The Husbands of River Song And the Road to Emmaus

In The Husbands of River Song, River has no idea that the Time Lord she loves and holds dear has regenerated. As a result she kept expecting the Doctor to look and behave a specific way. This of course leads to some amusing instances. For example, when the Doctor gets to pretend that he does not know that the TARDIS is bigger on the inside and he gets to give what he thinks is the proper reaction to being confronted with this fact.

And of course, it’s always amusing to see the Doctor’s reaction when River opens up a hidden cabinet of whiskey or when she explains that pressing a particular button would evacuate the waste on deck seven. Not to mention the sarcastic comment she makes as he watches River make out with Ramone.

DOCTOR: Urgh! Doesn’t it get dull after a while? As an activity, it’s not hugely varied, is it? 
RIVER: I’m so sorry. This is my husband, Ramone. 
DOCTOR: Another one? Are you going to kill him, too? 

In addition to making snog comments and witnessing how River acts  when she’s not aware of the Doctor’s presence, the Doctor also gets to learn not only how River feels about him (which I am sure he knew all along) but also how she believes the Doctor views her.

FLEMMING: You’re the woman he loves.
RIVER: No, I’m not.
FLEMMING: She’s lying.                                                                                                                                 RIVER: The Doctor does not and has never loved me. I’m not lying.
CYBORG: Confirmed. The life form is not lying.
FLEMMING: Impossible. This is a trick.
RIVER: No, it isn’t.
pizap-com14740729946411  And one of the funniest and poignant scenes is when the River finally realizes that the Doctor is standing right beside her:

RIVER: When you love the Doctor, it’s like loving the stars themselves. You don’t expect a sunset to admire you back. And if I happen to find myself in danger, let me tell you, the Doctor is not stupid enough, or sentimental enough, and he is certainly not in love enough to find himself standing in it with me! 
DOCTOR: Hello, sweetie. 
RIVER: You are so doing those roots. 
DOCTOR: What, the roots of the sunset

Watching River and the 12th Doctor interact, especially when River doesn’t realize she’s with the Doctor is pretty funny and amusing. For the most part. Then there are the scenes mentioned above. Where River essentially says that she doesn’t think the Doctor loves her. When she discovers that the Doctor is standing next to her and he starts lightly teasing her about her comments about the sunset and stars, she tries to play off her statements that she was just talking to keep them alive. But what we the audience knows, what River knows, and what the Doctor knows is that there is an sliver of truth in her statements. The Doctor isn’t particularly known for being apt at giving and receiving love. While one could argue that perhaps he shows love in a different way, it’s hard to argue with the fact that he can be incredibly selfish. And while he cares deeply about those he travels with, he is also known to use them; sometimes for a noble great purpose, sometimes just because he can be self-centered and selfish. He does care about River Song. But it is easy to see why she would have felt as if he didn’t love her back.  But I can imagine how it must have felt to be convinced that the Doctor was not by her side, only to look over and discover he was there all along. It’s not a conventional declaration of love, because well the Doctor doesn’t do that, but it does demonstrate that he does care for her and that he is there for her.

The thing is, when we get to know and love people, our familiarity can blind us. When we meet someone new, especially a potential friend, romantic partner, or even business partner or colleague, we are paying attention to every little detail. We might have preconceived notions of a person, it’s hard not to. But if we want to get to know a person we try not to hold on too tightly to those preconceived notions. But when we know someone or more accurately when we think we know all there is to know about a person, we stop trying to learn about them.

Christians, at least Christians in America, seem to think that we know all there is about Jesus and God. I know I fall into that trap. Maybe even more so since I got an M.Div., which to be honest, I have been mainly using to annoy evangelicals who pretend they are interested in having a conversation but really just want to convert me to their way of thinking. But there is this sense of, “I don’t need to learn anything else. I have a degree.” Or for Christians who don’t have an M.Div. it’s, “I go to church every Sunday.” Or “I read the Bible every day.” Sometimes these assumptions don’t cause too much harm. We go about our day, holding onto our ideas about Jesus and God and make it through life. Sometime however, what we think about God can cause harm. Because when we go around saying, “well this is God. Or this is Jesus” then we need to think about what or whom we are excluding. When we paint Jesus as a beautiful, blonde hair white man, what are we saying about women and people of color? When we envision Jesus as sinless and flawless and God as a punishing judge, how then do we view those in the prison system or even those who society projects as being dangerous and lawless (ie black men and women, Native Americans)? When we act as if Jesus is/was American and God is on our side, then what are we saying about the young kids, and the men and women who are being slaughtered by American bombs and guns? When we present God as police officer, judge, juror, and executioner, then how do we react when a police officer slaughters a young black boy, a mentally ill person, or an unarmed man or woman? Our ideas about God can have life and death consequences. Our ideas about God can expose how we view the “other,” whoever that “other” may be. Our ideas about God in fact prevent us from knowing God.

The Bible is filled with stories where the disciples are unable at least at first to recognize Jesus. One of the most popular is found in Luke 24:13-35. This story is often referred to as, “The Road to Emmaus.” Two disciples are asked by a strange man what they were discussing. And they talk about Jesus and the miracles that he did and they talk about the hope they had, that seemed to be dashed when Jesus was crucified:

“He was a man of God, a prophet, dynamic in work and word, blessed by both God and all the people. Then our high priests and leaders betrayed him, got him sentenced to death, and crucified him. And we had our hopes up that he was the One, the One about to deliver Israel. And it is now the third day since it happened. But now some of our women have completely confused us. Early this morning they were at the tomb and couldn’t find his body. They came back with the story that they had seen a vision of angels who said he was alive. Some of our friends went off to the tomb to check and found it empty just as the women said, but they didn’t see Jesus.” (The Message,  24:19-24)

The man responds, “So thick-headed! So slow-hearted! Why can’t you simply believe all that the prophets said? Don’t you see that these things had to happen, that the Messiah had to suffer and only then enter into his glory?” Then he started at the beginning, with the Books of Moses, and went on through all the Prophets, pointing out everything in the Scriptures that referred to him.” (The Message, 24: 25-27)

But it isn’t until the two disciples are about to eat and break bed with the strange man that they recognize that it was Jesus and like a ghost, he vanishes.

