07 “The Zygon Invasion” (Doctor Who series 9)

doctor who peter capaldi

The Zygons again, then.

There are a number of classic Who villains of whom I have never seen what the fuss was about. The Cybermen are one. Given how clunky the buggers are, you’d think you could escape them by simply walking at a brisk pace. Or failing that, by sprinkling some water over them and waiting for them to rust.

The Zygons are in a similar camp for me. I get that shapeshifting aliens are scary, but it sort of spoils it when they have to keep the person alive in order to remain them. Or maybe I was spoiled by Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Anyway, series nine has been on a bit of a roll so far, so let’s see if they can repeat it with the Zygons, shall we?

The treaty between the Zygons and humanity, which allowed the former to remain on earth in secrecy, is breaking down, as a radicalised faction want to take the planet for themselves. The Doctor, Clara and UNIT work to keep the peace from ending, and stop the radicals from conquering the world.

Wow. What the hell was that?

In a series which has frequently been the most radical we’ve seen from Doctor Who in a long, long time, this may well be the most radical episode of the lot. It’s certainly the most radical yet.

In spirit this is a follow up to the 50th anniversary special, “The Day of the Doctor”, and the odd-feeling side plot of the Zygons invading earth. Then the Doctor(s) negotiated a peace, and now we see the follow-up. The treaty, it seems, is breaking down as a faction of the Zygons want to take earth by force. Which, given that 2 million Zygons are living disguised as humans, is not an ideal situation.

And Osgood is back. Yes, Missy killed her in the finale of the last season, but everyone forgot that she had a Zygon clone. Who apparently went mad with grief when the other was killed. Also, they were both human and both Zygon, indistinguishable from each other.

The rules have also changed, as I reckoned they needed to be. Before the Zygons needed to keep the original alive in order to impersonate them, to have the “body print”. Now they only need to keep the original alive if they need more information. They can also pluck memories out of people’s heads, which results in a couple of terrifying scenes where they manipulate UNIT soldiers into not attacking my masquerading as their loved ones.

UNIT, led by Kate Stewart, are terrified and want to destroy the Zygons before they can destroy them. The Doctor, naturally, wants to re-establish peace, noting that this is only a minority of the Zygon population. Except, that minority seems to have pretty complete control. They have kidnapped Osgood, and abducted and killed the Zygon leaders.

The Doctor goes to Turkmenistan, where UNIT are monitoring a Zygon training facility, and gung ho Colonel Nicola Murray Walsh, who wants to bomb bloody everything. Her first attempt fails when the drone operator sees her family waving to her through the camera, and refuses to attack. When the troops move in, they are lured inside by Zygons resembling their loved ones, and killed. Walsh orders the airstike, but the Doctor managed to rescue Osgood and bring back an unconscious Zygone to interrogate.

Kate Stewart, meanwhile, is off to New Mexico, to a town called Truth or Consequences. This is a real place. It’s also referenced in the Zygons’ message, and the last known location of Osgood. I quite like the reason why she goes there without backup, as the idea that UNIT has few troops and usually drafts from conventional military makes perfect sense. What I don’t get is why she hangs around for so long talking the the policewoman who is the lone occupant of the town, and who quite clearly is a Zygon. And, predictably, the Zygon neutralises her and takes her form.

Back in the UK, Clara and Jac discover secret Zygon caverns under London, and head down to investigate with a few of those precious UNIT troops. They find a whole array of pods, which Clara quickly decides are growing duplicates, including one of herself. But as Jac points out, Zygons shapeshift into people, they don’t grow into them. And, yes, as everyone knew, Clara had been replaced by a Zygon duplicate at the beginning of the episode. As an army of Zygons appear, the Clara duplicate — calling herself Bonnie — orders them to kill the traitors.

On his presidential plane, as the president of the world, the Doctor gets the lowdown from Osgood, before questioning the captured Zygon. Apparently they want a world of their own, where they can live as they really are. Which isn’t unreasonable. It’s just that they want earth. He also spins a good “I did it thirty five minutes ago”, in that he says the invasion has already happened.

And Clara Bonnie, when the Doctor calls her, confirms just that, before launching a missile at the approaching presidential plane.

This was the tensest, the most atmospheric episode of Doctor Who yet. It took some of the best things from last season’s finale, and plugged some plot holes from the 50th anniversary. And it was heavy with analogy, with the radicalised element of a greater population, the Doctor’s insistence that generalised act of war could radicalise the lot, and the lurking fear that the enemy could be anyone or anywhere. It wasn’t subtle, but to be blunt it was so effective that it didn’t need to be.

I loved this episode. But I am very afraid that the cliffhanger it set up is ripe for falling victim to Moffat syndrome, and falling apart on the resolution. Time will tell, but this is the darkest the series has yet been, the rawest, the closest to the bone. If this is Capaldi’s influence on the series, then I hope that he remains in the role for a good long time to come.

Closing thoughts:

  • Did the shaky lift effects look decidedly amateur hour to anyone else?
  • The Doctor wanting the presidential plane is funny, yes, but surely it’s a lot slower than just taking the TARDIS.
  • The changes to the Zygon rules were necessary, as demonstrated by the fact that there is a real sense of fear in this episode.
  • This episode also demonstrates that Clara is a better Clara when she’s not actually Clara.
  • So Kate is potentially dead, but probably isn’t. Clara definitely isn’t dead. Jac? Well, she could well be dead.
  • I’m with the Doctor; Clara’s voicemail is very annoying.

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