Sunday, 1 November 2015

Review: Doctor Who 9.7: The Zygon Invasion

This promotional image does not happen within the episode.
The last time Peter Harness tried to stick a message into his sci-fi, we were rewarded with the embarrassment that was Kill The Moon, 45 minutes of anti-abortion propaganda wrapped up in a shitty and unbelievable plot. This time, the concept has come straight from the mouth of Moffat himself, and this time Doctor Who is actually trying to be relevant - most notably surrounding issues in the Middle-East, the increasing criticism of immigration around the world, and the refugee crisis currently dominating Europe's headlines. Like Harness' last story, it's dangerous ground to be walking on, because mixing those discussions with standard Doctor Who tropes can often lead to an unintended message at the end of it.
      Apparently, after the events of the attempted Zygon takeover in The Day of the Doctor, 20 million Zygons were allowed to take human form and were distributed within the human populace to live peacefully with Mankind. However, there has been a Zygon uprising with the ranks who insist on the desire to live out their lives in full Zygon form. The Doctor and "Clara" are called in to help maintain the peace. Osgood, who was believed to have died in Death In Heaven, is revealed to have been twinned with her Zygon copy ever since The Day, and hence one half of the pair is here, having been kidnapped by the Zygon radicals. Kate Stewart heads for the town of "Truth and Consequences" in New Mexico, The Doctor heads with a UNIT taskforce to the fictional country of "Turmezistan" and Clara stays behind in London. After investigating, Kate Stewart is replaced by a Zygon, and the UNIT forces in the UK and Turmezistan are replaced as well. As The Doctor attempts to return to the UK on a private plane, "Clara", who was a Zygon the whole time, fires a rocket-launcher at him.
     The Zygon Radicals are a group who give themselves the name "Truth and Consequences". They are described as terrorists, they have an white-text-on-black-background flag, they release hostage videos and they want to radicalise all of the other Zygons into uprising against Humanity. Subtle, you two. I was made quite uncomfortable by a lot of the discussions that went on in this episode - especially because a lot of the comparisons made directly alienate their real-world counterparts. The most direct comparison one can make is that the Zygons are Muslims and that "Truth and Consequences" are some variation on ISIS, al-Qaeda and the variety of other radical groups - although there are some comparisons to be made with immigrants both in Europe and on the US-Mexico border ("They just turned up. No jobs. Nowhere to live. No money.") It's all very well and good expressing that there are good Zygons living somewhere, but like a lot of the right-wing press this episode criticises, they're never shown to us. The only peaceful Zygon in the whole episode is Alien!Osgood, and by the time we reach the present she's dead.
Osgood's return is actually quite welcome, and her actress is
allowed to be more than a walking joke.
     Dodgy attempts at a political message aside, there were some good moments. The episode's main sense of tension was built upon its clone plot, with evil doppelgangers and enemies hiding in plain sight and manipulating people. This works amazingly thanks to a single performance in the second half of the episode where a Zygon manipulates a soldier into dropping his weapon by pretending to be his mother, but parts of it fall down elsewhere. Little tip for Harness on writing a plot about clones - if you want us to believe that Clara hasn't been cloned, don't have her randomly wander into a flat, come out appearing completely out-of-character (now that Clara has one) and then spend the rest of the episode saying weird shit. The whole "Clara was a clone!" thing was a complete non-surprise, and it made the end of the episode feel a bit naff.
     Had this been penned by the hand of Moffat himself, I think it would have been a hell of a lot more openly offensive, but somehow Harness has learnt from his mistakes in Kill The Moon and is keeping his political discussion very heavily in allegory. Not so heavily hidden that you can ignore it, though, and I think that the way that next week concludes the question of the Zygon Terrorists will really determine whether this week's episode comes with good or bad intentions. I was a little distracted during my first watch, and that did affect the way I viewed the episode, but it did have a fair share of really intense moments which made for good television though. Although, of course, that does not necessarily mean it makes good Doctor Who. We'll have to find out next week.

Thanks.

NEXT WEEK: The ridiculous title which we've been laughing at for about two months - it's The Zygon Inversion.

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