Like the disciples, we can be “so thick headed! So slow hearted.” We have these ideas about Jesus and God that we hold on so tightly that we allow them to blind us. Like the disciples, like River Song, we don’t recognize the person standing right next to us. Who is Jesus? Jesus is Tyre King, the young boy shot and killed by police for carrying a BB gun. A young boy that so many are condemning. But then again when we view Jesus and God as   police officers guarding the gates of heaven, keeping certain people out, then it is not surprising that we believe the words of police officers and will do anything to justify the death of someone who we consider to be unworthy of love and life.

Who is Jesus? Jesus is the children and women and men being killed in the Middle East because of the United States “War on Terror.” But when we view Jesus and God as synonymous with the American soldier and the military, then of course we don’t give a second thought to the people being forced to live through a 9/11 experience every day.

Who is Jesus? Jesus is the Palestinian child being shot dead by an Israeli soldier. No, this isn’t an anti-Semitic claim. Christianity has blamed Judaism for the death of Jesus and has used it as an excuse to bully, kill, and discriminate against Jewish people. And although some Christians stood up against Hitler, far too many were all too happy to go along with his “final solution.” But recognizing the horrors of the holocaust and how Christians have discriminated against and killed Jewish people, does not mean that one needs to blindly accept what the Israeli government does. Many Christians are using faith to blindly support the Israeli government because they believe that is what God wants and demands. But do we really want to believe in a God that is ok with shooting children in the head? Do we really want to believe in a God that endorses collective punishment? In the Bible, we have stories about a God that endorsed slaughtering people and taking over land. That was how one community/nation understood God a long time ago, and they weren’t the only ones. Ancient Babylonians, Persians,  etc also believed that their gods were telling them to take over land. Do we still want to hold onto that idea of God today?

Our preconceptions about people can blind us to who they are-even if they are standing right in front of us. To be fair, River didn’t know the Doctor had regenerated and most of us won’t have to deal with people who frequently change their body and face. Yet preconceived notions can be just as disorienting and blinding. We see that in the story of the two disciples on the way to Emmaus and we see that today when preconceived notions about God and Jesus get people killed.  And it is difficult having to do the hard work of periodically re-evaluating what we think we know about other people, about God, about ourselves. Bu it’s worth it if it saves lives. And it’s not something we do alone. There’s a lot about God I don’t know and won’t pretend to know. But there’s one idea I hold on tightly too: that God is with us as we navigate this complicated, unpredictable, beautiful, messy, tragic, life.

DOCTOR: Mmm. What do you think of the towers?
RIVER: I love them.
DOCTOR: Then why are you ignoring them?
RIVER: They’re ignoring me. But then you can’t expect a monolith to love you back.
DOCTOR: No, you can’t.

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Let Me Be Brave

Face the Raven Part 2

DOCTOR: What’s the point of being a Doctor if I can’t cure you? 
CLARA: Heal yourself. You have to. You can’t let this turn you into a monster. So, I’m not asking you for a promise, I’m giving you an order. You will not insult my memory. There will be no revenge. I will die, and no one else, here or anywhere, will suffer. 
DOCTOR: What about me? 
CLARA: If there was something I could do about that, I would. I guess we’re both just going to have to be brave. 

Many people are understandably afraid of physical death. It is hard to comprehend our nonexistence or the nonexistence of a loved one. Even those who believe in some sort of afterlife or in reincarnation acknowledge that death marks an end even if it also marks a beginning. We spend our lives at various times ignoring death as something that happens to other people or we obsesses over it, hoping to ward it off and protect ourselves and our loved ones. But death, will eventually come for all of us. We can try to prolong life by avoiding unnecessary risks, eating healthy, etc but at some point, whether one is reckless or extremely careful, death will mark our end in this life.

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However, there is another type of death that need not be permanent: spiritual death which I equate with despair.  I am not talking about “the blues” nor am I talking about clinical depression or other mental illnesses.* For those involved in any type of job or activism that requires constant exposure to the darker side of humanity and the world, despair can become a constant companion. Despair can take on different forms depending on the person, in my case, despair is tied with anger.  When I am overcome with despair, I want to lash out on everything and everyone. The world is cruel, filled with bloodshed and constant violence, so why not add to it somehow, whether through harsh words or physical actions? If the powers that be want to use violence, then why not beat them at their own game? Even one person dedicated to violence can wreak havoc on the larger system. Or conversely, my despair takes on the form of apathy, which I consider a more subtle form of violence: if exploitation and suffering is just going to continue, why even bother with trying to make the world a better place? Why not just give up? Let the state continue to oppress its own citizens (as long as it’s not me) or drop bombs on children in the Middle East. What can I do?

Clara knows that despair awaits the Doctor after her death. It happened after the Ponds left and it will happen again. And why not? Not giving a damn, either through violence or through apathy can feel freeing…for a moment.  And, many of us don’t want to admit it, but making others  experience even a fraction of our pain feels good, even if that feeling is fleeting.  Despair, is in many ways the easy way out. It is an abdication of our individual and collective responsibility to fight for a better world. This abdication provides a false promise: that if we stopped caring our suffering will end. It promises us a new lease on life, when in reality it gives us death. Only the dead don’t feel pain or suffering.

Clara knows that the Doctor will want to wallow in despair and regardless of how his despair manifests itself: in an extended withdrawal from the world, or in violence, it will mean pain and suffering for others. She rejects that notion: there will be no suffering committed in her name.

When we confront day after day the massive amount of suffering in the world, whether through our research, through hands-on interactions, through our lived experience, despair can blind us and have us believe that we are acting in ways to honor those who are suffering, especially if the despair manifests itself through violence. But in reality we are desecrating the memory or the lived experiences of those whom we feel called to help by contributing to the cycle of destruction and death. We dishonor those whom we claim to care about by ensuring that others experience suffering and exploitation, without contributing to a solution.

