Sunday, 1 November 2015

DOCTOR WHO, 9.7 – 'The Zygon Invasion'

Sunday, 1 November 2015


While this has arguably been the best start to a Doctor Who series in years, qualitatively, I'm finding myself struggling to get as deeply invested as I used to be. This is for a mix of reasons, but it's becoming clearer to me that Who needs a change of direction and perhaps a few year's rest to restore some hunger for it. It helps that Doctor Who always has 'soft resets' throughout its 52-year history, with a new companion or Time Lord keeping things fresh, so maybe things will improve when Clara's (Jenna Coleman) tenure comes to an end this year. But this is only the second year for Peter Capaldi as The Doctor, which is a big concern for me. As much as I like a few aspects that Capaldi's brought to the role, I think it's safe to say he's not quite living up my expectations. I'd rank him below David Tennant and Matt Smith, but only slightly above Christopher Eccleston right now, how about you?

Anyway, "The Zygon Invasion" is the start of this year's big two-parter—although that's less impressive because Series 9's entirely comprised of stories that take a fortnight to play out. What was great about this episode was the setup and how things felt analogous to real-world political concerns. The Doctor and Clara had to assist UNIT when a secret peace treaty between humanity and the shape-changing Zygons broke down, meaning Earth suddenly had 20 million enemies in its midst, capable of taking on the appearance of anyone. There were obvious allusions here to terrorist sleeper cells, and paranoia about Al-Qaeda and ISIS having recruits who live amongst the western countries they're determined to topple. Throughout the episode there were lots of nods to the political climate we're living through—particularly with the use of drones to attack a village containing Zygons, or the final shot of a false Clara called Bonnie using a RPG to shoot down a plane (recalling flight MH17 shot down over Europe, allegedly by pro-Russian insurgents).

It's been awhile since Doctor Who told a story that felt quite serius and adult, when you look through the more fanciful sci-fi adornments. The Zygons even got their own swastika-style logo stamped everywhere, and there was a scene where two Zygons stood imposingly either side of a captive forced to read out a speech on a live internet feed.

That said, there were aspects of this episode I didn't really like, or didn't think were explained well enough. I tend not to like episodes that involve UNIT, because the show gets a bit laughable whenever The Doctor and Clara are suddenly put in charge of armed, trained soldiers. It's like two worlds colliding, and makes for an uncomfortable viewing experience for me. Tolerances will vary, but it's part of the reason Torchwood always felt a bit of an awkward mix to me. I like Doctor Who when it plays with its own rules, in its own universe, not when it's trying to put its eccentric hero out in the field with comic actresses like Rebecca Front playing tough military leaders. Or when Clara, a civilian school teacher, suddenly out-ranks a bunch of squaddies, because… what? She had a brief encounter with these Zygons during the events of "The Day of The Doctor"?

"The Zygon Invasion" also brought Osgood (Ingrid Oliver) back in a neat way that didn't undo the Series 8 finale, where she was murdered by Missy. It turns out there are two Osgood's—one human, one Zygon, but neither capable of determining which is which. It would have been a fantastic surprise to spring this on audiences, but naturally everyone who cares about Doctor Who was aware Oliver would be returning for Series 9. The BBC didn't really try to keep that a secret, which was a shame. It would have been one of the episode's best moments.

Overall, it's always hard to judge the first hours of two-part episodes, because the story could completely fall apart next week—but there are some very promising signs it won't. The Doctor's role was relatively minor in "The Zygon Invasion", so hopefully he'll factor into events more strongly next week, and there was the exciting reveal that "Clara" is actually an imposter. Will the real Clara be rescued and her doppelganger defeated? Coleman looked so great playing evil that party of me hopes the show's going to do something brave and have Clara depart the show next week, then continue on with Coleman playing this new Bonnie character until the finale.


  • Peter Capaldi and Rebecca Front appeared together in The Thick of It, but that never once crossed my mind at the time.
  • Do we believe The Doctor wears underpants with question marks on them?
  • Osgood considers herself a hybrid, which is a recurring aspect of Series 9. Davos mentioned a hybrid in the premiere, Ashildr/Lady Me is an immortal human-alien hybrid, and now Osgood.
  • I'm always mentioning my frustration that so many of Doctor Who's monsters are faceless, or wear masks, because it feels like a cheap way of avoiding expensive makeups. It also limits the performances a good villain can have with the human characters, which robs the show of some drama. So it's great the Zygons buck that trend, with fantastic costumes that really work onscreen—despite looking a bit awkward and rubbery occasionally. They're a good compromise between budget and effectiveness, too, as most Zygons keep a human appearance.
  • Amusing to see Kate Lethbridge-Stewart (Jemma Redgrave) refer to the events of "Terror of the Zygons" and being from the "1970s or '80s", because the character is referring to a well-known continuing glitch in Who. Read more here.
  • UNIT are very female-friendly, aren't they. Woman are ruling the Earth in the Whoniverse, it seems, although they still grant The Doctor that weird President of Earth title.
  • This was a much better instalment of Who from writer Peter Harness, who gave us the extremely divisive "Kill the Moon" last year. More recently, he adapted the similarly love-hate Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrel adaptation for the BBC.
written by Peter Harness • directed by Daniel Nettheim • 31 October 2015 • BBC1

Next time...