The Return of Doctor Mysterio

To be honest, the 2016 Christmas episode, The Return of Doctor Mysterio isn’t the most theologically, philosophically, or politically deep episode. Understandable, since it aired on a Christmas day, a day that many want to be light hearted and fun though the reality is much more complicated. Part of the delay in writing about the episode has been because I had no idea what to say-especially in light of what is going on in the United States and internationally. Those who have been following my blog know that I am an advocate for social justice and I have been critical of unjust policies put forth by both the Republican and Democrat parties. Injustice has no bipartisan affiliation.  I believe that both parties exist to serve their own interests and often those interests come at the expense of the marginalized and the oppressed. But within the past week, Trump has demonstrated that unlike past presidents of both political persuasions that he is determined to push through unjust policies in a speedy and unprecedented manner. All presidents have used executive powers, for better or for worse, but Trump has demonstrated that he will use his powers to discriminate against undocumented immigrants, refugees, and green card holders.

President Barak Obama deported more undocumented immigrants, then any other president before him, and Trump is intent on beating Obama’s record. The War on Terror, since it’s initiation by George Bush has had a disproportionate effect on Muslims, or those who are perceived to be Muslims, and Trump is intent on escalating the War on Terror and has no qualms about discriminating against all Muslims. Past presidents, including Bush and Obama have at least given lip service to the notion that the US is not at war with Islam per say but with jihadist terrorism. For Trump, no such distinction exists. One week into his presidency, and Trump is determined to break the mold, and to do so in a negative way. The last few years have already been difficult for those who fleeing Bush’s and Obama’s bombs, for those oppressed not only by jihadists terrorist groups but by western allies, for black, brown, and native bodies who are not only killed by law enforcement officials but also find that their deaths and their lives are discarded and forgotten. The next four years promise to be worse.

For some of us, this is a continuation and escalation of the work we have been doing. For others, we might feel like Grant. We were busy going about our lives, before an unexpected disruption caused our lives to change. In Grant’s he was sick young child  eagerly awaiting Christmas before the Doctor shows up. For some of us we were going to work, going to school, taking care of kids, hanging out with friends.  And then we realized, that the status quo was no longer an option. Grant’s superpowers meant that he could no longer go back to being a normal kid, for some of us, particularly in the United States’ Trump’s election and more so his executive orders, has meant that we can no longer look the other way towards injustice. Under Obama, we could pretend that things weren’t so bad, because it wasn’t effecting us. It was just effecting people over there-in Yemen, Iraq, Syria. But Trump, for better or worse is forcing us out of our complacency.  And while being forced out of complacency is a good thing, it is very easy to get overwhelmed. Especially for those of us suffering with injustice. In order to be effective in the next few years, we are going to have to take care of ourselves and others. And the Doctor provides some helpful tips on how to do so.

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  • Recognize when you are being stretched too thin. Grant was busy trying to save people, keep a job, and work on his personal life. In the episode it was humorous to watch Grant run back and forth between his superhero alter ego and his regular normal self. His powers and his desire to help others was consuming his life. In real life, activism presents similar dangers. And the stakes are incredibly high. People’s lives are on the line-hundreds of thousands of people are expected to die if the Affordable Health Care Act is repealed and not replaced with a comprehensive alternative, thousands of people fleeing war torn countries in the Middle east, which in many cases are being bombed by the US are being denied refuge. People who have risked their lives to help the US army, and are thus in mortal danger are being abandoned. Black, brown, and native lives continue to be slaughtered at the hands of police and Trump’s response seems to be to further militarize and empower the police. These are all significant issues and some impact us or our loved ones. But the reality is, if we don’t take care of our bodies, our minds, an dour souls, we will be useless.

