Doctor Who #967: The Zygon Invasion

"This is your country. Protect it from the scary monsters. And also from the Zygons."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Oct.31 2015

IN THIS ONE... Twenty million Zygons are living among us in peace, except for a radicalized few who want war.

REVIEW: So we signed a treaty with the Zygons at the end of The Day of the Doctor, but we never bothered to ask what its terms were. Turns out, 20M Zygons were settled, mostly in the UK though some have already emigrated, living as humans. This is apparently what the peaceful ones do, assimilate into other cultures with their shapeshifting skills, and only the bad ones are into invasion, interrogation via duplication, and Nessie. It's a very strange, even unbelievable, idea (though nice to see the Doctor pull it off when he's tried so many times with the Silurians), but one for our time. The Zygons are essentially a combination of Muslims, immigrants and gays seen through the Fox News lens. So in this somewhat muddled metaphor, we've got a radicalized few who make the real mainstream community look bad, who take hostages and make them read statements, who commit terror attacks, are accused of pinching benefits and gang violence, just want to be "who they are", can "convert/infect" your friends and family, and so the military is asked to round up or kill people who might be close to them, but they're a secret minority. Anyone could be a "member", go go paranoia. The two-parter's second episode will make sense of the message, but for now, it seems to throw everything into the same basket and you're left with the sense that it's a political metaphor, but you're not sure where its head is at.

As a UNIT (i.e. alien invasion) story, it's not too bad. I wish UNIT soldiers were smarter (can't someone else have shot the guy's fake mum if he couldn't, for example?), and that Capaldi's confrontation with former The Thick of It co-star Rebecca Front had thrown up more sparks. But the scope of the episode is properly international with scenes in London, New Mexico and Turmezistan, making UNIT seem much bigger than usual, and Kate, Jac and Osgood are all doing well. That's an important point, because I've never been a big fan of Osgood (either in 7th or 4th garb), a character just one step too close to the annoyingly fannish Malcolm from Planet of the Dead, but I'm finally starting to warm to her.

On the other side, Jenna Coleman plays a dual role from the time Bonnie takes Clara's place. It's something you don't quite notice on the first viewing, but all the clues are there to be found on the second. She ties her hair back, she asks too many probing questions, she accesses Zygon technology, etc. It's a fun reveal because it shocks initially, but remains fun to watch after that. Having a human actress play the head Zygon is a good thing, because the monster suits aren't particularly emotive, but making Jenna do it will prove an important advantage in part 2, as we will see. Otherwise, the script makes some odd choices, from the weapon that turns people into staticky balls of hair to the rather precious name of a town coinciding with the Zygons' slogan. But this all leads into enough mysteries (the Osgood box, for example, though the mention of a hybrid is just thematic and slightly irritating) and cliffhangers to keep us watching. And spoiler, we won't be disappointed, which I admit raises The Zygon Invasion's cred a bit.

VERSIONS: According to the DVD's deleted scenes, the episode would have originally included camera-phone surveillance footage of both Kate and Clara, and a scene in which Bonnie checks Clara's messages, which indicate her family's been replaced by Zygons.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Props for trying to make an invasion story about something important, but it doesn't quite come together in this first part.


snell said...

FWIW, Truth Or Consequences is indeed a real town in New Mexico. Or was, as apparently all 6,000 residents are dead, never to be mentioned again. They probably should have named the town Alderaan, then...

Andrew Gilbertson said...

This one really didn't do much for me, what with the extremely unsubtle metaphor (I didn't get the 'gay' or 'immigrant' aspects, just the 'Islam' parallels... cranked up to 11, as Spinal Tap might say), and the apparent disservice done to what was presented as a multi-Doctor crowning achievement in the 50th special.

It just seemed miscalculated (especially with the idiot soldiers- both the ones who knew this was EXACTLY the kind of trick a Zygon would pull and fell for it anyway, and the commander pulling the 'False Kirk Choice' from Star Trek V... in which the criminal is saying 'you must trust me implicitly' and the commander is irrationally shouting 'riddle his body with bullets!!!' and everyone's acting as if it were a choice between one or the other only (with the subordinate unable to bring himself to murder his unarmed family) as opposed to, say, *handcuffing them at gunpoint*, then sorting out their fate once they were safely unharmed and in custody. It's bad writing, and requires both commander and subordinate to be morons. (Or, as you say, shoot each-other's loved ones, though that's a bit... horrific, and still requires complete acquiescence or lethal force to be the only two options.)

So, yeah. This one really came off negatively (a bit moreso than it did for you, apparently), and felt like it would have to pull of one HECK of an amazing second-part to go down as anything but a failure in my book. (Spoilers: It DID pull off one heck of an amazing second part!)

Andrew Gilbertson said...

(Incidentally, I don't even disagree with the general message 'not all Muslims are terrorists, it's just an extremist few'; I am a strong advocate for taking in Syrian refugees, as I think we're neglecting our duty to compassion out of fear (which is handing the terrorists a victory as well as failing to fulfill our basic responsibilities as human beings) if we don't.

It's just that some stories, like this one, manage to present that message in such a heavy-handed, clumsy manner that I can actually get irritated and find myself WANTING to disagree with a principle I agree with sheerly because of how ineptly or insultingly it was presented; hence my irritation with the *presentation*, rather than the content, of this one. Just wanted to clarify.)

Siskoid said...

I'm writing up Part 2's review now, and spoiler, I completely agree that it pulled off one heck of an amazing second part. You bring up a good point about the needless bipolarity of the scene. If at least the Zygons had some kind of mesmerizing ability, which we know they don't.

Andrew Gilbertson said...

From UNIT's perspective, I think the best solution would be:
-Pick one soldier (who might not make it out alive)
-Have him go up and arrest one individual (not his family member) while the rest stay back with weapons trained.
-Cuff and secure that individual. If it electrocutes the unfortunate volunteer to death, the soldiers know they are hostile Zygons and fill 'em full of holes. If not, secure that individual in a squad car or tied to something.
-Repeat process with another soldier; one goes up and secures a prisoner, with the rest covering the prisoners in case of attack. In this way, all prisoners are eventually pacified without exposing more than one soldier to risk, and all prisoners are taken in unharmed in case they are the real McCoys.

Not gripping television, but good(?) tactics.

Brian said...

Indeed, you're dealing with individuals who are either (A) alien shape-shifters with actionable intelligence on UNIT agents or (B) newly-secured hostages from an inter-galactic hostile force who have secured actionable intelligence on UNIT. In either case, it's equally legitimate to keep them secured and watched until test and debriefed (even if human, they could be have had any sort of thing done to them with Zygon science that would preclude removing them from early quarantine)...

Andrew Gilbertson said...

I believe you mean "shoot them until they're hamburger, then set the corpses on fire!"- the preferred tactic when facing potential civilian hostages.

It is most effective if you scream it with undue passion at someone who is emotionally wavering and trying to decide whether to listen to you.

(Mind you, I have no firsthand experience; I'm just reading all this out of the UNIT handbook).


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