Peter Harness provides a new vision of the Twelfth Doctor classic which adds new layers to its exploration of the cost of war and the price of peace
The latest round of Target Books novelisations are here! Once these little rectangles of paper joy were the only ways to relive your favourite Doctor Who adventures again and again. More than that, they often went beyond what we saw on screen. Writers would fill out backstories, or patch up plot holes that had originally made it past the script editor. Often, they’d restore subplots cut for time. In today’s world of Blu-rays and streaming platforms, it’s that second element which has come to the fore. These new novelisations of modern Doctor Who stories don’t stand or fall by how well they recreate the original. Rather it’s a question of how much they add to it. Which brings us neatly to The Zygon Invasion.
Originally broadcast as The Zygon Invasion and The Zygon Inversion in 2015, it’s been adapted by Peter Harness. The writer is well placed for the task, having scripted the first episode and co-written the second with Steven Moffat. The result of his efforts is a book that somehow seems appropriately bigger on the inside. So much so that you may feel tempted to turn it over and give it a good shake to see if some dimensionally transcendental extra pages fall out. Harness has 90 minutes of plot to adapt, rather than the 45 of most of his peers. As such you might have expected some sacrifices to page count along the way. Instead, he adds to the plot substantially, while looking deeper under the shifting skins of his characters.
A series of flashbacks to events at Truth and Consequences not only allows us to see Bonnie’s motivation, but makes the eventual peace more satisfying
The additions profoundly deepen what was already one of Doctor Who’s most powerful stories. A series of flashbacks expand on events in the town of Truth or Consequences, giving the reader much greater sympathy for the rage felt by Bonnie and her Zygons. They’re told from her point of view. So we get to appreciate just how badly UNIT and the Zygon leaders have failed in their duty of care. We also realize for the first time just how childlike these newborn Zygons are. They actually are little more than the toddlers of the Doctor’s metaphor. And they’re lashing out in righteous anger at the parents who failed to protect them. Ultimately, the reveal of the instigating incident for Bonnie’s vendetta is pure genius, even if you’ll likely guess it several chapters in advance.
More than just give us a more rounded picture of Bonnie’s motivations, they also make the eventual peace more satisfying. Here, there’s a clear understanding of what lessons both sides need to learn, and how life can be better for the Zygons going forward.
Harness wisely doesn’t even attempt to top Peter Capaldi’s blistering delivery of that speech. However, he does give us access to some of the Doctor’s inner monologue, revealing just how the quiet panic of not knowing what the next word out of his mouth is going to be powers his performance.
The Zygon Invasion may be the most accomplished Doctor Who novelisation of recent years
Other additions are more subtle but no less well thought out. Some of these restore moments cut from the original, like UNIT’s Colonel Walsh proving she’s not ordering her troops to do anything she wouldn’t. Others reimagine Doctor Who with an infinite budget, as Clara’s pod squirms and pulses with life. Action sequences are cut back to straightforward descriptions, aware they can’t compete with whizzes and bangs of live action. But small moments of tension like Clara’s encounter with the family downstairs becoming even creepier. While a change to Osgood’s pronouns shows just how big an impact can be made by shifting just a handful of letters around.
The Zygon Invasion may be the most accomplished Target novelisaton of recent years. More than just an exercise in nostalgia (yes, it’s now possible to have nostalgia for 2015 – you’re older than you think) it’s a solid, thoughtful, science fiction novel in its own right.
Doctor Who: The Zygon Invasion by Peter Harness
“We will die in the fire instead of living in chains.”
For years, 20 million shape-changing Zygons have lived among us in secret. They wear human form, hiding in plain sight. Now a fanatical Zygon splinter group seek to expose their own kind and provoke a conflict that will force both sides to the brink of Armageddon to ensure their own survival.