SPOILERS HEREIN. Please be vigilant if you haven’t seen “The Zygon Invasion” yet.
So far, Doctor Who series 9 has reminded me a lot of classic Doctor Who, specifically the ’70s. Naturally, Peter Capaldi’s a huge fan of that period of the show’s history, but so are a lot of the writers and production staff, it would seem. No episode has felt more like a Third Doctor story than Peter Harness’ “The Zygon Invasion,” the first part in yet another two-parter this year. This is an episode that treats an alien invasion a lot more like an episode of Homeland or something than what would normally happen in Doctor Who, which sets it apart immediately, in a positive way.
It also requires you to have seen both “The Day of the Doctor” and “Death in Heaven,” but you surely did, so let’s not worry about explaining that too much, yeah? Instead let’s just bask in a story that has lots of twists, lots of turns, and lots of gooey gross tentacle things.
So, damn, you guys, we had no idea what happened after “The Day of the Doctor,” with regard to all the Zygon duplicates, but as it turns out, they were allowed (SOMEHOW) to just remain on Earth and disseminate around the world. That kind of peace is very tenuous, especially, apparently, with the younger Zygons who don’t like having to hide as human on a planet that isn’t theirs. Both of the Osgoods (Ingrid Oliver) were instrumental in keeping everything together, but with one of the Osgoods dead – we never find out which one, because of their own machinations – the Zygons are starting to lose the will to keep the peace. Aaaaaaand that’s when bad stuff starts happening, on both sides.
This is where the episode gets topical and political and perhaps a bit controversial. This offshoot group of Zygons wants the world, and they’re prepared to kidnap both humans and peaceful Zygons to do it. That awesome scene at the beginning when the Doctor goes to talk to the two little girl Zygon peacekeepers gives away to panic and abduction by the insurgents. It’s not a coincidence that not ALL of the Zygons living on Earth are hostile; it’s only a splinter group. This obviously alludes to post-9/11 fears of Muslims, or even back to when Japanese American or German American citizens were rounded up and put in internment camps during WWII. It might seem a little goofy because the aliens in question are big, orangey, and have suction cup heads, but the episode is making a definite statement about fear of others among us. Alien Nation did that 30 years ago.
While Kate Stewart (Gemma Redgrave) goes to Truth or Consequences, NM, to investigate Zygons taking residence there, the Doctor heads to where Zygons might be taking people, and possibly Osgood, in a secluded little town. A UNIT colonel named Walsh (Rebecca Front) represents the fear and the strike-first attitude of many regarding terrorists. There is a gas that can utterly eviscerate the Zygons but the Doctor, still being president of Earth, refuses to let that be used. Still, he realizes that these soldiers are afraid and even says, “Try not to kill all of them, I need someone to negotiate with.” While none of the Zygons get killed, thanks to a super underhanded trick of changing to look like the loved ones of the squaddies, it’s important to note that the Doctor knows that the military, especially these ones, won’t just not fire.
Clara gets abducted and Zygon duplicated, which is particularly troubling given that we spend most of the episode with the Zygon Clara. Jenna Coleman does a really masterful job once the evilness of the character gets revealed. She looks like she truly revels in the destruction of UNIT and all of the good stuff in the world. The Zygons were very smart to pick off Clara, whom everyone would trust, in order to get the Doctor, Kate, and Jac (Jaye Griffiths) all in different corners of the globe. I mean, Kate probably should have realized that the deputy lady was a Zygon but she was a little harried I suppose. And, just like all series long, the cliffhanger was amazing, with Jac probably dead (maybe), Kate probably dead (maybe), and the Doctor and Osgood about to be probably dead (maybe).
I applaud that there was no next time trailer, because that gives away the game every time. Stupid. Next time trailers. Who needs them?
Now, it wasn’t all dour political and social allegories; there was some fun to be had as well. I loved how one of the Osgoods wore the bow tie and Tom Baker scarf while the other one (the one who DIDN’T get vaporized by Missy) is wearing the Seventh Doctor’s jumper and lapels with question marks, a staple of the ’80s. I loved yet another reference to the frankly stupid “UNIT Dating Controversy” when Kate again says the Zygon thing happened in the “’70s or ’80s.” I also loved it when the Doctor wants to take the huge jet, not because he likes being the President of Earth, but because “I just like poncing about in a big plane.” So funny.
The Doctor was real weird in this one, too. Firstly, he keeps referring to himself in the third person, and with weird nicknames, like “Doctor Disco.” Also, he almost tells that Zygon his name. Did you catch that? He says “My names…well, you probably know me as the Doctor.” WHAT?!?! Why would he casually drop that in? I’m wondering if he’s a Zygon duplicate as well, or if he’s just being weird. Also, we get yet another reference to a possible hybrid. He’s really worried about what that prophecy might mean. Is it a Dalek-Time Lord hybrid? A human-Mire hybrid in Ashildr, or a human-Zygon hybrid in Osgood? I feel like none of these will end up being the real hybrid, but it’s nice to think about and postulate.
I can honestly say there’s a lot of meat to chew on in “The Zygon Invasion,” and I’ll keep thinking about it this whole week. But, because of the nature of two-parters, I assume that, unlike the others this series, “The Zygon Inversion” will feel like a direct next episode and not a tonal or thematic shift like the rest have been. This story feels very pressing, very now, and I can’t see too many timey-wimey tricks or clever getarounds next week. Although, the word “inversion” is in the title. Maaaaaan, I don’t know. Get off me!
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Kyle Anderson is the Weekend Editor, a film and TV critic, and the resident Whovian for Nerdist.com. Follow him on Twitter!