Clara asks the Doctor to be brave. What does that mean in this context? It means, being willing to embrace the suffering without lashing out or permanently withdrawing from the world. When despair hits, it is necessary to take a break. But taking a break or moving onto a different area of social justice work is not the same as permanently giving up. But suffering, especially emotional suffering is uncomfortable. Many (though not all) forms of physical pain can be eased by some form of medication and many mental illnesses can be managed (not necessarily cured) through medication, but in many cases despair can only be banished by working through it. This might mean taking a break but still remaining dedicated to one’s responsibility to work towards a more just and equitable society.

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Unlike the man/cyberman we see earlier in the episode, who attempts to run away from death, Clara faces it square on. She is both simultaneously alone and not alone when she faces it. The Doctor watches her die and is with her, even if he is at a distance. But at the same time it is something she must experience alone. No one else can experience it with her. Despair is similar. In the midst of despair we need to reach out to others and we need to articulate our pain with those who have also experienced it. But at the same time, no one’s experiences of despair is exactly like another person’s. And while others can provide much needed physical, mental, and spiritual support, it is also something that is unique to our own individual experiences. No one can take on our despair for us, and no one can work through it for us. Even if one believes in a deity who provides comfort and support, one still needs to be say, “yes I am in the midst of despair right now, but I trust and believe that it will get better.” One still needs to take small actions, not necessarily big ones that display a measure of hope. In some cases that step can be as small as getting up in the morning.

CLARA: Let me be brave. Let me be brave

The way to handle despair is as varied as its manifestations and causes. But I think it starts with the recognition that it is something we need to confront. Ignoring it or channeling it through violence won’t make it go away. It requires to be brave and face it.

 

 

*Though of course despair and depression can go together, and it is often hard to tell where one begins and the other ends. But I am not a mental health expert or doctor, so any questions about depression and despair should be addressed to someone trained to deal with such issues

 

Sleep No More: The Acceptance of State Sponsored Terrorism

PRESENTER: May the Gods look favourably upon us all. Friends. We live in a time of unparalleled prosperity. A golden age of peace, harmony and industry. But every shift must come to an end. Every working day must stop. Of course, we can take stimulants to make that deadline, to keep us propped up through that important meeting. But always, always, sleep claims us in the end. Until now The Morpheus machine concentrates the whole nocturnal experience into one five-minute burst. Now, you can go a whole month without sleep. 

…..
PRESENTER: All the chemical benefits of rest, but freeing up the nights to continue working, working, working. To get the edge on your competitor. To turn that extra profit.
CLARA: That’s insane. That’s horrible!
CHOPRA: Finally, someone who sees it for what it is.
PRESENTER: Leave the Rip Van Winkles behind and become one of a new generation of Wide-Awakes! The future is here. The future is now. Let yourself slip into the arms of Morpheus! 

Advances in technology often go hand in hand with government oppression and exploitation. No, I am not one of those people that condemns every new technological advance as evil and it is important to note that many technological advances and breakthroughs, especially in medicine, have had a positive impact on numerous people. (Though for those that that market and sell such technology, it is often in their best interest to narrow who can receive it based on income.) Other advances, such as social media, encryption, etc has helped those in authoritarian countries find way to bypass government censorship. Yet at the same time advances in technology has provided governments with the ability to spy and monitor millions of people within their own country, but also outside of it. Most technology, with the exception of military weapons, are morally neutral. What determines whether they are “good” or “bad” is the motivation behind their creation and the consequences of their use.

In Sleep No More, the Morpheus pod has two purposes: the first purpose, which is tied with how it is marketed, is to reduce the need for sleep and enable workers to use their extra hours to gain a completive edge over their co-workers or increase their profits. In this case, capitalism and greed are the motivating force for why many people and companies buy and use it. Of course, the pod is marketed as helping to continue the current, “golden age of peace, harmony and industry,” which in any modern, industrialized country is tied to the god of capitalism. May the gods of free market capitalism look favorably upon us indeed.

The other more sinister motive is tied to patient zero and thee creation of what Clara calls. “the Sandmen.”

RASSMUSSEN: I’ve been working on Morpheus for a very long time, Doctor.  I had to start somewhere. Morpheus’s first client. Patient Zero. The ultimate Wide-Awake. Inside there is a man who hasn’t slept in five years. 
DOCTOR: Or what’s left of him. 

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It becomes clear as the episode progresses that this second, even more sinister motive lies at the heart of the creation of the Morpheus pod. Of course the Morpheus pod, during its use could have achieved some good. I imagine the tired surgeon performing lifesaving surgery, for example. But the episode doesn’t even hint at such noble motives. As the viewer, even before we know that the sandmen are definitively connected to the Morpheus machine, we have a deep understanding that such a machine is wrong and is ripe for exploitation. Any good is vastly overshadowed by the evil the machine fosters. But that’s because this is a new, freakish machine that we can scarcely imagine. For the rescue team and others in the 38th century it is standard practice. Just like their cloning of grunts who are breed to fight, kill, and die.

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The people in the 38th century see such advances as improvements. And it is easy to imagine that most technological advances didn’t occur overnight. The population had years maybe centuries to get used to the idea of growing humans for war or forgoing sleep. Before the cloning of humans, there was probably mass successful cloning of animals. Before forgoing sleep entirely for a month, there were probably smaller advances that enabled people to forgo sleep for a few days. It is this small incremental change in what a society deems normal that can provide governments with the ability to harness to technology for exploitation and destruction. Of course there are good societal changes and uses of technology that should be celebrated, but it is the devious, sinister uses of technology that often go unnoticed.

For instance, the militarization of the American law enforcement has been  steadily increasing while the majority of Americans remained oblivious. Its seeds can be traced to the protests of the 1960s,  it gained traction during the “war on drugs” in the 80s and 90s, and received renewed power after the attacks on 9/11. The protests in Ferguson, in which the police used tanks, pointed assault rifles at protestors, and dressed up as an occupying force which lead the larger American public to wonder, “how the hell did this happen?”

