Psycholgical Scare Tactics-Zygon Style

This week’s episode, The Zygon Invasion, wasn’t about our beloved characters, nor did it seem to make much of a contribution to the Series’ story arcs. It did however, explore some real-world themes, unusual for Doctor Who.

Immigration and terrorism seem to be the topics du jour. What interested me most about this episode was the heavy focus on psychology. The Zygons used human psychology to cause panic and terror. (Which is interesting since they aren’t human and one would assume they have a completely different psychological structure, making psychological manipulation of humans a dicey proposition for Zygons. Oh well, just waving my hand now…)

The kidnapping videos with Osgood, the inpersonation of the soldiers family members, the “sheriff” collaborating with Kate for most of the episode. These are psychological tactics designed to terrorize and manipulate the humans (read UNIT) to comply with the rebel Zygon’s wishes.

I have listened to a few commentaries discussing whether or not the UNIT soldiers would have fallen for the family impersonation scheme. All agreed that it was far-fetched for the soldiers to lower their weapons and enter the building, given that they had been trained for this sort of thing.

I disagree. Choosing the safest path when confronted with agonizing fear is what we are hard-wired to do. In addition, these particular characters, as soldiers, were vigously trained to protect civilians. Combine these two powerful impulses, and you get a group of people who lose their creativity and make the wrong choice.

When we are afraid, our entire physical and mental system changes. We generate tremendous energy intended to be burned off through aggressive action, either by running away or fighting. Our attention and focus narrows to what is necessary to survive. We do not think creatively or outside-the -box under these circumstances. 

If we move into fight or flight but we aren’t able to actually be self-protective, our systems shift into an older and more primitive self-defense strategy called (very scientifically) freeze. When we are in freeze (or “playing possum”), we are disconnected from our bodies and the world around us. We numb out. 

When the UNIT soldiers were facing their family members, they were unable to fight or flee, but rather they were trapped between their impulse to defend themselves and their impulse to protect their family (who are, at a psychological level, really ourselves anyway). If they protected themselves, they could be saved, but could also murder their family. If they didn’t, they may die but their families wouldn’t. Whether this episode’s author Peter Harness intended this theory to be the motivation for UNITS’s actions or not, I think the likely outcome of the UNIT soldiers shifting into freeze and surrendering to their loved ones is a plausible outcome. 

While I would hazard to guess that the vast majority of you reading this post have not faced psychological terrorism perpetrated by shape-shifting aliens impersonating your parents, we all have experienced freeze.

In fact, anytime you find yourself unmotivated, reluctant, or uninterested in something you know intellectually you care about, you may be a little freezey. Freeze is fundamentally caused by being overwhelmed in a way that feels threatening. I am often overwhelmed by the clutter in my house and I am threatened by it because I fear my daughter will pick-up the same cluttery habits I got from my mom. So, what happens? I freeze and don’t pick-up the clutter. 

However, when things are particularly right in my world, I am able to manage my household clutter freeze by tackling one small pile at a time. I usually start with the entry way table. I do it on a Saturday afternoon and I set a timer for 20 mins. When it goes off I get to stop after 20 minutes if I want to. The cool thing is, I often don’t want to. See, it isn’t the doing of the things that is the problem, it is the contemplation and the visual expereince of the things that overwhelm me. Once I get started de-cluttering I am taking action and freeze fades away. 

On the best of the best days, I even move onto my dining room table and spend some time taking care of those piles. 

But mostly, I look at my clutte, feel my freeze, and remind myself that there are worse things in the world than cluttered piles. My father, wife and daughter could turn out to be Zygons in disguise. 

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7 thoughts on “Psycholgical Scare Tactics-Zygon Style

  1. This is actually very helpful in reference to me trying to get all my grad school work done. Once I get started it’s fine, but it can take days and days for me to face up to it, and it’s definitely that “slightly overwhelmed in a threatening way” feeling.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Another great post. A few thoughts…
    1) “one would assume they have a completely different psychological structure, making psychological manipulation of humans a dicey proposition for Zygons.” I thought this was great, actually, interpreting it as a recognition of how easily humans are psychologically manipulated.
    2) completely agree with you that it makes sense for the UNIT soldiers to respond as they did, and would have been surprised had they acted differently
    3) I kept waiting for Kate to be unmasked as a Zygon, thinking back to your remarks about how un-Katelike she was in an earlier episode
    4) “shape-shifting aliens impersonating your parents” — that would explain a lot!
    5) love the very clinical-sounding term “freezey” 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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