‘Doctor Who’ Season 9 Episode 7 review: ‘The Zygon Invasion’

History proves it again and again: no matter how good things are, there’ll always be some who are unhappy.

No, we’re not talking about the more vociferous Doctor Who fans! We’re talking about the Zygons. And while it’s understandable that no episode pleases everyone, ‘The Zygon Invasion’ should have everyone reaching the consensus that it’s pretty fantastic. In fact – BOLD STATEMENT ALERT – it may be the best Part 1 since ‘Silence in the Library’.

There’s no need to be in two minds about it: writer Peter Harness has created something that Osgood, sorry, is good. Very good.

A Classic Who story with a 21st century pace and a global scope. It’s a 3rd Doctor-ish adventure on a Judith Chalmers grade travel budget (Judith Chalmers is still trendy, right?). And that adventure is Invasion of the Body Snatchers meets ISIS, as a home-grown terrorist cell of Zygons cause trouble for their own kind and humanity, and the peace accord reached in 2013’s ‘The Day of The Doctor’ is put in jeopardy.

Doctor Who the Zygon Invasion Peter Capaldi Twelfth

Jeopardy is the key word here. Harness’s greatest gift to the show, beyond invoking the memory of Harry Sullivan (+100 points to you, Harness), is promoting the Zygons to a premier league threat; a position that they’ve never previously enjoyed.

Watching them now makes you wonder why the vaguely priapic menaces weren’t used more after 1975’s ‘Terror of the Zygons’, especially as they can literally shape-shift to fit our greatest fears. And what’s more prescient, more socially frightening, than the idea of the stranger behind the familiar face?

At a time when we’re worried about home-grown terrorism, and helplessly watching the chaos of fellow nameless humans literally dying to try and live among us, the Zygons feel more threatening than the Daleks have done for decades, simply because their weaknesses are reflections of our weaknesses.

Doctor Who the Zygon Invasion Walsh (REBECCA FRONT)

‘The Zygon Invasion’ isn’t subtle in drawing on those real-world parallels, but Doctor Who has never treaded the (hand)minefield of satire and topicality particularly subtly, has it? Just look at ‘The Sun Makers’ (Robert Holmes’ complaint letter to the Inland Revenue, read aloud by Tom Baker), or ‘The Happiness Patrol’ (a literal Pic n’ Mix of anti-Thatcherism), or ‘World War Three’ (invasion of Iraq with fart noises).

While it isn’t at all oblique on the themes of immigration, home-grown terrorism, and ISIS, it isn’t didactic about them either. There’s space for you to make your own mind up, to decide how far you’d sympathise if placed in the position of The Doctor or Kate Stewart or a UNIT grunt.

If you were on those church steps, gun in hand, facing the image of your mum, what would you do? Could you pull the trigger?

Doctor Who the Zygon Invasion

It’s easy to over analyse the polemics of ‘The Zygon Invasion’ and lose sight of the fact that it’s also just an excellent story. One which is all the more engaging by making the most of the main players. No one feels redundant here, or resigned to following The Doctor around and asking questions.

While The Doctor ‘ponces’ off to Azerbaijan Turmezistan on a plane (an act of unusual vanity that seems incongruous when he has a TARDIS, and convenient for the sake of that awesome cliffhanger), Kate Stewart gets to gad around the globe to New Mexico. Doctor Who is a global brand these days yet it’s still surprising when it steps out of Wales. And kudos to director Daniel Nettheim for giving each location a global look on a Doctor Who budget.

Doctor Who 9 osgood The Zygon Invasion

Back in cheap old Blighty (points if you can name every episode you’ve seen that tunnel before!) Clara is subtly replaced by a Zygon who can’t quite get the lipstick right. I have to admit, I didn’t cotton on to Clara being a secret blobby until the reveal, but I am an idiot.