 

 

This happened because the government, state, local, and federal police departments  harnessed fear and the majority’s desire for peace and security in order to convince the population and themselves that these tanks, assault rifles, etc were needed. In the 60s, protests rocked America, with some agencies, such as the FBI and local police department feeling as if a time of lawlessness had arrived. The very foundation of American stability and democracy was at stake or so they said. The FBI used this reasoning to justify their illegal use of the latest technology: advances in wiretapping, and recording, as well as infiltrating and entrapping activists. In the 80s and 90s, it was the war on drugs and the wave of crime that threatened to undermine America. We needed harsh sentences and punishment for those using and dealing drugs. Local law enforcement needed to protect themselves from evil, ruthless, drug dealers (and don’t get me wrong, there are some vicious drug dealers. Look at the cartels in Mexico, whose progress and spread can be traced in part, to the US governments, “war on drugs”). America was facing an evil, ruthless enemy and federal, state, and local police needed the latest military gear to protect themselves.

After 9/11 the separation between law enforcement, intelligence agencies, and the military became even more blurred. The NYPD’s war on terror is known for its attempts at gleaning intelligence from Muslims through surveillance and the use of informants, regardless of whether such actions are legal or not.  And of course the San Bernardino shooting, in which the shooters had thin ties to any official terrorist group, as lead to police departments, union leaders, etc defending increased militarization.  Yet these are the very same people who defend police officer involved shootings as always justified even though over 1,000

Yet these are the very same people who defend police officer involved shootings as always justified even though over 1,000 Americans have been killed by police in 2015 alone. . But the police expect us to fear one set of terrorists, mainly those perpetrated by those who claim to be Muslim, yet we are to ignore state sponsored terrorism in the form of police shootings.

Police militarization didn’t happen overnight. The State worked to ensure that citizens were not fully aware of what was going on in police departments and the state exploited Americans fear of drugs, crime, and terrorism. In a similar way, Rassmussen and patient zero exploited humanity’s greed and desire for more profits. By the 38th century, society had progressed to the point where sleep was viewed as a commodity to be reduced to short five minute spurts once a month and some people were grown for the use of becoming cannon fodder. We find such a thought abhorrent because that hasn’t been our lived experience. Yet many Americans seem to have no problem with American law enforcement turning into an occupying force.

 

The Zygon Inversion: Terrorism is Terrorism.

Doctor: So, let me ask you a question about this brave new world of yours. When you’ve killed all the bad guys, and when it’s all perfect and just and fair, when you have finally got it exactly the way you want it, what are you going to do with the people like you? The troublemakers. How are you going to protect your glorious revolution from the next one?

Why do people join “terrorist” groups? In particular why are so many people drawn to Daesh? Politicians, intelligence communities, law enforcement, and the media struggle with trying to come up with a cohesive answer to this question. A quick google search will reveal hundreds of articles examining this topic and providing various answers. The reality is that the answer is multi-layered, and complex, depending on the needs, wants, and personality of each recruit. Some do it for the power, others do it to find a larger purpose in their lives, some want the excitement, others do it because they are tired of watching Muslims being slaughtered and oppressed by Western imperialism, etc.

The one reason that has caught my attention is the one where those lured into joining Daesh, claim they are doing so based on notions of social justice. On the surface such reasoning seems absurd. They claim to be working towards justice for Muslims while slaughtering and killing thousands of Muslims because they consider them to not be “Muslim enough?” They enslave and rape women, train child soldiers and suicide bombers, and have an almost insatiable thirst for violence, yet they claim that one of their motivating factors is justice?  Some rightly point out that for many in Daesh, especially in the leadership, power might be the main motivator. Yet such division forgets that with power comes political agency. And to simply write off those who join Daesh as evil, ignores the many atrocities that the West has committed in the Middle East in the name of democracy and freedom.

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What is the difference between a terrorist and a revolutionary? It depends on which side you are on. That sounds a bit glib, but the reality is that those in power and those who win, often decide how to frame certain wars. The American Revolution is framed as a fight against tyranny and a battle against British oppression. Yet the American Revolution was not free of atrocities, from either side. For example, the Pennsylvania militiamen attacked and killed a group pf peaceful Indians, who they believed were responsible for numerous raids on white settlements. .Numerous examples of massacres, tortures, and rape are documented in the French Revolution, done under the name of the “republic” which championed Enlightenment ideals such as freedom from tyranny and secularism.   Violence, regardless of its justification produces death, destruction and atrocities. Whether said death and destruction are minimized and justified or are lambasted and critiqued is a question of power politics. Those with the power, shape the telling of the story.

In the past decade the United States, along with various other Western countries have tried to depict the “War on Terror” as a just war against unmitigated evil. Terrorists/Daesh are completely different from the just and virtuous West. Daesh kills with impunity people of all ages: children, the elderly, the sick, etc. They rape and enslave women. And they install harsh penalties for the smallest infractions, such as smoking or wearing a niqab that is too tight, while committing larger transgressions that they assert are justifiable in their interpretation of Islam. Daesh engages in public executions, filming and disseminating beheadings, crucifixions, burnings, stonings etc through social media.  Their blood thirst seems to differentiate them from those of us who are civilized.

In the Zygon Inversion, even the Doctor seems to quantify the splinter group of radical Zygons has somehow different from regular Zygons and humans.

OSGOOD: Why do they want to destroy the ceasefire? 
DOCTOR: Don’t think of them as rational. They’re different. They don’t care about human beings, they don’t care about their own people. They think the rest of Zygon kind are traitors. 
It’s a splinter group. 

Yet, are they really that different from us, the so called good guys? Except for being sanctioned by the state and by the UN, what makes US use of torture, indiscriminate killings, and atrocities different from the horrendous acts that Daesh has done? Not to mention the fact that US history is filled with instances of the US supporting and funding authoritarian regimes throughout the world that end massacring their own people. Daesh publicly flaunts its atrocities, the US covers them up and buries them in the name of “national security.”

