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.
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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.