Monday, 2 November 2015

The Zygon Invasion written by Peter Harness and directed by Daniel Nettheim

This story in a nutshell: Dealing with the consequences of The Day of the Doctor...

Indefinable: I'm going to have to make a stand. I'm not happy with where Capaldi's Doctor is heading this year. He seems to have completely lost that razor sharp edge, that sense of danger that he had last year that made him so compelling to watch. Instead of enjoying a grumpy bugger who could turn on anybody he's being slowly replaced with what is essentially a quirky old granddad in the throes of a mid-life crisis. He's trying to look hip with an electric guitar (if that was Capaldi's idea then he was way off) and slipping on shades (leave that to Tennant) and he's dishing out cuddles and behaving in a very genial way. It's kind of bland and tasteless in comparison to the nasty, morally questionable Time Lord who was questioning his own decency last season. There were great chunks of The Zygon Invasion where Capaldi melted into the background completely for me...and that hasn't really happened before. I think there has definitely been a trouble connected him to the audience - beyond fandom I haven't heard a single person in my life say that they have taken to this Doctor. And the reforms this year don't seem to have rectified that, he's still at an arms length to the wider audience in a way that Tennant and Smith never were. Which is a shame because Peter Capaldi is probably the best actor to have played the Doctor and deserves a better reception.  Doctor Disco hanging out in a playground in a hoodie? Not a great image. Neither is the Doctor fondling Zygon nodules and talking about snogging Zygons and old habits. Just yuck. Walking in and declaring he is Doctor Funkenstein and here to save the world...ugh. Go back to being a grumpy old bastard, will you? When he says 'oooh ello!' to a Zygon like Frank Spencer resurrected I wondered just what had gone wrong. More importantly, I do not understand why the Doctor stands back for so much of this episode and just let the results play out. It's like he is a bystander in his own show, just watching for kicks. Whilst it is far from being the worst episode to feature this Doctor, my feeling is it the worst characterisation he has received. 'I've got question mark underpants' 'Makes you wonder what the question is...' Is that the best we can do?

Impossible Girl: I should have guessed that Clara was a doppelganger (I didn't if I'm being honest, I thought they were going to go with Jac) because for some of this episode she was actually rather interesting. I still don't get an impression that Clara has any kind of a life beyond her work and her time with the Doctor, not in the same way that Martha or Donna clearly did. We visit her home but it is only to experience a Zygon kidnap rather than to say anything about her. One thing I will definitely say in Clara's favour is that Jenna Coleman certainly plays the villain with more subtlety and aplomb than Freema Agyeman did in The Poison Sky. It's only when she's engaged with that subtle menace that you realise how good an actress she really is. Maybe she was wasted as Clara all these years? If Moffat would have the guts to send the Doctor off with a Zygon duplicate for the rest of the season I would seek him out a clap him on the back.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'Any race is capable of the best and the worst. Every race is both peaceful and warlike.'
'You left us with an impossible situation, Doctor' 'Yes I know it's called peace.'
'You start bombing them and you'll radicalise the lot!'
'It's not paranoia when it's real.'
'They'll think you're gonna pinch their benefits...' - ouch

The Good:

* This is Doctor Who dealing with consequences of previous adventures and that can only be a good thing. More specifically it is dealing with the consequences of one of the best stories to have sprung from the Moffat era and it serves to add weight to what was essentially a light sub plot in a much darker, personal story. Operation double, the Zygon peace treaty is a very well thought through response to the problem posed in The Day of the Doctor and I love the fact that we are joining the story once the treaty has already broken down. The flashbacks at the beginning get the audience up to speed quickly (although again it is an example of this season paying lip to fan service) and the jump cuts that show us how the situation has devolved since then provide a compelling stepping stone into the narrative of this episode.
* The women were at the forefront of The Zygon Invasion and that was extremely refreshing. I like the fact that this was a primarily female-led script and yet that didn't mean it automatically meant that Doctor Who got the touchy-feelies, in fact it was one of the most muscular episodes for some time. 
* For once we have a built in solution to the problem posed of the show enjoying the Osgood character and Moffat having bumped her off last season. I'll let him off this time because the resurrection of the character (it isn't really that because her double already existed) is the catalyst to this whole episode. It's not just bringing back a character because he can't bear to let them go but a built in plot device to force the shit to hit the fan. That's different. Plus Ingrid Oliver is delightful in the role and it is genuine pleasure to have her back. Plus we never learn whether she is the original or the Zygon copy, it's hinted at that they are hybrid of both now.
* In hindsight it is blatantly obvious that Clara is a Zygon. She points them in the direction of Truth or Consequences, she's shifty and serious and she has a little too much knowledge about Zygon technology and how to operate it. And yet I was completely oblivious on my first viewing because Jac was being signposted as a more obvious candidate.
* The tumbleweed. Hahahaha. Well it made me laugh.
* Not to be a sadist but I rather liked the fact that the death count in this episode so high. When Kate is shown the bins full of bodies I felt that we had a really serious situation on our hands. Moffat Who is full of miraculous resurrections and 'everybody lives!' that it is nice to have a story where the stakes are genuinely high in a life or death fashion for once.
* Jac's death and the ambush is the kick up the arse this episode definitely needs come the conclusion. I don't believe for one second that Jac is actually dead though. Thus is Moffat's legacy. Everybody lives.

 The Bad:
* Should Doctor Who be dealing with an allegory on immigration, terrorism and extremist groups if it does not have the balls to make some incisive comments on the subject? This is a hard subject to tackle because technically I should not be dismissing the show for having the courage to make a statement at all about such inflammatory subjects but by the very nature of the show they can only make vague allusions rather than truly getting to grips with the subject. It's a family show and so it has be adventure first and political comment second but I do wonder if perhaps that situation should have been reversed for just one week. Less of the doppelgangers, blobby monsters and comic book rocket launcher cliffhanger endings, more tough decisions and scathing commentary on the nature of humanity. If this was the work of Torchwood this would have been a biting, scathing treatise on the subject of War on Earth (with a few blowjobs thrown in). I'm not saying this episode should have been loud and obvious about it's metaphor (because it doesn't get much more obvious than 'aliens amongst us' with hulking great extraterrestrials) but perhaps for once the show should have been a little less science fiction and a little more drama. The Zygons can disguise themselves as people so for a start keeping them in human form would go a long way to blurring the lines. The scene where a Doctor interrogates the enemy would have been much more gripping had the Zygon been in human form, it would have played out as drama rather than science fiction. Two actors rather than an actor and great red blob. The attack on the playground could have been an actual terror attack, the woman pleading for her son not to shoot her should have been murdered to drive the level of paranoia home (and turned out to be his mother) and the family that were almost bombed should have lost their lives and been complete innocents. Do you see what I mean? We're coming out of what is considered Doctor Who into something far more gutsy and mature. And yet...(and I wont be popular for saying this) I think the show was a lot braver during Russell T Davies' time in this respect. He never shied away from showing that innocents died, that people have to make tough choices in war and that good people can turn nasty if provoked. I'm thinking primarily of Human Nature, Midnight and The Parting of the Ways but there are far more examples of the examination of human nature in his time. Battlestar Galactica produced an allegory of the war on terror and it was riveting, uncompromising and had much to say about humanity. Doctor Who dips it's toes into commenting on immigration and extremism and it is an entertaining yomp. I go back to my initial question...should it bother if it cannot pump hot blood into it's veins? The Zygon Invasion is lukewarm. It gets points for daring to try but it loses points for not trying hard enough.
* I'm reserving full judgement for next week because it could still make an eye-opening statement about it's subject matter but the message that this episode seems to want to get across is that immigrants are bad business and want to take over. There is talk of the 'majority' who want to live in peace but we don't get to see them (because there's no real conflict in spending time with them). The only examples of the 'aliens' we witness are provoking terror, kidnapping and killing. Hmmm. What this country doesn't need is to stoke the fire on this subject, even in a show as marshmellowy as Doctor Who. What I would like to see is a Silurians type ending, for Doctor Who to actually have the nuts to say immigration breeds violence and discontentment and that people would rather they were tidied away instead of letting them walk amongst us. For the focus to not be on how appallingly the Zygons extremists are behaving but on how inexcusable those who react to their presence of the rest of them (the ones who want to live in peace) are. To put a mirror up to the worst aspects of this country and show people how inhumane they can be. That sort of commentary would thrill me.
* Rebecca Front is a sophisticated, comedic actress. Turning her into a funless UNIT grunt was not the best use of her talents. She's perfectly fine in the role but I would saved something a little more showy and less uncharismatic. I didn't get the sense that she had a chance to bring her skill to the fore, just say the lines that were there and try and make them sound convincing.
* The Zygons aesthetic has improved since their last appearance but I still think the originals were more distinctive and less rubbery. There was a definite organic feel to the originals, rather than giving the impression that they are men dressed up in suits which these versions do. It's strange because they are being brought to life with much more sophisticated techniques and the joins in the make up (especially in the face) are much smoother...but in long shot they look so much more artificial than those from Terror of the Zygons.
* Harry created a gas that ripped Zygons inside out? That doesn't ring true somehow. He was a Doctor, not a genocidal maniac.
* The scene outside the church was pretty toe-curling; because of the performances (which laid on the innocence too much to be real), because of the warning that Walsh gave her men before they proceeded and because I refuse to believe there were only two options (kill or join). It makes UNIT look like a bunch of military incompetents if they can be convinced and slaughtered this easily. Plus this scene felt like it went on forever. He should have shot her, it would iron out most of the problems (except the acting).
* Be very careful about weapons being pointed at planes in fiction. You never know what might be just around the corner in reality.