DOCTOR:. When everyone thinks that the Earth is being attacked from space, what then?
NARDOLE: Mass panic…

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  • Don’t give into fear mongering. For the past 15 years or so, the War on Terror has basically been a long comprehensive lesson on fear mongering. Trump’s policies on deporting millions of undocumented immigrants from Mexico and blocking refugees and asylum seekers from predominately Muslim majority countries did not arise out of thin air. His policies are viable precisely because he is feeding on the fear that many Americans (and let’s be real western countries in general) have about the “other.” Undocumented Mexicans are portrayed as criminals who are bumming their way in the United States. They aren’t husbands, wives, and children, fleeing a country wrecked by drug wars-drug wars that the US helps fuel by both its demand for drugs and the “war on drugs.” Muslims, Arabs, and people who are perceived to be Muslim or Arabs, are portrayed as terrorists and westerners as their hapless victims. Although the majority of people killed by terrorists are Muslim and from Muslim majority countries. And even though, scant attention is paid to the ways in which American foreign policy has killed hundreds of thousands of civilians.

DOCTOR: New York isn’t a capital city. It’s a shop window. When the world is in danger, come hide with us. Harmony Shoal will open its doors to the terrified leaders of the world. 
SIM [on monitor]: And they will come running. 
DOCTOR: A few hours later, every politician and commander-in-chief will have a zip in their head. An alien sitting inside their skull. In one day of terror, the executive authority of Planet Earth will pass to Harmony Shoal.

  • Fight against hatred. In The Return of Doctor Mysterio the Doctor and Grant are fighting against aliens that are attempting to take control of the bodies of influential governmental leaders. In the real world, it isn’t aliens that we need to be concerned about but hate, greed, racism, combined with massive amounts of political power. Trump’s policies, ISIS’ reign of terror, Hitler’s “final solution,” and numerous other examples of genocide, political oppression and marginalization, are often rationalized on the basis of hatred disguised in the language of national security. Horrific events, whether the end of World War I and the decimation of Germany, 9/11, more recent terrorist attacks such as the Paris attacks in 2016, the Orlando night club shooting, etc  or coups such as what occurred in Turkey in 2016, are often used by those in power to create policies that target the reigning regime’s enemies, real or perceived. For Hitler, his enemies were the Jews, the mentally or physically disabled, the LGBT community, etc. For groups like ISIS, anyone who disagrees with their narrow interpretation of Islam are enemies to be vanquished. For those orchestrating the War on Terror, it is Islam and refugees who pose a threat. For Erdoğan in Turkey it is anyone who dares stand up to his increasingly authoritarian policies.

GRANT: Are you sure he’s going to be all right? 
NARDOLE: Hmm. He’s the Doctor. He’s very brave and he’s very silly and I think, for a time, he’s going to be very sad. But I promise, in the end, he’ll be all right. I’ll make sure of it.

  • Everything will be all right-but we need to be there for one another. I’m not going to sugar coat it, life, for many people was already hard and it will only get harder. If the past week is any indication, dark days, and darker nights are ahead of us. But there are thousands of people in the United States, and millions outside of it, who have decided that enough is enough. The world has enough hate, the world has enough discrimination, the world has enough violence, and now it is time to step up and put a stop to it.  They have joined hands with those who have spent years and decades advocating for a better world. Whether you have been advocating for justice for years or you have recently decided to become an activist, recognize that you are not alone. The recognition that we are part of something larger is going to be essential for our survival, especially for those of us who struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts. It is essential that we help one another and encourage one another, especially in the face of inevitable setbacks and resistance. We will be ok. We can do this. We will do this. We are brave.

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.

Torchwood: Countrycide

In  Countrycide the Torchwood gang is confronted by what they believe are to be alien forces that essentially kidnap people and decimate their corpses tearing apart all flesh and muscle, leaving behind just a bloody clump of bones. For most of the episode we don’t even catch a glimpse of the monsters. Instead the information that we as an audience gleans, comes from the large number of victims that they leave behind. Torchwood, a group with plenty of experience investigating and witnessing horrible acts of violence are caught by surprise by the viciousness of the attacks.

JACK: What is it?
GWEN: There’s another body in there.
JACK: Same as the other.
GWEN: What did this, Jack? Cos whatever it is, it can’t be human. How far is this going to spread?
JACK: Stay focused.
GWEN: I should be at home having dinner with Rhys. What am I doing here with you? Don’t you ever get scared, Jack? Huh?

