Doctor Who S09E07 “The Zygon Invasion” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on BBC One, Saturdays
Writer: Peter Harness
Director: Daniel Nettheim
Essential Plot Points:
- Two million Zygons are living on Earth, disguised as human, living in an uneasy peace brokered by the Doctor(s) in “Day Of The Doctor” (2013).
- Unfortunately a few of the Zygons are not happy with this existence and are radicalising elements of the Zygon community with the aim of starting a war.
- Osgood alerts the Doctor that the Nightmare Scenario is happening. She also reveals the existence of the Osgood box, which is pretty damned important and a way of preventing the war, apparently. How? Tune in next week…
- The Zygons kidnap Osgood. The Doctor flies halfway round the world in his presidential plane to rescue her.
- Kate Stewart, following a cryptic tip-off, flies to New Mexico to confront another Zygon faction.
- However, both of these are essentially wild goose chases, ruses by the Zygons to get the Doctor and Kate out of the country while the Zygons take over London… and replace Clara with an evil Clara called Bonnie.
- As the Doctor’s plane flies back to Britain, Bonnie fires a rocket launcher at it.
“Daddy, daddy – what was Doctor Who like in the olden days, when TVs were clockwork and newsreaders sounded like the Queen?”
“It was like this, my child. It was like this…”
Of course, that’s a vast oversimplification as seen through sonic rose-tinted glasses. The classic series lasted 26 seasons and went through a variety of tones. You could just as easily claim that “Under The Lake” is classic Who because it feels straight out of the Troughton era; or that “The Girl Who Died” is classic Who because it would fit right in with the early Sylvester McCoy stories.
On the other hand, whatever your personal feelings about favourite eras or Doctors, it’s difficult to argue that the original series was at its most popular with the viewing hoi polloi during the Pertwee and early Tom Baker years; when the show fely slightly more adult and serious and realistic and grounded. Slightly more SF and slightly less sci-fi. Sure, you can point to many isolated stories in other eras (“The Dalek Invasion of Earth”, “The Caves Of Androzani”) when the show achieved the same vibe, but it was during those Pertwee/early Baker years that the show maintained a roughly similar tone. And to many people – certain hardcore, old-school fans and older casual viewers alike – that was the golden period.
And “The Zygon Invasion” – right from its oh-so trad title – felt like the closest New Who has come to that era in a long time. It was set on Earth, in the present day (give or take). It was an invasion story. It had UNIT in it. It took a current issue in the news and dramatised it in a science fiction setting. It was dark. It was gritty. The Doctor gave deeply moral speeches. It’s so like a third Doctor story it’s almost criminal there wasn’t a portrait of Pertwee on the wall in the UNIT HQ instead Hartnell. It was a crowdpleaser, unashamedly and gloriously so. It’s the kind of Doctor Who some would like to see every week, while the rest of can can savour like a fine wine knowing that the key to the new series success is its endless variety.
It’s certainly brave, kicking off with clips from one of the most popular stories of recent years. “Oh yeah, that one with Tennant and Smith and John Hurt… blimey, forgotten how great that was. How can this live up to that?” Amazingly, it does.
The clever “Story So Far…” montage is more than a mere memory jogger. It also effortlessly sets up the Osgoods a major part of the episode: the living (well, one of them living) embodiment of the peace. It’s a wonderful use of the character and Ingrid Oliver is better than ever throughout the episode. There’s real depth to Osgood here. And no she shouldn’t be the new companion; she should be a recurring character we revisit often in the years to come.
The episode that follows is pacy, tense and mesmerising throughout. Slickly directed, globetrotting and full of eerie imagery it’s a visual feast. The parallels between the Zygons and religious radicalism are far from subtle but it’s an issue the show has every right to tackle, and it does so with admirable guts. The Zygons are by far the most interesting “monsters” this season, looking great and having a decent backstory and reason for what they’re doing.
It’s not perfect. There are plenty of quibbles to fill the “Bad” section below. But it feels fresh, and confident, and brave, and full of frenetic energy. The two-parters so far have used the extra storytelling time to allow for longer, character-based dialogue scenes, many of which have been highlights of the episodes. “The Zygon Invasion” simply uses the extra time for more plot, plot, plot. And it works. There is a genuinely epic feel; by the end you don’t feel like you’ve watched the episode so much as lived through it. It’s the perfect change of pace and tone for this point in the season.