I think what scares many people in the West about Daesh, is not just the level of violence they use, but the fact that some of us have within ourselves the ability to commit violence and to do so under the banner of justice.

Kate, leader of Unit, representative of the Western response to radical groups such as Daesh, is blasé about the implications of wiping out all Zygons, even though the majority do not support the small splinter group.

KATE: What are we dealing with? 
DOCTOR: Twenty million Zygons about to be unmasked. You don’t know whether they are human or not. And you can’t fight them, not with soldiers. 
KATE: Which leads me to a very big question. 
DOCTOR: Oh, I was really hoping that it wouldn’t. 
KATE: The Zee-67, Sullivan’s gas, the gas that kills the Zygons. You took it. 
DOCTOR: Well, you know how it is. Daddy knows best.
KATE: That’s what’s in the red box, yes? Of course it is. If I remember rightly, it causes a chain reaction in the atmosphere. Turns every Zygon on Earth inside out. 
DOCTOR: Let me negotiate peace. You can’t commit mass murder.

How is Kate’s willingness to commit mass murder different from the splinter group’s? Both are reacting to instances of injustice.

BONNIE: We’ve been treated like cattle. 
DOCTOR: So what.
BONNIE: We’ve been left to fend for ourselves. 
DOCTOR: So’s everyone. 
BONNIE: It’s not fair. 
DOCTOR: Oh, it’s not fair! Oh, I didn’t realise that it was not fair! Well, you know what? My Tardis doesn’t work properly and I don’t have my own personal tailor. 
BONNIE: The things don’t equate. 
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At some point, the desire for freedom and liberation from oppression becomes a justification for further oppression. The splinter group of Zygons have a point. They were treated badly, they have to hide their true selves to avoid being slaughtered. Likewise, Kate has very good reason to want to kill the Zygons. A small splinter group threatens to create a war that will kill millions, and it is impossible to tell who the “good” Zygons apart from the evil ones. So they all must die. Daesh, is not wrong when they point out Western atrocities. To put it bluntly, we have helped fuck up the Middle East. In the 80s we encouraged the rise of radical Islamists and provided arms for them to fight against the Soviet Union. Then when the Soviet Union left, we left them high and dry. We made some allegiances with radicals in the first gulf war, and then left them to whatever fate awaited them after the war. We have bombed schools, hospitals, and destroyed whatever fragile stability had once existed. And to top it all off we refuse to accept large numbers of refugees because we fear they might be terrorists in disguise. We, like the Doctor, want to tell Daesh and others critical of American foreign policy to just “get over it.” We want to act like the Doctor and say that what happened as happened. But in real life, we don’t get to hold that position. In real life, our government is engaging in terrorism in the name of national secruity. We don’t get to condemn Daesh while continuing to kill innocent civilians.

 

Well you can’t reason with Daesh, some say. A fancy speech won’t change their minds. That’s a statement that could be said about the United States and our allies. 14 damn years fighting in the Middle East, and previous decades spent meddling through small military action via the CIA and Special Forces units in the affairs of other countries, and we still don’t get. We still don’t understand that whether children are killed by the hands of the American military and our allies or by the hands of guerillas or terrorists groups, terrorism is terrorism. We don’t get to call Daesh terrorists and then claim that our bombs that burn children to death are justified and they are just “collateral damage”. We don’t get to deny our role in creating and funding groups like Daesh. Daesh needs to be stopped. But so does the West.

The Zygon Invasion: Falling Into Their Trap

DOCTOR: So, we have a Zygon revolution on our hands. We need to open negotiations.
KATE: I’m not negotiating with them. As far as they’re concerned, everyone’s a traitor. 
CLARA: If you’re not going to negotiate, what are you going to do?
KATE: They’re holed up in this settlement in Turmezistan. It’s where they’ve taken Osgood. I’m going to order Colonel Walsh to bomb it.
DOCTOR: Isn’t there a solution that doesn’t involve bombing everyone?
KATE: The treaty’s been comprehensively violated, Doctor.
DOCTOR: This is a splinter group. The rest of the Zygons, the vast majority, they want to live in peace. You start bombing them, you’ll radicalise the lot. That’s exactly what the splinter group wants.

It’s been 14 years since 9/11 yet it seems as if government leaders keep making the same mistakes over and over again. After 9/11 the United states government, in a desire for revenge rather than justice, hastily went to war in Afghanistan and then two years later, lied to the UN and the American people in an attempt to justify the war in Iraq. Since then American troops, albeit a small number are still stationed in Afghanistan, Iraq is threatening to break up into pieces, and the power vacuum left by the toppling of Saddam Hussein with no suitable replacement, led to extremist groups gaining a foothold in the country. Said extremists were prepared to take advantage of the chaos that followed the Arab Spring, especially in Syria when the regime decided to violently oppress predominately peaceful protesters.

Western response to 9/11 included the torture of numerous prisoners () and the massacre of at least hundreds of thousands of civilians, probably more , as well as to the de-stabilization of already fragile countries who before the invasion in 2001 and 2003 were already wrecked by economic instability and authoritarianism. Yet instead of trying to think of new ways to defeat terrorism, the West continues to deploy the same old tactic: bombing the hell out of the Middle East with little regard for whom we are killing.

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After the attacks on 9/11, as well as more recent attacks in Paris, westerners, especially those who have lost a loved one, have asked similar questions over and over again. “Why my loved one? My family member, my best friend did nothing wrong. They weren’t political leaders in charge of foreign policy or military strategists charged with waging war. They were students/doctors/fathers/daughters/mothers etc.” And government leaders have seized on the grief and pain of a wounded nation to instill fear and hostility. America used 9//11 as an excuse to use torture, and the recent Paris attacks are being used as an excuse to shut our doors to refuges who are running form the very terrorists that we helped create and to  expand government surveillance and power.

