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Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Doctor Who 9-07: The Zygon Invasion

Episode:820|Serial:258|Writer:Peter Harness|Air Date:31-Oct-2015

This week on Sci-Fi Adventures, I'm going through the Halloween 2015 episode of Doctor Who.

The Zygon Invasion was written by Peter Harness, the man who wrote either the worst or second worst episode of series 8, depending on who you talk to. Of course if you talk to enough people you'll eventually run into someone who actually really liked Kill the Moon, maybe even loved it! But that person isn't me.

I'm not going to judge a writer by one episode though, that'd be dumb. I'll wait until after I've seen this two-parter and judge him by three. Then maybe I'll be able to approach his later stories with some proper pessimism.

I'll be writing SPOILERS for the entirety of The Zygon Invasion and perhaps even a few things from earlier episodes too. Everything that aired afterwards on the other hand will remain wholly unspoiled.

Well that's one way to spell 'Previously, on Doctor Who'.

The typewritten text explains that "Once upon a time... there were: Three Doctors. Two Osgoods. One peace treaty." It's talking about the Day of the Doctor 50th Anniversary special, which happened about two years earlier, back when Matt Smith was still the Doctor. In fact pretty much everyone was the Doctor in that episode, even Peter Capaldi's sinister eyebrows made a cameo.

Back then three of the Doctors barged into UNIT's Black Archive in London and interrupted a group of Zygons right in the middle of their scheme to disguise themselves as high ranking members. Finding two of everyone in the room, they decided to mess with the Archive's memory eraser tech to make it so they couldn't remember who was human and who was Zygon, with the effect lasting just long enough for the two sides to negotiate a perfect treaty to deal with the millions of Zygons currently without a planet to live on.

So after four episodes without a Sonic Screwdriver we suddenly get three being waved around at once... in flashback.

Now it's showing new footage, as UNIT agent Osgood and her Zygon duplicate explain that the two sides came up with Operation Double: a plan to resettle and rehouse 20 million Zygon refugees on planet Earth in human form without anyone knowing about it. Which might be the most implausible thing to happen in Doctor Who since the forest fairies saved the Earth from a solar flare with magic trees.

The Zygons apparently use their shapeshifting ability as a defence mechanism to allow themselves to blend into other cultures and live out their lives in peaceful harmony... except for when they don't. They're like humans, some of them are going to be great people and some are going to be assholes. That's why the Doctor left the Osgoods an Osgood Box, in case the Nightmare Scenario occurs and the ceasefire breaks. But we don't get to learn what it does yet.

Cut to the present day, months after one of the Osgood twins was murdered by the Master in last series' Death in Heaven. Lots of Osgood continuity this episode.

The surviving Osgood isn't doing so great right now either, as she's running for her life in a town called Truth or Consequences, or at least that's what it says all over the police station she just hid inside. It sounds like a warzone out there, with people shouting and gunfire, and something's coming after her.

She tries the horror game trick of hiding under a desk and waiting for the bad things to walk by, but it doesn't work out for her. She's dragged out and zapped... by a Zygon! Though not before she manages to send a message out to the Doctor...

... who's playing Amazing Grace in the TARDIS control room. Some people are probably getting sick of him doing this in every episode right about now, but I think it's very believable for a guitarist with a guitar in the room to be picking it up whenever their hands aren't busy with something else.

What happened to the blackboards covered in equations though? All through series 8 he was working through calculations for something and it seemed to be leading up to a reveal. But then he got a new toy to play with and the blackboards all went away! I suppose this helps show how his character's evolved from being pragmatic and anti-social to being more warm and emotional... though I'm still annoyed the maths went nowhere.


Now we're in the Unit Safe House, South London (according to the text on screen), as UNIT boss Kate Stewart and her nameless assistant deal with the fact that their last remaining Osgood sister been captured by rogue Zygons.

They contact Colonel Walsh who by coincidence has just gotten footage of her being held prisoner in the fictional country of Turmezistan.

Meanwhile the Doctor's in Brockwell Park, London. Wow everywhere's getting labelled this week, except for Truth and Consequences (and the TARDIS).