And even after the reveal, when she was giving everyone in UNIT spectacular shade, I was far too pre-occupied with the fate of Jac. If you watched Bugs in the Doctorless 1990s, Jaye Griffiths should hold a special place in your memory. She made Saturday nights on the TV. Now, exactly 20 years on, she’s died in the weekend place many first met her.

A moment, please.

Doctor Who the Zygon Invasion Jac (JAYE GRIFFITHS)

Moment over.

Oooh! Doesn’t Jenna Coleman do cold and evil well? They really are doing a good job of ensuring we miss her when she’s gone to be all regal over on ITV.

However, the real woman of the hour (well, 45 minutes) is Ingrid Oliver as Osgood. Which Osgood? It doesn’t really matter, she’s great either way. Whether she’s the Human or Zygon will no doubt fill a few speculations articles between now and next week, but that’s the whole point of ‘The Zygon Invasion’. Nothing’s certain.

Oh, apart from one certainty: this is Doctor Who at its best. Accept no imitations.

5star

Airs at 8.15pm on Saturday 31 October 2015 on BBC One.

> Buy Season 9 on DVD on Amazon.

> Buy Season 9 on Blu-ray on Amazon.

What did you think of this week’s episode? Let us know below…

> Follow Rob Smedley on Twitter.

  • I’m repeating myself again: this was yet another solid entry to the season. Peter Harness has redeemed himself from the EggMoon fiasco. 10/10 but let’s see if next week can resolve all those lingering plot threads satisfactorily, that’ll be no small feat.

  • Daniel

    That was sensationally good and I agree that if part two is as good, this might very well be the best two parter the show has ever given us. It’s amazing that each week this series gets better and better. Really can’t say often enough that we are in the best era of Who there has ever been.

  • Aaron Brookes

    Very much enjoyed this episode, very well written, however some small problems, such as the twist with Clara and with Kate, something was always going to happen with those two, and either one could have happened to both.

    I hope, and repeat, HOPE, they don’t have some rubbish excuse about the Zygon Clara not being a Zygon, saving the Doctor by not locking onto the airplane. Otherwise that would lower everything about this two parter. The first episode is another solid entry into the series, let’s hope the next is as well.

    I’d give it a solid 8.5/10, like I said, the ‘twist’ was very M. Night like, or that could be me just watching too many films and knowing what was going to happen.

    • bar

      I prefer the ZyKate is actually real Kate faking it as Q E 1st did in DotD. give her a chance to really shine and make Kate look like her Father’s daughter.

      • FideliaNerina

        Exactly what i was thinking, I think Kate is smart enough to have gotten rid of the Zygon so i agree with the fact shes faking it to understand what the full plan is.

  • Tony Gaskin

    Absolute rubbish. I gave up at the point that trained troops, having been told that the enemy would be impersonating their relatives, were completely fooled by aliens impersonating their relatives. Obviously, there will always be elements of implausibility but this episode didn’t suspend plausibility high enough to get graphene underneath. On the plus side, I’m sure my guitar playing will improve with extra time for practice.

    • David Havers

      You gave up on an episode. Your loss.

    • Rob

      No. You will still sound like rubbish, and have missed out on some good Who.

    • Nick Weston

      Well that’s your loss. I’m off to watch it again

    • There’s always one…

      • bar

        unless there’s a zygon, then there’s two.

  • bar

    Plot as tangled as tumbleweed that turns out to be a dessicated human – hu-gone? and I loved it. Big tartrazine grin on my face, looking forward to watching it more slowly soon and sucking the marrow. And enjoying all the Remembrance refs, blobbiness etc.

    Politics slogans too unsubtle, but the underlying one better – I can’t help but sympathise with the Zyfaction that just want to be allowed to live truthfully, as themselves, not ‘passing’ as the dominant majority. Just anti their methods.

    Talking of minorities, I’d feel better with a few more male characters to invest in. The all-female major parts are as annoying as Ashildr being the only girl in the village. One woman, one baby, and her.

    ZyClaraBonnie based on Clara’s memories of Missy, who SO wants to shoot the Doctor down with a misile launcher.

