So, as I have stated many times in the past, I write these out well in advance for most things. As it is, I am typing up this episode’s write-up less than a week after the Russian army invaded Ukraine, and I have seen a speech the Doctor gives in this episode floating around my Facebook feed about war, its stupidity, and how it really just delays what both sides should have done from the beginning, namely to have everyone just sit down and talk things out.
So, I am going to focus on that speech for this write-up.
As with all things Doctor Who, there’s a lot going on with this episode. Clara has some level of control over her Zygon double’s body, and said double wants to be known as “Bonnie”. Kate Stewart survived a Zygon attack and even infiltrated them for a period as her own double. Osgood will not say whether she is the human or the Zygon. And, in the end, there’s no war. Bonnie replaces the dead Osgood, and that means there’s a chance that it’s actually two Zygons keeping the peace and not a human and a Zygon.
Regardless, it does come down to the Osgood Box, or more accurately, Boxes. These boxes contain something that is supposed to keep the peace, and really, what’s inside them both are a pair of buttons marked “truth” and “consequences”. And since this is Doctor Who, it turns out none of the buttons do anything. They exist to make war a game, and the Doctor is there to lay out some harsh truths.
Now, I said above that this speech is rather timely for me, and the “sit down and talk” line did get some traction on my Facebook feed. However, the scene as a whole was laid out rather brilliantly. Bonnie and Kate are each at one box. Bonnie believes she has a righteous cause because life hasn’t treated her as well as she thinks it should, and the Doctor is there to mostly talk to her. He addresses Kate in the same angry tone all of once in the entire exchange, and she stands down first, gaining the Doctor’s thanks. It’s mostly Bonnie that needs convincing, and the Doctor eventually prevails.
But the thing that struck me is that while the Doctor currently abhors the use of lethal force, it wasn’t always that way. “Classic” Doctor Who did show the Doctor, if not engaging in lethal force, than was at least more than happy to sometimes ruthlessly set up his enemies to take themselves out. On rare occasions, the Doctor would shoot a gun. The idea that the Doctor does not approve of killing is relatively new. True, the Doctor would always prefer to save lives whenever possible, but he wasn’t above doing things so bad guys could even take themselves out. Now, for me, my personal head canon is that the Doctor changed his mind during the Time War because of the things he had to do during the Time War, and this episode actually bolsters that as the Time War, basically, is the Doctor’s big play.
See, while the Doctor can claim wars are stupid and not games, or that Bonnie’s rebellion if successful will only prompt future Zygon generations to do the same to her, and life isn’t fair to anyone so that’s not a good reason to attack anybody, it’s when he calls her war a piddling little thing compared to the Time War and what he personally did during it that he finally gets through. I found this noteworthy at least in part because it’s the first time this incarnation of the Doctor brought up the Time War, and he’s the first incarnation to actually know that he didn’t destroy his own people in the end like the Ninth, Tenth, and Eleventh Doctor did (well, until the end for the Eleventh). He can even then give credit to Clara for stopping him from wiping out his own people. That’s probably the closest the show is ever going to get to explain why he keeps her around. Nothing against the actress, but my god, Clara makes no sense as a companion. The Doctor’s keeping her around out of gratitude works. It may not explain her UNIT clearance, but it makes sense.
As I thought about it more, it did seem as if the position of “companion” changed a bit. Original series companions were there for the simple narrative device of giving the Doctor someone to talk to and explain things to so the audience would be able to keep up. Sure, some companions had different roles. The Fifth Doctor’s companions were like a team with different tasks with the Doctor at the head of it. Some past companions were treated more like good friends than others, but that was their basic narrative purpose. The modern era’s companions were a bit different. Rose, Martha, and Donna were there to be the Doctor’s conscience, the one to egg the Doctor to remember to do what was right. Amy was the Doctor’s best friend in a very child-like way, and Rory was more Amy’s companion than the Doctor’s even though the Doctor treated him as a friend as well. Clara started off as more of a mystery, but once the mystery is solved…why is she still there? At this point, it feels more like a habit than anything else.
But, in the end, no war. The Osgood Boxes don’t do anything, and the Doctor wipes the mind of everyone who doesn’t need to know that, including Kate. In Kate’s case, it’s apparently the 15th time which makes me wonder if this is even the first Zygon-attempted uprising. The Osgood Boxes being a big nothing has to stay a secret, but Bonnie can keep it now that she knows what the real price of war is, and she and the surviving Osgood will even turn down a chance to travel with the Doctor to keep the peace. That’s not a bad way to go, honestly.