The Doctor's chasing these two sinister seven year old girls around a playground under the assumption that they're Zygon leaders in disguise and I really hope that they are or else this is going to be really awkward. More awkward even than that time that Tennant's Doctor gave his 'I am the Oncoming Storm' speech to a 'Zygon' who turned out to be a rabbit.

These actually are the Zygon leaders though and they make it clear that the rebel Zygons are their children and they'll deal with them. He'll probably have to wait until they've done their homework first though.

But then the rogue faction finds them and drags them off to a van. Neither side has really gotten the hang of this 'disguise' thing have they? The rebels are doing their covert raid looking like walking tentacles and the leaders are struggling to get free in the form of little girls.

The Zygons could've grabbed the Doctor as well but I guess they're just going to take their chances with him running around free. It's not like capturing him ever helps anyway. Plus he's been doing a bit of shapeshifting himself now that I think about, so the Zygons may still think he looks like Matt Smith.

He gets over to UNIT HQ where he learns that the rogue Zygons have sent out a video. They've forced Osgood to read a statement declaring that UNIT forces will be wiped out and that the war is about to begin. "There will be truth... or there will be consequences." You can tell they're serious as they've even got their own flag now!

It's not hard to guess why the Zygons evolved to change their form. If I looked like that I'd develop the ability to shapeshift as well, or put some clothes on at least. Fun fact: the Zygons are naked all of the time.

The Doctor's been trying to get in touch with Clara with no luck so far, but she's actually fine. She's just been busy going through a creepy apartment to help a kid find his parents.

Fortunately it doesn't take long before they run into her.

There's something 'off' about these two though. Maybe it's the way they're behaving like robots, or the fact that their kid is screaming as they carry him into the house against his will, I dunno. The thing about Zygons though is that they can convincingly imitate people, so either these two are out of practice or they can't really be bothered trying.

Either way Clara leaves them to it and goes outside to finally answer her phone.

Over in Drake Junior School, Dulwich, London the Doctor, Clara and UNIT are seeing what they can find in the Zygon leaders' secret base, seeing as the leaders aren't around to help them any more. They're not around to help the other refugees either, which will be causing them to panic.

Kate explains what they should already know, that 20 million Zygons were born on Earth, taking the form of nearby humans. Which means that a third of the UK population has a Zygon doppelgänger elsewhere in the world they don't know about.

Just then the Zygon rebels send out another video, this time of the captured Zygon High Command.  Man, how do these Zygons keep flying people out to Turmezistan so quickly?

Oh hang on, I'm an idiot, this was recorded in the same room that they're standing in now. The Zygon rebels want the right to be themselves instead of living in disguise, and demand that the two little girls 'normalise' into their true form.

And then they execute them with red lightning from their hands! That's a new trick, they never used to be able to do that. Well, in the one episode that I've seen them in they couldn't do that. All that's left of little Jemima and Claudette is electrified bundles of hair.

The rebels repeat that line again, "Truth or consequences," which Clara knows is a town in New Mexico. She explains that she learned it from Trivial Pursuit... when she memorised all the answers so that she could always win. That is so perfectly a Clara thing to do.

So they have a plan: Kate will go fly over to America to check out Truth or Consequences, and the Doctor's going to Turmezistan to see if he can find a better solution than just bombing the Zygon splinter group. Good luck finding that on a map, mate.

He's taking a jet there though, because in a global crisis like this he automatically gets appointed President of the World and there's no way he's taking the TARDIS to Turmezistan when he can ponce about in a big plane.

Just to complicate things further, Clara and Kate's nameless assistant (who was actually given the name Jac I noticed this time) will stay behind to protect the UK. I wish they'd give Clara some proper UNIT membership if they're going to keep acting like she runs the place.

Before she goes, Kate tells Clara about a special anti-Zygon weapon, Z-67 (which she pronounces zee-67): a nerve gas that turns Zygons inside out. But they don't have it any more, it was stolen by the Doctor years ago, so I'm not sure why she's bringing it up. Unless that's what's in the Osgood box!

Clara drops by her apartment on the way back to UNIT HQ with Jac, and the two of them discover that her creepy neighbours from earlier have a secret Zygon elevator button that brings them down to the secret Zygon tunnels below the city, which they've been using to secretly kidnap people! Damn these guys have been busy these last few years.

