine he thought he was doing was showing us how Western civilization shouldn't throw out the baby with the bathwater regarding Muslim-British relations.  Sadly, in retrospect he, and the whole Doctor Who team, now may come across as being naïve at best, useful idiots at worse.

Osgood is BACK!  Despite being killed by Missy in The Wrath of Missy Part 2 (Death in Heaven) (which I should point out was the only moment that caused me to cheer while watching said episode), we learn that there are TWO Osgoods (both played by Ingrid Oliver). Harking back to The Day of The Doctor, we learn that the Zygons have 'integrated' to Earth through Operation Double (I guess it makes the Israeli-Ethiopian Operation Solomon pale in comparison), where 20 million Zygons settled in Britain.  When Missy killed an Osgood, the other Osgood mourned at her grave, marked simply as "My Sister".

Let me stop at this juncture to openly wonder if Doctor Who is now targeted at people with extremely limited intelligences to go along with a black gravestone marked as "My Sister", just "My Sister".

Well, in any case we learn from the Osgoods that "The Zygons are a peaceful race.  Their shape-shifting abilities should not be considered a weapon,  It's a survival mechanism".  At this point, when we're barely less than ten minutes into this episode, my reaction was flat-out laughter.  Yet I digress.

We also learn of The Osgood Box, which is the treaty between humans and Zygons which might be coming apart with one of the Osgoods no more.  The Nightmare Scenario has broken out, with a minority of a minority, a tiny little group attempting to establish The Zygonic State.  They've kidnapped the surviving Osgood and now we need Clara (Jenna Coleman) to save the day.

Oh, and yes, the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) can help out the star of the show too, once he gets off his electric guitar and calling himself "Doctor Disco", among other inanities.  After all, if you're a thousand-plus-year-old Time Lord who has battled with the Zygons before, you're going to need guidance from an elementary school teacher in her twenties.

As UNIT is involved, we need to get help from Kate "I'm Not My Father's Daughter But My Father WAS The Brigadier and Don't Forget That" Stewart (Jemma Redgrave).  She is for tracking down and exterminating every radical Islamic extremist...I mean, every renegade Zygon, but the Doctor insists we should negotiate with the Zygons, who are all peaceful save for this tiny, TINY splinter group.

The Zygonic State has as its motto "Truth or Consequences", which baffles everyone except our super-smart Companion, who instantly recognizes that this is the town in New Mexico, USA.  Kate goes  to the Land of Enchantment to investigate, while Clara stays in London to look after things, with her minion the Doctor going to Turmezistan where Osgood is being held prisoner by the Zygonic State.

In T or C (as those from the region call it), Kate discovers a virtually abandoned town, one where signs reading "No British, No Dogs" are all around.  Her encounter with the local sheriff (Gretchen Egolf), and things are not as they seem.  In Turmezistan, UNIT proves painfully inept at taking out the Zygonic State, taken in by duplicates of their families which they should know are really Zygons in disguise.  The Doctor does manage to get Osgood, who will not answer if she is the human or the Zygon version (but does ask why the Doctor doesn't do her cosplay anymore, in a manner of speaking).

We then get a shocking twist: all this time Clara has been really a Zygon!  The real Clara is held in statis, while "Bonnie", her duplicate, slaughters the UNIT troops sent by "Clara".  As the Doctor and Osgood are flying back to the U.K., he gets a final message from Bonnie, who fires a rocket at the President of the World's Plane (Super-Air Force One?): Truth or Consequences.

Again, given how so heavy-handed the Zygon/Muslim parallels were, one wonders why they didn't they just go whole-hog with the analogy (sorry, pork is not halal).  It isn't that one couldn't make a strong allegorical story about the failures of integration.  It is just that The Zygon Invasion goes about it in a thick-headed and obvious way that it runs the risk of being almost an apologia for ISIS rather than the intelligent story it fancies itself to be. 

