Sunday, November 1, 2015

Doctor Who Season 9, Episode 7: The Zygon Invasion

I've said it a couple times now, but so far Season 9 of Doctor Who is a vast improvement over last year's. Seriously, Season 8 was so uneven (and in some cases spectacularly bad) that I almost stopped watching the show. Fortunately they've turned things around just in time. So far this year's scripts have all been better written and Peter Capaldi seems to have loosened up quite a bit and finally settled into the role. The Zygon Invasion continues this trend, as it's another pretty darned good episode.

It seems impossible, but this is only the third appearance of the Zygons in the entire series, both old and new! They first appeared way back in 1975 in the Fourth Doctor adventure Terror Of The Zygons. They then lay dormant until 2013's The Day Of The Doctor. And even then they weren't the focus on the episode.

I have no idea why the Zygons have been so underrepresented on the show. Maybe their elaborate makeup makes them too expensive to use often, or maybe it's tough to come up with a good Zygon plot, who knows? I suppose it's a good thing they've been used so sparingly through the years, else they could have become as overexposed and lame as the once-awesome Weeping Angels.

Believe it or not, this episode was written by Peter Harness, who penned last season's dreadful Kill The Moon, which I still consider the all time worst hour of Doctor Who ever. So what the hell happened? Why was Kill The Moon a failure on every conceivable level, but this episode was pretty solid? Was Harness suffering from a brain aneurysm when he wrote Kill The Moon?

Even though I enjoyed this episode, something about it seems awfully familiar. Maybe that's because the plot is pretty much identical to the 1988 movie Alien Nation. In that film, a damaged spaceship carrying hundreds of thousands of alien slaves unexpectedly lands in the Mohave Desert on Earth. With nowhere else to go, the aliens, dubbed Newcomers, have to assimilate into Earth culture. A Newcomer crime lord begins manufacturing a drug that's harmless to humans, but mutates his fellow aliens into frightening creatures in order to take over the planet. 

Additionally, the episode eerily parallels current world events. The whole "accepting Zygons into society" thing is analogous to the Syrian refugee crisis which England is presently experiencing. There's no way the production team could have known that would happen when the episode was filmed months ago, so I'm assuming it was a coincidence.

Lastly, the episode is also very similar to what's going on in the Middle East right now. The Zygons have a secret base in "Turmezistan," one of those made up Middle Eastern countries that fill the globes of TV series that don't want to use an actual place. 

Most of the Zygons live peacefully among humanity, but a radical group has emerged, determined to wipe out their supposed oppressors. They even have a flag covered in curly alien script. These radical Zygons then release videos of captives reading lists of demands right before they're executed. Then the Doctor warns against a UNIT strike, saying that the problem is "a radicalization of the younger brood. If you start bombing you'll radicalize the lot"

Gosh, I'm not quite sure, but I think maybe there's a slight possibility the show may be trying to comment on current world events here.

If you've ever been watching Doctor Who on a lazy Saturday evening and thought, "I wonder how this show feels about the whole ISIS thing," then this is the episode for you.

OBVIOUS SPOILERS AHEAD!

The Plot:
Back in The Day Of The Doctor, the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors forced humans and the Zygons into signing a peace treaty. 

During the negotiations, UNIT scientist Osgood was perfectly duplicated by a Zygon. A while later one of the Osgoods was killed by Missy (don't ask). Despite that, there are once again two Osgoods. Whether one is human and one Zygon, or they're both one or the other, they refuse to confirm, saying they're both now hybrids.

Two years after the treaty was signed, 20 million Zygons are using their shape-shifting powers to assume human form and peacefully assimilate into our society. The treaty is in danger of collapsing though, due to the actions of a radical band of Zygons who resent their human hosts. As one of the Osgoods is captured by the Zygon splinter group, she contacts the Doctor and sends him a message that reads "Nightmare Scenario."

The Doctor receives the message and heads for Earth. There he encounters two Zygon high commanders (disguised as seven year old girls!) who tell him to let them handle the dangerous radicals. They both exclaim "Truth Or Consequences," which is apparently the new Zygon motto.

