Doctor Who & The Silurians is a brilliant story because it works on two levels. It can be seen as straight science-fiction about an alien invasion from a race that lives below us, or as an allegory about the Cold War, particularly the fear and paranoia on both sides. The same brilliance can be applied to another Third Doctor story: Inferno. One could see it as a brilliant story about parallel universes or as an environmental message story about the dangers of overuse of the Earth's resources. At its best, science-fiction can deliver messages about the world while telling stories about other worlds, and Doctor Who has a long history of such brilliant allegories.
The Zygon Invasion, the first of a two-part Doctor Who story, is not among them.
It has the return of a dead character (I'M SHOCKED!), one whom is beloved by people more stupid than the character herself (explaining why they identify with her) and a trashing of another character from the Classic Era (the actor being most conveniently dead and unable to object as to what was done to him). The Zygon Invasion thinks itself highly intellectual and sophisticated in tackling a 'ripped-from-the-headlines' story, but it's a dangerous thing to try to be clever when being so patently overt with what you're handling, particularly when it involves something like ISIS. Coming prior to the Paris attacks, what writer Peter Harness I imagine he thought he was doing was showing us how Western civilization shouldn't throw out the baby with the bathwater regarding Muslim-British relations. Sadly, in retrospect he, and the whole Doctor Who team, now may come across as being naïve at best, useful idiots at worse.
Osgood is BACK! Despite being killed by Missy in The Wrath of Missy Part 2 (Death in Heaven) (which I should point out was the only moment that caused me to cheer while watching said episode), we learn that there are TWO Osgoods (both played by Ingrid Oliver). Harking back to The Day of The Doctor, we learn that the Zygons have 'integrated' to Earth through Operation Double (I guess it makes the Israeli-Ethiopian Operation Solomon pale in comparison), where 20 million Zygons settled in Britain. When Missy killed an Osgood, the other Osgood mourned at her grave, marked simply as "My Sister".
Let me stop at this juncture to openly wonder if Doctor Who is now targeted at people with extremely limited intelligences to go along with a black gravestone marked as "My Sister", just "My Sister".
Well, in any case we learn from the Osgoods that "The Zygons are a peaceful race. Their shape-shifting abilities should not be considered a weapon, It's a survival mechanism". At this point, when we're barely less than ten minutes into this episode, my reaction was flat-out laughter. Yet I digress.
We also learn of The Osgood Box, which is the treaty between humans and Zygons which might be coming apart with one of the Osgoods no more. The Nightmare Scenario has broken out, with a minority of a minority, a tiny little group attempting to establish The Zygonic State. They've kidnapped the surviving Osgood and now we need Clara (Jenna Coleman) to save the day.
Oh, and yes, the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) can help out the star of the show too, once he gets off his electric guitar and calling himself "Doctor Disco", among other inanities. After all, if you're a thousand-plus-year-old Time Lord who has battled with the Zygons before, you're going to need guidance from an elementary school teacher in her twenties.
As UNIT is involved, we need to get help from Kate "I'm Not My Father's Daughter But My Father WAS The Brigadier and Don't Forget That" Stewart (Jemma Redgrave). She is for tracking down and exterminating every radical Islamic extremist...I mean, every renegade Zygon, but the Doctor insists we should negotiate with the Zygons, who are all peaceful save for this tiny, TINY splinter group.
The Zygonic State has as its motto "Truth or Consequences", which baffles everyone except our super-smart Companion, who instantly recognizes that this is the town in New Mexico, USA. Kate goes to the Land of Enchantment to investigate, while Clara stays in London to look after things, with her minion the Doctor going to Turmezistan where Osgood is being held prisoner by the Zygonic State.
In T or C (as those from the region call it), Kate discovers a virtually abandoned town, one where signs reading "No British, No Dogs" are all around. Her encounter with the local sheriff (Gretchen Egolf), and things are not as they seem. In Turmezistan, UNIT proves painfully inept at taking out the Zygonic State, taken in by duplicates of their families which they should know are really Zygons in disguise. The Doctor does manage to get Osgood, who will not answer if she is the human or the Zygon version (but does ask why the Doctor doesn't do her cosplay anymore, in a manner of speaking).
We then get a shocking twist: all this time Clara has been really a Zygon! The real Clara is held in statis, while "Bonnie", her duplicate, slaughters the UNIT troops sent by "Clara". As the Doctor and Osgood are flying back to the U.K., he gets a final message from Bonnie, who fires a rocket at the President of the World's Plane (Super-Air Force One?): Truth or Consequences.
Again, given how so heavy-handed the Zygon/Muslim parallels were, one wonders why they didn't they just go whole-hog with the analogy (sorry, pork is not halal). It isn't that one couldn't make a strong allegorical story about the failures of integration. It is just that The Zygon Invasion goes about it in a thick-headed and obvious way that it runs the risk of being almost an apologia for ISIS rather than the intelligent story it fancies itself to be.
The actions of the Zygonic State, we are told, are done by the young Zygons who want to return to some pure version of Zygonism and no longer walk around as humans. If this is what the Doctor Who production staff really thinks is an accurate or even plausible reflection of the Islamic State, they are frankly delusional. You look at the self-proclaimed Caliph of the Universe, who is 44 years old (hardly a 'young man'). This also isn't counting such Millennials as Ayman Al-Zawahiri (64) or Osama bin Laden (44 at the time of the September 11th attacks). IF The Zygon Invasion had made it that the younger Zygons were being manipulated by the older members, THEN we could have had something.
It just struck me, as a casual viewer, to take the easy way out in a very complex situation. This quote from the opening is so overt it would be almost laughable. "The Zygons (Muslims) are a peaceful race. Their shape-shifting abilities (their religion) should not be considered a weapon. It's a survival mechanism". In regards to Muslims, I agree: they are a generally peaceful people, particularly in Britain which has a larger percentage of the population than in the U.S., and their religion is not a sign they will behead us.
