Full disclosure: I’ve never been the biggest fan of the Zygons. Sure, the concept of an alien race that can disguise itself as anyone or anything boasts some natural dramatic potential, but—in their two major appearances thus far—the creatures and their abilities have tended to play second fiddle to other major plot elements. For example, in their premiere entry, “Terror of the Zygons,” it’s discovered that the legendary Loch Ness monster is actually a creature that the Zygons employ for sustenance. Such a big reveal cannot help but somewhat steal the thunder from the main plotline. Likewise, in “Day of the Doctor,” they served more as a catalyst for the three Doctors to come together, as opposed to acting as a legitimate threat.
“The Zygon Invasion” finds the Doctor Who producers attempting something akin to an Invasion of the Body Snatchers-type set-up, which is the natural, albeit obvious, vehicle for such a race. Being that this is the first of another two-parter, it’s near-impossible to judge this episode on its own merits, but the results prove to be a bit rough, especially coming after last week’s excellent “The Woman Who Lived.”
The episode begins with a recap of the peace treaty that the three Doctors negotiated back in “Day of the Doctor.” We then see the two Osgoods—given her love of Doctor attire, one is adorned with the Tom Baker scarf, while the other wears the Sylvester McCoy question mark vest—as they record a last will and testament in the event one or both of them die. As most audience members will remember, one of the Osgoods was indeed killed off during an encounter with Missy back in “Death in Heaven.” Which one survives remains a mystery throughout the episode, but either way, we see the remaining Osgood under attack and texting The Doctor that things have gone south.
The episode’s first looming issue lies in its structure. After learning that the treaty has been breached by a splinter group of militant Zygons, The Doctor decides to divide and conquer. While he travels to locate the captured Osgood in Turmezistan (which, people on Reddit have already pointed out, is the same location used for Trenzalore), Kate Stewart flies across the pond to Truth and Consequence, New Mexico—a place mentioned by some of the Zygon dissidents—and Clara stays to help protect England with a UNIT employee named Jac.
Upon arriving at Turmezistan, The Doctor is able to locate the captured Osgood, but not before a good portion of the embedded military strike team is taken out when one of the Zygons appears to team leader, Hitchley, as his mother and convinces the soldiers to come inside their hideout and see evidence that they are genuine people. The scene itself plays out beautifully, with Hitchley asking his “mother” various personal questions that she is unable to answer. Despite all the warning signs, however, he finds himself unable to fire upon something that has taken the form of a loved one. That being said, the fact that the rest of the team follows his lead by entering the hideout behind him is a bit of a stretch. I know I wouldn’t be as confident following his lead, given that he appears to be (understandably) emotionally compromised.
Later, with Osgood safely under his protection, The Doctor bluntly asks whether she is the Zygon Osgood or the human Osgood. Naturally, she takes offense to this question and claims she is “both”—the embodiment of the peace intended by The Doctor’s treaty.
Meanwhile, in New Mexico, Kate Stewart investigates the mostly desolate desert town and gets some intel via a jittery police officer. Overall, these scenes don’t particularly add much to the story, beyond illustrating that the threat has extended beyond Britain. Mostly, the scene seems to exist to hit home the fairly obvious parallel between Zygons and the Muslim population. Beyond the fact that it’s England that boasts a significant amount of Zygons, just as they do Muslim citizens in real life, The Doctor is quick to point out that the majority of Zygons wish to live in peace and these attacks are the work of a more radicalized group. This notion is pushed even further during one of the Turmezistan scenes where we see a drone operator taking aim at one of the buildings, only to pull back when the Zygons take on the appearance of her husband and child. As a certain xenophobic, fear-mongering sect of the media keeps reiterating—the enemy can look like anyone. It’s certainly an instantly effective way of contemporizing the Zygons, though I remain a bit skittish of a show like Doctor Who handling such a sensitive, real-world topic.
Lastly, the episode follows Clara and Jac as the two return to Clara’s apartment and discover that her neighbors, who she’d seen acting suspiciously about their son early in the episode, carrying a child-sized bag into the elevator. Clara and Jac follow them and find an entire hive of Zygon pods.
This latter storyline leads to the big twist of the episode—Clara has been a Zygon copy named “Bonnie” for the majority of the episode (not sure why she’s given herself a name aside from that it’s a convenient way to differentiate the two). Granted, it’s a reveal that has been somewhat telegraphed. For one, Clara (or any companion for that matter) is not the sort to hear the cries of a child, as she does towards the beginning, and simply shrug it off. What’s more, Clara asking Jac if they can return to her apartment for “a few things” can’t help but feel like a calculated bit. Finally, there’s the matter of her being so expertly able to work the Zygon control panel that has been installed in her flat’s elevator. Overall, it’s a bold enough turn in the story and makes for a juicy hook for next week’s installment, but, again, it felt more predictable than I would have liked. Likewise, Bonnie proclaiming to The Doctor that Clara is dead (as well as Kate Stewart) before aiming a missile at his plane marks yet another occasion this season, after Clara’s seeming extermination by the Daleks in the season premiere, where the show puts forth a “Clara is dead” fake-out. It’s as if the producers are intentionally teasing the audience for when Jenna Coleman’s last appearance may be. At this rate, I can’t help but feel that all these fake-outs will only serve to diminish the moment when it actually arrives.
Again, “The Zygon Invasion” is a hard installment to fully judge, without knowing what its second half will bring. The majority of the hour concerns setting up the situation and stakes, only to throw in the major complications during the last five minutes. Unfortunately, the show’s non-Doctor subplots weigh down the hour’s better moments. The Clara-related subplot is based almost entirely on a predictable twist while, Kate’s adventures in Truth or Consequence really don’t add up to much aside from her being captured/killed by the Zygon police officer, which is also not the hardest twist to see coming. Don’t get me wrong—I love Jemma Redgrave as Kate Stewart, but I don’t think she has quite a dynamic enough character at this point for the show to carve out her own subplot away from The Doctor. Here’s hoping next week, like “The Witch’s Familiar” and “Before the Flood” before it, makes good use of the foundation this episode has laid out.