The Zygon Inversion
The Zygon Invasion/Inversion
The Zygon Invasion

Story No. 282 Hisss
Production Code Series 9, episode 7
Dates October 31, 2015

With Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman
Written by Peter Harness Directed by Daniel Nettheim
Executive Producers: Steven Moffat, Brian Minchin.

Synopsis: The peaceful integration of millions of Zygons is at risk from a splinter group. Truth or Consequences.


"Protect it from the scary monsters" by Donna Bratley 18/5/19

A setup overshadowed by its concluding half, The Zygon Invasion goes for grand scale at the expense of narrative cohesion. It's a noble, if self-conscious, attempt to transfer dangerous modern reality into science fiction, and in essence it works. However, its scope and the trio of separate plotlines ends up with each being inadequately sketched.

I've often noticed that a credible threat to a small community feels more intense than impending planetary catastrophe. The Zygon Invasion tries to persuade me the global "village" is in peril by dragging me around it like a reluctant child on a shopping trip and ends up diluting rather than enhancing its urgency.

I wonder why Earth bothers with UNIT. They're hopeless despite their heavy weaponry and the presence of that rarity, a self-confident military leader. Rebecca Front's Colonel Walsh is miserably underused, disappearing as fast as she arrives and leaving the vague impression that she was cast for the publicity a former role opposite Peter Capaldi would garner. At least she got to do the telling-off this time, if in less colourful fashion than Malcolm Tucker once chastised her.

Particularly painful is the grand attempt at emotion-stirring outside the church. A whole platoon of UNIT's crack troops, fully aware of the Zygons' new powers of mind-invasion, tamely drop their weapons and trot into the wake of "Mommy" and her crew of doubles? Really? Not one of them stops to think: "Hang on a minute. How did they get here? I know what the Zygons can do; or I can phone Mommy back at home?"

It'd be nigh-on impossible to shoot something that looked like your own mother in the head; on an emotional level, that makes perfect sense. But to be fully cognisant of the capabilities of a dangerous alien force and still meekly troop after it to certain death.... It's a wonder Earth wasn't overrun a long time ago with that kind of defensive capability.

"Science leads" doesn't fare a great deal better. Poor Kate goes trekking off to New Mexico and leaves what little common sense she might have had at Heathrow. The lone frightened survivor didn't persuade me for an instant, yet UNIT's top woman in the field leaves herself wide open to the ambush. Script requirements overriding common sense. It happens a lot, and it drives me mad.

On the plus side, the electrified tumbleweed blowing across those dusty roads is thoroughly chilling, and the realisation that all those bins are full of sizzling human remains is almost enough to redeem that particular plot thread.

With Kate being stupid (again) and Doctor Disco-Funkenstein poncing about in a big plane while mounting an absurdly easy rescue of his number one fan, it's left to Clara - or rather, Jenna Coleman - to carry the story's strongest portion. I thought she was uncharacteristically rude calling Jac "middle-aged". I wasn't expecting the sudden sneering twist, as the real Clara was revealed slumbering in her pod. Bonnie - as she chooses for some totally inexplicable reason to identify herself - is deliciously callous, ordering a massacre without a trace of remorse. The scenes leading to her reveal are beautifully filmed, tense and grimly claustrophobic.

It gives a whole different layer to the character too, reflecting on how precisely Bonnie calibrates her "performance". "Did you really just call yourself Doctor Disco?" is the prim schoolteacher to the life, and her amused exchange with the Doctor as he titivates the fronds is perfect. As for the revelation about memorising Trivial Pursuit questions, that's something only a perfectionist control freak with a distinctly competitive streak would think to do.

There's no point ignoring the real-world message of the Zygon two-parter, and it sets out its stall strongly. Kate's instinct is to hit back: it takes the Doctor to remind her that over-reaction will achieve nothing except antagonise the vast majority getting on with their lives and wishing no more ill to their human neighbours than they do their own kind. The rebels are a splinter group, a dangerous faction. They don't speak for all. The parallel is all too obvious.

Yet they're led by a high command of community leaders who bristle at any suggestion their kids are beyond their control. Who are determined to the death - quite literally - to deal with the issue internally, shunning every offer of outside assistance. Isolationism exacerbates mistrust and fear on all sides. Tolerance has to be a two-way street if it's going to lead anywhere.

I'm sufficiently puzzled by the Zygon peace treaty on a practical level that I'm repeatedly dragged from the action. 20 million aliens have been allowed to take the nearest available human forms. That's roughly a third of the current UK population, duplicated and dispersed around the globe. How was that done without anyone noticing? How do they manage for documents (not very well by what we learn in Truth or Consequences)? What about those who remain in the UK? Please don't tell me we're handing out two lots of benefits! By the way, I loathed that line. Most Britons still have more self-respect than to stand with our hands out waiting for Nanny State to provide, thank you!

This probably reads as if I hated The Zygon Invasion. That's not fair. I found it thought-provoking, albeit shallow, and far more adult in the "grown-up" sense than much of Torchwood's first two series' managed to be.

It's well-directed, very well-played and undercuts its sledgehammer morality with unexpected moments of hilarity (mostly surrounding the Doctor's pseudonyms and his penchant for poncing about). Slower paced it might be, but the padding is kept to a minimum. It's hampered by its own ambition and its unwillingness to explore its central themes - radicalisation, the limits of tolerance, the ancient fear of "different" within our species and others - beyond the most superficial level.

Still, I applaud the show for being bold enough to take them on.