‘Doctor Who’ Review: ‘The Zygon Invasion’ Is Classic Sci-Fi Horror
Recap and review of Doctor Who – Series 9 Episode 7 – The Zygon Invasion:
Despite having only appeared in one classic serial, the Zygons are iconic Doctor Who villains, owing to their unique design, and the fact that, as shapeshifters, they pose a unique threat to The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) that few races do. “The Zygon Invasion” takes cues from real life insurgencies to depict a world in which The Doctor must distinguish friend from foe, which is hard enough when you’ve only got a handful of villains to deal with, never mind 20 million of them. This was classic sci-fi horror, and reminiscent of some of the best serial openers in Doctor Who history.
This episode requires a lot of background to set up, and the show thankfully provides it by flashing back to “The Day of the Doctor” and showing us how Kate Stewart (Jemma Redgrave) and UNIT struck a peace deal after the Zygons’ attempted invasion of London, allowing them to set up shop on Earth and live normal lives, hidden among us in their shapeshifted form. We then get an extra info-dump to explain how the delightful Osgood (Ingrid Oliver) is still alive after getting killed by Missy last season. It’s a lot of exposition, but it’s necessary to piece together the intricacies of a plot that essentially has these aliens turning into a terror cell, of sorts. I mean, really, the threat video the Zygons put out implies this is less an invasion than an uprising. Hell, it has similarities with ISIS and similar terror cells, between the fear-mongering the Zygons employ, and the episode’s big cliffhanger, which involves a Zygon clone (modeled after Clara) bringing down a plane with The Doctor on-board. For a show that is essentially a sci-fi fantasy, the parallels to real life are potent enough to register, especially when you consider that the Zygons’ conflict echoes the Syrian refugee crisis. These aliens have no homeworld anymore, and are left to feel as though they’re outsiders no matter where they go. You could also make the parallels with the immigration debate facing America, with foreigners settling in a country that wants them gone. But that’s almost too simple a comparison to make. After all, these Zygons are merely a rogue faction within the larger Zygon population living on Earth. These Zygons don’t represent all Zygons, no matter how much they claim to, so there’s a certain ideological component to the conflict this week.
With all that having been said, I did think it was a weird choice to split up a lot of the principal characters this week. Jenna Coleman doesn’t have a whole lot of time left on Doctor Who before she departs, so you’d think the show would stick her with The Doctor a whole lot more often than they have the past two weeks. But then, the big twist at the end of the episode probably wouldn’t have worked had Clara been with The Doctor the entire time. And really, it didn’t bug me so much because we had a generally strong ensemble all-around. The return of Redgrave as Kate Stewart was very welcome, as was the resurrection of Osgood, who’s just such a delightful proto-companion that I constantly find myself hoping they’d just upgrade her to full companion status. We even got a mini-The Thick Of It between Capaldi and former castmate Rebecca Front, who plays UNIT commander Walsh. All in all, this was an episode that had a lot more going for it. Daniel Nettheim does a hell of a job directing the formidable Peter Harness script, and the Zygons are such a wonderfully distinctive enemy that I was happy to have them back. Seriously, we’ve only ever gotten these guys once before in classic Who, back in the 70s with “Terror of the Zygons”. So it was great to return to an enemy that, despite its limited appearances, has remained somewhat iconic in the Doctor’s rogues gallery regardless.
Of course, even without the overarching Zygon plot, we return to a recurring theme that has been running throughout this season: namely, the presence of hybrids. On this go-around, it’s Osgood who is the “hybrid”. In fact, this is how she’s still alive, since she’s neither a Zygon clone nor the original Osgood, but a melding of the two. This makes her, if I recall correctly, the third such hybrid in this season alone, joining Sam Swift the Quick in “The Woman Who Lived” and Davros in the season premiere. The season seems to be making a big deal out of beings who straddle the line between two different existences. In much the same way The Doctor is “President of Earth” without being an Earthling, and impeccably human despite being an alien, Osgood is a cross-section of biology that makes her even more unique than the original Osgood. The show is smart to set up this theme early, since it ends up being reflected in various plot points in the episode itself, as we learn certain characters have been Zygons all along: from the cop accompanying Kate Stewart of UNIT, to the Clara who’s been running around since the start of the episode. It’s this latter reveal that gives the episode a lot of its narrative punch, as Bonnie (as the Clara clone is called) is the one person who can get close enough to The Doctor to undermine his entire operation. And she nearly does, when she basically shoots him out of the sky, leaving us to wonder how he’s going to escape the crash alive. Granted, we know his life isn’t really in danger, since he’s the freaking Doctor, but it does throw a certain ambiguity onto his relationship with Clara. How will he get the old Clara back? And will the experience fundamentally change their rapport? Is this the beginning of the end for Clara?
Ultimately, “The Zygon Invasion” is only half a story, but it’s a fun and insightful opener for the latest in a season of strong serials for Doctor Who. We’re presented with an enemy who, for all their for horrific acts, might actually have a point worth exploring. The Zygons present the other said of the immigrant equation, showing what it’s like to be perceived as the outsider, no matter how integrated you’ve become to society. It’s a deeper story than I was expecting we’d get, and yet it’s every bit as fun as any other Doctor Who story we might have gotten. I really can’t wait to see how this all concludes next week.
But what did you think of Doctor Who, “The Zygon Invasion”? Sound off in the comments!
And for more on Doctor Who, read our review of last week’s terrific episode, “The Woman Who Lived”!