Sunday, June 23, 2024

Zygons: Truths and Their Consequences

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My Initial Reaction

At the beginning of The Zygon Invasion I caught myself thinking, “Not again—Not another massive war for the Doctor to win.” Having watched Doctor Who since Christopher Eccleston’s days as the ninth Doctor, I have grown used to the large battles which seem to cast shadows over their respective seasons. In the past, it seemed that every episode foreshadowed some great battle in the season finale. Many have criticized this season’s pattern of pairing episodes; however, I have thought of these pairings as a breath of fresh air. Until The Zygon Invasion.

Everyone seems to rave about Peter Capaldi’s shining moment when the Doctor gives a speech summarizing all wars by comparing them to a 50/50 game of chance (in The Zygon Inversion). I could dissect why the twelfth Doctor could execute this speech perfectly, and why the former four Doctors could not. Or I could pick up the hybrid theme which first appeared in episode one this season. Could Osgood, who thinks of herself as both Zygon and Human, be more than just a minor re-occurring character? I mean, the Doctor did invite her to join him as a companion. Plus, she’s been killed off and brought back a few times now.

Although there are many topics to discuss, I would like to focus on the elephant in the room.

I tend to believe that pop culture is a reflection of our society’s psyche. A plot I first assumed was dragging, turned out to be a mindful reflection of current world politics. Both The Zygon Invasion and The Zygon Inversion portray accurately the concept of othering, cultural assimilation, and extreme radical groups.

But does the show reinforce or undermine these topics?

Osgood Hiding
Osgood Hiding from Zygon Radicals

Human or Zygon; Truth or Consequence?

In a nutshell, Zygons have been living among humans for a while when a faction of the Zygon community declares war on all of mankind. In return, UNIT, the ruling faction of the human race, declares that the entire Zygon community is just as guilty as their splinter group. Where did this all begin? How did we travel from drawing up a peace treaty in The Day of the Doctor to Zygons and Humans murdering and kidnapping each other?

“Somebody once caught the briefest of glimpses of a Zygon in its proper form. A child, who hadn’t learned to preserve its body print. It had been left alone to learn these things for itself. And then word went round these primitives that we were monsters.” –Zygon Sheriff

FEAR. Fear of the unknown. Fear of someone, or something, different. And resentment. Resentment against not being able to show one’s true self. Resentment against not truly belonging to the other race.

When the Zygons and Humans agreed to live in harmony, the Zygons agreed to blend quietly into human society by taking on human forms. The idea, being, that Zygons would peacefully assimilate into human society so they could live prosperous lives. Unfortunately, cultural assimilation is not a flawless process.

In this scenario, the human race is portrayed as the “proper” species, which leads to the idea that any species not human is “other,” different, and inferior. This act of judgment is known as othering. Of course, this is a real life phenomenon that occurs throughout the world. The “proper” species fears and frowns upon the different culture. This leads the “other” culture to try to imitate and mimic the “proper” culture as best as possible. This mimicking may help the “other” culture blend into society, however, they struggle internally with two sets of perceptions/cultures. In this situation, the “other” culture is the Zygon species. It would be natural for both original and Earth-born Zygons to struggle with their identities when they are internally juggling two identities—their natural instinct and this Human façade they try to constantly maintain.

This internal struggle leads us to radicalized individuals. Zygons who no longer want to conform to human society. We discover they have hidden holding cells to store humans. The Humans fear the immigration, or invasion, of Zygons and plan an air strike. The Zygons attack a public place which propagates fear in the community. They also strive to take out the Humans’ leader, the President of the World, the Doctor. All these acts of hostilities escalate into war.

Kidnapped Osgood
Osgood in the custody of Zygon Radicals

Take a Second to Appreciate the Setting

The crew obviously knew what they were doing when they scripted and directed these two episodes. Ignore, for a moment, the fact that the Zygons no longer want to be seen as Human. What about the fact that this British show is taking place in the United States of America? There’s a hollow echo of this displacement and adaptation to a new world (from where the thirteen colonies of America were founded by English settlers, and the early Americans had to learn to live amongst the Native Americans). These episodes don’t take place in any old city in the USA… the city of Truth and Consequences is located in the state of New Mexico. Mind you, that today there are the same themes of othering and double consciousness along the Mexican and US border today. Of course, New Mexico was also once Mexico until the land was acquired during war and the people living on the land were forced to change nationalities. The notion of colonialism, or even post-colonialism, cannot be overlooked.

The Suicidal Zygon

What exactly does it mean to be “other?” Do Zygons need to fully assimilate into Human society so that both species can live harmoniously? At what point is it okay that Zygons can fully pass as Humans, and at what point is that an offense to their native culture?

These questions are brought to light when the Doctor and Osgood chase after the Zygon in the shopping plaza. In The Zygon Invasion, Bonnie, the Zygon commander in Clara’s form, forced this one Zygon to morph back into his Zygon form. Bonnie then created a video of his unwelcomed morphing to scare the population and encourage mass hysteria. During The Zygon Inversion, we learn that this Zygon was happy as a human man. He cannot comprehend why the commander would hurt him this way—he has no control over morphing into his Zygon form or from electrocuting people. He obviously feels pain, and probably remorse over the humans he unwillingly killed. He runs away from people, and in the end chooses death over the suffering he both endures and causes.

Take a moment to consider, if these episodes are a reflection of the many brewing wars and ongoing wars in the world right now, what does this man’s death mean? What does his suicide say to you? Who are the targeted victims?

Zygon Man
The Zygon who loved his life as a Human

Can Peace Be Achieved?

Osgood seems to be the key to finding peace. She, and her sister, appear together as a symbol of harmony. They find no distinction between who is Zygon and who is Human, because to do so would mean recognizing each other as “other” and not as “same.’ In a way, they are a living example—or copy—of the Zygon-Human Peace Treaty.

Is this balance between the Osgoods realistic? With an excellent speech from the Doctor, the minds of the warring leaders are swayed. War is avoided. Doctor Who appeals to the majority of Whovians who are watching TV at home. But, does the show serve to reinforce or undermine these cultural concepts and conflicts? Can peace be achieved? I guess that is a question only we can ask and answer for ourselves.

Bonnie, the leader of the Zygon Radical group

Images Courtesy of the BBC

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