“The Zygon Invasion” is the first of yet another two-part episode. It’s a much more traditional two-part episode than the previous pair, ending with every one of our protagonists either seemingly dead or on the verge of becoming so (I think there’s more to Kate’s situation than we saw. She couldn’t possibly have not known that policewoman was a Zygon, right?). While it didn’t pull me in as quickly as “Magician’s Apprentice” or “Under the Lake,” it still sets up an interesting story that left me eager for next week.
The last time Doctor Who used the Zygons, they were basically a subplot in “The Day of the Doctor.” The real focus was on the three Doctors working together and the Time War. The last time the Zygons were the focus of an episode was in the fourth Doctor story, “The Terror of the Zygons.” This episode is really the first time in the new series that the Zygons take center stage. Despite their rather cumbersome appearance, the episode does a good job of making them scary and interesting.
The Zygon’s abilities have changed a bit over the years. They no longer need to keep the person they are duplicating alive. They only need them as long as they need information from them. Additionally, the Zygons have developed the ability to pluck people from your memory to turn into. While this makes them even more dangerous (it’s not hard to understand why the soldiers have so much trouble shooting the Zygons in the village when they look like their loved ones), it does raise some questions. How did the Zygon in the village know Johnny’s name? Walsh (played by Rebecca Front, so it’s another The Thick of It reunion on Doctor Who) seemed to think that the copy wouldn’t know any personal information, but just what are their mind-reading capabilities? They were even able to know who was controlling the drone in an earlier scene, so I’m curious to see if we get any further explanation in the second half.
Moreover, we learn the terms of the peace that the human and Zygons negotiated at the end of “The Day of the Doctor.” Twenty million Zygons have taken human form and now live on the earth. Most are happy with this arrangement, but there is a splinter group that is taking action against this agreement. They want the Zygons to live openly, not live in a disguise, and are willing to destroy all humans and Zygons who stand in their way.
Peter Harness wrote last year’s divisive “Kill the Moon,” which many saw as being about abortion. I had many issues with that episode, but I have to admit that the abortion aspect didn’t cross my mind until I heard others discussing it. The commentary on current political issues in “The Zygon Invasion,” however, is impossible to miss. One can draw all sorts of parallels between the attitudes towards the Zygons and current attitudes towards immigration (made even clearer by the anti-“British” graffiti and writing found in New Mexico). The focus is on Middle Eastern immigration in particular, with the Zygon splinter group having some parallels to Isis.
This episode also sees the return of Osgood after her death in last year’s finale. Once again we have a resurrected character, although we learn that there have been two Osgoods ever since the peace negotiations. We also have another hybrid, as we learn that Osgood and her Zygon duplicate have been working together to preserve the peace and no longer consider themselves either Zygon or human, but both. It was good to see Osgood coming more into her own in this episode. She still wears a tribute to the Doctor, the question marks on her collar, but she is no longer almost solely defined by her admiration for him. The job of being the peace and the death of her sister had clearly made her grow as an individual.
One of the highlights of the episode was Jenna Coleman’s performance as Bonnie. I’m not sure how surprised people were to learn that the Clara we had seen for most of the episode was, in fact, her Zygon double. I thought Jenna Coleman did an excellent job of acting just a bit off. Just from the way she moved when she walked out of the apartment, it was clear that this was not Clara. Jenna Coleman also delivered lines slightly differently than she does as Clara, but not so different that Bonnie wouldn’t have fooled the others.
In addition to the performance, Peter Harness wrote Clara’s dialogue well. It was generally what Clara would say, but a few things stuck out as slightly odd. Clara’s continued questions about the weapons against the Zygons, for instance, seemed a bit out of character. As a brief aside, I assume that Harry Sullivan developed the gas after his encounter with the Zygons in the “seventies or eighties” (nothing like catching a reference to the U.N.I.T. dating controversy to reaffirm just how deep your Doctor Who obsession is). Her comments to Jac about being middle-aged also seemed completely out of character for Clara.
I noticed many of these same traits in the Doctor during this episode, so I can’t help but think that he is a Zygon as well. He still seemed like himself when he met with the Zygon leaders on the playground. After that scene, however, we don’t see the TARDIS again and he just seems a bit…off. He starts referring to himself in the third person and using inflections that he doesn’t usually use. Why didn’t he use the TARDIS to get to Turmezistan? Why does he now seem to embrace being president of the world? I suspect it’s because he’s not himself. If he is a Zygon copy, I wonder if this might all be part of his plan; he’s working with the peaceful Zygons and using a copy to make them think they know where he is and what he’s doing.
I don’t feel that I can comfortably state my opinion of this episode yet. The first half sets up some interesting conflicts, but much of it depends on the second half. Unlike the other two-part episodes, this one seems to require a second half that will be tonally similar and continue to develop the same ideas. The title, “The Zygon Inversion” has me intrigued. Does it refer to the shift in power from the peaceful Zygons to the splinter group? Does it refer to a reversal we have yet to see? Or does it refer to the nerve gas that will physically invert the Zygons, turning them inside out? I guess I’ll have to wait for Saturday to find out.