I think alien invasion episodes are the bread-and-butter of the Doctor Who universe (outside of a thousand stories set in Victorian London, that is). From subversive takes like the Empty Child to straight invasion episode like, um, The Christmas Invasion, it seems as if Earth is never free from the intergalactic scourges who want to take over the planet. Maybe the real estate is cheap or something.
Either way, I’ve always enjoyed alien invasion episodes because there’s something inherently cool about seeing a world I know completely changed by whatever alien race is after us this week. They usually fall into a pretty predictable formula, but one that never grows old- U.N.I.T figures out aliens are invading, they ring up the Doctor, and they launch a counter-strike against Earth’s new visitors. The use of the ever-welcome U.N.I.T saves them the bother of expanding on one-episode tertiary characters and lets the focus fall entirely on the plot, and, in the Capaldi years, the Doctor gets to ponce around in an plane and play at be being president of Earth. As a die-hard sci-fi fan at heart, it’s always fun when the show flexes it’s science fiction muscles, and this week’s episode proved that the show still has plenty of straight-up alien invasion romps left in it yet.
After a seriously wobbly two-parter, this season seems to have settled down a bit with The Zygon Invasion. It’s not a mind-buggeringly amazing outing or anything, but it just about holds it’s nerve, as a peace treaty with the Zygons falls to pieces and U.N.I.T braces itself to save the world once again. Aside from the fact the entire premise for the episode is based on a plot hole- why would they try to integrate the Zygons into the human race, after they’d tried to invade the planet twice already?- it’s difficult to fault this week’s tight, globe-trotting adventure, one that speaks to writer Peter Harness’ comfort within old-style Doctor Who stories.
Jenna Coleman gets her first really notable performance of the season-seriously, this is the most relevant she’s been to the plot in about a year-and reminds me why I did love her so much all those distant seasons ago. And Capaldi looks like he’s having a ball prancing around the world on U.N.I.T’s arm, even though someone in the screenwriting team obviously REALLY LIKES the guitar gag and just doesn’t want to let it die. And I’ll never turn down a chance to hang out with Kate Lethbridge-Stewart and company- even Osgood, who I’ve never really understood the fuss around, was interesting this episode, and provided another candidate for the Hybrid mentioned a few episodes back (it’s going to be Clara, isn’t it? It’s ALWAYS Clara).
The Zygons, still looking like the most menacing play-doh models in history, are always a welcome villain because of their shape-shifting abilities (which I’d successfully forgotten about, because my brain is full of more important things like how to imitate Evan Peters Vincent Price voice in this season of American Horror Story and when I next need to go buy cat food). The show managed to eke some legitimate pathos out of the Zygons torturing people with the images of their own family (even if no-one in UNIT is allowed to shoot a fun, apparently), and it’s always fun to have retro villains lumbering around the modern Who universe. The Zygons were an obvious allegory for immigration, which sort of half-worked and half-didn’t.
On the one hand, there was a legitimate point to be made about the way we other people who we perceive as different and our quickness to write every member of a certain cultural group off based on the actions of a few. On the other hand, if your allegory for immigrants is violent alien invaders attempting to take over the world and destroy those who’ve hosted them, you might need to go back to the drawing board, because you’ve got a bit of the True Bloods about you. It’s nice to see Doctor Who attempt to take on real-world problems, especially after last season’s disastrous IF YOU TAKE MEDICATION FOR MENTAL HEALTH DISORDERS YOU’RE KILLING THE EARTH, but it definitely could have done with a little more work.
But that aside, this was a good episode. I don’t want to spend too long picking it apart at the seams because it all rests on how next week’s The Zygon Inversion (if that ISN’T a reference to the solution that can turn Zygons inside out, then I officially quit the show) sticks or doesn’t stick the landing. Either way, it’s nice to have Doctor Who feeling a bit more settled- packed with sharp humour, exciting action, and bastard alien overlords, The Zygon Invasion proved that we don’t need fiendishly complex paradoxes to come up with a good story, we just need a hearty embrace of all things old-school.
But what’s this: no teaser for next week? I’ll have you yet, Moffat.