‘The Zygon Invasion’, written by Peter Harness, reveals that the peace accord between humanity and the Zygons is breaking down. A radicalised Zygon group are on the offensive, killing humans and Zygons alike for being traitors. With Clara and the Doctor separately helping UNIT around the world the key appears to be Osgood but is she human or alien?
This is a dark, and potentially controversial, story emulating both contemporary thrillers and harking back to the UNIT era. The allegory of radicalisation is blatant and may make some uncomfortable but at its core it is a scary, unsettling tale.
Spoilers From Here On In!
This episode begins with a recap, showing the unusual situation that was left at the end of ‘Day of The Doctor’,with humans and Zygons hashing out a peace treaty while not knowing who is who. I speculated on the consequences of this agreement here so it was interesting that it explored on screen.
Osgood (both of them) return in a recorded message, explaining that as part of the agreement 20 million Zygons were allowed to adopt human guises and despatched around the world. The tenuous peace depends on a ceasefire. Should either side break it or should one of the Osgoods die (as one did in ‘Death In Heaven’) it would lead to a nightmare scenario.
Of course that is exactly what happens, bringing the Doctor back to the 21st century and working with UNIT. Some of the new breed of Zygons are unhappy with being forced to surrender their true identity, attempting to radicalise their brethren and filming the executing of the leaders they believed have betrayed their race.
The parallels with ISIS are unmistakable and this will be the biggest stumbling block for many. Zygons are immigrants, living amongst us but with the potential to turn on us at any moment and strike where we are most vulnerable. Applying these fears of the ‘other’ to the real world has uncomfortable connotations.
Yet, for me, this turns out to be the episodes greatest strength. In lesser hands this could have been a simplistic tale with an ugly message yet great pains are taken to ensure that we never forget that it is not just a case of us versus them.
This is helped by maintaining a serious tone throughout. This is a great relief given the romps of the previous two episodes. For example it would have been very easy to reveal that the Doctor was in fact speaking to two ordinary little girls in the opening, rather than Zygon leaders, but that would have made him appear silly (although the Doctor harassing children on a playground raises its own issues). The absurdity of situation gives way to the fact that not only is he correct about their identities they are soon murdered on film (after being forced to ‘normalise’ into their true forms).
We find out through the playground meeting that the situation is being exacerbated by the Zygon leaders refusal to work with UNIT, believing that as the radicals are their children it is within their jurisdiction to deal with, not the humans. It is reminder that not all Zygons are bad but without trust and co-operation the peace won’t last.
Without the support of the Zygons UNIT are put in an untenable situation but they struggle on. Compared to previous appearances they are presented as a much more competent organisation, although one that is struggling for manpower (largely drawing upon the armed forces).
Jemma Redgrave returns as Kate Stewart and provides to be a strong leader (although as she is only the Head of Scientific Research we should really see the actual commander of UNIT). Assisted by Jac, played by Jaye Griffiths, and with Colonel Walsh, played by the ever dependable Rebecca Front, monitoring a hive of Zygon activity in Turmezistan this has a very strong female cast and presence.
Having missed the Doctor’s phone messages Clara discovers how the situation is affecting ordinary people in London when a boy in her apartment block is seemingly abducted by his own parents. While deeply unsettling there is a misstep here by casting the family as Asian, virtually making the subtext text.
By the time Clara is brought into the main action the Doctor decides to take advantage of being President of the World to fly to Turmezistan, Kate Stewart will go investigate the apparent flashpoint for the crisis in New Mexico in the unlikely sounding town of Truth or Consequences and Clara will work with Jac to protect the UK.
This gives the whole episode more of a feel that this is a global crisis. Events come thick and fast, at times becoming quite chaotic. Here this spiralling out control makes it feel like a true crisis rather than a story just hitting its beats. Separating the characters also removes their usual support structure putting them in the thick of danger.
In Turmezistan the Doctor works alongside Walsh. Their relationship has strong links back to the one he had with the Brigadier. Walsh is pragmatic, willing to bomb the town with drones despite the Doctor’s protests that he wants to save Osgood. Luckily for the Time Lord the drone operator is unable to follow orders when the Zygon’s impersonate her husband and son.
This psychological warfare continues when a squad of UNIT soldiers is ordered to fire upon the Zygon’s who emerge from a church wearing the forms of their friends and loved ones. While it does show the UNIT soldiers are bit dense to fall for the ploy I think it is conveyed well.
