The latest episode of Doctor Who features the return of characters and monsters alike, and zips around the world at a breathtaking speed. It’s jam packed with ideas, which should feel inundated. But ‘The Zygon Invasion’ is by far the best episode of Doctor Who in quite some time – and that’s saying something, after the stellar run of episodes we’ve had so far in series 9.
Yes, ‘The Zygon Invasion’ is absolutely brilliant. The notion of shape-shifting aliens living amongst us allows Doctor Who to comment upon contemporary society as a whole, and that is when Doctor Who is at its best. The Zygons effectively function as everyone that is considered different in society – women, the LGBT community, disabled people, older people, foreigners. This is Doctor Who’s take on immigration, and the message packs a punch.
‘We demand the right to be ourselves,’ one Zygon comments midway through ‘The Zygon Invasion’, the overarching theme of this week. The Zygons (once more brilliantly utilised, but more on that in a moment) aren’t a threat in the common sense. They don’t want to kill all humans. They don’t want to claim the planet as their own. They don’t seek war. They only want equality. Who doesn’t?
But not all Zygons are alike, just like not all humans are alike, and a renegade faction threatens to break all the bonds formed in 2013’s ‘The Day of the Doctor‘. This is a direct sequel to said story (as a side note, when are we going to get a sequel to the Silurian two-parter of 2010? I’m dying to see that culmination!) and we’re finally seeing the outcome.
20 million Zygons live amongst us, but in secrecy. Which some aren’t too pleased about. The kidnapping of Osgood and the video plea where she is flanked by two Zygons is a direct parallel of terrorist propaganda released to amass fear in the current global climate. These Zygons are the terrorists, and this video is extremely relevant. It’s a bold move, one that won’t win over everyone, but in doing so it allows Doctor Who to not only comment upon equality, but everything that is wrong with the world as we know it.
The Doctor’s suggestion that not all humans are good, either, is also a direct response to some racist comments made amid terrorist crimes, which is an incredibly brave comment to make in what is essentially a children’s programme. The heinous acts of some members of some religions aren’t representative of the entire religion, just as the acts of these Zygons aren’t the acts of every member of their race. I applaud Steven Moffat and the BBC for reminding us of this.
Given that this is a Zygon story, they feature relatively minutely. But that amps up the notion that any one of them could be one of us. The scene in which UNIT members are conflicted over killing Zygons in the guise of their loved ones (perhaps the only bit of this episode that doesn’t quite gel) is brilliantly unsettling, as is the notion that Clara isn’t Clara at all. This twist was seen a mile off, but it allows Jenna Coleman to play a deliciously evil version of her beloved character, and it helps the viewer to root for the bad guys for once.
But we’ve seen this all before, of course. In the Sontaran two-parter of 2008 Martha was cloned, and in part one of series 6 Amy was replaced with a Flesh duplicate. But it still works here. What doesn’t work, though, is the cliffhanger, in which Clara, Kate, Osgood and the Doctor are all seemingly dead. No way are ANY of them dead.
Speaking of Osgood, I love the idea that she is a hybrid of human and Zygon. She has elements of both species, and she won’t reveal whether she is truly human or truly Zygon. It doesn’t matter. I hope the truth isn’t revealed, because I think it’ll lessen the message of this week’s episode. But Ingrid Oliver is quite brilliant in her return, as is Jemma Redgrave as Kate. I’m quite gutted that Jaye Griffith’s Jac has been killed off – I love the idea of there being recurrent UNIT characters we can revisit every so often. Osgood and Kate had better survive the next episode.
Next week’s episode, ‘The Zygon Inversion’, surely promises to switch everything on its head. Inversion is coincidentally a dated term for homosexuality, strengthening the notion of the Zygons being the peripheral ‘other’ within society. My only hopes for this episode are that the truth of Osgood isn’t revealed, and that the Zygon treaty can continue. Time will tell.