This is the part where the characters should head into the tunnels without telling anyone, but they've actually got the sense to head back for reinforcements instead. That's cool, I like it when smart characters do smart things.

Meanwhile in Turmezistan, the Doctor strides into Corporal Walsh's UNIT base identifying himself as Doctor Funkenstein and announcing "I'm the President of the World. I'm here to rescue people and generally establish happiness all over the place." So there's the best line of the episode coming at around the half-way mark. Though Colonel Walsh immediately tries to top it by bringing back the classic 'Harriet Jones, Prime Minister' running joke, saying "Yes, we know who you are."

Walsh has gone and ordered the drone strike on the town, despite the fact that President Funkenstein flew all the way out here with the purpose of finding a better solution than dropping bombs on Osgood. So the Doctor... does absolutely nothing to stop it happening. Little bit out of character, that.

Fortunately for him the rogue Zygons aren't entirely defenceless, as they use their shapeshifting skills to disguise themselves as the drone operator's family and wave at the camera! Zygons can only transform into people they've met though, so they must have known who the drone operator was going to be well in advance and found her family. Or maybe I'm just wrong about Zygon shapeshifting.

The drone operator can't pull the trigger on her own family and apparently no one else around even knows how to pull a trigger, so the Zygon-held town is safe for now.

Over in New Mexico, Kate has driven to Truth and Consequences to discover what Osgood was doing there in the teaser and why the Zygon splinter group keeps saying the name... I think. I admit I've been losing track of who went where and why. It doesn't help that there's been two towns taken over by rogue Zygons and Osgood's been in both of them.

What I really don't get is why the head of UNIT drove there alone in the middle of a global crisis. The only person left in the town is this cop and she doesn't get it either. She keeps asking Kate to just tell her where her backup is, like she's determined that one thing in her life is going to make sense today.

Kate learns from the cop that a number of Brits turned up in Truth or Consequences two years ago with no jobs, nowhere to live and no money. They started getting into fights, a couple got killed, and then things started getting really bad when they turned into tentacle creatures. Hmm, I'm starting to get the feeling this is supposed to be allegory for something...

Only in this case the refugees are British. Well, they look and sound British anyway, after taking on the image and personality (maybe memories) of whoever UNIT let them copy.

Kate looks through police reports backing up the cop's story.

Hang on, Made Up Crescent? Fictional Close? Those don't sound very American! Also I'm deducting 10 points due to that typo on 'offendder'. This is why you have to be careful when you let the work experience kids write your prop documents.

Outside the picturesque Zygon training camp Colonel Walsh (she's the one on the right) is moving to plan B. Plan A is still going to go ahead in 30 minutes, they're still going to drone strike the fuck out of this town, but for the Doctor's sake UNIT is going to storm the village church first to rescue Osgood and maybe even get some prisoners. They're onto the Zygon's tricks now so the 'I'm your closest family member, honest' routine won't work a second time.

"You know what they're capable of. Do not fall victim to it," Walsh reminds her squad.

And of course the Zygons try the family member trick again at the church, appearing as the UNIT squad leader's mother, but he's knows what they're capable of and... he's falling victim to it?

Colonel Walsh is busy trying to sneak in through around the back of the church with the Doctor so she tells the squad leader to ask 'his mother' for details she should know. But she can't remember the answers to any of his questions.

Surely UNIT has a plan for this. I mean they knew they were going to try it, they've already done it once before, this can't be a surprise to anyone here. They could at least phone his mother up, see if someone picks up the phone. If she does, maybe she'll know what his favourite teddy bear is called.

Great, now the steps are covered in family members and the UNIT team doesn't know what to do about it. These Zygons are a step above the ones that Clara met in her apartment building, as they're acting like humans and using cunning emotional manipulation on them.

There's a bit of genuine doubt here because we know that the Zygons have been kidnapping people in London and they even managed to get Osgood all the way to Turmezistan from the US. But c'mon! Order them to lie down with their hands spread out and cuff them or something. Get them over to the trucks and keep watch on them. Do anything but listen to what they have to say.

The 'hostages' claim that they can prove their identity, but first the UNIT squad has to follow them back inside the church. Which they're obviously not going to do as a: it's really stupid, b: it's REALLY stupid, and c: if you know there are Zygon kidnappers inside a church, you don't send your loved ones back in there!

