Steven Moffat and Peter Harness’s The Zygon Invasion had something to say. The follow-up, The Zygon Inversion, has established the tale of the Zygons immigrating to planet Earth as one of the bravest, boldest and most hard-hitting stories the history of Doctor Who. We’ve seen this message foreshadowed, we saw the great struggle between the Tenth Doctor and Harriet Jones, the Tenth’s deep loathing of guns and the Twelfth Doctor’s disdain for soldiers and war. We know the Doctor is a champion for peace and equality, and we know that despite the fact that he ‘works’ for UNIT he mocks them and despises their values. We saw the appalling Colonel Walsh blustering and posing and posturing about bombs and death and destruction in The Zygon Invasion, and for that we despised her and everything she stood for. This is storytelling that doesn’t champion the ones with the guns, and we’re not supposed to admire them, we’re not supposed to see them as strong, but as the cowardly, oppressive bullies that they truly are.
Like last week, I would be hard-pressed to pick out only ten great moments in this episode. Last week we looked at the ten strongest messages in The Zygon Invasion. This week I want to take a brief look at the three most powerful moments of The Zygon Inversion.
I’m not part of your fight
There is a reason that Etoine mostly retained his human features during his suicide scene. There has been a rather grisly underlying theme in the Zygon story, and that is the inherently human system of valuing of one culture over another. The Doctor, despite his deep empathy with the Zygons, keeps pestering Osgood to tell him if she is human or Zygon. And she continues to refuse him. Should it matter whether or not Osgood is a Zygon or a human? Would the Doctor value the human Osgood over the Zygon Osgood? “All that matters is that Osgood lives,” the Osgoods tell us at the conclusion of the episode, driving the point home that all that should matter, is life.
Etoine’s life, then, is not carelessly spent. He thinks the Doctor and Osgood are agents of Truth or Consequences, and before he dies he tells them:
Why? I was happy like this. I was happy here…I can’t change. I can’t hide….
I’m not part of your fight. I never wanted to fight anyone, I just wanted to live here. Why can’t I just live?
This is my home….I can’t go back now. You’ve taken my life!
So what has Etoine addressed here? There is the fact that he is completely terrified of not being able to change back into human form. Even if the peace treaty between UNIT and the Zygons held he knows that humanity will never accept the Zygons as they are, as they look. That he can’t leave earth now; You’ve taken my life! That even Zygons need a home to feel like they are their own masters. He describes how civilians caught in the cross-fire of war feel, demonstrating the anxiety and intimidation experienced by victims of war-ravaged countries. I’m not part of your fight. I never wanted to fight anyone.
Shockingly, we see Etoine commit the horrible act of suicide. The edge is only taken off slightly when the victim is not a human being. Perhaps. But the despair emanating from the Doctor, who is utterly unable to help him, is palpable. Why show Etoine committing suicide? Detention centres are full of refugees suffering from severe depression, refugees who self-harm, and refugees who attempt and commit suicide. I just wanted to live here. Why can’t I just live? Refugees who are forgotten under the great weight of the oppression of the commercial media, who disguises their plight by dubbing them ‘illegals’, by presenting them as parasites who will drain a country’s resources if allowed to seek refuge there. If you think that suicide is not a suitable topic or image to be addressed on a children’s show, keep in mind that children in detention centres have tried to self-harm and commit suicide. This story is not just for adults, and not just about the adults.
The Doctor’s speech against war in the Black Archives will be remembered as one of the greatest speeches he has ever given has ever given, and Peter Capaldi delivered it perfectly. It has been many moons since the Eleventh Doctor departed, and it’s easy to forget how close the memories are. This also, somewhat, explained the Twelfth’s appearance at Gallifrey in The Day of the Doctor. It brings him even closer to his Tenth, Eleventh and War incarnations. But most of all it gives us heart that the Doctor will continue to defend the weak against the real tyrants.
These things have happened, Zygella. They are facts. You just want cruelty to beget cruelty. You’re not superior to people who were cruel to you. You’re just a whole bunch of new cruel people. A whole bunch of new cruel people being cruel to some other people, who’ll end up being cruel to you. The only way anyone can live in peace is if they’re prepared to forgive. Why don’t you break the cycle?
This is a scale model of war. Every war ever fought, right there in front of you. Because it’s always the same. When you fire that first shot, no matter how right you feel, you have no idea who’s going to die! You don’t know whose children are going to scream and burn! How many hearts will be broken! How many lives shattered! How much blood will spill until everybody does until what they were always going to have to do from the very beginning. Sit down and talk!
I don’t understand? Are you kidding? Me? Of course I understand. I mean, do you call this a war? This funny little thing? This is not a war! I fought in a bigger war than you will ever know. I did worse things than you could ever imagine. And when I close my eyes I hear more screams than anyone could ever be able to count! And do you know what you do with all that pain? Shall I tell you where you put it? You hold it tight till it burns your hand, and you say this. No one else will ever have to live like this. No one else will have to feel this pain. Not on my watch!
The Power of Three
It’s not Kate’s values, with her bombs and her guns and her nerve gas, that are championed. In the end she can’t bring herself to wreak genocide upon the Zygons. But when Kate tells the Doctor that “we know the boxes are empty now. We can’t forget that.”, he reminds her she has said the same thing the last 15 times. Kate will always need her memory wiped. It is not Kate’s integrity that should be celebrated. There are three other women in The Zygon Inversion who need to be celebrated. There is Clara who has such a strength of character and knows her own mind so well that no one else will be able to control that mind, no matter how hard they try. There is Osgood, a woman who refuses to be pigeon-holed, refuses to be labelled, and forgoes adventure and glory to defend the Earth over and over again knowing that only a handful will ever remember her. And then there is Bonnie, who had one of the most powerful weapons of all. The strength to change her mind, to admit that she was wrong, and above all, to allow herself to be forgiven.
Bonnie: You’re going to protect me?
Osgood: You’re one of us now, whether you like it, or not.
Bonnie: I don’t understand how you could just forgive me.
Doctor: Because I’ve been where you have. There was another box. I was going to press another button. I was going to wipe out all of my own kind, man, woman and child. I was so sure I was right.
Bonnie: What happened?
Doctor: The same thing that happened to you. I let Clara Oswald get inside my head. Trust me. She doesn’t leave.