The Zygon InvasionBookmark and Share

Saturday, 31 October 2015 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek

Starring: Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman,
Ingrid Oliver and Jemma Redgrave,

WITH Jaye Griffiths, Cleopatra Dickens, Sasha Dickens, Rebecca Front, Jill Winternitz, Gretchen Egoif, Todd Kramer, Karen Mann, Aidan Cook, and Tom Wilton

Written by Peter Harness,
Directed by Daniel Nettheim,

Executive Producers: Steven Moffat and Brian Minchin
Transmitted BBC 1 on 31st October 2015

"The Zygons are a peaceful race. Their shape-shifting abilities should not be considered a weapon". Osgood speaking on a video recording.

 

At long last, after a brief stopover in episode one of this present Series, we return to Earth in the 'present' and get to see UNIT in proper action. They however have a real situation on their hands, as some of the Zygons who were supposed to have reached a truce have become a dangerous and unpredictable splinter group. Abductions and terrorist plots are coming to the fore, and the group of aliens with both sucker pads and digits used in combination to manipulate objects and pizza-like control panels are showing they are truly something to contend with.

From the 45 odd minutes of evidence we get this week, the decision to bring back the Zygons after a lone TV outing in the Tom Baker era Terror of the Zygons was a great decision by the higher-ups that work so hard on making new Doctor Who in the 21st century. A secondary role in The Day of The Doctor was welcome, but these alien creatures deserve to be the focus once again. There are a lot of storytelling avenues that can be explored by having a race that can replicate another species to perfection, and which can use the trust and connection of memories and sentiment against those it wishes to conquer or overthrow.

There has been some good action at times in Series 9, with episode five perhaps being the most frenetic. However the talky and character focused episodes need some more pacey and bloodthirsty fare alongside them. Doctor Who is all about variety as much as the window dressing of time zone and location as the actual manner of storytelling.

Everything here feels big. The episode title promises an invasion, and the audience is left under no illusions that that is what could well happen if the TARDIS crew and their UNIT allies do not come up with something smart and realistic. Opening with one of the surviving Osgood twins mourning 'her twin sister' at her gravestone, this episode still does brings a commendable amount of emotional weight to balance out some of the more full-on and intense action set pieces.

This is not an episode that casual viewers may be able to fully appreciate at times, even with an opening recap that tries to get the key status quo  about the Zygons on Earth across. But this does not become a chronic issue, and soon the story takes on an identity and life of its own as it introduces a scenario and premise that will be of real interest to kids and grown-ups alike. The Zygons who want to co-exist peacefully on this small blue-green world of ours are under just as much threat from their kin who cannot accept the same pacifist point of view. And Osgood has been kidnapped and may now have been replaced with  a malicious doppelganger that is leading the Doctor and his complement of soldiers into a trap...

The Zygons are brilliantly designed creatures, and have a memorable super-power of replication and substitution. But this story looks into that more deeply than Terror of the Zygons ever really did. The way that the surviving Osgood has now become far more than either just a normal human or an alien posing as a human, and the manner in which she avoids confirming the Doctor's speculations about a 'hybrid' is a great idea and acted to perfection by fan favourite Ingrid Oliver. And on a side note, this is a case of showrunner Moffat not lying when he said Osgood was 'dead' in an interview.

Newly introduced characters are all more than serviceable. The American cop - the lone survivor that Kate encounters - is portrayed such that we believe her distress and outrage at the Zygons. And yet, we are fully aware that just the one survivor may be a ploy by the splinter group who can very convincingly replicate someone. Her apparent fear and disbelief over the slaughter of her team is still moving.. Even a replicated emotion can hit hard.

UNIT Soldier Hitchley and his 'mother' are both well acted and make a tense scene touching at the same. The audiences' head is going "This is a trap!", but the heart is saying 'He should make sure she is safe!". Such believable portrayals are the vital ingredient of realising a great concept properly once again in a modern contemporary time setting.

Even the child actors are pretty good on this week's instalment. We have a couple of twin school-children (Cleopatra and Sasha Dickens) that we assume are threatening Zygons, but instead they get kidnapped in drastic style. Consequently the new terms of this latest story become clear: there are markedly separate Zygons with very different intentions for the Earth and its dominant indigenous species.

Particularly engaging is UNIT scientist Jac; a woman with good intentions and loyalty. She sadly is lead down the wrong path by the fake Clara and dies in the worst fashion begging for her life. Even with a complement of well-armed UNIT soldiers she knows her pleas are meaningless when caught in the fortress of a ruthless cast-iron rebel faction. Sometimes low cunning can trump intellect, sophistication and good intentions, and this is one such instance. As a result we are made to really hate this imposter Clara, and the conventions of the show dictate she gets a comeuppance that is truly fitting in the following week's conclusion.

But does Jac's ignominious fate befall Kate Stewart? We hear that UNIT is neutralised once a call back has been made to the wrong Clara, but however we are not too sure which we can believe. As much as it would appear that Kate made a fatal error trusting the 'lone survivor' she encounters in the field, she has proven resilient and resourceful before. Perhaps in this story she will show more initiative to save herself and indeed those she was charged to protect, than was the case in last year's finale.

Due to that wonderfully well-done (and in a way that it is not too blatantly telegraphed) twist with Clara at the end, we get for the second episode in a row a very limited amount for the Doctor's stalwart companion. But that is not an issue when Jenna Coleman really gets to flex her acting muscles and show just what a great villainess she can be. In the original 1975 Zygons TV story we had a finely done 'evil Harry Sullivan' by the late great Ian Marter. This particular Zygon in sheep's clothing would appear to have both the malice and menace, and a cold calculating manner where it cannot be wrongfooted so easily into its oblivion. With a potentially confusing array of friends and foes, it was vital we had Clara substituted and acting in a truly monstrous manner despite looking and sounding like a normal effeminate woman. Peter Capaldi is as good as ever too, but perhaps this episode is less a showcase for him than episodes two, four and six of this 2015 series. Episode Eight may well give him truly something special once again, however.

The Zygon Invasion (Credit: BBC / Simon Ridgway)Production values are as competent and professional as we have come to rightfully expect during the last few years of Moffat overseeing this long-running, reborn show. The Zygons look great, especially in the gloominess of the underground settings or the semi-lit council flat, and are able to complement UNIT's military precision and serious mannerisms. The transmogrification effect is also well-done, if perhaps only marginally better than the one that the far less well-funded crew were able to conjure up in Terror. However the effect used for the Zygons reducing enemies to a puddle of radioactive waste is truly inspired and will make its ways into many a youthful viewers' less welcome dreams.

Direction, cinematography and editing are all in the top tier of Doctor Who and help make a confident script inspire confidence in the viewer that this 4th straight multi-parter is worth investing in on all fronts. And another solid score from Murray Gold accentuates all the hard-hitting scenes that this thriller of a story has to offer. There is a good ratio of action, suspense and expository dialogue, and the music never tries to do more than it should.

Compared to earlier episodes there is perhaps less character development, and what there is is less efficient. However this story has a set of goals, and one of them is creeping out unsuspecting youngsters. Were it to focus too long on making really deep characters and not having shock twists, and changes of scenery that bring the global catastrophe stakes to the fore, than it would certainly not work quite as well as it does. The 'scariness factor', something Doctor Who has so long been notorious for, is in good abundance here and played out without ever going too far over the top. It really is fitting that we have this story originally transmitted in the UK on Halloween.

Ending on probably one of the finest cliff-hangers one could have hoped for, with the Doctor's presidential plane once again looking in bad shape (thanks to an anti-aircraft rocket), this story is great fun and has some commendable depth to it as well.