The Zygon Inversion
Original Air Date: November 7, 2015
Is anybody ever too evil to be forgiven? By me? By God? That question has been a part of human existence since the Fall of man. Adam and Eve hid from God as soon as they sinned. In the New Testament, Peter asks Jesus, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” (NASB, Matt. 18:21).
The back half of a two-parter, the eighth episode of the ninth season of the revival, wrestles with that question. As is frequently the case, the Doctor is unintentionally allegorical to Christ. Standing in the place of the sinner is “Bonnie”, a Zygon who has taken the form of the Doctor’s companion, Clara. Bonnie is the commander of a splinter group of Zygons who wish to come out of hiding and destroy the human race. About thirty minutes into this second episode, Bonnie seems to be within an instant of reaching her goal, and the Doctor is faced with the goal of talking her down. For almost ten minutes, Peter Capaldi delivers a near soliloquy (with a few brief comments from Bonnie and Kate Lethbridge-Stewart) that will likely be his definitive scene as the Doctor. Suddenly, instead of a sci-fantasy romp, it’s a lecture on the futility of war…and the power of forgiveness.
To be forgiven, of course, one must first have committed a sin. Yet so often, when we sin, rather than seeking forgiveness, we seek to pass the blame. We accuse someone, anyone…often God Himself. When the Doctor confronts Bonnie with her sin, she deflects.
“This is wrong. This is all your fault…You are responsible for all of the violence, all of the suffering. You engineered this situation, Doctor [the tenuous peace between human and Zygon brokered in the fiftieth anniversary special and the “Osgood Boxes” which can supposedly destroy either the humans or their shape-shifting neighbors]. This is your fault…I had to do what I’ve done.”(“The Zygon Inversion,” brackets mine).
Where have I heard that before? The unrepentant sinner who says, “Your God made me this way, so how can He expect me to change?” Adam, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.” (NASB, Gen. 3:12)? Myself?
When we set ourselves up as righteous in our own minds, we find ourselves unable to forgive others, whether they have legitimately sinned against us, or we are blaming them for our own sin to absolve ourselves of guilt. We cry, with Bonnie, “It’s not fair!” But the Doctor replies,
“These things have happened, Zygella, they are facts. You just want cruelty to beget cruelty. You’re not superior to people who were cruel to you. You’re just a whole bunch of new cruel people. A whole bunch of new cruel people being cruel to some other people who’ll end up being cruel to you. They only way anyone can live in peace is if they’re prepared to forgive. Why don’t you break the cycle?” (“The Zygon Inversion).
Our Savior’s answer to Peter’s question was similar, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” (NASB, Matt. 18:22). In the Lord’s Prayer, He taught us to ask, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (NASB, Matt. 6:12). Jesus practiced what He preached, as He was nailed to the cross, He prayed for His killers, “Father, forgive them” (NASB, Luke 23:34).
Finally, we admit our sin. But do we yet seek forgiveness? Sometimes. But often, we cling to our sins. They are familiar, they are comfortable, and we know that we do not deserve forgiveness anyway. “Might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb,” as the old saying goes. Bonnie, our Zygon friend, certainly felt that way. “I’ve started this and I’m not stopping it. You think they’ll let me go after what I’ve done?”(“The Zygon Inversion”). I imagine our Father’s answer is much the same as the Doctor’s: “You’re all the same, you screaming kids, you know that? ‘Look at me, I’m unforgivable.’ Well, here’s the unforeseeable, I forgive you. After all you’ve done. I forgive you.” (“The Zygon Inversion”).
To end with even that would be powerful. I am reminded of the words of the Passover song, “Dayenu”, which means, “We would have been satisfied” (Sevener, 23). But the best part is that here is where our analogy breaks down, where we see the difference between the Doctor and Christ. The Doctor explains that he is capable of forgiving Bonnie because he has been in her shoes, has done the horrific things she contemplates doing. And that in itself is beautiful, because it reminds us to show compassion from one sinner to another. However, Jesus Christ does not forgive us because He has sinned like us. While He “has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” (NASB, Heb. 4:15). Yet He not only forgives us, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross” (NASB, 1 Pet. 2:24). Unexpected forgiveness indeed!