Daesh and other extremists groups have done and continue to do horrific things. But the West is not innocent of shedding bloodshed.  We claim to be better than Daesh because we believe in liberty and freedom yet we deny people in Guantanamo Bay fair trials and we prey on the vulnerable in America and manufacture terrorist plots in order to stoke the fears of the public. We condemn Daesh’s senseless beheadings, yet we use drones to smash to smithereens young children. We condemn Daesh for treating all Westerners as evil, when we ourselves treat Muslims and others from the Middle East as if they have some gene in their body that when activated turns them into terrorists. We kill kill kill in response to Daesh’s mass killings and we create more and more terrorists. We use our bombs to destroy people’s livelihoods and loved ones and we push them into the hands of Daesh. They risk their lives to escape Daesh and we debate whether or not we should send them back where their only choices are certain death or joining Daesh.

WALSH: We think it’s a Zygon training camp. We never see more than one or two of them outside at any one time. But they always take different shapes, we don’t know how many there really are. We don’t know how they come and go. Whether they go through tunnels, or whether they turn into dogs and run out across the hills.
DOCTOR: So, that’s what we’ll find out.
WALSH: We should have that gas. We should be able to rip them inside out.
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In The Zygon Invasion, the Unit characters frequently mention how the Zygons’ ability to change forms makes it extremely difficult to know who is a friend and who is a foe. Families are torn apart. In a similar way, it is feared that “they”- the terrorists, are among us, biding their time until they are given the opportunity to destroy our way of life. In case after case of those joining Daesh, the media presents the person as a normal man or woman before they somehow became radicalized: “They were just your average teenagers…”  Or “she drank and partied like the rest of us…” or “he showed no signs of radicalization.” The fact that Muslim terrorists make up only a small number of domestic terrorists (with white supremacists killing more people than those who claim to be killing in the name of Islam) does not matter. The fact that the refugee screening process in America is so strenuous that it would be difficult and time consuming for a member of Daesh to try to infiltrate them, makes no difference. We are told “They-the evil terrorists could be in our schools or in our local mosques.”

The FBI-whose funding depends on its ability to prove that it is protecting the nation from terrorism-often entraps those who working alone, could not have thought of a workable act of terrorism let alone actually carry it through to fruition. As a result the FBI has no qualms about stating that there are terrorists in every state.  When the enemy could be everywhere, it makes sense to want to bomb the shit out of them. And to be fair, the threat is real, in some places more than others. The fact that large scale terrorist attacks in the West are rare, does not nullify the pain and sorrow of those who happened to have lost a loved one due to one. And it is true that hundreds of Westerners have flocked to Syria to join Daesh.

In The Zygon Invasion, the small group of radical Zygons take advantage of their abilities to shape shift to present themselves as family members of the soldiers before slaughtering them.

HITCHLEY’S MUM: Please. 
HITCHLEY: You’re not my mom.
HITCHLEY’S MUM: Oh, God, you’re going to kill me.
HITCHLEY: Mom, please.
HITCHLEY’S MUM: You are. You’re going to kill me. I love you. I forgive you and I love you.
WALSH: Do it!
HITCHLEY: What proof? 
WALSH: Don’t go in there. You’re going to your death! 
WALSH [OC]: Hitchley, kill it.
HITCHLEY: Let’s go. Over and out, ma’am.
The radical Zygons have killed an untold number of people while holding others hostage. The response to destroy them, to wipe them out makes sense in a world where violence is often the measure of whether or not justice is served. But again and again the Doctor keeps on urging the unit and colonel Walsh not to kill, to not participate in a war that the radical Zygons so desperately want. Why? Because meeting the radical Zygons where they are, does nothing to end the bloodshed. It gives them what they want: death, suffering, and destruction.  The radical Zygons believe that they are being oppressed, that all humans are evil traitors who would kill all Zygons if their true forms were revealed. They want Unit and the military to wage war on them because that would force the other Zygons to fight or be killed. In a similar way, Daesh wants the West to respond with more fire power and to refuse to take in the refugees. Why? Because it fits into their narrative of an uncaring West who hates all Muslims.  Just like after 9/11 Bin Laden wanted to provoke a war with the West, and he got it. The fact that he was later killed and al Qaeda virtually destroyed in Afghanistan, has done nothing to slow down its affiliates in other countries and means very little when a new group, like Daesh takes its place.

We can’t control the actions of Daesh. But we can at least refuse to provide them with even more fodder to stoke their hatred. We can choose to be better. But the fact of the matter is, we don’t want to be better. Our government leaders do not want to think of a different way to contain Daesh. War is too lucrative. The FBI, CIA, and NSA amongst other agencies have been given substantial cash and legal leeway to do whatever they want. The military has seen its already bloated budget expand and even the so called cuts to their budgets, despite what top commanders say, do not in fact harm the military ability to wage war. In fact, even though we spend the most money of any nation on our military, we are still unable to win the wars we wage in the Middle East. Perhaps, 14 years in, it’s time for a new strategy.

The Girl Who Died

DOCTOR: Yes, I am a false Odin. That’s exactly right, I lied. The big fella in the sky, he lied too. You all know it. Because what’s the one thing that gods never do? Gods never actually show up! 

Life is unpredictable and scary. For those of us living with some degree of privilege we are able to contain that unpredictability by focusing on our jobs or work. Money can give us an illusion of control and stability. Yet we also seek control and protection in other ways. For many of us we look to our images of God to sustain us.  And one image that many of us hold onto is one of an all powerful God, who controls everything but who can sometimes be appeased if we pray or worship the right way.  This God can be manipulated to do what we want-though of course we don’t exactly use those terms, nor are we even aware that we have created a God that can be manipulated. We get the job that we prayed for, cancer goes into remission, and when things fall apart? Well if it happens to us or someone we care about we try to counsel ourselves and our loved ones with the thought that it was all in God’s plan, or that we are somehow being tested or that the devil is to blame for our pain and suffering. If suffering comes to those we don’t like then it is obviously their own fault. They disobeyed God and are being punished.

