Sunday 1 November 2015

Reviews in Time & Space: The Zygon Invasion

Doctor Who s09e07 - The Zygon Invasion

Despite having only appeared in one story in the classic series its amazing how the Zygons have stood the test of time to become one of Doctor Who's more memorable monsters. Their appearance in 50th anniversary special The Day of the Doctor was a nice way of bringing them forward into the modern era, however there was a bit too much going on in that episode to really give them the focus they deserved. However the episode sowed the seeds for The Zygon Invasion, the first of a two part story which also addresses another plot point that has arisen since then. Written by Peter Harness (who also wrote last year's Kill the Moon), this episode also sees the return of Osgood - the UNIT scientist with a penchant for dressing up in the Doctor's old wardrobes.

Osgood x2
Double the cosplay

During the events of The Day of the Doctor, a peace treaty was signed between humans and Zygons that allowed them to live on Earth disguised as duplicated humans. A symbol of the treaty was the two Osgoods, who are linked through the treaty and consider each other sisters. With the death of one Osgood at the hands of Missy in Death in Heaven, the treaty has now broken down. The 'nightmare scenario' has begun and the remaining Osgood has been taken hostage by the Zygon rebellion.

Arriving on Earth after receiving a warning from Osgood, the Doctor rejoins Clara and Kate Stewart of UNIT as they try to make sense of the Zygon' demands. Kate travels to the Mexican town of Truth and Consequences for answers, while the Doctor flies to the Zygon stronghold of Turmezistan. Clara remains in London to investigate, eventually uncovering a Zygon plot that has been going on right under their noses. Its a race against time as it becomes less and less obvious who is human and who is Zygon.

Kate Stewart
One can never have too much UNIT

There's been a lot of callbacks to the classic Doctor Who format this season, and this time The Zygon Invasion seeks to bring back the glory days of the 1970s - the Doctor, UNIT and an alien invasion scheme. After being used sparingly during the early years of the revival UNIT have been cropping up more frequently since Kate Stewart first showed up, with this story perhaps being their most significant outing yet.  As you'd expect from Peter Harness this story has plenty of not-so-subtle social commentary (who can forget Kill the Moon's rather blatant abortion debate) about immigration paranoia and terrorism, but at the very least it feels relevant here and not completely shoehorned in.

Multi-episode continuity can sometimes be the downfall of Doctor Who, but there are times when it works too. Plot points such as the Zygons in The Day of the Doctor and Osgood's death in Death of Heaven could have easily just been forgotten about, but now they've come together to create their own story. The Zygons come out as the strongest threat this season - one step ahead of everyone else without instantly revealing their plans, strong in numbers and with proper motivation for what they are doing. While facially perhaps not as scary as they used to be (they were the one Doctor Who monster that did terrify me as a child), but the minimal changes they've received just goes to show how timeless that design is.

A Zygon
Still ugly 40 years later

It should be made known that I am no fan of Osgood. Her previous appearances have mostly been based on the novelty of having a character dress up in the Doctor's old clothes, and the inclusion of an "real-life" cosplaying Doctor Who fan has never sat with me well. Her demise in Death of Heaven was one of the episode's best moments, and I was skeptical to see the character reappear here despite being fully aware of the idea that there was always a second one). However The Zygon Invasion handles her brilliantly, and aside from a needless reference to her choice of attire manages to build her into a relevant character for the first time ever. Not addressing whether the remaining Osgood was human or Zygon was an excellent choice, leaving it not only up to the interpretation of the viewer but also shaking up the Doctor's confidence a bit too. There's also plenty of intrigue behind the 'Osgood Box' unveiled in the pre-credits sequence - what exactly does it all mean? The Zygon Invasion is all one big puzzle with Osgood at the centre of it, which means in part two she's likely to be more important than ever.

Badass Clara

Special mention should also go to Jenna Coleman in this episode, who does an incredible job as Clara-duplicate Zygon Bonnie (not the first name I'd have picked for a Zygon, but there you go). The story presents plenty of doubt as to whether Clara is human or Zygon but never makes it explicitly obvious to the audience, which results in that ever-so-satisfying reveal. Coleman is extremely convincing as this evil, gun-toting version of Clara so hopefully she will continue to play a significant role in part two of the story. It's a shame we're only getting an evil Clara storyline now just before she's leaving, because with a presence this good Coleman could have easily made a very good recurring villain as well.

This season of Doctor Who has been consistently good so far anyway (some better than others, but certainly no really bad ones yet), but The Zygon Invasion is something really special. A story to appease to fans both new and old, it manages to keep the suspense up throughout by keeping you guessing at every turn and even weaves in some social commentary without making it seem all about that. If part two (titled The Zygon Inversion) can keep up this momentum, I have little doubt that it can go down as one of the strongest modern episodes of Doctor Who yet.

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