Zygons are back, Kate Stewart is back, Clara is back, Osgood is back, UNIT is back! – for a story filled with nothing but returns, The Zygon Invasion is incredibly fresh and heart-pumpingly vital throughout.
AND it’s a sequel!
For those of us who were slightly concerned by the lack of resolution of the Zygon plotline in The Day of the Doctor, fear not. Steven Moffat has employed the considerable talents of Peter Harness (writer of last year’s tremendous Kill The Moon and the sublime Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell for BBC One earlier this year) to demonstrate what happens when peace breaks out between 20 million aliens and the human race.
Despite just being two years ago since the events of the 50th anniversary (not even!), the special seem an absolute age ago as they’re recapped at the start; endowing the episode a grand quality as it ostensibly acts as a pre-titles “Previously”. Set in modern day Earth The Zygon Invasion feels very immediate and engaging to have this contemporary return after some past/futuristic/alien adventures and gives further diversity to a series already packed with varying and fascinating locales.
And it’s no coincidence that this story is contemporary. I can’t recall a Doctor Who story in recent times that has tackled the issues of the day (for the UK, at least) so confidently and so uncategorically. A brave move, but also intensely exciting.
So what could possibly be “modern” and “contemporary” about blobby aliens, and slightly ridiculous looking ones at that, hanging about on Earth? Well, the peace established during The Day of the Doctor is now under threat as factions (“blobby factions” as The Doctor puts it) have broken out in the Zygon community. In particular, the younger members of the species are favouring radicalisation and revolution; turing to more extreme forms turning against the human community which houses them. Sound familiar?
I shan’t go too much into the links this story has with ISIS and “enemy within” style foreign threats, but it’s handled here in a respectful and important manner. Osgood’s video message (she’s been kidnapped) will resonate heavily with the countless videos of that type we’ve seen over the years from various terrorist organisations. Harness does not shy away from the complexties of the situation and, as one would expect, The Doctor doesn’t share UNIT’s desire to “bomb the hell” out of them – “You start bombing them, you’ll radicalise the whole lot,” he tells UNIT’s Colonel Walsh (played by Rebecca Front). Fear and paranoia (facets Doctor Who fans know all about it) are rife in this instlament and Walsh’s statement that they don’t know who the enemy is, and they can’t be tracked or counted, also hints at the immigration “problem” here in the UK. Of course, our Time Lord is having none of it, “They’re already people there, they’ll think you’re trying to pinch their benefits.”
Peter Capaldi and Ingrid Oliver in The Zygon Invasion (C) BBC
Needless to say, our Gallifreyan hero does not value human life over that of a Zygon, referring to us lot as the “scary monsters” (Peter Harness assures me this was not a deliberate David Bowie reference, incidentally). Doctor Who can’t always be about something, about an issue, but when it does it’s heartening to see it done so sensitively and so shockingly real (again, despite the blobby aliens). When you watch The Doctor wade into a Zygon village in “Turmezistan” accompanied by a troop of UNIT soldiers, you realise just how serious the situation is, it’s an arresting image and no mistake.
Sticking with this scene (with some fantastic location shooting in Wales), it’s quite unlike any scene you’ve seen in Who before. As the troops hunt down the shape-shifting aliens we discover a horrific new talent that the Zygons have acquired. (Don’t worry, I’m not saying what it is.) In a stand-off between UNIT and their enemies, you’ll be holding your breath for what seems like an eternity in a moment that will shock and perhaps haunt you a little. It’s also heartbreaking, and you may hate the Zygons just a little bit more.
And this isn’t even the cliffhanger! And that’s a another cracker. More eye-popping, heart-stopping stuff, of which I won’t even hint at. But I’m sure viewers will be turning to their loved ones/friends/the internet to gasp and wonder how they’re gonna get out of that one.
Jenna Coleman in The Zygon Invasion (C) BBC
There are some delightfully quiet and introspective moments too, I should add. One question I’m sure you want answered is, “IS THIS THE ‘REAL’ OSGOOD?????”
You know I won’t say either way but the answer to this conundrum is integral to the plot and handled in an insanely clever and fascinating way. The Doctor himself turns to her and asks, “Which one are you?” Again, this is sensitive stuff and there are some exquisite touching moments when we see the history of Osgood. Ingrid Oliver, already a massive hit with fans, will win even more here, especially when she reveals her love for the Question Marks on The Doctor’s clothes (he doesn’t disappoint her). The next companion is surely staring us all in the face?
Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman are no slouches here either. The former is arguably at his best in this episode as he goes from the teenage guitar playing in the TARDIS, to a man with a POTW* swagger, to an angry man with UNIT, to a man who gleefully claims he snogged a Zygon once. He’s got it all going on here though Capaldi doesn’t share much time Coleman, who gets her own mission (look out for the moment when The Doctor gets his plan into gear and then splits the team up – classic and rousing at the same time).
Peter Capaldi in The Zygon Invasion (C) BBC
Like Capaldi, Coleman is on top form in a performance that matches the tone of the piece. I can’t recall such an assured portrayal of Clara before, forcible and dominant when needed.
In fact, all round The Zygon Invasion deserves plaudits. Capaldi’s Thick of It co-star Front plays the UNIT soldier straight down the line with a no nonsense approach and a desire to get the job done. Typical UNIT and, unsurprisingly, The Doctor doesn’t really take to her. New director Daniel Nettheim (superb for BBC Two’s Line of Duty) handles the more realistic tone of the ep with style and pace, lending a truly global scale to proceedings. The choice of shooting the Zygons minimally serves the show well, as the Zygons can look slightly less than fantastic in daylight.
The Zygon Invasion brings another finale feel to Doctor Who Series 9 and without wanting to use the overused superlative “epic,” it is indeed just that. It’s a scorcher from Harness and the team that will encourage social debate and have kids pretending to be Zygons everywhere.
Doctor Who, The Zygon Invasion airs Oct 31 at 8.15pm on BBC One