The soldiers initially resist and it is only overtime that they are swayed by the pleas of impersonators. The fake mother, played by Karen Mann, does a good job introducing that worm of doubt from pleading with her ‘son’ not to kill her because she can’t remember the name of his teddy bear to forgiving him for his actions, I could understand why the soldiers couldn’t bring themselves to pull their gun triggers (although going into the church to their doom was a bit much). One can imagine dark twist where the soldiers gunned down the imposters only to find out they really were the originals. This would surely be too horrible but would have taken the story down an even darker path.
This does provide the distraction the Doctor needs to rescue Osgood and it is a delight to see Ingrid Oliver back in the role. Her introduction was a highlight of ‘Day of the Doctor’ and it was devastating to see Missy kill her in ‘Death In Heaven’. As many suspected the Zygon double was the escape clause for her character but cleverly it is left uncertain whether she is the original or the copy (and indeed is a major plot point)
In New Mexico Kate finds the town abandoned apart from a lone police woman, where she discovers that someone glimpsed the true form of the immigrants and turned on them. So events were put in motion by the fear of humans. By the end of the episode the police women reveals she was a Zygon, waiting just long enough to establish Kate was on her own.
Back in the UK Clara’s investigation with Jac into her neighbours strange behaviour reveals an underground complex beneath London, accessed by multiple elevators. Just as UNIT are preparing to wipe out the incubation pods they find there Clara is revealed to be a Zygon herself (and has been since she entered her neighbours apartment earlier) and that this is an ambush. It is a shame here that the heavily armed soldiers are wiped out without one shot being fired in self defence.
As the Doctor returns to a country which has already been overtaken by an invasion we are left with the cliffhanger of the Clara Zygon (going by the name Bonnie) apparently blowing his plane up with a missile. A ruthlessly basic but realistic means of getting rid of the Doctor. We can only hope that the Doctor has some means to escape (maybe the TARDIS is onboard).
This left us with numerous characters in peril, their fates uncertain. The only hint at how this might be resolved is the mysterious ‘Osgood Box’, mentioned in the earlier recorded message as a safeguard left by the Doctor. Apparently if we’ve been paying attention we’ll understand why.
So yes, this is a story in which humans are punished for allow outsiders to live amongst them and where compassion leads to death. It isn’t difficult to see why some are calling this a troubling and potentially troubling story. I think the real question then is the intent or message of the story.
Osgood is the key to this. In her great scene with the Doctor on the plane she refuses to reveal her true nature. Even with the death of her ‘sister’ she still considers herself both Zygon and human. Coupled with the discussion at the start of the episode about how both races can be good and evil I think it is clear the message we are supposed to get from the story.
This is not a story where things are black and white, where one side is obviously wrong and the other obviously right. The problems all arise from people thinking in terms of ‘us’ and ‘them’. Only Osgood is shown to be right because she thinks of everyone as just people.
Indeed this was how the Doctor(s) created peace in the first place. Both sides were placed in the situation where they couldn’t just think about what was best for them but for everyone (because they didn’t know what side they’d end up on once their memories returned). For peace to be maintained both races had to maintain this point of view.
This might have been clearer if we’d seen more ‘good’ Zygons. The majority of those we do see are those belonging to the radical faction. Yet we learn enough about their ideology to understand, if not sympathise. For these young Zygons, not involved in the peace treaty, it is easy to see how they can feel that they’ve been robbed of their racial identity and sold out by their elders.
I really don’t know how this might be resolved and what the final message might be. I would like the human/Zygon alliance to remain as the status quo as I think it makes the setting more interesting. One solution might be for the Zygons to come out to the public which would be another major shift.
Peter Capaldi was much better served by this episode than the previous two stories. We see the harder edge of his Doctor (grudgingly agreeing to let the town be bombed as long as some Zygons survived to be questioned) while allowing some glimpses of whimsy (calling himself Doctor Disco and playing the guitar) or letting him enjoy being President of Earth.
Jenna Coleman was given the opportunity to play the double role of both Clara and the Zygon Bonnie (who was pretending to be Clara for the majority of the tale). This gives her scenes a fun little fission, especially in retrospect. I liked little details such as Clara memorising trivial pursuit questions so she could win and how she cut a sinister figure at the end with her motorbike and rocket launcher.
It is no secret that I hated Peter Harness’ ‘Kill the Moon’ last year (mainly because he didn’t seem to understand what an egg was) but this was a revelation. Putting aside the controversial subject matter this was a tense modern thriller using a classic monster to great effect and sprinkling in some nice call backs (such as suggesting Harry Sullivan developed a biological weapon to fight the Zygons).
If there was ever an argument for a UNIT television series this is it.