Sunday, 1 November 2015

Back in November 2013, I criticised (the otherwise very good) The Day of the Doctor for leaving its Zygon storyline with a pretty major loose end, not actually telling us what had happened to the suckery orange aliens trying to blow up London. And yet, despite the fact that a bit more epilogue in that special would still be useful, all the concern was totally worth it for The Zygon Invasion, a story which actually picks up where Day left off. I love it when things in Doctor Who seem to have been planned in advance.

What’s better, The Zygon Invasion gives us a very different story to Day, or indeed to most of what we’ve seen in recent Doctor Who. With twenty million Zygons hidden across the globe, the peace was always going to be fragile, and Peter Harness’ script sees a splinter group begin an insurrection. This is Doctor Who as political thriller, and a very contemporary one at that. 

Harness’ last Who episode, Kill the Moon, has often been interpreted as a commentary on abortion, but can seem muddled as to what it’s actually saying (plus it’s rather devoid of physical threat, and oh, it turns out the moon’s an egg), but The Zygon Invasion is a much more complete and confident script. It really doesn’t hold back (this is Doctor Who, why be subtle?) – the Zygon extremist group resembles ISIS, UNIT use drone warfare, and people prejudge Zygon refugees as benefit scroungers. When the Doctor rants, “This is a splinter group. The rest of the Zygons, the vast majority, they want to live in peace. You start bombing them, you’ll radicalise the lot”, it’s clear this is one of the boldest, most unashamedly political Doctor Who stories in a long while. Which I love. The Steven Moffat era’s been very reticent to comment on the real world like Russell T Davies often did, preferring to introspectively explore the Doctor himself (and some episodes, like last week’s, have done that very well). This satirical kind of story has been notably lacking, but now it’s back in style.

And what style! With trips to New Mexico and Turmezistan (which is as real as Made Up Crescent), it’s a much more global thriller than the ‘70s UNIT stories which rarely ventured further than Kent, while 24-style shakycam and militaristic musical cues really sell the atmosphere. Plus, just as the set designers got a shout-out in my Girl Who Died review, I feel it’s the sound designers who are the unsung heroes here – details like the birds and dogs in the New Mexico desert and the choppers in the background of the Middle East military encampment really make us forget most of this is actually Cardiff. 

And what makes this more than just an episode of 24 is how the body-snatching nature of the radical Zygons provides some very creepy moments of alien menace. That scene on the staircase, with Zygons appearing in the form of soldiers’ relatives, is an incredible piece of paranoia-fuelled tension, very dark in the cheap yet heart-breaking way only Doctor Who can do, while the twist with Clara is perfectly planted – one of those twists that, in hindsight, you should have seen coming. And what a cliffhanger! With the Zygon insurrection beginning and UNIT compromised, the stakes couldn’t be higher – not unless there was a missile about to blow up the Doctor. Well, shit.

If I have anything to criticise, it’s that the Doctor’s rather passive when alongside Colonel Walsh in Turmezistan, standing by silently as she orders her troops to shoot at the Zygon duplicates. It’s a passivity that seems particularly odd given how abrasively anti-military he was in the previous series – series eight’s Doctor would have needed to be physically restrained in order to stop him waltzing in and shouting at the soldiers to put their guns down. At least the trailer implies that he’ll get his rage on and stick his nose in a bit more next week.

It’s much more like a Davies two-parter in its format, too – this isn’t two loosely linked episodes, but one ninety-minute story, and rightly so, as there’s more than enough material here. Full judgement, therefore, must rest until next week, and the success of this thriller will hinge on its ending – how exactly will things turn out, particularly for the millions of Zygons who do want peace? Harness has been ticking the right boxes so far, but given that the insurrectionist Zygons do actually have an understandable motivation (they want to be themselves and not be forced into blending in), the ending will have to be very carefully balanced.

But if the second part does wrap things up satisfyingly and keeps up the quality, The Zygon Invasion/Inversion could well be one of the defining stories of Peter Capaldi’s Doctor Who. It’s a thriller of global proportions, with creepy body horror and brilliant sci-fi twists. It’s also a very bold political satire that couldn’t be more relevant in 2015. It’s unlike so much recent Doctor Who, and yet that’s what makes it great Doctor Who. Because the best Doctor Who breaks new ground.

  1. The Zygon Invasion
  2. The Girl Who Died
  3. The Woman Who Lived
  4. The Witch’s Familiar
  5. Under the Lake
  6. The Magician’s Apprentice
  7. Before the Flood


Post a Comment