Doctor Who: 9.07 The Zygon Invasion
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Doctor Who's 50th anniversary episode Day Of The Doctor was largely viewed as a brilliant success; for me seeing it at the cinema was a wonderful moment to be a Doctor Who fan. Returning to some of the key moments from that episode at the beginning of The Zygon Invasion we were reminded of the brilliance of seeing the Tenth, Eleventh and War Doctors working together; it also reminded of the one storyline that many fans felt was suddenly dropped; the Zygon / UNIT conflict.
Fortunately, this week's episode served as a proper sequel to that storyline that saw twenty million Zygons resettled on Earth, disguised as humans with a peace treaty established with Kate Stewart and UNIT. And Osgood - last seen murdered at the hands of Missy in Dark Water - was at the heart of it. For those wondering how the show was going to get out of that massive plot development, the show wisely to chose to build it into the plot. Osgood and her Zygon counterpart represented the heart of the peace treaty, neither knowing who was human and who was a Zygon disguised as a human. It meant that the Osgood who died could have been either and also allowed the promise for more appearances to come.
And so with one Osgood dead, the other went somewhat mad and the peace treaty was jeopardised as a result; yes Missy not only enslaved humanity and created an army of Cybermen on Earth, she has also helped destroy a Zygon / human alliance, plunging the Earth into war! Of course it can't all be blamed on the absent renegade Time Lady, in this episode we discover that younger Zygon 'hatchlings' have decided to rebel against their leaders - two Zygon high commanders spending their days as young girls in a playground. Kidnapping the second Osgood they seek to upset the fragile peace...or so we think.
The brilliance of the cliffhanger is that the titular Zygon invasion has already happened. This is where Peter Harness, writer of last series' excellent Kill The Moon delivers a masterstroke in storytelling. It is a slow burn of an episode but the pieces are well played with a number of great twists - Clara as a Zygon, Kate falling into a trap, UNIT being virtually eliminated and evil Clara firing a rocket launcher to destroy the UNIT plane the Doctor and Osgood are travelling on; the stakes are raised for a thrilling conclusion.
And it had a larger global - also Russell T Davies - feel too that feels well placed after the insular tale of the Doctor and Ashildir over the last couple of weeks and the claustrophobic horror of Under The Lake and Before the Flood before that. For a show on a BBC budget, it does very well. While Clara stays firmly in London, Kate travels to New Mexico town Truth Or Consequences, complete with tumbleweed. The Doctor meanwhile joins a UNIT force, commanded by Rebecca Front's Walsh, to rescue Osgood and negotiate with the rogue Zygon leaders in a remote eastern European town in Turmezistan.
And it is in Turmezistan that the episode delivers its standout scene as Walsh's men confront Zygons disguised as their mothers, children and other assortments of emotionally conflicting relatives. The lead soldier comes face to face with him mother as she pleads with him not to shoot her. It is a wonderful use of the Zygon's ability to mimic humans and it is a moment that leads to their inevitable deaths. The audiences knows they are probably Zygons, Walsh screams at them that they are Zygons and yet that one thread of doubt - that they might be actual hostages - leads them to their demise
Series nine has also not been afraid to have call backs to classic episodes and this week was the recurring reference to the UNIT-based episodes of the classic era. Kate referred to the events of Terror Of The Zygons taking place in the 1970s or 80s, a joke used in Day Of The Doctor; The episodes featuring her father the Brigadier supposedly took place in the 1980s but were broadcast in the 1970s and the show never really established which was right. And that reference to the UNIT naval surgeon who developed the weapon had to be Harry Sullivan right?
And no review of this episode would be complete without mentioning the wonderful return of Jaye Griffiths of cult 90's TV show Bugs back to our TV screens. She made a great impression as UNIT scientist Jac in series opener The Magician's Apprentice and she was a great addition to the growing UNIT family. But I was horrified to see her die at the hands of evil Zygon Clara when the rest of her group was slaughtered in the caverns beneath London.
There was a lot going on in this mostly strong episode - while atmospheric I found Kate's trip to New Mexico a tad predictable; it was obvious the surviving cop was a Zygon. Also, considering this was the first episode to be broadcast on Halloween, it wasn't the scarefest fans might have been expecting. Would Under The Lake have been more appropriate? Perhaps, but then the pacing of stories across series nine has been spot on so this global adventure feels right after the last two Ashildr episodes.
Much of The Zygon Invasion's success will rest on how well The Zygon Inversion delivers. But it did do something really interesting with this alien race (terrorist factions, and internal power plays) while the scenes in the caves under London with Clara and Jac were very The X Files in nature. The stakes are high, the plot twists have been well played and the fate of every character; The Doctor, Clara, Osgood and Kate hang in the balance. Oh and Osgood is the latest 'hybrid'. It's great cliffhanger and continues series nine's winning streak...