Sunday, November 1, 2015

In Which I Review Doctor Who (9x7)

If we were to boil down science fiction, as a genre, to its nuts and bolts themes, we could argue that it largely deals with human beings trying to understand or analyze their present--the religions, the politics, the morals, the ethics, the cultures of the entire world--and cast it into the future, either showing it in a positive or negative light. Much of science fiction can be allegory and the lessons gleaned depend on which side of the line you are standing. After all, as Human Osgood and Zygon Osgood tell us in this week's episode, "The Zygon Invasion," any race is capable of the best and the worst. Are you the terrorist or the martyr? Are you the hero or are you the villain? Are you good? Or are you evil? And do terms like these even mean anything when we remember that they are absolutely subjective and based on our own experiences and understanding of the world. The Zygons are evil terrorists; the humans are the victims. Or did the humans force a dying, fleeing race to adapt (or perish) to their mores without considering Zygon independence and sentience? In other words, Doctor Who got deep this week in their quest to become political allegory. It works, if that's your thing. If it's not, then you likely didn't enjoy this episode that much. Where do I come down on the question? Grab some question mark underpants and let's go! 

This episode does not sparkle and shine like the past two weeks of episodes did. That might have something to do with the fact that the more fantastical elements of Doctor Who are put on a back burner as it becomes a more proper science fiction tale complete with a morality lesson about terrorism and being able to see people complexly (and, really, about the human race's inability to do the latter). Many a-moon ago, the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who aired and the Zygons landed on the planet Earth. In an attempt to come up with a peace treaty that would unify the humans and the Zygons the 10th, the 11th, and the War Doctor forced the humans (from UNIT) and the Zygons into a room and through some clever sonic screwdrivering, a peace accord called Operation Double was established. Don't worry if you don't remember all of this; I barely remembered it, but thankfully the episode begins with a nice flashback (helpful, no?) The crux of this peace accord was that 20 million Zygons would be settled around the world as humans, living and coexisting peacefully with the native earthlings. No one would ever be the wiser and the two races could cohabitant. Yeah, look around planet Earth for me. How's that going? This isn't a new concept and, if you look at history, it's how conquering peoples have treated their subjects because the conquering nation usually has little understanding (or, really, doesn't care) that the "inferior" race has their own culture, history, social groups, gender norms, and interactions. Instead, the conquerors simply lump everyone together and expect them to play nice because surely all these people must be the same. West Africa, the Middle East, these are prime example of what happens when nations try to squeeze factions of people together and expect them to simply abide. Since the peace treaty, a faction of Zygons who demand the right to be themselves and normalize have cropped up and, as young, frustrated, occupied peoples are wont to do, they decided to launch an invasion because there is no other way to get the attention of those in charge. Protests, marches, bombs, violence. It's on every news channel every night and it has been for years. We've just become desensitized to it. And so have the characters in universe; Kate's grand plan is to bomb them all (to which the Doctor yells "no bombs for you, Kate Stewart!") The commander out in fictional Turmezistan wants her soldiers to keep a brave face and shoot the Zygons who look like loved ones. Everyone in UNIT treats these rebels factions, these splinter cells, as if they represent the whole of the Zygon nation. The Doctor knows otherwise. Not all Zygons belong to the splinter cells; the other 99.9% of the aliens just want to live in peace and harmony. Sound familiar? It should: "not all Muslims are terrorists" might be the best way to put it in our modern parlance. This episode is, in other words, a mostly heavy handed political allegory about the life and times we are living in (complete with some metaphors about immigrants since that's the hot button issue in Britain these days). But does it work as an episode?

I don't know. That's the honest truth. I don't know. It works in the sense that it's a well written, well thought out episode. This episode wasn't bad but I don't think it deserves a lot of the overwhelming praise it's getting either. Yes, it's a great political allegory that is trying to say something about human relationships with those we consider alien (both of the space and here at home variety) but it's not as if Doctor Who hasn't done that before. Doctor Who has always--as proper science fiction--played with politics of the day. It's never shied away from issues like Margaret Thatcher, the Iraq War, terrorism, ect. So, like the third and fourth episode of this ninth season, it feels a bit rote and expected. It's also lacking in narrative tension, at least from my perspective. The Doctor's plane is not going to be hit by a missile; the Earth will not be overrun by terrorist Zygons; peace will be reached, Clara will be saved. I know how this story ends and while I've gotten a nice morality lessons out of it, it's not as if the world I live in is suddenly a better place or that our real world problems have been solved. As hard as it is to accept, there is no Doctor, President of the World, who can perform miracles and make us all live in peace. This week is a nice story that emphasizes the need for all human beings to see and understand each other complexly, but at the end of the day, it's a fictional story with a fictional ending. And is a morality tale still worth telling if nothing changes?

Miscellaneous Notes on The Zygon Invasion

--Am I the only person in this fandom who doesn't find Osgood that compelling? The writers seem fixated on her but I find her to be a bit dull. Yes, she's basically a stand in for the mega fans (with her 12 ft long scarf and question mark sweater) but she works better as a one time stand in.

--Speaking of one time occurrences, enough with the guitar playing! Yes, Peter Capaldi is talented but, like Osgood, the guitar playing is going to become silly if it keeps cropping up.

--"You're very blobby!"

--The Doctor may not like being President of the World, but he does enjoy the perks of a giant plane.

--Am I going daft or was there a Harry Sullivan reference? Also, does UNIT have a portrait of the First Doctor hanging in its Safe House?

--The Doctor wears question mark underpants.   

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