Holy shit they really are that dumb. Holy shit.

This has taken me right out of the episode, as my brain cannot accept that trained special forces operatives would do this. The Doctor sure, he'd march right in there to see what was up and try to talk his way into a victory, but these soldiers knew in advance what the Zygon were going to pull, they know better than to put civilians back into harm's way, and they're all clearly wearing handcuffs.

Anyway it turns out that they family members were secretly Zygons in disguise and the UNIT troops are all killed. Another half dozen candidates for the Darwin Award.

So UNIT completely failed at their job, but somehow the Doctor is still able to sneak into the church without opposition and get to the surviving Osgood. Or perhaps a shapeshifter in disguise as the surviving Osgood... who may have been a shapeshifter herself. We don't know if it was the human or the Zygon Osgood who was killed back in Death in Heaven. It's complicated.

Meanwhile Colonel Walsh displays the wisdom I've come to expect from UNIT by getting inside the church and doing nothing with the intel she finds there. They just blow it all up with a drone strike, while the President of the World is still in the basement trying to retrieve a high ranking agent with critical information.

Safely back on the plane with Osgood, the Doctor calls Clara up and gets no response again. "Can you change your voicemail message please, it's getting very boring," becomes the second best line of the episode.

The Doctor notices Osgood's question mark lapels, like he used to wear as the 4th, 5th and 6th Doctors, before he moved onto question mark jumpers (and now question mark underwear, he reveals). She doesn't know what the question actually is though and he's not about to tell her. He kind of defines himself by his own mysteriousness, I guess he has to considering his series is called Doctor Who.

The Doctor stated earlier that the twin Osgoods were both Zygon and human due to the psychic link they shared, mentally at least, but now there's only one of them and he wants to know which she is, for whatever reason. She refuses to answer though as she considers herself to be the living embodiment of the peace, both human and Zygon at once. "A hybrid" says the Doctor, throwing in the season's arc word.

Osgood explains that Zygons don't need to keep people alive to assume their form any more, they can take an image straight out of someone's memory and hold onto that shape permanently. So hang on, when they pretended to be that drone pilot's family, they did that by identifying her in a room full of soldiers and reading her mind from a couple miles away? Combine that with the ability to zap people with lightning and that's one hell of an upgrade these aliens have had.

Clara and Jac have made it back to the underground tunnels with their reinforcements by this point, and find a whole lot of pods along the walls and ceilings. They've been kidnapping buildings full of people to replace them with Zygon duplicates, and one of the pods has another Clara in it!

So Clara gets the troops ready to shoot the pods and end the invasion before it starts, but Jac points out that Zygons are shapeshifters, they don't need to screw around with growing duplicates, they just change shape. The biggest twist of all this episode: someone in UNIT isn't a complete idiot.

I'm an idiot though, as I never even suspected Clara was a Zygon duplicate, when that scene at the start with the fake parents should've been a dead giveaway. Turns out that real Clara didn't just walk away from the Zygons kidnapping a kid, she was the one who got kidnapped.

And now Zygon-Clara has lured the heavily armed UNIT squad into an ambush! A well trained anti-alien task force with machine guns is just no match for a line of naked aliens standing out in the open and it's a massacre.

In UNIT's defence... they weren't expecting Zygons in the Zygon lair? Nah I got nothing, they were dumb and now they're all dead, like the squad in Turmezistan. I'll miss Jac though; she basically existed to give Kate (and Evil-Clara) someone to talk to, but she was very likeable.

Meanwhile in Truth or Consequences, the cop turns out to have been a Zygon so now Kate has apparently been killed and replaced as well. Though it's unlikely as a: no important ever stays dead in this series lately and b: they'd take her alive for information like they did with Clara.

We've learned some new information though: the conflict in Truth or Consequences kicked off when a young Zygon who hadn't learned to hold human form yet was murdered. So it was likely humans who broke the ceasefire; a ceasefire they had no idea about, made with aliens they didn't know existed.

But the fights not over as long as the Doctor's still in play and he's currently safe in the skies, interrogating a Zygon taken from the training camp before it was completely obliterated.

