TV REVIEW: Doctor Who, S9, E7: The Zygon Invasion

 

I have to admit that of all the stories I was aware of, The Zygon Invasion (and its conclusion) were the ones I was most excited about. More than knowledge of Davros and Missy returning, it was Osgood, UNIT, Zygons and an invasion that promised a world-wide scope that had me hooked. Finally, just past the half-way point of the series, the opening half arrives. Would the Peter Harness script measure up to my hopes?

The Zygons, a race of shapeshifting aliens, have been living in secret amongst us on Earth, unknown and unseen – until now! When Osgood is kidnapped by a rogue gang of Zygons, the Doctor, Clara and Unit must scatter across the world in a bid to set her free. But will they reach her in time, and can they stop an uprising before it is too late?

A direct sequel to Day of the Doctor, this two part story answers the question of what happened to all the Zygons? Peter Harness wrote the rather good – if scientifically ludicrous – Kill the Moon last year, a story that had a lot of heart and an interesting debate at its core. This invasion from within story has the potential to be just as thought provoking.

And provoke my thoughts it did, but probably not in the manner expected. At least not yet. The more I think about the root of the episode, the more I wonder at what UNIT has become in Doctor Who. In the old days when aliens sought integration or co-operation, actual diplomats were sent to negotiate. Yet in Day of the Doctor, UNIT negotiates a treaty with an alien race that allows twenty-million Zygons to TAKE OVER THE LIVES of twenty-million Humans in secret. By what authority? Who knows? It’s made clear in the episode that the Zygons need an original to “imprint” upon and, to fully integrate, they need to keep that original so they can access their memories. This seems morally dubious at best…

This oddity aside, I have to say I loved the global scale of this story and the fact that The Doctor chose Osgood and Osgood to be the bearers of the fail-safe he clearly thought would be necessary in case of disaster. The story neatly divides into three strands, each in different locations around the globe. It’s something that Doctor Who hasn’t really achieved before and I think it worked particularly well this episode.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a fan of the two-part format as it allows stories and characters to breathe and this is particularly clear here. The story is allowed to progress in a manner that slowly builds towards the conclusion rather than having to fly at it like a mad jumble of story ideas.

Peter Harness’ script is one that does something that used to be common in Doctor Who. It provides a close-to-the-knuckle scenario involving aliens. I’m sure most viewers can find a parallel to the situation introduced in this week’s episode – from the recent or not so recent past.

It’s great to see Osgood back. In my mind, Kate and Osgood form the core of a new UNIT family that are welcome to pop in and out of the series as and when required. Jemma Redgrave and Ingrid Oliver are a joy to watch, as ever and I look forward especially to Osgood’s role next week as she has been planted firmly at the Time Lord’s side.

If anything, I’m concerned at present about the way in which Kate Stewart is presented. In her previous appearances, she has always seemed to be a rational, scientific thinker. A contrast to the more militaristic UNIT commanders seen in episodes before her introduction. Yet here, she is the opposite. She is unwilling to negotiate with the Zygon splinter group. Her first thought is to bomb the rogue element. It could well be that this Kate is a Zygon Kate but at this stage nothing is clear.

I think it’s uncertainties that help elevate this story for me. Uncertainties about who to trust this story: who’s a Zygon? If someone IS a Zygon, then are they rogue? It’s a massive guessing game into which we are thrust along with the Doctor. This theme is perhaps a little over used though. There is a scene with UNIT soldiers in a village that particularly springs to mind. This scene also raises another concern about UNIT. The soldiers in this story are completely useless. They disobey orders at the slightest doubt. The officers seem to accept this fact as well. Twice, an officer’s orders are disobeyed and twice she does nothing to reprimand her inferiors.

I think that what didn’t help in this regard was that I found the cast outside of the regulars and semi-regulars to be a little bland. Walsh and Hitchley are especially guilty of this in my mind. I felt their performances were somewhat lacking. The result was that a scene that could (and should) have been emotionally charged and tense dragged on screen.

Daniel Nettheim’s direction is superb throughout. The hand-held camera work helps bring the audience into the action and allows for some very cramped-feeling sets. There’s a slow-creeping threat that seems to carry through the episode nicely. I thought there was perhaps one misstep which involved a flash-back towards the end of the episode. To me it drew me out a little as it answered a question that I felt should be left until the second part of the story.

Issues of story-logic versus my-logic aside, I thoroughly enjoyed this episode. The slower, creeping pace built excellently to the cliff-hanger. Lovely to see UNIT in a story on such a global scale, even if their presentation is somewhat confused. I can’t wait for the conclusion next week.

Rating: 4 /5
Reviewer: WedgeDoc

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One comment

  1. Dan Brown /

    It was okay,
    It was a bit too concerned with trying to draw parallels with the current immigration crisis and propagandize the issue (very establishment controlled BBC) rather than just tell a story.

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