Doctor Who – Season 9 Episode 7
“The Zygon Invasion”
Doctor Who brings back the Zygons who were reintroduced in 50th anniversary special “The Day of the Doctor” and reveals the result of the forced peace talks.
It turns out that a treaty was formed allowing 20 million Zygons to take human form and live peacefully within society. According to the Osgoods -more on this later- they are a peaceful people who simply want to integrate into whatever race they want to hide in and live out their lives.
This would be fine if it hadn’t been previously established that this is not the case. In “The Day of the Doctor” they were shown to be a violent species who captured and replaced people, only keeping the original alive to maintain their form. I can accept that they might change their ways in order to comply with a peace treaty but it seems like U.N.I.T. should have been a little more concerned about the possibilities and more prepared as a result.
It also creates a large logistical question that isn’t answered by the episode. Kate Stewart establishes that when the Zygons hatched they took the form of the nearest available human and were allowed to live like that. This makes absolutely no sense as that means there are 20 million identical people running around unchecked. I’m not sure how comfortable uninitiated people would be with that and it would certainly raise a few eyebrows if they bump into themselves.
As I’ve said before it’s very common practice for science fiction to allerogise real life issues through a particular lens. The Zygons coming from a planet that has been destroyed and seeking refuge on ours is heavily reminiscent of the refugees coming to the UK from Syria after all of the destruction. Posing the question of what might happen if all of those people happened to turn on is is theoretically interesting and exploring the refugee angle using aliens is a cool idea with lots of potential.
The trouble is that the episode doesn’t really explore those ideas in any meaningful way. It is too concerned with dialling up the manufactured crisis than it is asking any big questions. I did find the idea that the Zygons felt afraid of the consequences if the humans ever found out who they really are to be a solid one. It mirrors what refugees in the UK must be feeling. It can also extend to anyone who has ever felt afraid of judgement due to their race, religion, sexual orientation or pretty much anything that makes them different to the people around them.
If done correctly this idea could certainly have carried the episode and make the Zygons a sympathetic villain who need to be understood rather than stopped. Off the top of my head I could see the Osgood character be used to do that. She could have been used as the case study for the Zygons and use her point of view to understand how they as a race are feeling about living among the humans.
Instead the episode focuses more on setting up a hopeless global situation where people are unable to trust anyone they see and the motivation of the villain feels more than a little confusing. Under the right circumstances the Zyons would have a valid point. They should have the right to live among humans in their true form instead of pandering to the comfort level of the locals. It’s also a fair assumption that the Zygons might feel that they have to inspire terror in order to put their point across.
The Zygon plan as presented is very unclear and there is no real ambiguity established for them. It would be far more effective if a sense of desperation was promoted and regret for what they feel they must do but they come across as 2 Dimensional snarling rubber aliens. The effectiveness of any moral issue raised is negligible when the antagonist has no depth.
There are a lot of confusing scenes here such as the talk of changing the rules around the Zygon shape changing abilities but no real detail given as to what that means. The concept of the hybrid is mentioned again which I guess passes for the season long arc this year. I’m not going to say too much about it because it’s as vague as it was when it was introduced. I’m sure that in the last 2 episodes a clumsy exposition dump will attempt to tie it all together.
Some scenes were really well done such as when the soldier was confronted with a Zygon posing as his mother and found his resolve wavering to the point that it got him killed. It really showed the potential of a shape shifting alien to attack people on a psychological level.
Of course the Doctor is all over the problem and has been restored to his role as President of Earth to deal with the crisis. Why did this idea have to come back? It was ridiculous enough the last time and hasn’t gotten any less so after having some distance from it. The Doctor is back to the sketchily defined version here but that might have something to do with the fact that he doesn’t really have a significant presence here. He goes to rescue Osgood, has a brief conversation and then finds himself in mortal danger at the end. I’m hopeful that he has more agency this week as his role here was far too passive.
Like with last season Clara had far more to do but it turned out that most of the episode she had been replaced with a Zygon. It’s fun to see Jenna Coleman twirl the metaphoric moustache but her performance was a little too obvious for someone who really wanted to blend in. I equate this with Smallville when it was revealed that Bizarro was posing as Clark Kent and he immediately started to slip up in his performance or in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine when Bashir had been replaced by a Changeling for several episodes but only acted suspicious when the audience knew the truth. It’s fairly clumsy writing to have it happen that way as a perfect performance by a duplicate is far more effective and terrifying.
Kate Stewart is her usual reliable authoritarian self but gets sidelined to New Mexico for the bulk of the episode. It was obvious that the cop she met would turn out to be a Zygon which highlights a problem with the episode as a whole. Every reveal was far too obvious and at some points really made no sense. It was so ludicrous to have Clara replaced the way she did that a flashback was needed to show that particular contrivance. Hopefully the second part will salvage some of this and bring us something a lot more compelling.
A poor effort that tries to link the Zygons into real world issues but fails spectacularly in the execution of the allegory.
Linking the Zygons into the very real situation of the refugees coming into the UK is a good idea and if the episode had managed to make them more sympathetic then it would have been a very powerful representation. It is well established that they want to integrate into whatever race they find themselves around and simply live out their lives. The idea that they feel that they should be entitled to keep their own form rather than pander to human expectations is an interesting one as well.
The big problem is that the Zygons don’t appear in any way sympathetic. It would have been more effective if a sense of desperation was put across in an attempt to justify their actions. The effectiveness of any moral issue the show attempts to explore falls apart when the antagonist has no depth.
As always the Doctor is all over the problem but doesn’t really have much agency within the story for this episode. He has been put back in the role as President of Earth despite how ridiculous that was the last time they tried that and generally moves from place to place not doing very much. Hopefully he will have more to do in the next episode.
Clara has a lot more to do but it is revealed that she has been a Zygon duplicate for most of the episode which doesn’t really work. Jenna Coleman does a really good job of twirling the metaphoric moustache once she has been revealed as a Zygon but her performance is a little too obvious to be considered a worthwhile disguise.
Every reveal in general felt a little too obvious as evidenced by Kate Stewart being sidelined in New Mexico with a cop who was obviously a Zygon from minute one. I’m hoping that the second part will salvage something worthwhile but this isn’t a good start.