BBC

Cease This

The Doctor's arrangement for human/Zygon peace leaves credulity in pieces.

Last week I mentioned in this space that I'm almost as much of a pacifist as the Doctor. It may even be that I'm a pacifist largely because of the Doctor. Growing up watching a guy who could solve world-threatening problems with his wits instead of weapons probably had a profound effect on lots of people like me, who were a lot better with the former than the latter.

Honestly, though, there are limits. Last week we were reminded that for the past couple of years in Who mythology, a population of twenty million shapeshifting Zygons has been living on Earth, disguised as humans. Zygons aren't exactly staples of the Whoniverse, having been a one-off enemy in 1975 and not returning to televised Who until two years ago. Which is probably why the Doctor thought he could get away with it. If we were talking about the Daleks or the Cybermen or the Weeping Angels, the Doctor's cockamamie plan to have them assimilate not only wouldn't have worked, it probably wouldn't have occurred to him at all. But now I suppose it might be possible to take hissing, sucker-covered monsters shaped like sex toys who want to kill us, and turn them into sympathetic refugees. I say that it might be possible because as far as I'm concerned, it hasn't been accomplished.

There may well be 19,999,000 peaceful Zygons among us, but as we saw last week, the Doctor's got a major problem with the rest of them. We watched as they schemed, kidnapped, body-snatched, and mass-murdered, all in the name of starting a war they knew they wouldn't be able to win. And the Doctor knew something like this would happen, because he left fail-safes in place to keep the cease-fire from breaking down. Points for that, at least.

The attempted allegory is both well-timed and highly obvious. At a time when many European countries are debating how to deal with an influx of refugees (or, more accurately, how not to), this story seems to be trying to show us how people who seem so different can manage to live together. Don't get me wrong, I'm totally behind that. I wish the world's human refugees and its 19.999 million peaceful Zygons well.

Where the allegory breaks down is that in the real world, sympathy for refugees requires understanding. If we're ignorant of the newcomers, that leaves the field open to fear and misinformation. Recognizing them as human beings in need rather than a threat to be dealt with is the key. Certainly nobody is asking them to disguise themselves as Brits or Germans or whatever in order to hide their presence entirely. And if they were forced to do so, a lot of them might start to get understandably pissed off.

As for those Zygons who don't, the episode certainly doesn't make much of a case on their behalf. The one sympathetic Zygon we meet is one that's been publicly forced out of its human shape, reduced to hiding in a darkened convenience store, zapping weakly at the Doctor, and whining, "I just want to liiiive," before taking its own life. Even to the last moment it struggles vainly to look humanoid, as though we couldn't possibly relate to its plight if it were back to looking like a hissing, sucker-covered monster shaped like a giant sex toy. That guy doesn't make assimilation look like such a sweet deal. At least the Zygon rebels have their dignity.

And that's the situation the Doctor has forced on them. This is an artificial peace he's forged (in both senses of the word) by fucking with people's heads. First he initiated the negotiations by making both the human and Zygon Kate Stewart forget which one they were, then he's forcing all of Zygonkind to hide who they are, and now he's proceeding to enforce the cease-fire by wiping memories every time Zygon rebels bring things to a crisis. There's also the Osgood Boxes and Osgood herself, but it turns out that neither of those can actually accomplish much on their own.

Eventually the Zygon rebel leader Bonnie, in the shape of Clara Oswald, stands with a hand poised over two buttons that, supposedly, will either annihilate London or annihilate every Zygon on Earth. While this would seem like a lose-lose proposition for her, being a Zygon who is currently in London, she believes she's gone too far and done too much to turn back now. The Doctor's impassioned speech to talk her down, fueled by the anguish of his own decision to wipe out his own people to end the Time War, is certainly laudable. I'm lauding it right now. What rankles is how the Doctor simply forgives her. And not just forgives, but seemingly pardons, on behalf of all humanity. It's all very well for him to forgive her for blowing up his plane with a bazooka while he was on it, because after all he and Osgood survived. But he's also forgiving her on behalf of his dead flight crew, and the UNIT team wiped out in the church last week, and the countless Londoners crammed into underground Zygon pods, and the entire population of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, reduced to a Dumpster full of giant sparking dust bunnies. And then he lies to humanity so she can get away with it. For someone who didn't want to be humanity's daddy last season, this is rather high-handed of him.

Though he didn't mention it, I'm sure that the Doctor's decision is driven not only by the Time War, but his failure (thrice!) to negotiate peace on Earth with the Silurians, who after all were here first. It makes it easier to believe that he would argue so passionately for bypassing the death and destruction that usually precedes peace talks, and skip right to the peace talks. What I can't believe is that by his own count, this is the sixteenth time he's done it. Never mind that he's given himself a full-time job defusing human-Zygon crises and then using mind control to reset them. The part I can't seem to swallow is that after sixteen repetitions of the same hearts-felt plea for peace, trying to back down two antagonists from two doomsday devices he knows to be fake, that he wouldn't just be phoning it in a teeny bit. Yes, this is a show about a two-thousand-year-old man with a time machine that's bigger on the inside. That's no reason to push it.

So the Zygon population remains hidden and living a lie. Bonnie not only escapes any punishment, she steps into the role of the second Osgood with nary a peep of protest from anyone, much less the preexisting Osgood. The Zygon rebels' slogan was "Truth or Consequences." As he always does when given two options, the Doctor has chosen neither.

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