I AM WRITING this review on the early hours of the 14th November 2015; a day where only a few hours earlier, 127 people were killed in a terrorist attack in five different Parisian locations. If you need to think about the relevance of these events to today’s world, you need only turn back the clock to this day last week, where a family-friendly British sci-fi show – featuring a guitar playing grandad-like alien with seemingly magical sunglasses and monsters with suckers all over their bodies – hit hard with an all-too-real terror attack rhetoric.
Replace Paris with London or New Mexico. Replace Syrian refugees with those “sucker monsters” (Zygons) using their shapeshifting abilities to try and fit in on Earth as humans, after the destruction of their own planet. Replace terrorists with a radical Zygon splinter group, help-bent on war for their race’s mistreatment by the authorities in charge. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Written by Doctor Who’s newest political editor, Peter Harness, both parts of this Zygon epic seem to follow the similar style as Harness’ last outing, ‘Kill the Moon’ – Referential to the world outside of our television sets, ‘Zygon’ explored the harrowing current asylum climate, whilst ‘Kill the Moon’ went more late 90s with its references to that taboo word: abortion.
With very little action, the episodes rely on dialogue-driven plot – which isn’t a bad thing; I’d much prefer to watch Peter Capaldi talk someone down for an hour than see him trying to fit in with Robin Hood & His Merry Men (cough cough Mr. Gatiss). The biggest improvement between the two outings of Harness, however, is the way in which the narrative travels.
‘Kill the Moon’ was set up beautifully: three women of varying ages on Earth are to decide the fate of an unknown creature that could result in their own deaths, as well as the deaths of many others, whilst The Doctor makes it their choice yet he still turned up at the end to tell everyone they were wrong. ‘Zygon’ sets up alien imposters trying to find the one device that could start a global war, in the hopes that they will win, whilst UNIT – the government force – attempt to either squash the uprising or destroy the entire race altogether.
Heavy stuff. ‘Zygon’ doesn’t take sides. The Doctor, as usual, treats humanity as if they’re idiots, but refers to the Zygon radicals as “prattling babies”. He has no idea what the outcome will be, and even though in the end there are no devices of destruction, he allows the opposing sides to think for themselves & come to a peaceful resolution. Oh, and if you haven’t seen ‘Kill the Moon’, Moon Baby hatches, destroys the moon, doesn’t kill everyone, and hatches a new moon out of its infinitely sized auto-matured womb. Because, silly women, how did you NOT know this would happen?
Enough ranting about past episodes – the ‘Zygon’ two-parter is VERY good. Though the first part screams, “ISN’T IT OBVIOUS THAT EVERYONE WHO LOOKS LIKE YOUR FAMILY MEMBERS IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE IS A ZYGON?!!” and makes you want to punch sense into just about every member of UNIT, it still has its pluses.
Clara, as ever this series, is improving episode by episode as a character, even with her one pain-stakingly obvious moment where she completely ignores a screaming boy being taken into a bedroom by his ‘mother’ and dead-eyed father, who makes you want to scream, “THEY’RE ALL FUCKING ZYGONS!!” and the ever-good Osgood fills the lovable role of fangirl for us all to relate too.
As I’m sure you can tell, this is – again – an episode heavy on female roles; from UNIT leaders, to scientific leaders, to military leaders and law enforcement (yes, almost all of them die in some way, but what can you do?). There are also a selection of fantastic minor role actors in the episode. It’s just a shame that the majority of the soldiers don’t seem to know how to use common sense when it comes to figuring out that if your mother can’t remember your birthday. She’s either a cruel, heartless wench who you shouldn’t bother following into that abandoned church OR…or…MAYBE…quite possibly…SHE’S A BLOODY ZYGON. One can only hope Invasion of the Body Snatchers is on UNIT’s future ‘MUST WATCH’ film list.
