Sunday, November 8, 2015

In Which I Review Doctor Who (9x8)

The wheel just keeps on turning. Are you going to be the one to break the cycle? Can you resist the easy answer of war and, instead, come to the table as enemies, trying for a peaceful solution? So much of this week's episode, "The Zygon Inversion," is dedicated to the futility of war and the importance of peace, conversation, and understanding the complexities of situations and peoples. It was also one of Peter Capaldi's best performances to date, but more on that later. Picking up where we left off last week, the Doctor attempts to subvert a war by engaging in a game type scenario. This is definitely not uncommon to science fiction. Star Trek: The Original Series toyed with the idea of war as a computer simulation and game before and, in many ways, war really is just a game with faceless toy soldiers being pushed out on to the field of battle by their overlords where they use strategy and tactic to win and get the upper hand against an enemy, one that, oftentimes, the soldiers don't fully understand why they are fighting. They are simply "the enemy." And when winning is all that matters, the fires and the screams and the dying are worth it because the cause is just. Or so we tell ourselves. Political Doctor Who is always heavy and laden with meaning, and this episode is no different. So: would you push the button? Truth...or consequences.

I covered a lot of these particular themes in last week's review and it's suffice to say that they reappear here once more. The Zygon rebels are fighting a war on two fronts, both against the humans and against the other Zygons, those members of their race who want to stay hidden and un-normalized. In fact, the splinter Zygons are so against their own race that they are willing to expose the others to the humans in hopes of beginning a war. The image of the human-Zygon melting and shifting was hard to stomach because it felt all too real. It's the science fiction version of mustard gas or radiation from an A-bomb. It's the Gaza Strip and Hiroshima. It's ISIS and the Taliban and the armies of the West Congo. I don't want to get on any sort of political soap box or start spewing rhetoric from any side--be it American, feminine, or liberal (all of which I am). Instead, it's important to understand that this is the way fundamentalist splinter cells work. Everyone who is not one of "us" is a "them" and that's wrong (for wont of a better word). Even if the "them" profess the same religions and same cultural values, even if they look the same, speak the same language, have the same ethnic backgrounds, they are 'otherized' to the point where these non splinter groups are not an "us." Often times they are grouped alongside the bigger evil (the greater "Them") as part and parcel. It's this 'otherizing' that is so damning to the human (and Zygon) race. I spoke about this at length last week, but it is our collective failure to see each other as complex beings with complex lives in complex situations that lead to scenarios like war. When you 'otherize' you remove any and all human traits from the Other. You simply make them non-human. They are not people; they are objects and objects have little complexity. Objects can be disposed of, gotten rid of, and removed from the field of battle, or game board as the case may be. And because that--the getting rid of--is the true agenda of these splinter cells, there are no thoughts to what comes after the Revolution. You know, the building anew and starting life afresh? Yeah, that's never on anyone's mind. It's just the Revolution (capital R because revolutions of this magnitude are always talked about in cosmic terms. After all, you--the Saints of the story--are playing against the Devils--the them. How else would such an apocalyptic vision be talked about?) For the Zygons and Bonnie (really, Bonnie?) this stage of "what now" is simple: they've won; they've got a new home world, all is fair and just and life will out. Except that's never how history actually goes.

As long as there are people, there will be conflict. Notice how the Doctor doesn't advocate for a total dissolution of argument and angst. No, he's not naive. He knows--all too well--that whenever people exist together, be it on a small blue marble in the backwaters of the Milky Way galaxy or in the universe at large--conflict will arise. It's the nature of the beast because we have yet to come across any one species that is without want or desire or lust or anger. The Doctor, instead, advocates for the radical idea that we might talk out our problems; to not use violence and escalated button pushing to solve the problems of the world...or universe. What happens when the splinter cell becomes the majority and some new faction feels underprivileged and left out? What will they do? They will take their cues from the previous Revolution, of course. Nobody wins for long. Troublemakers arise, even if you've managed to defeat the bad guys. The Zygons are completely ignorant of that until the Doctor begins to poke holes in their plans. This splinter cell, as it turns out, will be the first ones against the wall when the next Revolution occurs. Speaking of enemies and how they arise, we're back to that idea that good guys exist alongside their nemeses. It's been a theme all season long: friend, enemy. Who can tell anymore? There are no friends and enemies, just people in complex situations with complex history and feelings. It all comes down to whether or not we can meet at a table with those complexities and smooth them over with some honest talk. Now, speaking of honest talk, let's take a second and applaud (like mad) Peter Capaldi's performance this week, especially for that wonderful monologue he delivered to Kate and Bonnie while their fingers hovered over the buttons in the Osgood box. It was one of those rare times when I stopped taking notes and simply watched, spellbound, as an actor really committed to the scene he was doing. His portrayal was full of grief and heartache and loss. Well done, sir!

In the end, it's all a game. The boxes are empty, though telling Kate and Bonnie this upfront would not have brought about a peaceful solution, only the desire to find another violent means to an end. But I have to wonder if the Doctor did the right thing in wiping Kate's memory. He cheekily remarks that this is the 15th time the three of them--Kate, Bonnie, and the Doctor--have done this to-push-or-not-to-push situation. This sly remark and suddenly being in on the joke made the moment far too light when it had been so weighted before. I'm not sure it was the best direction to go in, though letting Bonnie keep her memories, thus breaking the cycle, was a smart move. This episode was perhaps a bit better than last weeks, though I largely think that was due to the heartfelt portrayal by Capaldi and Coleman's chilling Bonnie depiction, especially when having a one-on-one conversation with Clara inside the pod. Political theater will always have a place in Doctor Who (and science fiction at large, if we're being honest).  It would be nice if our real world situations had such an easy solution, wouldn't it? But, I think, that is the great lesson to these two episodes of Doctor Who: there is an easy solution. Talk. Converse. Share. Emote. Do not cower behind bombs and bullets and nukes. Come. Sit and the table. And talk.

Miscellaneous Notes on The Zygon Inversion 

--The adventures of Doctor Puntastic and Bonnie sounds like a new spinoff at the BBC.

--"I'm over 2000 years old. I'm old enough to be your Messiah!" Oh, Doctor Who. You stay self-aware, you wonderful little show.

--The Zygons would rather "die in the fire than live in chains." That could be the motto of any splinter cell the world over.

--I'm glad Osgood turned down the Doctor. She might be the perfect companion (as all the mega fans would be) but she has her own task ahead of her. She can't go poncing off to see all of time and space in the Totally and Radically Driving in Space.

--How will Moffat write Clara out? We keep having fake-outs of her death so I'd find it hard to believe they'd kill her for good. 

--The only way to live in peace is to forgive.

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