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It’s Not Paranoia If It’s Real. Doctor Who: “The Zygon Invasion”

There are so many things to say about “The Zygon Invasion,” and that’s without even talking about the mystery box above… which remains a mystery. Can the second part be now instead of next Saturday? Give it to me. Also give me more episodes like this, please and thank you.


Summary

We flash back to “The Day of the Doctor,” when Ten and Eleven and the War Doctor forced a treaty between humans and Zygons. Then we discover a tape left by the two Osgoods, detailing that the Doctor left them a special box, to be opened only in a “Nightmare scenario” if the ceasefire between humans and Zygons is ended. We find out that, following the death of one Osgood at Missy’s hands, the other goes underground and later gets captured by a Zygon splinter sect—but not before she gets a warning out to the Doctor that their Nightmare scenario has come. The Doctor calls Clara, asking her to call back soon. He finds two Zygon commanders—both disguised as little girls—and asks them to accept his help resolving the conflict, but they are adamant about taking care of the situation themselves. A moment later, they are kidnapped from the playground.

Doctor Who, season 9, The Zygon Invasion

Clara notices the Doctor’s messages, but halts when she runs into a neighbor’s child on the staircase of her building; he can’t find his parents. Clara goes into his apartment and finds them there, but the father carries the boy in screaming, though the mother insists everything is fine. Clara leaves the apartment and goes to meet the Doctor and Kate Stewart. The two Zygon leaders the Doctor previously talked to are vaporized by the splinter sect in a video sent to UNIT. Clara deciphers one of the things mentioned in the video to be the name of a town in New Mexico called Truth or Consequences. Kate Stewart goes there to find out what she can while the Doctor heads to Turmezistan, where he suspects the Zygon base and Osgood are.

The UNIT commander in Turmezistan is Walsh, and she has a brief period to raid the Zygon base before an incoming military strike levels the area. Her soldiers head to the chapel in town, but all of the Zygons are disguised as people beloved by each of the soldiers, and they find they cannot shoot them. The Zygon lure the group into the chapel and murder them, leaving the Doctor and Commander Walsh to search the base. The Doctor finds Osgood under the floorboards, and they head back to the U.K. In Truth or Consequence, Kate finds no one in the town but a single police officer, who tells her that the Zygons living there killed all the human residents.

Doctor Who, season 9, The Zygon Invasion

Clara goes with Jac to her apartment building and sees the neighbors carrying their son into an elevator in a bag. They try to meet the family on the ground floor, but they’ve disappeared. It turns out this has been happening all over—the elevators are under control of the Zygons, and they’re bringing people down below, under the earth. Clara and Jac bring a squadron down below to view the Zygon lair, where they discover a copy of Clara. But Jac works out the truth: Clara was replaced when she was attacked by her neighbors, and the woman in the pod is the real Clara. She advises the squad to run, but Zygon Clara (named Bonnie) orders her comrades to kill them. Kate Stewart find out that the police officer is not a human, but a Zygon, who attacks her and takes on her form. Zygon Kate gets a call from Bonnie, and they confirm that UNIT has been neutralized in the US and UK. As the Doctor is flying back into the country with Osgood, he questions her about whether she is the human or Zygon version, but Osgood maintains that she is both, that she and her sister Osgood were a manifestation of the peace between their peoples. They get a call from Bonnie, who tells them that Clara and Kate are dead. She fires a missile at their plane.

 

Commentary

Wow. This episode.

This season has already had praise heaped on by numerous publications, many calling it a sort of Renaissance of New Who, a reinvention that was desperately needed. I confess that I haven’t been feeling it much myself, aside from when Missy shows up. These serials are smart and well-done, but they haven’t grabbed me emotionally the way I’d like, until this episode. If the Twelfth Doctor’s reign is destined to be marked by stories with real weight to them, then this is what I’d like to see more of.

Doctor Who, season 9, The Zygon Invasion

To begin, this whole storyline is a stark commentary on terrorism in so many pointed, intelligent ways. We begin with two Osgoods, who make the central point in their video; that neither species is inherently bad, but that they both have the ability to churn out individuals who can do great harm. It’s a plea for understanding, the fact that the actions of a small group do not reflect the beliefs of the entire group.

