Doctor Who - Series 9, Episode 7

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"Doctor Who is back with its most consistent episode of the season so far" according to Reece Morris-Jones! He just wished The Zygon Invasion was a little more gripping...

As the Doctor and Clara race to restore the fragile peace treaty he brokered in a previous incarnation between the Zygons and Earth, plans are afoot and people are disappearing into the underground depths of London. Can the Doctor save the day? Can Osgood, the symbol of the two races working together, be found? Can Doctor Who finally have a decent episode this season?

The answers are as follows, maybe, yes and depends what scene you are watching. This episode vexed me quite a bit because it had such wonderful ideas running through but it was all so incoherently delivered that nothing came together in the first of two parts. The keystone at the centre of all this though are the Zygons.

Doctor Who monsters have traditionally be made out of stickytape, whatever leftovers other BBC departments had going and a whole lot of wishful thinking. Whilst some of those designs worked and were iconic because of it, the Zygons weren’t. Looking like the latest in extreme fetish wear, they never scared me and the episodes they appeared in, it looked like Tom Baker could barely contain his mirth at their ridiculous look either.

Still, I went in hoping that the suit first showcased in the 50th anniversary episode has been redone to include a bit more articulation. Sadly, the monopose suction dildo suits were back in action and expected to be a convincing threat. With Doctor Who, suspension of disbelief is very subjective but, when you are talking concepts such as shapeshifting aliens that are attempting to take over the world, you need the delivery to pack some punch and more importantly, some belief of competency. Sadly the Zygons failed to deliver that credibility or be a genuine menace.

Which is a shame for, as a way to explore the current tensions and threats of terrorist groups like ISIS recruiting young people from the UK and elsewhere, it’s a safe and very good idea. The episode tried to explore what happens when a younger generation wants to be able to express itself and comes up against an aggressive government policy that wants to remove that individuality (in the show being represented by UNIT). There was even a half hearted stab at showing the community elders trying to keep everything in check in the brief cameo of the Zygon commanders.

It’s just that we never got much depth behind any of this (pretty obvious) text of the show. The Doctor himself keeps talking about how the majority of the Zygon race are harmless and just want to fit in, but instead of featuring them, we got variations of the militant instead. This is part one, so I’m hopeful that the second episode introduces some of the different factions, if only so that what is an interesting idea gets more coverage than “All Muslims Zygons are hate spewing terrorists!!”

The plot otherwise aimed for complexity and tried to convey the idea of this being a worldwide event by having the Doctor, Kate Lethbridge-Stewart and Clara go their separate ways to investigate different facets of the attack. This was mostly handled well, though the introduction to each town abroad had me thinking for a moment that Lethbridge-Stewart was visiting the same location as the Doctor.

Once that was established though, what followed was a nice counterpose - Lethbridge-Stewart investigated the effects a large group of aliens suddenly having to try and acclimatise themselves into a human population would have (with subtext becoming just text again), whilst The Doctor tried to deal with a hostile situation and stop UNIT soldiers from killing people. Those scenes were the most effective ones of the episode, as we got to experience the effects of psychological warfare on others.

The Doctor actually took a bit of a backseat this episode, letting UNIT dictate actions and merely being an observer for the most part, until the last few scenes called for him to be more direct in his actions. It’s my suspicion that not everything is as it seems with him, especially given the cliffhanger of the episode.

It’s that cliffhanger that gives me hope in a way. After an episode of build up, things came to a head and we see that UNIT has fallen completely and the Doctor looks to be next. Like I said, overall, it is the most consistent episode of the series, as the inclusion of such weighty themes that are so relevant at the moment. It’s just that at no point did I feel the Zygons represented an actual threat and so I wasn’t convinced of their menace.

Next episode: will things be resolved in time for tea? Will we get a bit of depth to an otherwise rather mundane episode? Will a Steven Moffat run show refuse an attempt to point out how clever it is? Hopefully the answers to all of those will be yes.

Image - BBC