Many of us still view God as a cosmic figure living in the sky who decides, seemingly arbitrarily when to get involved. Yes, God answered your prayer for a job, but somehow the prayers of that family seeking to leave Syria and find safety in Europe, didn’t convince God to actively prevent their drowning. Or God saved you from a horrific crash, yet for some reason God decided that the others involved including a small child, needed to die.

We look for any proof of this God-even if this proof leads us to commit or endorse atrocities. Many members traveling to join the Islamic State, for instance, believe that the mere fact that the group has declared a caliphate and is gaining land is an answer to some prophetic revelation. There are some Christians, who believe that in order for the “end times” to occur and God’s reign to be manifested on earth, Israel needs to essentially wipe out the Palestinians and they use their money and political clout to endorse any action that furthers that goal, even if it means more dead Palestinian children.

In many ways the God imagined by many is not that much different from the ‘god’ the Doctor faces in this episode. The one he rightfully condemns as fake. He points out to the Vikings that this god tricked them in order to kill their best men. This ‘god’, who is in reality the leader of the Mire, is excited by war and destruction.

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If we were honest with ourselves, the God many of us claim to worship really is no better. We have crafted an image of God who is vengeful and all powerful. Yeah sure, we talk about God’s love for humanity but in many cases we do so by focusing on the threat of hellfire.  This is the type of God I vehemently reject: an angry, supernatural deity that randomly decides to show prayer to some while rejecting others.

But is there an alternative? Yes. But it would mean letting go of notions of control and power. Power and control are often equated. The more power someone has the more control this person has. Humans project that desire onto a deity figure who we can then lay the responsibility and blame for anything that goes wrong or right in our lives. But what if-instead of an all powerful, distant deity we  imagined a God that  can’t help being hopelessly entangled in the chaos that is humanity.For Christians the notion of an actively involved God isn’t that far of a stretch. Many Christians believe that in some way, Jesus represents God’s involvement in the world. Whether Jesus is God or an agent of God-he represents a God who is not afraid to become a part of humanity.  This means letting go of some of our projections of an all powerful deity who randomly chooses to engage. It means being open to a God that wants a relationship with humanity-and relationships are mutual. We are changed by the other person, but the other person also changes us. Why not the same for God?  What if we asserted that God worked through us instead of against us or through divine supernatural acts?

As I was watching this episode, allowing myself to suspend disbelief for a second, I remember thinking, “you know if this were a ‘real’ situation, I would believe that God was working through the Doctor.” The Doctor claims that gods don’t show up, but God does-it just often takes the form of imperfect humans trying their best to not make things worse.

DOCTOR: The earth is safe, humanity is not in danger. It’s just one village.
CLARA: Just one village?
DOCTOR: Suppose I saved it by some miracle. No Tardis, no sonic. Just one village defeats the Mire. What then? Word gets around. Earth becomes a target of strategic value, and the Mire come back. And God knows what else. Ripples into tidal waves until everybody dies.

If the world were ever invaded by the Mire, and the Doctor existed, I would see God in the way the Doctor is convinced by Clara to not give up. To not just dismiss this small “village.” I would see God in how he changes his mind and decides to stay in the village. I would see God in how the Doctor finds a different way to defeat the Mire, a way that does not involve bloodshed or death. And I would see God when the Doctor, for better or for worse remembers why he chose this particular incarnation.

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Now of course, this isn’t real life. But yet I still see God working in the world. In those who say no to another meaningless war. In those who say that “Black Lives Matter” and that state oppression and brutality needs to be stopped. I see God in those who stand up against those in power. Things don’t always end well for those who stand up against injustice. Our actions can have unattended consequences. The Doctor wanted to save Ashildr, but in doing so, he may have caused her great pain. A God that is perfectly in control can erase some of the chaos and messiness of life. But a God that works with and through humanity is working with a flawed creation that does the best it cans, but makes mistakes. Things don’t always neatly settled. Pain and suffering remains.  This image of God does not promise us stability and comfort, only the promise of working through us to make the world a better place.

Under the Lake: To Protect and Serve?

DOCTOR: They’re not ghosts have been trying to kill you, why haven’t you abandoned the base? 
PRITCHARD: That was my call. We’ve got about a trillion dollars’ worth of mining equipment here. We’re not just going to abandon it What? If it all goes pear-shaped, it’s not them that lose a bonus. 
DOCTOR: It’s okay. I understand. You’re an idiot.

Pritchard, representing Vector Petroleum is the embodiment of human greed. Of course he would make the decision that he and the crew had to stay on the base. As he points out, the equipment is worth trillions of dollars plus he would forfeit any potential bonuses if things were to go wrong. Maybe it is just me, but I have to admit, I really did want him to die. His character was extremely one dimensional and he had no qualms about putting his life or the lives of others in danger for money. When the Doctor is shown the ship and he explains that it is missing some equipment, the look on Pritchard’s face is telling. You can see the gears in his head turning as he imagines the potential worth of said equipment.

PRITCHARD: I imagine they’re pretty valuable. 
DOCTOR: What? 
PRITCHARD: I mean powerful. Those power cells. I imagine they’re pretty powerful. 
DOCTOR: Well, they can zap a vessel from one side of the galaxy to the other, so, you know, take a wild stab in the dark. 
PRITCHARD: And the missing one must still be out there. 
DOCTOR: Yes, well, otherwise.

Pritchard’s greed ends up killing him as he ventures outside the submarine in a vein attempt to find the equipment. When he re-enters the submarine he discovers that for some reason the submarine’s settings have gone from morning to evening and he is confronted with Moran’s ghost, who then drowns him.

Despite the one dimensional portrayal of Pritchard, it is important not to dismiss the importance that greed can play when it comes to encouraging people to risk their own lives or the lives of others.

Cass and the other crew members, wisely value each other’s lives over the equipment and loss of money. Equipment can be replaced and money is useless when one is dead. As a result Cass makes the decision to abandon base.

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CLARA: But we’re coming back, aren’t we? 
DOCTOR: Yes, we’re coming back.