Meanwhile the Zygon radicals are taking their prisoners to Turmezistan. The Doctor goes there to rescue Osgood himself. He does so by invoking his status as President Of The World (that was bestowed upon him in Death In Heaven) and commandeering his own version of Air Force One. 

The Doctor and UNIT surround a church they suspect is filled with Zygons. They swarm out of the church, disguised as the UNIT soldiers' loved ones and lure them in, where they're immediately killed. The Doctor finds Osgood in the church, but she still won't reveal if she's human or Zygon. He heads back to UNIT in his plane with her.

Clara realizes that Truth Or Consequences is also the name of a town in New Mexico. Sensing a connection, Kate Stewart travels there to check it out. She finds the town deserted except for one lone sheriff, who of course turns out to be a Zygon and attacks Kate.

Clara says behind in England at UNIT Headquarters with Kate's assistant Jac. They discover that elevators all over London are secretly taking humans to a vast underground chamber. Clara and Jac take a squad of UNIT soldiers into one of the underground Zygon lairs. There Clara discovers a duplicate of herself inside a pod. Jac looks on in horror as she realizes that the Clara in the pod is the original, and the one she's been with all day is a Zygon duplicate.

This Clara duplicate renames herself Bonnie (?) and orders Jac and the UNIT squad killed. She then calls the Doctor and tells him that Clara and Kate are dead, and he's lost the war. She then fires a homing missile at his plane. The Doctor watches helplessly through the window as the missile approaches.

Thoughts:
 OK, we're told that after the Doctors helped initiate the peace treaty, 20 million Zygons began living peacefully on Earth, taking the form of the nearest human being. So... does that mean there are 20 million people out there with exact doubles? How do the Zygons make a living and survive in our society? How the hell could this screwball plan possibly work? The writer apparently has no idea either, as the matter is never addressed and any questions are hand-waved away.

I have a feeling a good number of these duplicated humans probably met with unfortunate "accidents" as their Zygon doubles slipped seamlessly into their lives.

 When the two Osgoods make their video regarding the Zygon crisis, they sit in front of a container they call the "Osgood Box," which the Doctor gave them and supposedly contains a mysterious something that can end the conflict.

The Osgood Box looks a lot like The Moment, the Gallifreyan doomsday weapon from The Day Of The Doctor. Somehow I doubt the Doctor would give the two of them that much power.

 When the Doctor rescues Osgood, he asks her if she's human or Zygon. She refuses to answer, saying only that she's a Human/Zygon hybrid. The hybrid thing is definitely the overriding theme this season, and has been mentioned in virtually every episode. I wonder where they're going with this?

One thing I hope they're not going to revisit: In the Doctor Who TV movie that aired back in 1996, the Eighth Doctor told his new companion Grace Holloway that he was "half human on his mother's side." This little tidbit of information was news to fans who'd been watching the series for decades, and sent howls of protest through fandom.

The ill-advised idea was promptly dropped and has never been mentioned again, which is as it should be. I'm hoping they're not dredging it up again, and aren't going to reveal that the Doctor's a Human/Time Lord hybrid.

 The goddamned sonic sunglasses are still around, as is the Doctor's horrible sequined top.

 Man, once Peter Capaldi got permission to play his guitar on the show, he went all out. He's played it in at least four out of the seven episodes so far this season. Not that I'm complaining mind you, as I'm all for this incarnation of the Doctor loosening up as much as possible. I just thought I'd point it out.

• When the Doctor decides to rescue Osgood in Turmezistan, he flies there in his presidential plane. So why didn't he just pop over in the TARDIS, and be there in seconds? 

Because of plot trickery, that's why. If he used the TARDIS, then we couldn't have the big cliffhanger where Fake Clara fires a missile at his plane. 

 Kate Stewart mentions that the previous Zygon invasion happened in the 1970s or 1980s. She's done this before (in The Day Of The Doctor?), and it's a reference to the "UNIT Dating Controversy." See, the Third Doctor had a series of adventures with UNIT that aired in the 1970s, but were set "sometime in the near future." In fact those episodes when out of their way to never mention the actual date. This is why Kate can't seem to pin down the exact year of the Zygon invasion.

