Doctor Who – “The Zygon Invasion”

The Zygons, a race of shapeshifting aliens, have been living in secret amongst us on Earth, unknown and unseen – until now!

When Osgood is kidnapped by a rogue gang of Zygons, the Doctor, Clara and UNIT must scatter across the world in a bid to set her free.

But will they reach her in time, and can they stop an uprising before it is too late?

Peter Capaldi is the Doctor in The Zygon Invasion.

X X X X X

Cast
The Doctor – Peter Capaldi
Clara – Jenna Coleman
Osgood – Ingrid Oliver
Kate – Jemma Redgrave
Jac – Jaye Griffiths
Claudette – Cleopatra Dickens
Jemina – Sasha Dickens
Walsh – Rebecca Front
Zygons – Aidan Cook, Tom Wilton
Voice of the Zygons – Nicholas Briggs

Written by: Peter Harness
Directed by: Daniel Nettheim

Trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EqCamHZXR_k

Gifs by: J-Ru

X X X X X

Doctor Who rarely ventures into politics, which makes The Zygon Invasion such a superb treat. By taking a major problem of contemporary times and pulling no punches with the storytelling, this episode shows how sometimes the Doctor’s default policy of negotiation and diplomacy fall utterly flat.

A peace treaty has been negotiated between humanity and the Zygons, a race of shapeshifting aliens whose home planet was destroyed during the Time War, thanks to the efforts of three Doctors, Kate Stewart, and Osgood. Twenty million Zygons now live in the United Kingdom shifted into human form. They work, play, learn, and love alongside humans who are unaware of the alien next to them. When a young Zygon accidentally loses control of its form and causes nearby humans to kill it out of fear, a splinter group of Zygons declare war on humanity. As training camps are formed in the mountains, loved ones are kidnapped out of lifts, and UNIT is once again proven utterly useless, the Doctor tries desperately to maintain the shaky cease fire. But how can peace be maintained when one side is utterly devoted to humanity’s destruction and anyone on the other side, including the Doctor’s trusted companion, could be a terrorist in disguise?

Fresh off of last year’s anti-abortion story Kill the Moon, writer Peter Harness dives head-first into a huge issue dominating the European headlines. With the collapse of democracy throughout the Middle East thanks to the efforts of radical Islam, refugees from these failed states are flooding southeastern Europe. Aside from the concerns with the wave of refugees overloading the social systems of the European Union, there is also the possibility of ISIS members using the crisis to infiltrate the Western democracies (possibly with the aid of human traffickers and slavers) in order to perform terrorist attacks against those countries. The possibility of terrorist infiltration is often lost amidst political discussions of resettlement and assimilation, but Harness blends these various topics together into a script that also throws in dashes of action and intrigue for flavor. The Zygons in this story are truly evil, killing innocent men, women, children, and even kidnapping the loved ones of UNIT soldiers for use as “human shields” that cause emotional conflict. They are no shades of gray in this story – the Zygons are villains, pure and simple, causing the deaths of innocents solely to advance their political agenda…

X X X X X

The above paragraphs do not represent the viewpoint of this writer.

But that’s the big problem with The Zygon Invasion. This is a story that attempts to make a political statement about a current event, but thanks to an incredibly poor script said political statement could be interpreted in a number of ways, from left-wing bleeding heart liberal compassion to right-wing nationalist xenophobia. The European migrant crisis has the potential to be a watershed moment in Western history, for better or for worse, and for an episode of Doctor Who to tackle a contemporary crisis at the moment of broadcast is a rare occasion. But if you’re going to touch upon topic like this, the script HAS to be top-notch. Harness’ script is NOT top-notch. His previous work, Kill the Moon, was one of the more divisive episodes of the revival series, not only for its scientific shortcomings but for the potential pro-life/pro-choice subtext that underlined its climax. But the story also had an old-school, Third Doctor style vibe to it as well as the scene where Clara has absolutely had enough of the Doctor’s crap and chews into him. It’s a story where, despite its flaws and dividing nature, the skill of noted playwright Harness peeks through.