The Doctor of course wants to stay. He wants to figure out what exactly is going on. He isn’t motivated by greed but by curiosity, yet he is notorious for allowing his desire to get answers to imperial the lives of others. Cass isn’t having it. She needs to protect her crew. Unfortunately her plan is foiled when they discover that the ghost had called in the rescue team before the crew has the chance to do so themselves. While at this point the Doctor and the crew do not know why the ghosts did that, the Doctor knows that the ghosts have a nefarious reason for doing so. As a result he calls off the rescue team and places the submarine in a quarantine.

Cass’ impulse to abandon the base is understandable. She has a crew to protect, people she has grown to care about and love, and their lives are in danger. If she can protect them, she will. In a similar fashion, law enforcement have the right and responsibility to protect themselves and the lives of others on their force. Many talk about their colleagues as part of their family. Most people, even those not in law enforcement, recognize that police should be able to protect themselves and their colleagues-even if it means the use of deadly force.  And of course family and friends want their loved ones to come home safe after every shift. Yet, is protecting their own lives at the heart of law enforcement? Is that why the institution of policing exists? That is the impression that one gets when one hears the details of shooting after shooting, especially when the victims are unarmed or are armed with a knife, a cane, etc. The officers involved invoke the “I feared for my life” defense. And when the person is unarmed, the officers response is, “I thought he/she was pulling out a gun” and as law enforcement is quick to point out, if an individual officer waits too long to see if the person does have a weapon it might be too late and the officer might not have time to “neutralize the threat.” The officer could be killed. Yet, as those committed to protect and serve the people, (not the State, though in practice, that is often what occurs) shouldn’t we expect them to confirm that the person indeed has a weapon, even if it is at great risk to their own lives?

Later in Under the Lake,  the Doctor begins to out why the ghosts were created.

CASS via LUNN: But why are they beaming out the coordinates? Is it a distress call? 
DOCTOR: It could be. 

Doctor: Or a warning. Might even be a call to arms. It could mean, come here, they’re vulnerable, help yourself. Wait a minute, though. Wait a minuet. Do you know what this means? It means that they’re not a natural phenomenon. It means that someone is deliberately getting people killed, hijacking their souls and turning them into transmitters. 

Eventually the Doctor figures out that for some reason the coordinates are leading back to the church in the underwater and abandoned town:

DOCTOR: Whatever the coordinates are for, it’s in that church. Find that and you’re a hop, skip and a jump to stopping them.

But Bennett points out that they are safe. They could leave the base since the ghosts are trapped. In other words, stopping the ghosts really isn’t their responsibility.

The Doctor acknowledges they have the right to leave, but he also asks them to consider what lies at the heart of their various occupations:
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The Doctor points out that Cass, Lunn, and O’ Donnell have chosen careers whose stated mission is to protect and serve. As a result, it is their responsibility to stop the ghosts. Right now the ghosts are trapped, but they know nothing about the strength and capabilities of whoever is creating them. Their first duty is not to get to safety, but to protect others, to find out what is going on and stop it. Their lives matter, but their job description means that they cannot view their own safety as the end all be all.

As of October 18, 2015 The Guardian has recorded 920 people killed since the beginning of the year. To put the numbers in a bit of perspective, on 9/11, 2,977 people were killed. That was 14 years ago. The United States got myriad in two official wars, expanded its surveillance capabilities, and spent billions of dollars trying to track down those who killed 2,997 people through a horrific act of terrorism. If the numbers of shootings the guardian is recording is about normal for police shootings (of course we don’t know because there hasn’t been a comprehensive attempt to tally officer involved shootings) then the amount of people killed by police vastly out number those killed on 9/11, yet change in law enforcement is routinely resisted. Some might argue, “well the people were armed.” But what exactly does that mean? Armed has such a large and wide meaning that it can mean someone pointing a gun and firing at police officers but it can also mean a 17 year old mentally ill girl, with a knife. Or a 70 year old man with a cane (who survives being shot in the chest)

Even disregarding the serious questions that arise by the justice system’s willingness to blindly accept the police officer’s words, especially in cases where no video is present,  one has to wonder what the motivating force in law enforcement is. While many police officers no doubt are good people who desire to help others, with many performing heroic feats, the institution as a whole is based on fear and compliance. Officers are taught to fear each potential citizen and that their lives are always at stake, though it is important to note that police deaths have actually decreased. They are trained to shoot first and ask questions later. This isn’t to say that most police officers want to kill anyone. In fact, killing another person can emotionally devastate a person. But the training that officers undergo, leave serious questions about how law enforcement are trained to view their jobs and the ones they are called to protect.

The Doctor’s speech, manages to convince the crew to stay.

LUNN: Cass says we should go, but everything that happens here is her responsibility now, so she’s going to stay. So I, er, guess I should too. 
O’DONNELL: Well, count me in. Who wants to live forever, anyway? 
BENNETT: Sorry, er, have you gone insane? We can go home. 
(O’Donnell does a one shoulder shrug and grins.)
BENNETT: They’re ghosts, though. How can they be ghosts? Well, at least if I die, you know I really will come back and haunt you all.

If only nice speeches were enough to bring large systematic change. In Radley Balko’s book, Rise of the Warrior Cop, he extensively quotes former Maryland Cop Neill Franklin who discusses what he believes today’s police force have forgotten about the nature of their jobs:

“I think there are two critical components to policing that cops today have forgotten. Number one, you’ve signed on to a dangerous job. That means that you’ve agreed to a certain amount of risk. You don’t get to start stepping on other’s rights to minimize that risk you agreed to take on. And number two, your first priority is not to protect yourself, it’s to protect those you’ve sworn to protect. But I don’t know how you get police officers today to value those principles again. The ‘us and everybody else’ sentiment is strong today. It’s very, very difficult to change a culture.” (325)

I reject the notion that most police officers are evil or bad. Rather, they are human like the rest of us. With their own fears, dreams, biases, strengths and weaknesses. However, how they are trained impacts how they view their jobs and how they view the citizens they swore to protect.