The actions of the Zygonic State, we are told, are done by the young Zygons who want to return to some pure version of Zygonism and no longer walk around as humans.  If this is what the Doctor Who production staff really thinks is an accurate or even plausible reflection of the Islamic State, they are frankly delusional.  You look at the self-proclaimed Caliph of the Universe, who is 44 years old (hardly a 'young man').  This also isn't counting such Millennials as Ayman Al-Zawahiri (64) or Osama bin Laden (44 at the time of the September 11th attacks).  IF The Zygon Invasion had made it that the younger Zygons were being manipulated by the older members, THEN we could have had something.

It just struck me, as a casual viewer, to take the easy way out in a very complex situation.  This quote from the opening is so overt it would be almost laughable.  "The Zygons (Muslims) are a peaceful race.  Their shape-shifting abilities (their religion) should not be considered a weapon.  It's a survival mechanism".  In regards to Muslims, I agree: they are a generally peaceful people, particularly in Britain which has a larger percentage of the population than in the U.S., and their religion is not a sign they will behead us.

HOWEVER, when it comes to the Zygons themselves, that is flat-out nonsense.  They are NOT a peaceful race.  They certainly weren't in The Day of The Doctor, or Terror of the Zygons (a rather curious title in retrospect).  This whole 'shape-shifting abilities is not a weapon' is similarly nonsensical.  Here, again, we have a Doctor Who story that flat-out doesn't care about continuity.

If memory serves correct, the Zygons, in order to blend into human society, would need a 'host' to copy (they do this for example, with Clara/Bonnie, and as a side note, Bonnie isn't exactly a threatening name, is it?).  If there are 20 million of them, all located in one area of Britain (before a group headed out to New Mexico), where are the host beings for them to copy?  We learn from Osgood that such things are no longer necessary.  If that's the case, why did they need to take Clara (in a manner I think was cheating the audience)?  Why not go for Kate Stewart (even if the Black Archives do manage to erase the memories of all who enter).

Ah, why bother thinking about things.  It IS Doctor Who, after all.

Let me concentrate on things that I did think were good.  Jenna Coleman, whom I have never warmed up to in her tenure as a Companion (particularly as this 'unimpeachably brilliant' Companion that my bete noire Kyle Anderson holds her as, though I've always suspected his admiration for her is more based on what moves his head more than his mind) was excellent in the dual role.  I was surprised that she could manage such range as the typical Clara (know-it-all) but shift so coldly to Bonnie, ISIS...I mean, ZySis commander.  It's as if Coleman were unleashed, tapping into a fury, a coldness, an evil that now has an outlet. 

In terms of performances, The Zygon Invasion is Jenna Coleman's best on Doctor Who.

It's a pity that just about everything else about The Zygon Invasion is cringe-worthy.  Let's go over the things I hated about The Zygon Invasion.

I hated what New Doctor Who did to the character of Harry Sullivan, played by the late Ian Marter.  I imagine most if not all NuWho fans have no idea who Harry Sullivan was (and can't be bothered to watch any Fourth Doctor story with him to care).  I did see a few, and from all indications Harry was a nice chap, the embodiment of a proper English gentleman and serving Naval officer of Her Majesty's Navy.  He was well-liked, very honest, kind, if a bit bumbling.

Now, he's turned into #ChemicalHarry, mad scientist.  Doctor Who's second 'tribute' to a Companion from the Classic Era turned one who was an amiable chap into the Joseph Mengele of his generation, the creator of the Z-67 nerve gas that could unmask all the Zygons...and kill them in the process.  How a medical officer managed to turn into some chemical weapons expert is left unsaid, but no matter, NuWhovians will now see him, not as the decent, honorable guy he was on the show, but as the creator of this chemical weapon to kill the poor Zygons. 