HOWEVER, when it comes to the Zygons themselves, that is flat-out nonsense. They are NOT a peaceful race. They certainly weren't in The Day of The Doctor, or Terror of the Zygons (a rather curious title in retrospect). This whole 'shape-shifting abilities is not a weapon' is similarly nonsensical. Here, again, we have a Doctor Who story that flat-out doesn't care about continuity.
If memory serves correct, the Zygons, in order to blend into human society, would need a 'host' to copy (they do this for example, with Clara/Bonnie, and as a side note, Bonnie isn't exactly a threatening name, is it?). If there are 20 million of them, all located in one area of Britain (before a group headed out to New Mexico), where are the host beings for them to copy? We learn from Osgood that such things are no longer necessary. If that's the case, why did they need to take Clara (in a manner I think was cheating the audience)? Why not go for Kate Stewart (even if the Black Archives do manage to erase the memories of all who enter).
Ah, why bother thinking about things. It IS Doctor Who, after all.
Let me concentrate on things that I did think were good. Jenna Coleman, whom I have never warmed up to in her tenure as a Companion (particularly as this 'unimpeachably brilliant' Companion that my bete noire Kyle Anderson holds her as, though I've always suspected his admiration for her is more based on what moves his head more than his mind) was excellent in the dual role. I was surprised that she could manage such range as the typical Clara (know-it-all) but shift so coldly to Bonnie, ISIS...I mean, ZySis commander. It's as if Coleman were unleashed, tapping into a fury, a coldness, an evil that now has an outlet.
In terms of performances, The Zygon Invasion is Jenna Coleman's best on Doctor Who.
It's a pity that just about everything else about The Zygon Invasion is cringe-worthy. Let's go over the things I hated about The Zygon Invasion.
I hated what New Doctor Who did to the character of Harry Sullivan, played by the late Ian Marter. I imagine most if not all NuWho fans have no idea who Harry Sullivan was (and can't be bothered to watch any Fourth Doctor story with him to care). I did see a few, and from all indications Harry was a nice chap, the embodiment of a proper English gentleman and serving Naval officer of Her Majesty's Navy. He was well-liked, very honest, kind, if a bit bumbling.
Now, he's turned into #ChemicalHarry, mad scientist. Doctor Who's second 'tribute' to a Companion from the Classic Era turned one who was an amiable chap into the Joseph Mengele of his generation, the creator of the Z-67 nerve gas that could unmask all the Zygons...and kill them in the process. How a medical officer managed to turn into some chemical weapons expert is left unsaid, but no matter, NuWhovians will now see him, not as the decent, honorable guy he was on the show, but as the creator of this chemical weapon to kill the poor Zygons.
Why Doctor Who opted to drag poor Harry Sullivan through the gutter is a mystery, and we won't go into how this idea of Doctor Sullivan contradicts The Sarah Jane Adventures claim that he saved millions with his vaccines. However, it does help that Ian Marter is dead and has been for nearly thirty years, so who is going to object?
At this point, one wonders why they don't make Barbara Wright into a hooker.
I hated how New Mexico was imagined. Granted, being from Texas I harbor no great love for our neighbor to the west, but it would be nice to see something beyond the stereotypical 'Wild West' that the British apparently think anything west of Austin is. I've been to T or C (well, driven past it really), and it is, at least if memory serves correct, nowhere near the comically Old West idea this episode makes it out to be. Also, the uniform of the Sheriff/Police (it isn't the same thing) is all wrong. It looks like she's wearing the Mexican flag rather than the New Mexican flag. Yes, I know I'm probably the only one focusing on that, but still...
I simply hated what The Zygon Invasion has done to the Doctor. When once he was the highly intelligent and moral figure, he now is an electric guitar-playing nitwit who has to have Clara hold his hand because he can't figure things out himself and refers to himself by such nonsensical names as "Doctor Disco" and "Doctor Funkenstein".
What would Hartnell, Troughton, or Pertwee think?
I hate the focus on Osgood. I simply detest this character, whom I've always seen more as a parody of a Doctor Who fan than an homage to them (because I think I pretty much am done with this show). All her wardrobe is done to just focus on her fixation with the Doctor, and here's a newsflash to those who love her to death(s): the question marks were stupid then, and they're still stupid now.
And seriously: they're on his underwear? Isn't Capaldi appalled he has to deliver such dribble?
Who here was shocked, SHOCKED that the Sheriff would be a Zygon?
Who here was shocked, SHOCKED that the Zygons would eliminate UNIT troops in Turmezistan (which didn't look Middle or Islamic at all, but a nice Eastern European village)?
Who here was shocked, SHOCKED that Clara would be SO IMPORTANT and that both the Doctor and UNIT would turn to HER as their savior?
I remember writing "Rubbish, Rubbish, Rubbish" while watching The Zygon Invasion. Its efforts to come across as topical ended up as heavy-handed and as subtle as a sledgehammer, the bastardization of a beloved Doctor Who character is obscene to its core, and the diminishing of The Doctor both in terms of character and focus is insane. Granted, how we got Osbad back has at least a certain logic (even if people had speculated about the Zygon Osgood since we saw her in The Day of The Doctor, so it is a bit of a cheat) and Coleman gave a real performance (which she hadn't done since...since...), but those two things aren't going to lift it in my mind.
I really hated The Zygon Invasion. I hated it so much I have delayed watching The Zygon Inversion, having no desire to see what happens next. Thanks, Steven Moffat. You've made me root for having the Doctor blown out of the sky.
Next Episode: The Zygon Inversion