 Kate also mentions that she wishes UNIT still had their supply of Z-67, a nerve gas that literally turns Zygons inside out (!). It was developed by "Naval surgeon." Kate never actually mentions him by name, but it's obvious she's talking about Harry Sullivan here. He was a companion of the Fourth Doctor for a short time. 

Unfortunately for Kate, the Z-67 was stolen from UNIT by "someone with a TARDIS."

 Osgood continues her fondness for Doctor-centric clothing, this time wearing a shirt with question marks on the collar. The Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Doctors all sported that unfortunate fashion trend. I'm glad it's gone, and hope it never returns.

 What the hell was wrong with Kate Stewart in this episode? She seemed positively sedated in her New Mexico scenes, like she was barely able to summon the energy to speak. Was actress Jemma Redgrave jet-lagged after flying to America to shoot that sequence?

 When the Doctor's interrogating Osgood, he says she must be the human one, because Zygons can't maintain a duplicated form without keeping the original around. 

Osgood then tells him that the Zygons have upgraded their abilities, and can now duplicate human forms at will. Then at the end of the episode we see the original Clara being kept inside a Zygon pod.

So which is it? Do Zygons need a human host to duplicate or don't they? According to the episode the answer seems to be— both!

 I have to admit I didn't see the Clara duplication coming. I went back and rewatched the episode to see where they made the switch. It was right after Clara came home and found the crying boy in her stairwell. She goes into his parents' apartment to investigate and sees the father carrying the hysterical boy away, while the mother calmly looks on.

We then abruptly cut to Clara striding confidently out of their apartment, as she stops to pull her hair into a ponytail! There's no way the real Clara would have left a child in jeopardy like that. Looking back it's so obvious she was a Zygon in that scene, but it was so well done I just didn't pick up on it. Kudos to the actors and director!

 So why does Clara's Zygon duplicate call herself Bonnie? Is there some significance to that name? The only Bonnie I can think of associated with the series is actress Bonnie Langford, who played the Sixth and Seventh Doctors' companion Mel (and is widely considered the all-time worst companion in the show's fifty-plus year history).

 I can't say for sure, but something about this scene looked a bit off. It kind of looks a green screen shot, as if the Zygons were all pasted onto the background. I'm betting the BBC only has two or three of the elaborate and no doubt expensive Zygon suits, so they had to shoot each one several times and composite them into a crowd scene.

 I have no idea how they're going to wrap up such a messy premise next week. How the hell are they going to reconcile 20 million Zygons hiding in plain sight all over Earth? Something tells me the unseen contents of the Osgood Box will play a role. Maybe we'll even see the gas that Harry Sullivan invented!

4 comments:

  1. So Missy caused the Zygon revolt by killing the other Osgood which caused the Zygons to believe they have been betrayed? Have I got that right

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  2. Heh. Maybe. I think in the episode they said there was a Zygon child who was disguised as a human, who accidentally lost control of their form for a second. The disguised Zygons were supposed to be a secret, so when Humans witnessed this they realized what was happening and began persecuting Zygons, which led to the radical faction.

    I think that's what happened. Not a very subtle metaphor...

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  3. Also they said Zygons keep a humans host alive if they may need further information from the subject in the future,. This explains why some are killed and some stored, and I totally agree with you about those god awful sunglasses

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  4. A couple of things. The scene with the two Osgoods at the beginning was filmed before the current episode. There aren't "once again two Osgoods"; they make it clear in the episode that one of them died and the other was driven mad with grief. (She's even shown standing over the other's grave.) Second, Jemma Redgrave wouldn't have had to fly to NM to do her scenes, nearly all of which were indoors. I'm sure she stayed in the UK. Lastly, did they have to pay the Ray Bradbury estate a fee? Because the idea of aliens assuming the shape of your loved ones, then killing you when your guard is down, is basically the entire plot of his story "Mars is Heaven" (which later formed part of The Martian Chronicles).

    ReplyDelete

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