Why Doctor Who opted to drag poor Harry Sullivan through the gutter is a mystery, and we won't go into how this idea of Doctor Sullivan contradicts The Sarah Jane Adventures claim that he saved millions with his vaccines.  However, it does help that Ian Marter is dead and has been for nearly thirty years, so who is going to object?

At this point, one wonders why they don't make Barbara Wright into a hooker.

I hated how New Mexico was imagined.  Granted, being from Texas I harbor no great love for our neighbor to the west, but it would be nice to see something beyond the stereotypical 'Wild West' that the British apparently think anything west of Austin is.  I've been to T or C (well, driven past it really), and it is, at least if memory serves correct, nowhere near the comically Old West idea this episode makes it out to be.  Also, the uniform of the Sheriff/Police (it isn't the same thing) is all wrong.  It looks like she's wearing the Mexican flag rather than the New Mexican flag.  Yes, I know I'm probably the only one focusing on that, but still...

I simply hated what The Zygon Invasion has done to the Doctor.  When once he was the highly intelligent and moral figure, he now is an electric guitar-playing nitwit who has to have Clara hold his hand because he can't figure things out himself and refers to himself by such nonsensical names as "Doctor Disco" and "Doctor Funkenstein". 

What would Hartnell, Troughton, or Pertwee think? 

I hate the focus on Osgood.  I simply detest this character, whom I've always seen more as a parody of a Doctor Who fan than an homage to them (because I think I pretty much am done with this show).   All her wardrobe is done to just focus on her fixation with the Doctor, and here's a newsflash to those who love her to death(s): the question marks were stupid then, and they're still stupid now.

And seriously: they're on his underwear?  Isn't Capaldi appalled he has to deliver such dribble?

Who here was shocked, SHOCKED that the Sheriff would be a Zygon? 
Who here was shocked, SHOCKED that the Zygons would eliminate UNIT troops in Turmezistan (which didn't look Middle or Islamic at all, but a nice Eastern European village)?
Who here was shocked, SHOCKED that Clara would be SO IMPORTANT and that both the Doctor and UNIT would turn to HER as their savior?

I remember writing "Rubbish, Rubbish, Rubbish" while watching The Zygon Invasion.  Its efforts to come across as topical ended up as heavy-handed and as subtle as a sledgehammer, the bastardization of a beloved Doctor Who character is obscene to its core, and the diminishing of The Doctor both in terms of character and focus is insane.  Granted, how we got Osbad back has at least a certain logic (even if people had speculated about the Zygon Osgood since we saw her in The Day of The Doctor, so it is a bit of a cheat) and Coleman gave a real performance (which she hadn't done since...since...), but those two things aren't going to lift it in my mind.

I really hated The Zygon Invasion.  I hated it so much I have delayed watching The Zygon Inversion, having no desire to see what happens next.  Thanks, Steven Moffat.  You've made me root for having the Doctor blown out of the sky.



Next Episode: The Zygonic State Parts 1 & 2 (The Zygon Invasion/The Zygon Inversion)


  1. I think you might need to edit to west of Austin instead of east. *Everyone* knows that east of Austin it's all swamps, alligators, and rednecks. 😜

  2. The ratings reflect how poor the series is now. When Tenant was the Doctor I don't think they counted iPlayer etc in the viewing figures. They do now, but still the figures don't match up to what they used to be. I don't hate Moffatt, but surely he has to be sacked. The only real way to fix Doctor Who is disregard his era. Continuity is so messed up it would take a story as insane and ridiculous as the Moffatt era to retcon it so better just to say it's not official Doctor Who and cast a new 11th Doctor.