Gwen begins to allow panic to overwhelm her and she begins to question her involvement in Torchwood. Who or what could do such a horrendous thing to another living being? Why would any being want to mercilessly torture another living being? Taunting them and setting traps for their next unsuspecting victims.

Gwen isn’t the only one who is second guessing Torchwood’s mission and their place in it-Ianto-who is no longer simply in charge of cleaning up after the Torchwood crew at the station, takes issue not just with the dangers that they are facing, but also with the addiction to fear and adrenaline that seems to be a perquisite in being a member of torchwood:

IANTO: You’re used to this, aren’t you? That facial expression you all share when things get a bit out of control, like you enjoy it. Like you get a high from the danger.
TOSH: You want me to apologise for that?
IANTO: Don’t you ever wonder how long you can survive before you go mad, or get killed, or lose a loved one?
TOSH: It’s worth the risk to protect people.
IANTO: And who protects us?

Gwen questioned whether Jack ever felt fear, and Ianto is doing a similar thing to Tosh. He is trying to get Tosh to reflect on why she is willing to face such risks without even thinking. This episode brings up two important issues questioning the motives underlying brutality towards another living creature, and the motives underlying those who decide for whatever reason to try and end injustice.

Tosh’s answer to the second question references not only the high and adrenaline one feels in a dangerous mission but also the desire to protect other people even at the potential cost of one’s own life. The first question, Gwen’s, is answered later on in the episode when it is revealed that the monsters are in fact humans who cannibalize others. The question, especially for Gwen becomes, how could other human beings bring themselves to brutally kill other people without a second thought? She tries to get who she believes to be the leader of the cannibalistic family to explain but instead she is left with a sinking realization that sometimes there are no good and clear logical reasons for the inhumane things that humans do to one another:

GWEN: The whole village was involved?
EVAN: Every generation. Our tradition. Once a decade target those travelling through, those most likely to disappear.
GWEN: And butcher them. What sort of people are you that you wake up in the morning and think, this is what I’m going to do? Why’d you do it? Come on. Make me understand.
EVAN: Why do you care?
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In this episode of Torchwood the motives of those who perform unimaginable evil on others and the motives of those determined to stop them are vastly different. The cannibals get a kick out of brutally killing others and making them suffer before eating them, and Torchwood stops them to prevent others from being brutally murdered. Here it is clear to tell who is good and who is evil. But what happens when those who believe or claim to be acting on behalf of a greater good, cause other human beings to suffer? What happens when it is those who claim to be taking the moral high ground who subject others to indescribable anguish all in the name of justice and security?

For example, it is pretty clear that ISIS and other terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda have no qualms about exploiting and torturing others. In fact, they purposely capitalize on the suffering of other people in order to make gains. Only those sympathetic to their cause are unwilling or uninterested in truly acknowledging the amount of pain and suffering that their actions cause. But what if instead of focusing on the clear “bad” guys, we focus on say, the United States government, which has clearly stated numerous times its opposition to terrorism. But who in the name of fighting against groups such as al Qaeda and ISIS, groups that no doubt need to be stopped, the government treats the lives of others- american and non american  as useless. I am thinking specifically about the number of civilians killed due to “bad” intelligence, the lives crushed based on corruption and incompetency  in the highest levels of governments, the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” techniques, which led to the torture of members of al Qaeda, but also to people who had no ties to al Qaeda at all, but had a similar name to a wanted terrorist. It is difficult enough to imagine one person intentionally harming another person, but it is horrifying to realize the harm that institutions can wreck on thousands of lives, especially an institution with as much power as the United States government. I find myself asking, along with Gwen, “who could do this? who could nonchalantly order the deaths of children half way across the world? Who could torture another individual, even when said torture provides no useful intelligence that could be used to prevent terrorist attacks?”

In Countrycide it is clear who the heroes and villains are, but in real world situations the dividing lines aren’t so clear. In Countrycide the cannibals basically admit that they kill for fun, but in the real world many acts of cruelty are disguised under the veneer of justice and security. The lines between good and bad become indistinguishable. How can we say, with a clear conscious that the United States government is the “good guy” while also endorsing torture?