The second part, ‘The Zygon Inversion’, is where the two-parter truly shines. Humans seem to have disappeared and replaced by these Zygons, or at least they have been Zygons all along…or they are humans who don’t care- it doesn’t matter; basically, The Doctor is Donald Sutherland, Osgood is Brooke Adams, and Clara is Jeff Goldblum (never thought I would say that before). It’s classic Doctor Who at its best; closer to a Third Doctor adventure, with horror & thriller themes still having kids hiding behind their pillows…or just closing their laptop screens – whatever floats your boat.
There’s the typical classic references found in Moffat’s work (“Five rounds, rapid.”), as well as the Earth-based story and UNIT plot. There’s even The Doctor driving an actual car again. Jenna Coleman kicks it up a notch when that previously-mentioned scene from the first episode reveals that, shortly after, a – you guessed it – Zygon replaces her as lead commander of the radicals.
I’ve always considered Coleman to be an incredible actress with a poorly written character in Clara, and her change to a villain only emphasises this, as her power & frustrations at seeking the so-called ‘Osgood box’ bring out an array of emotions from the usually emotionless Zygons. In a twist that everyone saw coming, Kate Stewart is replaced by a Zygon pretending to be a human in order to trick the original Stewart only for the Zygon to be revealed as Stewart who had tricked another Zygon pretending to be a human that she had only pretended to be a Zygon so that she could trick them into thinking that she was pretending to be a human. Got it? Good.
Of course, the conclusion comes with more talk as the Osgood box is revealed to be Osgood boxes (two of them), which wouldn’t be an issue for the eager Bizarro-Clara, if each box then didn’t have two buttons each; conveniently named ‘Truth’ and ‘Consequences’ (the name of the radical group) before UNIT or anyone else even knew of the splinter cell’s moniker. Let’s chalk it up with The Doctor also knowing about the sewers of Skaro in ‘The Witch’s Familiar’. Of course, every main character in the episode appears at the end – plus two Zygon guards who seem to both need to be there to hold Clara, the seemingly strongest woman in the world, in place.
You know, instead of one holding her and one stopping Kate from getting near to her Osgood bo– No, stop it! This episode is good! You will not bad mouth the writing. Conclusion comes after The Doctor, channelling Shakespeare and Network alike, delivers a monologue fuelled with Capaldi’s fiery acting which essentially shuts down both Human and Zygon sides into co-operating once more. The monologue is an incredible piece of writing and acting – the kind that, as a theatrical actor, makes me jealous to the core that Peter Capaldi – once a lead singer in a band named ‘The Dreamboys’ – will forever be a better actor than I. Then again, he did win an Academy Award that one time.
The Doctor has been to war and has been aged immensely by it. Even after living for half of his age following it, he still feels that burden of pain by what he has done. You see every bit of it, and it stings. Even when jumping into faux gameshow host, you get a sense that The Doctor – as well as Harness & Moffat – are speaking to us. Speaking to those in charge and, if possible, the extremists. It is only the more saddening that, following recent events, we know that this is a message not yet received. He knows that the radicals believe they cannot be forgiven and he informs them that he will.
He will forgive them, because he understands why. Then he smiles, as Bonnie understands the boxes were empty after all, and with an added quip or two, you’re back to the world of a children’s sci-fi show. This will be Capaldi’s episode – unless a better one comes along – if not just for his speech. This might even be Moffatt’s episode, if the stand-alones in Davies’ era do not count. All is good at the end; Bonnie stands down, as does UNIT, and becomes Osgood’s missing twin (yay! Two of them again! Having ice cream!). Clara muses that being dead for five minutes must have been hard on the Doctor. He replies it was the hardest month of his life.
With many more two-part episodes to come, we may come to find out what this means; did The Doctor mean that the events in the Black Room took a month? With repeated memory wipes having to refresh the argument not to destroy the world? Or is The Doctor alluding to something far more depressing? Perhaps this is a Doctor from a near future.
A Doctor that has come from a world without Clara Oswald; a future waiting to happen. A Doctor who is trying to stop what he knows will be the inevitable. Until that point, more two-parters, I say, and more Capaldi-Clara adventures; full of classic references, emotional monologues, hybrid characters, and real world allegories. Especially if they help us to become a little bit more human to one another. Or at least try.