Doctor Who: “The Zygon Invasion”

“The Zygon Invasion” isn’t a bad episode, per se, but coming on the heels of the exceptional two-parter “The Girl Who Died”/”The Woman Who Lived,” you can’t help but notice how mediocre it is by comparison. It’s an Earthbound UNIT story, which is already one strike against it, although for the first time since UNIT was reintroduced in the new series I found myself pleasantly reminded of the Third Doctor serials of the classic era, in which he and UNIT would fend off all manner of alien invasions (half of which also involved the Master in some capacity). Of all the new Doctors we’ve had since the show came back, I must say Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor reminds me the most of the Third, and that definitely comes through here.

Truthfully, I don’t have a lot to say about this episode because there isn’t much meat to it. I suspect everything important is going to happen in the second part. About the only thing I really liked about the episode was its refusal to state whether the surviving Osgood is the original human or the Zygon version. It’s a brave stance, considering it’s a question that’s surely on every viewer’s mind, but it fits snugly with the story’s theme that it doesn’t matter if she’s human or Zygon: she’s Osgood. (My main concern for the second part of this story is that everything is going to be solved, in true deus ex machina form, by the mysterious “Osgood box” rather than the characters’ ingenuity or peacekeeping abilities. But then, this season has mostly been smarter than Doctor Who has been in some time, and this story may yet surprise me.)

“The Zygon Invasion” features some fun callbacks to the classic series, which as a longtime Doctor Who fan is something I always enjoy. The biggest callback is the question marks printed on Osgood’s shirt collar. We know she’s a big fan of the Doctor’s, having already seen her wearing a Fourth Doctor-style scarf and an Eleventh Doctor-style bowtie, but seeing those question marks again was kind of hilarious. The Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Doctors all had question marks on their shirt collars, while the Seventh Doctor moved them from his collar to his sweater and the handle of his umbrella. Frankly, the question marks were one of the worst costume choices of the John Nathan-Turner era, and believe me there are a lot to choose from, but I got a weird kick out of seeing them here. (I did not, however, like the Doctor saying he still wears question marks on his underwear. I’d love it if the show could leave this kind of juvenile humor behind.)

Other fun callbacks include an oil painting of the First Doctor hanging on the wall of the UNIT safe house in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance. (Although this is somewhat inconsistent, since the Doctor was already on his second incarnation when UNIT was initially formed, and his third when he became UNIT’s Scientific Advisor. Did I mention I’m a nerd?) The events of the 1979 Fourth Doctor serial “Terror of the Zygons” are referenced (the only appearance of the Zygons in the classic series), as is, quite unexpectedly, former companion Harry Sullivan, who we’re told invented the anti-Zygon weapon Z-67 shortly after the events of that serial.

One last thought. I appreciate Peter Capaldi’s skill as a guitarist, but I don’t think the Doctor needs to be seen playing the electric guitar in every episode. A little goes a long way, folks. Even Sylvester McCoy’s Seventh Doctor didn’t play the spoons in every episode! Also, in case I haven’t mentioned it recently, the sonic sunglasses have got to go. Seriously. Just do everyone a favor and get rid of them already.

5 responses to “Doctor Who: “The Zygon Invasion””

  1. R. Francis Smith says:

    Seven’s sweater, you say? Have another look at the Osgood on the left: http://www.flickeringmyth.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Doctor-Who-The-Osgoods-600×273.png

    But I missed the oil painting and that makes me sad.

    I agree that this episode was mostly set up, which I’m kind of okay with as it gave a bit of the feel of the old series pacing at times. But it’s markedly different from previous pairs where each episode was self sufficient — this one is an actual two-parter, clearly, complete with “To be continued” or whatever the actual verbage was.

    As I said to someone else, I like the guitar playing… I just hate the posing. That’s not what one does. If he were sitting in the TARDIS noodling on the guitar while thinking, that’d be great by me, but that’s not what we’re getting.

    I thought the metaphors for current events were a bit ham-fisted, but hey, TV sf, I guess.

    • Nick says:

      Good catch with the sweater! Those question marks, man. I never thought I’d see them again.

      All the previous two-parters this season ended with a cliffhanger, too, didn’t they? (Except for “The Girl Who Died.”)

      I preferred the Doctor writing on the chalkboard while thinking last season to playing the guitar while thinking this season. Maybe next season he’ll play a tambourine!

      • R. Francis Smith says:

        I guess you’re right about the cliffhangers. I don’t know why I thought otherwise.

        I agree about the chalkboard, and it is pretty transparent that the change from it to the guitar is because Capaldi is “old” (as he’s only 11 years older than me, that makes me cringe, I have siblings older than him) and the chalkboard makes him a creepy oldster and the guitar makes him hip, kids! Sigh.

        Anyway, hopefully next episode Oswald will wear Troughton’s big fur coat. Or celery. Or both.

        • Nick says:

          Oh my God, if she shows up with celery I will die!

          Did you know that when Peter Capaldi got the role he was only a few months younger than William Hartnell was when he did? I think they were 55 and 56, respectively.

  2. R. Francis Smith says:

    One of the things I really enjoyed about An Adventure in Time and Space was David Bradley’s portrayal of Hartnell before getting the job and even complaining initially about how old they were making him look — that really helped me get my head around it. Of course, ironically, Bradley really was 70 at the time!

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