also there were autons in this

Whovian Feminism reviews “The Zygon Invasion”/”The Zygon Inversion”

I loved “The Zygon Invasion”/“The Zygon Inversion” two-parter for its humor, for its Classic Who references, for its optimism, and for some truly amazing moments from Peter Capaldi. His speech about maintaining peace and sparing others the pain he has suffered will certainly be one of the most defining moments of his tenure — if not one of the most defining moments of the entire show.

And while I really liked these episodes, I’m still a bit suspicious of the underlying political message about how to maintain peace between two opposing communities. When I originally discussed the Zygon-Human peace treaty in “The Day of the Doctor,” I remarked that although erasing Kate’s and the Zygon’s memories to have them negotiate the “perfect treaty” seemed clever, I doubted that it could lead to a long lasting peace.

Humans have obvious issues with allowing Zygons to settle on Earth. Zygons have attempted at least two major invasions of Earth (shown in their respective Classic Who and New Who episodes) after their home world was lost, but they showed a clear disregard for the humans already living on the planet. Instead of simply attempting to live there in peace, the Zygons attempted to conquer the planet, killing as many humans as necessary. There’s probably a larger conversation to be had here about how so many stories in Doctor Who about refugee aliens show them attempting to invade and conquer the planet rather than peacefully resettle (Zygons, Autons and the Nestene Consciousness, the Gelth). But within the context of the show, there is clearly reason for humans to be suspicious, concerned, even a bit resentful of Zygons settling on Earth.

But the ceasefire also has major, legitimate issues for Zygons. After arriving on Earth, they were split up and divided all over the world, forced to assimilate with humans, and were faced with violent reactions should they ever drop their disguises. They faced isolation, violence, and the loss of their identity and community.

Conflict seems inevitable between the two groups. And as I feared when we first saw the “perfect treaty” negotiated, nobody besides a very small group of people seems to have any investment in keeping this ceasefire working. UNIT feels saddled with a responsibility that’s beyond their control. And despite apparently agreeing to the enforcement mechanisms of the ceasefire, Kate has no memory of agreeing to them, reasonably leading her to feel suspicious and resentful of them. A certain number of Zygons also object to the conditions of the ceasefire and feel their rights were unfairly taken from them. This also seems reasonable — if they didn’t know they were Zygons during the negotiation, they may not have accounted for the difficulty of assimilating into human life and didn’t fight as hard as they would have otherwise for those rights. There will always be small factions that are dissatisfied with the terms set in any negotiation, but even the leaders of these negotiations don’t seem terribly invested in maintaining the ceasefire when they don’t feel like they were meaningfully a part of the process of creating it in the first place.

So the Doctor has to police the ceasefire. His solution — the Osgood box(es) — relies on fear and sleight-of-hand to keep the ceasefire standing. And don’t get me wrong, I loved the concept of having that scale model of war and how the Doctor used it to illustrate that you’ll never know who will live or die when you start that conflict. His speech about living with the consequences of war literally took my breath away. The ragged pain in his voice as he shouted his grief and guilt absolutely gutted me.

But…there’s that lingering doubt I can’t shake. For all his shouting about how people will always, eventually, have to sit down and talk through their conflicts, he doesn’t really let the humans or Zygons meaningfully do so.

I’m not sure whether or not the Doctor’s remark that UNIT and the Zygons have been on the brink of using the Osgood box(es) fifteen times before was a joke or not — but the implication that they have is disturbing to think about. Clearly the underlying resentments between humans and Zygons aren’t simply going to vanish. So why not bring everyone back to the table and have them really talk? No tricks, no memory wipes, no sleight-of-hand with the Osgood box(es). Let them talk through their differences while they feel invested in the process and feel like they’ve been given the agency to make their own choices. It’s time for the Doctor to step back and let the humans and Zygons renegotiate the ceasefire without his interference.

And for goodness’ sake, let Kate lead! To keep the ceasefire in place and maintain the illusion of the Osgood box(es), Kate Stewart’s memory of the encounter is erased. And I’m still not comfortable with erasing Kate Stewart’s memory and putting her back in this Sisyphean task of maintaining a ceasefire without letting her have any say in how the ceasefire and resettlement should evolve and move forward.

Kate Stewart is a wonderful character, leading a military/scientific organization that is dedicated to protecting the planet. And she had some truly brilliant moments in “The Zygon Invasion”/”The Zygon Inversion.” But it seems like she’s still being kept out of the big decisions. And the Doctor is too willing to make decisions for her, and to deprive her of her authority and her agency when he feels he knows best.

But despite my misgivings about what ultimately happens between Kate and the Doctor, one thing that I loved about these episodes was that the amazing supporting cast was almost entirely composed of women. While we may not notice it when these roles go almost exclusively to men, these episodes felt revolutionary in their insistence on putting a woman in almost every role that was available. 

Osgood, Bonnie, Clara, Kate, Jac, Sheriff Norlander, Colonel Walsh — all of them were complicated, fascinating women and incredibly strong characters. They all had unique, complex motivations and were all flawed in incredibly human (or…Zygon?) ways. And these women were involved in all aspects of this conflict. They were the leaders, the revolutionaries, the soldiers, the victims, and the negotiators. There wasn’t a single role that they were excluded from. Even in a unique, out-of-this-world situation, it was still a quiet reflection of the everyday reality of women’s involvement in crises around the world.