Which brings me to The Zygon Invasion, which simply does not have a good script. The main focus of the episode is the Zygon splinter group, which is seen throughout the episode kidnapping humans beings to serve as the “blueprint” that allows a Zygon to take their shape. They’re also seen kidnapping the two Zygon leaders who negotiated the peace treaty and videotape their execution as a message to the world that they’re serious. The fact that the two leaders were innocent looking blonde haired school children serves to drive home just how evil the Zygon splinter group is with all the subtlety of a brick to the groin. Now let’s go one step further, with the Zygon group establishing “training camps” in the Middle-Eastern-sounding country of Turmezistan (which I have to point out looks a hell of a lot like Wales) and UNIT launching both drone strikes and special forces against the training camps, where the bad guys are hiding in a religious building, and the climax of the story involving an airplane exploding in mid-air. Oh, and let’s go ahead and add the fact that the whole war kicks off because a group of Americans see an alien in their midst…in New Mexico, one of the more blended states in the Union…and kill her.

Now, this is all done by a Zygon splinter group…a group who has somehow built tunnels under the Earth that connect Turmezistan to every single lift/elevator in the United Kingdom with such success that even the Silurians are going “that’s pretty well done”…and we’re told by the Doctor time and time again that they don’t represent every Zygon. “If you bomb them, you’ll radicalize the lot and that’s what they want.” It’s an argument heard time and time again, but if you’re going to make that argument, where are the other Zygons? Every Zygon seen in The Zygon Invasion is an evil terrorist and there’s no one to provide a counterbalance. Hell, even 24 and Spooks made an effort to provide examples of “good” people. You can’t show us the bad guys and only tell us about the good guys. Otherwise, we’re led to believe that EVERY guy is a bad guy with no exception. That ways lies xenophobia, and the script for this story gives the viewer no reason to think otherwise.

The idea that anyone could be a Zygon – friend, spouse, partner, even members of your squad – could have established a deep level of tense paranoia that could have served to help this episode. This does not happen. In fact, the plot of The Zygon Invasion is only advanced by people firmly grabbing a hold of the Idiot Ball. I apologize for using something from TV Tropes, but damn it there is NO other way to describe the actions of some of this episode’s characters.

You’re the head of UNIT, a highly skilled operative and administrator, going to the New Mexico town where everything began, and you’re not the least bit suspicious or worried about the lone survivor possibly being a Zygon?

You’re a drone operator and been told that the enemy in the village you’re attacking are shapeshifters, but you’re surprised when your husband and son step outside of a building and stare at you forlornly just when you’re about to launch an attack (and by the way, who the HELL keeps a picture of their family next to their attack drone operating station? It would be like having a photo of your parents right beside one of the keys used to launch a nuclear missile).

You’re a highly trained special forces squad who’s been told that you’re going to be going up against shapeshifting aliens you can take the form of your loved ones, and when confronted with your mother you ask her to tell you when your birthday is, she doesn’t answer…and you don’t repeat the question or consider the fact that she’s actually, I don’t know, an alien?!?

It’s just all so incredibly frustrating. If you’re going to tell a heavily political story, the quality of the script HAS to back it up, and when your characters are doing stupid things…and lets take it one step further that the characters doing stupid things are nearly all women (which I hope was unintentional – never attribute to malice what may have been done via incompetence)…it’s very easy for someone to look at this script/story/episode and take the wrong conclusion. This isn’t “death of the author,” this is “the author is speaking directly to me” no matter what the starting viewpoint of the viewer is.

What DID work for this episode? The Zygons looked cool, almost as cool and scary as they did during their introduction way back in the 1970’s. Zygon Clara (aka “Bonnie”) came as a surprise, and Jenna Coleman’s brief moments of screen time as the revealed Bonnie contained a nice sense of menace. And the character of Osgood has advanced from a card-carrying fangirl into an actual character. Her discussion with the Doctor about not telling him whether or not she was Zygon Osgood or Human Osgood was incredibly well done, and hopefully that sense of “Zygon or Human, both lives are precious” (a cheese maker told me this mantra) will be played up in the next episode because THAT’S the message that should have been mentioned throughout this episode in terms that weren’t coached in xenophobia.

Look, I don’t care if the next episode is the second coming of The Caves of Androzani or Father’s Day. The next episode could come directly out of the playbook of Battlestar Galactica, a series that did politics and “the enemy among us” incredibly well. Hell, the episode could hit the Reset Button so damn hard that the writers of Star Trek Voyager would be incredibly impressed. The fact is that Doctor Who aired an episode called The Zygon Invasion in the Year Of Our Lord 2016 that could easily be perceived as xenophobic, racist, sexist, and most of all incredibly badly written. That last one just might be the biggest sin of all.

