Doctor Who gets political

Doctor Who gets political

I have been a fan of Doctor Who since the first episode, throughout that time I do not recall a  more obvious political allegory than the recent ‘Zygon Invasion/Zygon Inversion’ two-parter.

The story (fans can skip two paragraphs) begins with the revelation that, thanks to a peace treaty brokered by the Doctor, 20 million Zygons are living on Earth disguised as humans. Zygons are shape-shifters and therefore able to integrate themselves unnoticed into human society. An extremist group has murdered the Zygon leaders however and is intent on forcing all Zygons to ‘come out’, provoking fear and anger amongst humans and inevitably leading to war.

The Doctor, anticipating these type of events, has secured the treaty with a fail-safe mechanism that guarantees annihilation of whichever species is the aggressor. Unfortunately the rebel Zygons capture the Doctor’s companion and access the fail-safe device.

Peter Harness wrote the first episode and co-wrote the second with the programme’s producer Steven Moffat. Harness was the showrunner for the British version of Wallander, based on the books by Henning Mankell. Mankell was a political activist whose books reflected his socialist ideals, particularly in relation to immigration. Peter Harness clearly wanted to address some contemporary issues in this story too, albeit in a programme primarily aimed at children:

I don’t buy the argument that sci-fi and fantasy shouldn’t cover these sort of things (religion and politics – Ed). Because I think that’s the tradition they emerge out of, and in a lot of ways, that’s what they’re for.” he says. He is not however a Political writer and clearly seeks to ask questions  without necessarily providing the answers. I’ve been called a raving lefty Marxist, a disgusting Conservative, and everything in between!

There are two ways of reacting to this image of ‘immigrants who are the same as us’. Is this Tony Blair’s “mark of separation” all over again or is it instead a criticism of those who find it easier to accept migrants that are like themselves? If those fleeing Syria Libya and Somalia looked more European would they be more welcome?

In wanting to force their fellows to reveal their identities are the rebel Zygons not behaving like many religious and racist extremist groups who adopt distinctive appearances? Whilst I have no sympathy at all with the arguments of Jack Straw and Tony Blair on this question I do agree to a degree with Richard Dawkin’s in ‘The God Delusion’ when he questions the way in which some children are treated by their religious parents (FGM being an extreme case, male circumcision a less severe example and the plain dress of the Amish perhaps less problematic still). What should the attitude of socialists be to such practices involving children too young to be able to make up their own minds?

The “extremist” Zygons are obviously a metaphor for ISIL. When it is clear what is going on UNIT (the military) want to bomb their headquarters. The Doctor pleads with them not to. “You’ll just make more extremists”, he says.

The fail-safe device turns out to be a box (actually two boxes – one for the humans and one for the Zygons) with two buttons labelled ‘truth’ and ‘consequences’. One button allegedly kills all the Zygons and the other annihilates humanity but they don’t know which is which. The story more-or-less ends with a brilliant monologue from the Doctor pleading with both sides to sit down and talk and not press the buttons.

The Doctor has always been a peace lover but never, so far as I can recall, a pacifist. He has never shirked from the need to kill ‘baddies’ when there is no alternative but always tries to avoid ‘industrial warfare’ and the deaths of innocent civilians. “I just want to live here, I just want to live”, pleads the first Zygon forcibly ‘outed’.

There are clearly resonances here with Jeremy Corbyn, particularly as the final part aired on the eve of Remembrance Sunday. Jeremy is not a pacifist but he is opposed to war. I don’t think Marxists would necessarily articulate the same views as Corbyn on this question but the distinction between pacifism and anti-war is important. Wars are fought by opposing ruling classes for the control of resources, working people are the innocent victims, the ‘cannon fodder’ in these wars. Even in World War Two, where it was clear that fascism had to be defeated, socialists would have conducted it in an entirely different manner to the military generals and politicians who, for example, refused to open up a Western Front in the hope that Nazi Germany and the Stalinist USSR would exhaust one another.

After the Doctor’s monologue, in the end both the rebel Zygon leader and the UNIT commander realise the boxes are empty. Surely this is a comment on nuclear weapons along the lines of Pete Sinclair’s:

Either you press the nuclear button first – which would be mad. Or you press it in retaliation – in which case it wasn’t a deterrent.”

So was Peter Capaldi’s speech an endorsement of Jeremy Corbyn somehow slipped past the BBC censors? Sadly, Jeremy Corbyn isn’t a superhero and in real life the dividing lines between ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’ isn’t always straightforward. When the Sun publishes a front page story alleging Jeremy Corbyn showed disrespect by not bowing deeply enough at the Cenotaph next to a picture of a young girl wearing nothing but a pair of ski boots, however, I think it is very clear who the real monsters are.

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