What’s impressive is that we get a good look at both sides of this conflict, even from the extremist perspectives. The allegory is fairly thick here; given the current atmosphere surrounding any talk of terrorism in general, it’s hard not to notice commentary like UNIT suggesting that they keep Zygons out of the UK, only to be told, “We’re already here.” But there are other moments as well, like the officer telling Kate Stewart that one of the reasons that the humans in Truth or Consequences started panicking about the Zygons was due to a child Zygon who wasn’t capable of keeping her human form. We hear the Zygon extremists demanding to be seen in their true forms, while they malign the Zygons who would chose to conform to humanity and their way of life, and demand their obedience to the new order. We’ve got Walsh telling the Doctor that her paranoia over the Zygons is completely founded, and the Doctor trying to stop humanity from starting a full-scale war by pointing out that the group they’re dealing with is just a fragment, not representative of every Zygon on Earth. It’s an episode designed to teach, and does an excellent job of making the parallels without coming off too preachy or wishy-washy on the subject.

Doctor Who, season 9, The Zygon Invasion

This episode is fully of heavy emotional moments, and every single one of them lands. The weapons officer who can’t fire on Zygons who look like her family, the soldier who can’t help but accept the pleas of his mother, the commander who is desperate to keep her people alive. While the actions of the splinter group is clearly wrong, there are no broad brushes here. Everyone feels the way they feel for a reason, and the good guys make plenty of bad decisions too.

But you want to know what else astounds me about this episode? What goes utterly unremarked upon, and is therefore exponentially more spectacular? Practically every single speaking role in this episode, excepting the Doctor, is played by a woman. All of them. Every leader from UNIT, the soldier’s pleading mother, the Zygon leaders, the officer in New Mexico, all of these vital roles are played by women. Practically every relevant line is spoken by a woman, all the heavy emotional moments are delivered by women, every role needed outside of the Doctor himself is filled by a woman. (Notably, at least half of the UNIT task force is female as well.) Hopefully it’s not the sort of thing that will get explained away in the second episode because if Doctor Who does this without comment, if that’s just the way it is, that sets precedent for every show/movie/book/comic that claims that it’s “just not realistic enough” to have women all over the place, in every conceivable role.

Doctor Who, season 9, The Zygon Invasion

In fact, if we count this down, all of the central characters of this season have been women. We have Clara, of course, but there was Missy, then there was Cass, then Ashildr, and now we have an entire episode where the majority of the cast is female and honestly, that alone is cause for all the celebration the show is getting. It’s sad that we’ve only gotten this far in the general landscape of things, but I’ll take it, all of it, with another 8,000 helpings if they’ll give it to us.

There are a few places where the episode is a bit shaky—I’d argue that unless they don’t care that the audience knows, it’s pretty obvious that Clara has been taken over by a Zygon. (Clara Oswald would have never left a screaming child in that apartment.) Also, the cliffhanger seems too much to ask the audience to believe. Being able to buy that both Kate and Clara are dead, and then having to wonder how the Doctor will possibly save/get off that that plane? The tension of the episode is plenty high without tossing around multiple character deaths as a carrot to get people back for part two. Also, I’m going to assume that the virus that could wipe out the Zygons that the Doctor stole from UNIT is going to come into play in the next episode? That was the giant carrot to leave dangling—could it be the thing in Osgood’s box?

Doctor Who, season 9, The Zygon Invasion

Yet even with all that, there’s still so much to love outside of story-for-story’s-sake, like the Doctor getting all into his presidentialness on the stairs of his airplane, or the exciting character arc that Osgood has been given, elevated so far from a fandom stand-in into her own fully realized person. Having Kate Stewart as a semi-regular on the show is still a blessing, and checking in with UNIT makes the whole Who universe that much more cohesive. Also, the Zygons are being treated as an intricate species, rather than funny rubber suits with growly voices! It’s so easy for shows with campy bits of history like Doctor Who to shirk everything that was once deemed silly, so this is a considerable upgrade for the Zygons.

Notable continuity bits:

  • Osgood and the Doctor talk about her question-mark lapels, which is something that the Fifth Doctor was quite fond of. In the opening video we see one Osgood wearing her Fourth Doctor scarf and the other wearing the Seventh Doctor’s question mark sweater vest. Number Twelve is laying claim to question-mark underwear, which is a whole different fashion show.

Doctor Who, season 9, The Zygon Invasion

  • The Doctor realizes that Osgood is a sort of hybrid, echoing the theme of the season. How is this going to play out going forward? Is it just an understanding of hybrids that will be useful to the Doctor going in the future, or will the specific hybrids he knows all play into the finale?

Emily Asher-Perrin wonders if Osgood creates her own Doctor outfits, or if there’s a supplier in UNIT somewhere. You can bug her on Twitter and Tumblr, and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

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