[Review] - Doctor Who, Series 9 Episodes 7 And 8, "The Zygon Invasion" And "The Zygon Inversion"

Before we dive into this two-parter, some news: Downtime is getting a DVD release! What is Downtime, you ask? Well, it is a film from 1996 that skirts the edge of what is legally acceptable in terms of intellectual property. Some back story: in 1989, Doctor Who was cancelled. What followed was a 16 year Dark Age until the revival, with two brief reprieves in 1996: the lone Eighth Doctor adventure which was meant to be a revival, but ended up only mostly reviled, and Downtime. The difference between them was that Downtime, produced by Reeltime Pictures, was completely unofficial. They had no clearance or backing from the BBC, and therefore were unable to use the Doctor, the TARDIS, or make any mention of the intellectual property held by the BBC. Instead, Downtime is a different sort of idea, one that had been tried once before (in 1989's K-9 and Company) and would eventually see it's time come after the revival with Torchwood and Sarah Jane Adventures: it is an Earth bound adventure featuring the Doctor's former companions, using the skills they picked up while in his company.

Downtime, directed by long time Who helmer Christopher Barry and novelist Marc Platt (who also wrote the maligned Ghost Light serial) follows Victoria Waterfield, Sarah Jane and The Brigadier (played by Deborah Watling, Elisabeth Sladen, and Nicholas Courtney - in his penultimate onscreen performance as the character) as they combat a new attempt by the Great Intelligence and the Yeti to take over the world. But the real reason that this one-off adventure is important today is that it features the first appearance of Kate Lethbridge-Stewart, the Brig's daughter, whom Steven Moffat made canon and has been making appearances in the show proper since 2012 as the modern head of UNIT. The film will be available on the 16th, in England anyway (I've already pre-ordered my copy).

It's fitting that the Brig's last great adventure, and Kate's first, comes just a week after a two-parter that is in many ways about the Brigadier's legacy, both in the form of Kate and UNIT, and what they've both become in the years since. It was also a two-parter that suffered from many of the same issues that all these two-parter have been suffering from, which is a story that doesn't entirely work well over two whole episodes.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that insist on being called Dr. Funkenstein.

The major weakness of the 50th anniversary special, in fact what might be the only weakness, was that the Zygon menace which served as the connective plot threat that wove the three Doctors together, was utterly abandoned when it came time for the climax. the Zygon story really was the Tenth Doctor's bit, and the 50th was all War, so the conclusion was just sort of left hanging as the War Doctor took what he needed from the situation. These episodes, direct sequels to the 50th, serve as conclusion to that dangling thread: 20 million (!) Zygons were given refugee stasis on Earth, allowed to take human form so long as they agreed to keep human form and not make trouble. Fan favourite Osgoode was kept doubled as insurance, and as a convenient way to get her back on the show after having been horribly murdered in last year's finale.

Now, shape shifting is an old staple of the sci-fi genre, and much like it's cousin the body snatcher, it can be used to great effect to create a sense of paranoia. Your friends, your family might not be what they appear. They might be foul beasts in disguise. Done well, this can be a useful metaphor. It should be of no surprise that the original Zygon story was born in the era of the Cold War, when communists hid behind every curtain threatening global destruction. And now is a perfect time to bring the beasties back, in an era when many nations, Britain and the US especially, are struggling with immigration issues, and the inherent racism that tends to go along with not wanting to let foreigners into your country. In that regard, the Zygon twins do a bang up job highlighting the very worst of modern immigration policies. It is no mistake or coincidence that the portion of Invasion that takes place in the US takes place along the Mexican border. Nor is UNIT's position that, if they don't look like us, dress like us, sound and act like us, then we'll send them all back or lock them up sound all that different from the political positions of far right commentators.

These episodes, written by Peter Harness, never really find their footing with the political metaphor. In part because there is too much character work he's trying to incorporate, especially with Osgoode and Clara, and in part because he's trying to balance the sci-fi aspects with the commentary. The result is muddled and inconsistent, especially in the first episode. Part of that is adding additional abilities to the Zygons, like their reading people's minds and drawing forms from them. the problem with this tactic is, if a Zygon takes out a member of a squad and sows descent from within, that is frightening. If a Zygon takes the form of a squadie's elderly mother and tries to lure him into a church in the middle of rural Europe, that is laughable. It also didn't help the cohesiveness of the plot that they split the Doctor, Kate and Clara up, following three different plot threads, only one of which really went anywhere. And that the rebel Zygons (who referred to everyone else, regardless of species, as traitors) motivations were very unclear.

the second episode got a co-writing credit from Moffat, I assume because of the length of the Doctor's appeal at the episode's end. But it also did a much better job of forming up the lines. What the rebel Zygons were after, and how they were going to go about it was a degree clearer. But more importantly was the response. What UNIT was willing and apparently able to do about it, which was murder the whole lot. Kate and Bonnie get into a full scale philosophical discussion about the use of Final Solution responses with their hands literally hovering over big red buttons, and the Doctor uses diplomacy to talk them down. He appeals to their greater sense - be it of survival, decency, or just being bewitched by his charm. The real wham line of the episode was the reveal that this isn't the first time. Time and time again, the old hostilities and mistrusts bubble to the surface, and time and time again the doctor talks them down. It's a bleak commentary on the idea that racism never really goes away, that it's always just under the surface waiting to shimmy out and reveal it's reptilian self. And that is juxtaposed by the grander idea that sense and reason can be used to talk that reptile back down under the surface and lull it to sleep. And that if put to bed enough, eventually it will never wake up.

Which is the whole point of keeping Osgoode's true identity a secret. Her refrain that it doesn't matter if she's a human or a Zygon is true, in the greatest sense of racial politics. In the real world, it doesn't matter what colour your skin is, or where you're from, or what your accent sounds like, because in the end we're all human. In Osgoode's case, it doesn't matter if she's human or Zygon, she's Osgoode regardless. And all credit to Moffat for insisting that Clara be the wolf in sheep's clothing, because if it had been Osgoode skulking around then the Doctor's whole argument would have been made hollow. And it's already taken a bit of a dent in that the only character who seems to care if Osgoode is human or not is him. It seems a case of him talking a good game, but not really being a true believer.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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