“Any race is capable of the best and the worst.”
Doctor Who strays into the rather dodgy territory of Topical Reference this week in a story that leads on from The Day of the Doctor. It’s revealed that the peace treaty created as a result of the 50th anniversary episode involved the resettlement of twenty million Zygons among the people of Earth, disguised as humans and governed by the Zygon High Command in England. Everyone seems to agree that this rather far-fetched idea is actually quite a good one – until, inevitably, it goes horribly wrong when a splinter group of Zygons decide that they want to be recognised as Zygons and not disguise themselves as humans any more. People start flinging around the word “radicalisation” and bombing training camps and making hostage situations and all of this, it turns out, is a not very subtle story about ISIS.
It’s there in the pre-credits. “Once upon a time” – we’re supposed to read this as allegory.
The Doctor, of course, says all the right things – “Don’t bomb them, that’s what they want you to do”, which is nicely Tennantian – but is ignored by UNIT, who quite like bombing things (and always have). It’s also revealed that the Osgood who died in Death in Heaven was one of the two Osgoods we see at the end of Day of the Doctor, one of them being a Zygon copy; and on being asked whether the survivor is Zygon or human, she answers with some interesting and quite high-level commentary on how the Zygon/human binary is a false one and we should not distinguish between them. (“I don’t answer that question, because I don’t accept it.”) But she isn’t given enough screentime effectively to combat the wrong-footed fact that the episode’s set-up means that the radicals are always already coded as alien; as different; as false copies. If we’re talking about ISIS (and we are), this is not really a helpful discourse, since it means that all Zygons (read: Muslims) are potentially dangerous and bent on destruction, not just the radicalised ones.
While it’s interesting that the radical Zygons supposedly look and sound British, in a reversal of the usual processes of discrimination in the West, this is undermined somewhat by the fact that their training camp is established in a made-up country called Turmezistan, which we’re obviously supposed to read as Middle Eastern (this is a world where 20 million Zygons can live among ordinary humans without anyone noticing; I don’t see why they couldn’t have had a training camp in Scotland or Norway or somewhere less obviously Foreign). Also, in a story about alien-ness, it’s slightly troubling – in a “who the hell thought this was a good idea?” sort of way – that the child-stealing Zygons Clara encounters in her block of flats are disguised as an Indian couple. Because POCs = Aliens, obviously.
I think the success of this story will probably turn on its ending; there’s still scope to save it if it’s handled properly. And, for what it’s worth, The Zygon Invasion wasn’t unentertaining; certainly it was better than The Woman Who Lived, and it felt very much like Tenth Doctor fare. So I’ll wait till next week to pass any judgement.