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Monday, 2 November 2015

Doctor Who S35E7: The Zygon Invasion

Doctor Who
Series 35, Episode 7
The Zygon Invasion.

We're seven episodes in and I actually don't know what the plot of this series is yet. We have themes, in that there are recurring mentions of altering the past and changing fate, along with several mentions of hybridisation (the Dalek-Time Lord hybrids, and now Osgood, who the Doctor describes as being a Zygon-Human hybrid), and one ominous mention of a 'Minister of War' that may or may not come to anything meaningful, but no actual plot, which is odd when you think that we're more than halfway through the series as a whole now.

Even Russell T. Davies, whose series were infamously plot-light, with plots often taking the form of repeated arc words and very little else, generally had his plots a little more developed by this point. Moffat, who adores winding, complicated plots that don't really make a lot of sense, definitely should have.

In this week's episode, the Doctor is summoned to Earth when the ceasefire between the humans and Zygons, brokered back in that special episode with John Hurt in it, begins to break down. A radical faction of Zygons, wanting to be allowed to live as themselves instead of taking the forms of humans, has kidnapped Osgood and are preparing an invasion of the Earth. To deal with the threat, the Doctor, Clara and UNIT scatter themselves across the globe, chasing down different leads.

Everyone's very alarmed.

I have very mixed feelings about this episode. 

It's obviously trying to make allusions to the idea of ISIS and radical Islam, and it does so in the kind of ham-fisted, screaming-at-you-that-you-should-be-scared way that would be more at place in Homeland than in Doctor Who. To say that there's something quite uncomfortably propaganda-ish about having your allegory for radicalised groups in the Middle East be literal monsters who are only pretending to be human, and who kidnap good white people (and they are all white - the only black character in the entire episode is seemingly killed rather than kidnapped) to use as human shields in their diabolical plans would be the understatement of the month.

The show is eager to hammer in that propaganda, too, with characters frequently remarking on how there can be no hope of peace and how death is the only thing the Zygons deserve - and while the Doctor gives a token resistance to the idea, he's written as almost visibly flagging in the face of the Zygons' cartoonish villainy.

But despite that, and horribly, the episode does have some nice story beats and scenes. The scene in which a soldier advances on a 'Zygon training camp' (excuse me while I roll my eyes) only to be confronted by a Zygon shapeshifted into his mother, begging him not to kill her as his superior orders him to shoot, is an incredibly effective, even well-written scene. The scene where evil Zygon Clara reveals herself is a credit to Jenna Coleman's acting ability. The short scenes we have with Osgood provide some of the most engaging philosophical discussions of the episode.

Oh, yay, good, the sunglasses are still here, right.

(Speaking of, why didn't we get any mention in Death in Heaven that the Zygon Osgood and Human Osgood had continued to live as duplicates of each other? That seems like it would have been at least somewhat relevant, especially when the two were apparently the only thing holding the ceasefire together.)

It's an interesting thing, really, that the big twist of Clara having been replaced by a Zygon early on in the episode only really works because her character has been written so inconsistently, so Protean to Moffat's whims and obsessions anyway, that when Peter Harness writes her acting oddly it's very easy to just dismiss it as 'well, that's just how Clara is - totally lacking a consistent personality', with only the characters' reactions to her giving any hint to it being intentional. That's not a problem with Jenna Coleman's acting ability, and if anything this episode has shown that she's an excellent actor, but it is a problem endemic to the writing of Moffat-era companions, and I can't really praise the set-up of that plot twist when, in another universe where Clara actually behaves in a consistent fashion, I might have figured it out from the get-go.

Also, Clara inexplicably gains heavier make-up when she's replaced, and this is
not the first time I've seen a make-up department do that.

So, this episode has some good moments, but it still makes me quite uncomfortable, and I don't foresee the second episode improving matters any. What it comes down to, ultimately, is that there isn't really any place for propaganda in Doctor Who, and the fact that it's been snuck in represents a new and disturbing corruption of a cultural icon. Needless to say, I'm not happy - and if I weren't writing these reviews, I would probably give the next episode a miss.

Also, the Zygons look ridiculous.

Also also, stop having the Doctor play the guitar for no reason.We know that Peter Capaldi can play the guitar. We know.

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