  3. So...
    From Moffatt Who so far we have:
    The Doctor as a juvenile nincompoop . Granted, Tenant introduced this, but Moffatt has ramped it up.
    Clara retconned in to every episode of true Doctor Who as the one who saved the day.
    The Master trannified (I haven't watched any new episodes since).
    Characters who are dead continually not really being dead... Expect Clara to follow this trend.
    The Brigadier as a Cyberman.
    Harry Sullivan turned from friendly posh chap to mad professor.
    I could cope with Doctor Who being poor and boring as it was under Davies quite often as you know one day someone else will take over writing it, but when you have Moffatt rewriting continuity and changing the written and unwritten rules of the series it is beyond a joke.
    Ideally I would scrap the Davies and Moffatt eras and go back to McGann, but the Moffatt era is just not Who whereas at least Davies had respect for the eras that went before him even though his average efforts were quite poor. He did know how to write a Christmas special though I will give him that. I can tolerate Davies Who, but Moffatt Who has switched me off. Me, a fan who loved the original 8 Doctors and watched all the Eccleston and Tenant era with mostly disappointment, but the odd brilliant story. I always said the day the Doctor became a woman would be the day I stopped watching, but in the end it was the day the Master became a woman that killed the series for me. The Doctor will be a woman soon too I suspect.

  4. 1). Thanks for pointing that out. I've made correction from "east" to "west". That Austin weirdness got to me.

    2.) No program has as much chaotic continuity as the revived Doctor Who (and more bizarrely, gets praise for it). I'm working on a piece now about this, but I won't publish it until the season ends to see if my views hold up.

    3.) You pretty much have the same views I do. I think after this series, I just won't bother watching anymore. However, I suspect the push to make the Doctor a woman (something championed by a minority smaller than the Zygonic State), will be met w/cheers from them and from other critics, but will leave most other fans cold. It isn't because DW fans are sexist, it's just that we see it as change for change's sake, not for any real story potential.

  5. The funniest thing about this episode was all the fanboys' insistence that NOBODY could have predicted that Clara and the Sheriff were both actually Zygons! I got into arguments with fanboys who said 'Oh, you're just saying that! How could you have known?"

    We've passed the point of people just being passionate about something. Now people are willing to act like they themselves are complete morons in order to defend what Moffat is doing. "Well, I thought that Dr Disco was very funny!", "Oh, I think Osgood is a wonderful character!", "Really?! I never realised that the boy's parents were Zygons!"

    When you have to act like a moron in order to try and justify that something is good, then that means that it's not good. This leads to the other thing that upsets me....some 'fans' act like criticising Moffat is criticising Doctor Who itself. It isn't. Doctor Who existed for 47 years before Moffat got his hands on it. I can say "I love Doctor Who" and "I hate what Steven Moffat has done to my favourite show" without fear of contradiction.

    The Zygon Invasion dealt in ultra-simplistic ideas. It tried to be about 'real life' events(or at least an analogy of them), but then completely missed the point.

  6. I think the idea of a Time Lord sex change is horrendous and if that makes me sexist I don't care. A male Rani would be an equally idiotic idea. There was absolutely no need to make the Master a tranny. Are we to assume the Master was a homosexual lusting after a good bumming from the Doctor when he was a male if we follow Moffat's he's my boyfriend idea? It's a scandalous insult to all the previous Masters to be tarnished with this excrement. Why wasn't Missy the Rani rather than the Master or even a whole new villain?

  7. 1.) I don't know why criticizing or pointing out things wrong w/Doctor Who now is seen as attacks. DW has gone from a good show to a cult. In regards to trying to be allegorical, they should look at stories like The Silurians or Inferno which work on two levels w/out diminishing the other.

    2.) I have yet to hear a good reason to change genders of The Doctor apart from 'equality', a poor reason to make such a change. "Missy" (something so obvious it should have been laughed off the screen) is no different from the Simm version of the Master. I can't believe the Gomez version is directly related to Delgado's brilliant turn as the Master. Curious how the Doctor's personality can change, but the Master remains pretty much bonkers.

  8. The Simm Master was not a proper Master either, but at least he was male. He was deranged rather than the motivated evil character who would take out those he needed to in True Who

  9. Well a quick Google show I was correct. Clara is not dead. Predictable Moffat. Just glad I didn't watch this series


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