    Old-fashioned, fast action classic Who. more please.

  • Intothevervoid

    Intelligent political Who done right. With RTD we got farting aliens taking over Number 10 by wearing fat suits. Last night we got good visceral, smart story-telling reflecting the all too real threat of social dislocation, radicalisation and terrorism. Clever addition to Zygon lore and pitch perfect acting by the leads. Continue to love the guitar and sonic shades and any episode with Evil Clara and a rocket launcher is already an automatic classic.

    Just when this perfect dream of a series doesn’t look like it can top the last episode it goes and gives us one of the best set ups possible for an episode a few little birds have already told me will end with a conclusion that resets the high bar for the show. Bliss with rubber suckers.

  • Helles

    Very topical and though provoking in a way few other shows manage. Peter Harness is back in the good books – tightly written, great characterisation and handled the complex plot lines well. He’s also great with dialogue and has a keen sense of the ridiculous which showed up in the humour. Another fantastic cliffhanger to show the value of the return to two parters. Jenna MVP last night but Capaldi looks as though will come into his own next week. Series continues to be uniformly high quality. Definitely worth five stars. Echo others that good to see so much love for the show tonight – well deserved. Think we can now safely proclaim this best series of new Who with 7 out of 7 complete hits and not a single miss.

    • Wisconsingal

      Yep. Awesomely good season. No misses, but lots of Missy this year fortunately. Stumped anyone didn’t find tonight’s ep brilliant. Osgood must join as companion. Better written character than Rose or Martha that’s for sure.

  • Wisconsingal

    Cracker. Another five star episode. Awesome season.

  • Joe

    Livid by the fact Jac was killed of, another perfectly good character that had lots of potential killed of, thanks Moffat.

    I don’t believe Kate is dead, she’s the Brigadier’s daughter, and I believe that the Osgood with the Doctor is the human one.

  • HH

    Really looking forward to how they are going to resolve this one. Reminded me of a classic Pertwee episode but with better effects and tighter writing. Jenna was the star in this. Anyhoos, one of the best Capaldi episodes and a worthy follow up to Day of the Doctor. Hybrid mentioned again too?? Moffat is playing an absolute blinder with the arc this year. I am dying to see how he is going to tie this all up!

  • John McJohnson

    I was worried after egg moon but Peter Harness proved what he can do. Proof that one bad script does not a bad writer make!

    • Helles

      I always think that Midnight proves that even the worst writers can sometimes actually get it right.

      • John McJohnson

        Very true. I still can’t believe that came from the same man as Love And Monsters.

        • Helles

          And you could add most of his awful back catalogue. I don’t mind Love and Monsters as it at least *tried* to say something with a unique voice. Where RTD really fails as a writer is that he extrudes incoherent pulp attempting to be populist but failing to be anything other than bland narrative with dollops of fanw@nk. All of his finales are guilty of this sin, bar the successful end to series 1 – the others are some of the worst things Who has ever thrown up, wallowing in their own sense of self-importance. It’s no surprise that the general contempt felt for much of his era by longer term fandom has now quietly subsided into disinterest. Material written in the white hot moment of self-belief which project vanity and rub the viewer’s face in how wonderful and indispensable their characters are and how their vision is the only frame through which to view the show can never last long. Thankfully those closed windows were thrown open to let in fresh air once Matt came on board and the show is now taking greater risks than it ever has before in a much more open and tolerant spirit.

          • Very true. Pretty much every episode after series one (which held up well) that RTD wrote – I’m generalising here – was about how wonderful Rose was and how holy Ten was. Rose was a horrible person in series two, barely recognisable as the character we’d seen before, while Ten was the most self-absorbed, egotistical, preachy, two-faced (literally) git that you could ever be unlucky enough to meet. I haven’t even mentioned Russell’s bizarre belief that every companion should fall in love with the Doctor. It says a lot that his best characters – Wilf and Donna – were never intended for more than one appearance.