It’s probably easy to explain our slight ambivalence to Episode 7: The Zygon Invasion with the knowledge that the Zygons are our least favourite of the Doctor’s intergalactic enemies. Not only do they look a bit rubbish, but they’re also a million miles away from having the same momentous impact as other big hitting baddies like the Daleks, Cybermen, Weeping Angels or the Silence (not to mention the Master!). Episodes with them included are generally less about the action and more about talking and alliteration, however, these were definitely not as bad as some of the others we’ve seen in recent years.
The dangling subplot of the Zygons from “The Day of the Doctor” was picked up here. We learn that humanity and the Zygons did manage to reach an agreement that enabled 20 million Zygons to secretly settle on Earth in human form. Unfortunately, a splinter group of militants has formed made up of Zygons who do not want to live as humans, who wish to embrace their alien heritage. They regard humans as the enemy and assimilated Zygons as traitors. The revolutionaries, led by a Zygon known as “Bonnie,” are motivated by the dream of a society that is totally free from both the presence and ideology of anything that is not Zygon. They are willing to commit horrible acts of violence to achieve this “perfect” world.
They’re joke references from the Doctor about them stealing our jobs and rational debates about atrocities and the impact of perceptions and propaganda on the way people behave, which all feels very relevant to modern day socio-political problems. However, there are a couple of instances when this becomes a little too stretched to make a point, which wasn’t really needed. When the soldiers are going after the Zygons, about to shoot them down, they end up giving up because they adopt the faces of their family and loved ones. This would have been fine if they hadn’t then also been lured to their, as a result, which seems way too far fetched to fill well into the series. It just ends up with a mixed message, which starts with the premise of what would you do if they were your family and ends with a heap of scorched mounds where once there were soldiers.
However, they’re sort of not meant to be out-and-out villains, acting more like mirrors on humanity, so perhaps we’re being a little harsh on the big blobby-headed face robbers. Our biggest issue is that they look a bit naff, more like a dude in a costume than an advanced and complex alien race with their own fight for survival to work on. On a more positive note, writer, Peter Harness, has put a lot of effort into building in some of the complexity behind race relations that have got very clear parallels in real life. Bonnie intends to cause the Zygons who have assimilated to return to their original forms, realizing this will create massive panic among humanity. This will force the assimilated Zygons to join her group solely to survive the inevitable human violence. Bonnie even recognizes that realistically 20 million Zygons do not stand a chance against six million humans, but she would rather die on her feet in pursuit of her goals, taking as many humans with her as possible, than live on her knees.
Etoine: I’m not part of your fight. I never wanted to fight anyone. I just wanted to live here. Why can’t I just live?
The Doctor: We are on your side.
Etoine: I’m not on anyone’s side! This is my home!
Seeing no way out, Etoine commits suicide in front of the Doctor. It’s a heartbreaking scene, with a sad, moving performance by Asbury. It really demonstrates the suffering that ordinary people endure because self-important revolutionaries prize ideals more than they do actual lives, when fanatics espouse the belief that the ends justify any means.
UNIT, in turn, faced with millions of shape-shifting aliens who have the ability to infiltrate all levels of government, to assume to guises of friends and loved ones before they strike, are ready to wipe out all of the Zygons, guilty and innocent, in order to prevent more violence.
There’s also a flippancy to the episode, which is a little to be expected from the character direction in the series, but doesn’t feel quite right this time around with such weighty topics underlying the episodes story. This is all the more at odds in The Zygon Invasion when you also take into account (SPOILERS ALERT!!!) that Clara bites the dust towards the end of the episode. It’s not impossible that this could be a clever decoy death and that somehow she’ll be restored to life in next week’s episode, The Zygon Inversion, but it’s also possible that Clara is no more and all we’ll have of her for the rest of her stay is the Zygon shadow of her former self. I know that at this point a number of viewers, myself included, are experiencing a bit of Clara fatigue. The character has been around for a while now and, as with other companions, the quality of writing given to her has been somewhat inconsistent. Given that, I think it can become easy to overlook Coleman. But she actually is a great actor. This is ably demonstrated when Bonnie takes on Clara’s form for the majority of these two episodes. Bonnie is a completely different character from Clara, and Coleman plays the part perfectly. It definitely demonstrates her versatility.
It’s genuinely a shame that Jenna Coleman is leaving the show as she had built up a very strong on-screen relationship with Peter Capaldi, but it’ll be more of a shame if she has been written out inEpisode 7, because it lacks the momentous delivery to give her passing the credit it deserves. The episode doesn’t stack up as well as the previous two entries in Series 9, but with the second of the two-part story going out next week there’s at least some scope for a reprisal.
Some negative thoughts
Peter Capldi and Jenna Coleman put in some amazing performances, but there are some mind-boggling daft moments, like pretty much anything involving UNIT. First we have Kate Stewart being a little too bloodthirsty (“Science leads, Kate”, remember?), then Colonel Walsh being pretty much in charge of nothing, based on how many of her troops just ignore her orders. Then we have those troops, who one would, considering the job they should be used to doing, assume that situations involving aliens might be more than they first appear. Yet they roll over for what is a pretty obvious trick by the Zygons without much fuss, which makes them pretty ineffectual, something they’ve struggled with since the show returned in 2005. In addition the Director of ultra black ops top secret agency goes to investigate enemy stronghold, in her best ass-kicking pantsuit. Alone. Armed with a sidearm and incomprehensible gullibility, she’ll surely get the job done! I mean, you just happened to stumble into the sole survivor of a massacre done by aliens that can look like anyone. What luck! Definitely didn’t need that backup now that you’ve got Officer Alien… I mean Officer I-Survived-Somehow watching your back! Great reaction time with that sidearm by the way while she slowly “killed” you, wink wink. Though I’m quite sure we’re going to be subjected to the easiest to see “twist” ever written in the next episode.