Their prisoner reveals that the invasion actually began an entire year ago, long before the incident at Truth or Consequences that they keep going on about. They want to live as themselves at any cost, even it means disguising themselves as other people! The first battle has been won and the war is about to start.

You know I do see the Zygons' point, it must be horrible to pretend to be something you're not your entire life, but these guys would probably be a bit more sympathetic if they weren't snarling and zapping people into tumble weeds all the time. The only likeable and reasonable Zygon we've met all episode is Osgood... possibly. It's a 50-50 chance.

Oh, Evil-Clara is going to shoot his plane down with an RPG. We've got a radicalised terrorist splinter group with training camps, underground tunnels, recorded prisoner statements and filmed executions, and the writer just couldn't resist ticking this box as well.

Beautiful looking shot though.

This one too.

Evil-Clara phones the Doctor up to tell him that regular Clara is dead, then fires the homing missile at Tardis One. That's a proper cliffhanger right there.



I'm not sure what I think about The Zygon Invasion, partially because it dumps so much exposition on you that you need a copy of the script and a notepad to make sense of it, partially because a lot of what it sets up is still in the air until part two. It's very topical, with its drone strikes, terrorist training village and refugee crisis, but when 90% of the refugee Zygons who appear in the story are shown to be radicalised terrorists and every attempt at coexistence leads to kidnappings and deaths, I have to wonder where it's going with its allegories.

It's Doctor Who, so chances are that the Doctor and Osgood are going to be right in the end, and peace and love will be the answer yet again, but he was unusually ineffective this episode. He barely bothered to try stopping the drone strike and he didn't seem bothered how many rogue Zygons UNIT gunned down inside the church as long as they left someone for him to chat with. I kept waiting for a bit of outrage, he used to really hate soldiers last season, but he seems to have accepted that they've got a job to do, and as President of the World there isn't much he can do to stop them.

The episode makes a point of mentioning that it's a small number of young Zygons rebelling against the compromises made by their elders, and it's not hard to feel sorry for a group stripped of their culture and history that isn't even allowed to look like themselves in public. But Doctor Who isn't going to have Zygons walking openly in the streets and I doubt it's going to start advocating that refugees should be sent away either, so it seems to be assimilation or nothing. Being a human isn't so bad though... I mean they could've been hypnotised into thinking they were cows. So Earth is stuck in a Men in Black situation, where a secretive agency keeps track of the aliens walking amongst us, except UNIT aren't quite as competent. They install their mind-wipe devices in their own buildings, facing inwards, that's the level they're working on. They're not even aware of the incident at Truth or Consequences until long after the rebel Zygons have adopted it as a slogan, and they only find out then because a Zygon agent straight up tells them where it is!

Plus they're all dead now, besides Walsh and maybe Kate, due to the overpowering force of their own stupidity. The head of UNIT put a school teacher in charge of the UK's defence, then flew off to a town where an agent went missing without backup. Walsh's men fell for an obvious trick they were warned about in advance and got wiped out, then Walsh followed that up by dropping bombs on both her boss and a building full of intel. And Evil-Clara's squad faced off against hostile aliens for a good 10 seconds before being wiped out, without firing a single shot in defence. I mean damn. I keep waiting for a good place to mention how interesting it is that almost all the characters in this episode are women, but after that performance maybe it's best we don't dwell on that.

Personally I'd put this as my least favourite of series 9 so far, but then it's been a pretty consistently watchable series for me so last place isn't a terrible place to be. The episode's got some nice conversations surrounded by a lot of confusion and idiocy, and it kind of balances out to 'below average'.

Next time on Doctor Who: The Doctor has to face the possibility that Clara's dead for the 47th time this year, yay.

Doctor Who will return with The Zygon Inversion. But next on Sci-Fi Adventures, I'll be writing about DS9 episode Dax, which is probably going to be about Dax.

Thanks for reading, if you want to share your own thoughts and opinions on the episode there's a comment box right underneath.

1 comment:

  1. I like to think that Jaye Griffiths' "nameless assistant" is the same character she played in weird 90's techno-thriller thing Bugs. She isn't, but I like to think it.

    This episode is a bit wonky on its own but a lot of the weirdness is explained next time; unlike some of the others in this series, this a is a proper two-parter.

    It doesn't hurt that the next episode is brilliant.