So, that was one of the best episodes of Doctor Who in ages. Probably your main worry, then, after watching it is that the second episode won’t match up? Although there’s an embargo on revealing any details, we don’t think the BBC will mind us letting you know… there’s nothing to worry about. Episode two will not let you down.
- Has Doctor Who ever been more tense? This was fantastic, edgy stuff.
- The Zygons are great and unlike some monster we could mention from this season, they actually have a bit of depth, back story and motivation.
- The political message may not be Orwellian in its elegance and delivery but it’s still an issue worth tackling, and it’s a real thrill to have a Doctor Who story that feels relevant and topical. The arguments may be made in broad simplistic strokes but that doesn’t lessen the impact of what the story’s trying to say.
- Jenna Coleman looks like she’s having a whale of a time as evil Bonnie (was that name chosen on purpose?),
- The direction is spot on; at times you forget you’re watching Doctor Who and it’s more like watching Homeland or some urban thriller.
- There’s some impressive production design for the Zygon’s underground lair.
- The teasing game about the nature of the remaining Osgood is fun.
- Great line: “You left us with an impossible situation, Doctor,”
“Yes, I know. It’s called peace.”
- Great Line: “I like poncing about in a big plane.”
- Great line: “You are president of the world. We want the world.”
- Another fantastic cliffhanger.
- If the bad Zygons want to create fear and paranoia to provoke a war why do they only send their video messages to UNIT and the army? Why not just normalise in the middle of Piccadilly Circus and kill a few tourists? They seem curiously tentative alien terrorists.
- Rebecca Front is terribly miscast as Colonel Walsh; she’s a great character actress in certain roles but entirely unconvincing as a hardbitten army chief. It’s like expecting Michael Ironside to play a ballet dancer.
- The scene with the soldiers being confronted by Zygons who have taken the form of their loved ones tries so, so hard to be poignant, and there’s some great acting doing on from the old dear, begging not to be killed. But somehow it still doesn’t quite convince; it feels like a scene engineered for TV that would never quite pan out that way in real life.
- The “Truth Or Consequences” shtick is a wee bit contrived.
- Not so much bad as just uncomfortable: seeing Capaldi as the epitome of a stranger-you-shouldn’t-talk to hanging around a playground, chasing small girls just feels a little… wrong.
- Is that a tumbleweed, or something more sinister? Great little visual gag there.
- Kate Stewart seems to have a problem recalling whether the previous Zygon invasion was in the ’70s or the ’80s. No wonder she’s confused. In the third Doctor and fourth Doctor eras (broadcast in the ’70s) it was assumed by the production teams that the “contemporary” UNIT stories were set a few years into the future. But in the 1983 story “Mawdryn Undead”, there are sections set in 1977 in which the Brigadier has just retired; that would mean that the UNIT stories would have to be set in the same years in which they were broadcast. So the Zygon invasion in “Terror Of The Zygons” (1975) was either in 1975 or the early ’80s depending on how you look at it. (Interestingly, in “Terror Of The Zygons” the Brigadier addresses an unseen Prime Minister on the phone as “Madam” so that dates the story at some time from 1979-1990.)
- Did you notice that there was a portrait of the first Doctor in the UNIT HQ?
- When Kate is flicking through the crime reports in New Mexico, two of the people who have been arrested have given their addresses as “Made-Up Crescent” and “Fictional Close”.
- Kate tells False Clara: “One of our staff who was a naval surgeon, worked at Porton Down… developed Z67.” She’s clearly referring to fourth Doctor companion Harry Sullivan (played by Ian Marter) whose appearances included “Terror Of The Zygons” (1975). Years later, in “Mawdryn Undead” (1983), the Brigadier tells the Doctor Harry Sullivan is now, “Seconded to NATO. Last heard of doing something very hush-hush at Porton Down.”
- Also, why does Kate pronounce Z67 in the American way, as “Zee 67”?
- Question marks as part of the Doctor’s costume were a gimmick introduced and eventually flogged to death by the original series’ final producer, John Nathan Turner. In Tom Baker’s final season, plus throughout the whole of the Peter Davison and Colin Baker eras, the Doctor had question marks on his shirt collars. Then in the seventh Doctor’s era they spread like chicken pox all over his tank top and even onto his umbrella, which had a question mark handle.
- Picky, we know, but who or what exactly is buried in Osgood’s grave? There wasn’t much left of her after Missy killed her.
- Hmm… yet another very arch mention of the word “hybrid”.
Review by Dave Golder