Previously on Doctor Who, ‘The Woman Who Lived’
“Once upon a time there were three doctors, two Osgoods, one peace treaty.”
If, like me, you grew up watching the original Doctor Who episodes on public television, it may surprise you to know that this is only the third episode with Zygons, a race that nevertheless indelibly imprinted on the minds of a generation. The first, “Terror of the Zygons” during the Baker era, introduced an idea that was repeated in the 50th anniversary special “Day of the Doctor”—their planet was destroyed, so they fixated on Earth, first under Loch Ness, now under London itself. Despite their disgusting appearance, one sympathizes with the problem: they have no place to go. During “Day of the Doctor,” he locks them in a room with UNIT representatives Kate Stewart and Osgood, forcing each side to forget whether they are human or Zygon and therefore into a compromise which wasn’t revealed.
“The Zygon Invasion” explains this compromise, aka Operation Double: 20 million Zygons, appearing as humans, dispersed into the world to peacefully coexist. The two Osgoods embodied this peace by refusing to reveal which was which, keeping watch over a mysterious box gifted from the Doctor if that peace ever broke. Sadly when one Osgood died in “Death in Heaven” (so many references to this!), the other lost her mind with grief and was captured by Zygon insurgents.
Yes, Zygon insurgents. Doctor Who takes quite a blatant political turn in this episode, more like Star Trek, as the older immigrant Zygons remain peaceful while the younger, radicalized faction yearns to live truthfully, sending a hostage video to the predictably trigger happy military, all the while the Doctor protesting that there must be a way besides bombing everyone. Of course there is, because this is Doctor Who; I’m sure we should all be left pondering how we can apply this to real life without a daft old man in a blue box.
Before Osgood (Zygood?) is captured, she manages to send the Doctor a simple text: “Nightmare Scenario.” He leaves a voicemail (“from Doctor Disco”) for Clara before accosting blond twin girls at the playground, demanding they get their “children” under control. Surprisingly, they are the Zygon high commanders and promise to take care of it, but are immediately abducted by the splinter group off. Meanwhile Kate Stewart and Jac (from The Magician’s Apprentice) find Osgood’s files already hacked; on video she states, “Truth or Consequences.”
Clara obliviously misses 127 voicemail messages from the Doctor and bumps into a neighbor child looking for his parents outside her flat. Instead of listening to the message first, she investigates and finds his parents acting strangely but simply walks out to meet up with the team. They discover the Zygon hatchery under the local junior high school, managed by the creepy twins Jemima and Claudette. The Doctor activates the biological control polyp with a bit of unsubtle stroking, explaining, “I snogged a Zygon once.” Ew! Reminds me of the time Kirk “snogged” a Salt Vampire in The Man Trap.
Another hostage video arrives, with a voice-over hissing that Zygon-kind has been betrayed, shouting “Normalize!” before killing Jemima and Claudette (in their Zygon form). Kate can’t wait to bomb the hell out of them, but the Doctor advises that this will only radicalize them all. They split up to search for Osgood as ambassador. Kate heads to Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, a trivia fact Clara recalls; before leaving, she reveals to Clara that they once had Z-67, an anti-Zygon nerve gas, but the 4th Doctor took it away. The Doctor flies to the suspected Zygon training camp in Turzmezistan (not a real place) in his official President of the World plane, complete with an anvil Nixon salute.
“I just like poncing about in a big plane.”
In Turzmezistan Colonel Walsh prepares to strike the Zygon camp via drone. The Doctor, announcing himself as Dr Funkenstein, forbids the strike but Walsh gives him her best lame-duck Harriet Jones response, “Yes, we know who you are.” Ultimately the remote pilot is unable to fire when, Zygons or not, her husband and son wave at the drone. Walsh rightly points out that when your loved ones could suddenly turn out to be Zygons, “It’s not paranoia when it’s real.”
The Doctor and Walsh take a SWAT team to the village to flush out Osgood, but the Zygons are wise to their game, hiding in the church and sending out what appears to be each SWAT member’s loved ones to draw them inside. Disregarding orders, they’re all abruptly killed, so Walsh gives him 10 minutes before bombing. He rescues Osgood, who worries that he’s left the UK unguarded, and they rush back home with a Zygon hostage in tow.
Another Doctor fangirl, Osgood, wearing the infamous collar question marks of Doctors 4-6, asks why he no longer wears them. He jokes that he’s wearing question underpants, so she quips, “Makes one wonder what the question is.” (Another innuendo but also a callback to the Christmas special.) More serious than she used to be in her role as peacekeeper, she reveals that Zygons no longer need the human originals to maintain their forms; in fact, they can simply pluck an image from your mind and stay that way forever. As such, she refuses to identify which Osgood she is, claiming “both” (a secondary topic of identity politics), leading to a “Hybrid!” theme moment; although potentially the weakest one of the season, one could consider it more of an echo like Bad Wolf or one of Clara’s many time stream copies.
