The Zygons are back, terrible whispering and shape-shifting “Doctor Who” monsters who make Whovians new and old hide behind their sofas, and this time, they’re playing for keeps. What can The Doctor and Clara, and the returning Osgood (!) do to stop them from destroying the human race this time? Meet me after the time and space jump for my thoughts on “The Zygon Invasion!”
We begin with much exposition, the old tell-rather-than-show trick. We have Osgood, alive again through suspect means, telling us a tale I’m not sure we saw the full story of the last time this came up. When the Three Doctors (Smith, Tennant, and Hurt) last met, they devised a peace treaty with the Zygons by which they, human and Zygon, could live in peace. This plan would allow 20 million Zygons to live peacefully alongside us in human form, unknown to us – but known to folks like U.N.I.T. and The Doctor.
But now again, I’m not sure what has happened and what hasn’t happened. In this odd season of two-parter after two-parter on “Doctor Who,” they are changing things up. The second parts of these cliffhangers don’t always pick up where they should or where we expect them to. Sometimes, pushing the time travel methodology to the breaking point, they start before the first part. Could this be what’s happening here, and we just don’t have all the information yet? Or is this a matter of bad storytelling, and as has happened before, the showrunners are just as mixed up as the viewers?
As Osgood is kidnapped by the Zygons, we are surrounded by curiosities. First, this Osgood has question marks on her lapels in this incarnation, significant of more than a few Doctors. The between-the-commercials behind-the-scenes bit with showrunner Steven Moffat was priceless – “If you’re cosplaying Osgood, you’re cosplaying a cosplayer.” Every once in a while Moffat does get in a good one. When pressed later, the current Doctor confesses to having question mark underpants, to which Osgood says aloud, “makes you wonder what the question is…” By the way, did anyone else catch the framed photo of William Hartnell at the U.N.I.T. safe house?
It should be noted that Osgood, or at least one of them, was disintegrated by Missy in “Death in Heaven.” Remember when The Master just shrank his victims? Again we are told that there have always been two Osgoods. We must trust in exposition. Osgood should be a companion. Come on, she’s a fangirl and a human/Zygon hybrid with the TARDIS on speed dial. It couldn’t get much better, could it? But it gets worse, because the message sent to The Doctor is a simple one… “Nightmare Scenario.”
Here’s the deal. By terms of the peace negotiation between the Zygons and human race, 20 million Zygons are allowed to live among us without the public knowing who is human and who is Zygon. The peace was negotiated by the two Osgoods, who were both human and Zygon. If you don’t know who’s who, you can’t really start a war now, can you? In theory at least. You just don’t know who to shoot. Should you find out, well, there you go, that’s the nightmare scenario, we go to war.
There is a way to tell disguised Zygons from humans – a nerve gas called Z67 (created by former companion Harry Sullivan in “Terror of the Zygons”) that kills only Zygons, but The Doctor has claimed possession of that. That’s one of the things I have liked about series nine of “Doctor Who,” rather than worrying about being accessible, they have gone hardcore continuity. If you’re not up to date, you’d better start watching the last fifty years because they are going deep.
Truth or Consequences
It’s not all-out war between the Zygons and the humans, it’s worse. There is a faction of hidden Zygons who are not only warring against the human race, but also the Zygon leadership, and The Doctor. If it’s all starting to sound like our current political climate, give yourself an A in metaphors. From the ISIS-like prisoner video of the prisoner Osgood to the whole Marvel Comics Secret Invasion vibe of ‘who can you trust?’ this is one big allegory to the terrorist element in the Middle East. I don’t like politics in my “Doctor Who.” I didn’t like it in “Kill the Moon” and I don’t like it here.
The rebel Zygons were holed up in a New Mexico town called Truth or Cosequences, which is a real thing by the way. Originally called Hot Springs, there really is a town in New Mexico called Truth or Consequences, so named after the television game show when host Ralph Edwards said he would air the show live from the first town to rename itself thusly. The town of course is a trap, and sadly one of my favorite Who characters of the new series, the Brigadier’s daughter, Kate Lethbridge-Stewart, gets caught in it. Let’s hope she’s not another of Moffat’s casualties. But then again, Osgood’s back, for the moment at least.
Clara and Bonnie
Where is Clara? And does anyone other than The Doctor really care? Granted, Clara’s voicemail message was fun the first time we all heard it, but I think after a few more times, it’s one of those where you have to pull the person aside and strong suggest they change it. We all know people like that. Heck, anyone who’s called me might accuse me of it. It’s annoying. And if we can’t change the message, let’s change the companion. Oh yeah, that’s right. Christmas can’t come soon enough.
Clara finally does pop up, and of course anyone worth their old school Who salt immediately suspects she’s a Zygon, and we’re right, and she’s named Bonnie. Those that remember “Terror of the Zygons” from 1975 know that a similar trick was played with the aforementioned companion Harry Sullivan – and all decades before the ‘who do you trust?’ shenanigans of Secret Invasion Skrulls or new “Battlestar Galactica” Cylons.
Back to the episode, it’s discovered that the Zygons are up to no good collecting humans in pods beneath London. Usually Zygons need to keep their shapeshifting targets for reference, but apparently that rule is now out the window, so all these poor podded folks, including Clara, are goners. As if that’s not enough, Bonnie, who shows her evil side by pulling her hair back, is about to blow The Doctor’s presidential plane out of the sky with a rocket launcher. Cue credits. Yeah, another reminder as why it’s always better (and quicker) to travel via TARDIS.
Peter Capaldi is definitely settling in at home with The Doctor. The guitar is becoming as much a part of his incarnation as the sonic sunglasses, as this episode we get his rendition of “Amazing Grace.” Nice to see Capaldi holding on to his musical roots, something even I was unsure could be done within the context of “Doctor Who.” There is also the style of his episodes – the two-parters, the exposition, the idea of what you don’t know yet, the breaking of the fourth wall – it’s to the point where one can pick out a Capaldi episode just by how it’s done.
There are many things I liked about this one, including the children as leaders, eerily reminding me of some of the scariest of the “Torchwood” stories, and the Zygon control polyp, an organic computer that reminded me of something from a David Cronenberg flick. I also loved the mention of the U.N.I.T. time confusion as multiple Doctors helped them out of chronological order throughout the 1970s and 80s. But there are just as many things I didn’t like. Doctor Funkenstein? Doctor Disco? I appreciate the Parliament Funkadelic reference, but really, Doctor Disco? At least it softened the blow from the return to the ridiculousness of The Doctor being president of the world.
Next: “The Zygon Inversion”