And please note something. I made it through this entire review without really mentioning the Doctor. The Doctor was very much a passive observer in The Zygon Invasion. Aside from talking to the Zygon leaders in the playground and bouncing back and forth between “if you bomb them, you’ll radicalize the lot” and “well, you can’t have the United Kingdom. People live there and think you might pinch their benefits,” this might be the first episode in his run where Peter Capaldi kind of checked out during the proceedings. In an episode where the Doctor would have every right to go full blown “everyone just stop killing each other” as only he could…he didn’t. Considering Kill the Moon also removed the Doctor for a good chunk of its runtime, I hope The Zygon Inversion truly does that and puts the Doctor (and a motivated Capaldi) on screen and makes him a much more active participant…

Random Thoughts
– I’d like to think Harry Sullivan (the Royal Navy surgeon at Porton Down mentioned by Kate Stewart) realized he created a weapon that could be used to commit genocide and worked with the Seventh Doctor to steal the weapon from the Ministry of Defence. Otherwise, way to paint a former companion in a horrible light.
– UNIT is once again gently caressing useless.
– A talking point I’ve seen online has been “so what if The Zygon Invasion is racist? So was The Talons of Weng-Chiang!” The difference is, 40 years from now, television writers (and society as a whole) should really know better. (tm Cygnia)
– The SFX update to both the Zygons and the Zygon bio-technology is really well done. Kudos to the behind-the-scenes crew!
– For a moment of levity, as I’m writing this review my stepdaughter comes up the steps screaming in agony at the top of her lungs. She flops into the other chair and yells “DISNEY XD SUCKS!” Apparently, Gravity Falls ended on a huge cliffhanger and it really upset her. She’s ranting about how “cliffhangers are horrible” and “not showing anything is torture! Who can wait an entire week to see what happens next?!?” I am not making this up.

Cobi’s Synopsis – A bad script leads to some unfortunate implications as The Zygon Invasion wastes the the titular aliens with an incredibly xenophobic storyline.

Next Up – Shapeshifting Zygons are everywhere in the UK, and there is no way of knowing who to trust…

Peter Capaldi is the Doctor in The Zygon Inversion.

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About cobiwann

A guy who's into a niche fandom of a niche fandom - the Big Finish audio plays of "Doctor Who." Also into the show itself, both old and new, plus pop culture and a smattering of human insight.
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7 Responses to Doctor Who – “The Zygon Invasion”

  1. Kardiac says:

    (Cobi, the episode aired in 2015, not 2016)

    Good review, though I actually liked this one more than “Kill the Moon,” which in my opinion made “Timelash” look like a timeless classic.

    I was surprised you didn’t mention “The Green Death,” where Doctor Who did current political events in an effective and resonating manner.

    My biggest problem with the episode that you did not mention was how overpowered the Zygons now are, since they can apparently not only pull the images of your loved ones out of yor mind, but also do it from miles away while somehow knowing exactly who is piloting a drone.

    And what happened to their dependence on lactic fluid? A recurring problem with the writers of the revival series has been the act of making classic villains more dangerous while simultaneously stripping them of their weaknesses.

    And I won’t even start on the stupidity of the leader of the world’s secret alien hunting military going to perform recon with no backup… not even a single bodyguard.

    Ingrid Oliver made this episode bearable. Her performance and character evolution was phenomenal.

    • cobiwann says:

      I don’t know that much about the Zygons, and I’ve never seen “The Green Death” which I guess I should remedy…

      But you’re spot-on in terms of how the revival is upgrading and changing the nature of the classic-era villains. It really hit home with “Nightmare in Silver” where the Cybermen would just upgrade themselves at a moment’s notice like they were Java or Flash. And now here, the Zygons can read your mind…or, they’re everywhere and know at a moment’s notice which UNIT soldier would be at a certain place and just happen to have the perfect family member nearby to copy, which might be just as unbelievable as mind-reading.

  2. Cygnia says:

    I HAD TO WATCH THIS EPISODE SOBER!!!!

    *sobs*
    *flails*

  3. There are a lot of people acting rather stupidly in this story. And, I’m disappointed that UNIT is once again rather useless; I keep waiting for an episode in which Kate Stewart shows why she is head of UNIT and not Clara. They don’t seem to ever accomplish much without her.

    I also agree with you about the lack of Zygons from the peaceful side. I’m hoping that we will actually meet some of the peaceful ones in the second half.

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