Truth or Consequences
Kate arrives in New Mexico to an empty town and a sign marked “No British.” Investigating the abandoned police station, she finds one antsy officer left who relates how “the Brits” turned up 2 years ago without jobs or money and stirred things up. Eventually someone spotted a child in its original form, setting off protests and violence. They find dumpsters full of dead humans, and the officer reveals herself as a Zygon, attacking Kate, who then reports UNIT neutralized in New Mexico. Don’t count her out just yet—Kate is, after all, the Brigadier’s daughter and no fool.
This Might Be the End of the World
Once everyone is gone, Clara abruptly asks Jac to help her pick up a few things from her apartment. They catch the boy’s parents hauling him into the elevator and, following after them, they find the elevator rewired with Zygon tech and lowered into the tunnels below. They return with backup and find a nest full of pods. Uncharacteristically dismissive of Jac’s “middle aged people” concern that this might be the end of the world, Clara agrees she might be right and instructs their troops to neutralize the pods. Jac hesitates to agree—what if the pods are the humans? Indeed, they are, including one containing Clara! BUM BUM BUMMMM.
Flashing back, “Bonnie” reveals that she replaced Clara long ago in the boy’s apartment and kills Jac and the troops while monologuing that the invasion has already taken place. Now all they want is to be themselves. Confirming UK UNIT neutralized, she grabs a suitcase from the weapons locker and motorbikes to the shore as the Doctor’s plane flies into view. When he finally calls to warn her, Bonnie coldly smirks that Clara is dead and mounts a missile gun on her shoulder, firing away.
Returning to the true two-parter format, “The Zygon Invasion” felt a bit scattered and obviously unfinished, but was pretty terrifying, if heavy handed in its obvious use of ISIS-type terrorism, drone warfare, chemical solutions, and fear from within. It is rare for Doctor Who to be this blatant; in fact, the most recent immigrant-as-terrorist theme was way back in 1×03 with The Unquiet Dead, a similarly disenfranchised people who sought human bodies in Victorian England. Of course the Daleks are often analogous to Nazis, but that is more of a historical fear. Writer Peter Harness’ previous episode, Kill the Moon, flirted with a similar modern debate, although it was unclear whether he was referencing abortion or environmental imperialism.
The reveal of an already-completed invasion thanks to the Doctor’s forced treaty was chilling. Upon review, Clara’s behavior was strange throughout the episode, although she has been at times such an inconsistent character, it was easily dismissed. Her comment to Jac regarding the middle aged being worried about the end of the world was probably most telling, but what’s their explanation for pre-replacement Clara ignoring 127 calls? That said, I quite enjoyed Jenna Coleman’s Bonnie, who was zero percent Clara—no smirking or precociousness, just cold calculation. Nicely done.
[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”#4A7097″ class=”” size=””]“I’m the president of the world. I’m here to rescue people and generally establish happiness all over the place. Dr Funkenstein.” The Doctor[/pullquote]
Laudably, most of this episode’s cast are non-stereotypical women, none of whom mention being a mother or wife or are muted in any way. Even the smallest appearances by Kate and Osgood are welcome, and Walsh (Rebecca Front) blended seamlessly and formidably into the story. Front previously starred with Capaldi in the political comedy The Thick of It and most recently played bitchy maidbot Vera on Humans. For more information on why Kate couldn’t determine whether the original Zygon landing had taken place in the 70s or 80s, see the convoluted UNIT Dating Controversy. I recommend liquor for that one.
I’m still wondering if something (permanent) has already happened to Clara. The Doctor seems to be spending a lot of time playing dirgy blues in his empty TARDIS, this time Amazing Grace, and it might explain why he left her behind, since he would know what happens to her in a future timeline. A related question inspired by this episode: was that really Danny Pink who died or a Zygon replacement? Lastly, WHAT’S IN THE BOX? Reminiscent of The Moment, I can only assume it won’t be as simple as nerve gas, but I can’t begin to guess at what it will be. Mysteriously, no preview aired for next week’s “The Zygon Inversion,” but here it is.
Doctor Who S9E7
The Zygons return in this politically relevant horror starring people we know and love as potential terrorists. The Doctor takes a backseat to his formidable co-stars and scattered locations. It was entertaining seeing growth and a surprising twist to familiar characters, and the Zygons were terrifying, although I could do without the electric hairballs. What is that about?