The Shallow Bit: Bonnie/evil Clara is sex on legs.

Result: Considering the allegory, this lacks urgency and anger and comes across as a half-hearted attempt to make a comment on extremism and immigration. It's occasionally daring in it's hard hitting dialogue but that is never backed up by actions in the script. But what it lacks in gripping political comment it makes up for in entertainment with some nice twists, the delightful return of Osgood (with a built in excuse for her appearance) and some pleasingly scary moments. With it's location hopping and tense action there were moments when this episode reminded me of Homeland and Alias and I mean that as a compliment. It's not a comment that I could make about any other episode so the director certainly generated enough of an authentic international feel. Some of the location work has been extraordinary this year and this episode is no different in that regard. Mind you, the globetrotting does mean that we are not really connecting with this story in an emotional way. The myriad of locations and characters means that we aren't allowed to spend much time with or get close to anybody actually caught up in this struggle on either side and so there is a personal distance between the situation and the audience. But that has often been a problem with Moffat Who and I would rather take the exotic locales if it is going to be quite a inexpressive ride anyway. It starts brilliantly but loses steam before the end and climaxes on a cartoonish cliffhanger that fights the more mature tone it seems to want to engage with. The Zygons are an interesting race but this inverted invasion doesn't really have anything much to say about them beyond their terrorising ability to mimic human beings. I'm hoping for a little more detail about the race in the next episode otherwise the new series has plucked them from classic Who without giving them any kind of modernization. There's a lot I would have done differently (that old chestnut) but it's trying to do something a bit different to the usual alien invasion story (like the Silurians they're already among us) and as set up for a potentially inflammatory second part it certainly provides enough that is different to keep me interested: 6/10


Anonymous said...

"beyond fandom I haven't heard a single person in my life say that they have taken to this Doctor"

oh dear, strong deja vu here... it's 1985 all over again, with a Doctor people can't bring themselves to like, a much criticised producer ("JNT/Moffat is killing the show") and low audiences...

As long as this doesn't end on cancellation...

Urlance Woolsbane said...

Alternately, he's Patrick Troughton, following a Hartnell with an eight year run.

Think about it. Eccleston regenerated in his first year, which, I imagine, made viewers far more accepting of the concept than they would have been if he'd regenerated after three years. His successors were both young men. Capaldi is the first Doctor in the New Series to really shake things up. It's no wonder he's a shock to most viewers.

I've talked to several friends who hadn't warmed to Capaldi, but only one of them seemed willing to quit

Urlance Woolsbane said...

The show on account of Series 8 (and he was a trad fan, who didn't like things like Listen)

Urlance Woolsbane said...

If the show were dead in the water, you wouldn't exactly have things like Class, or LEGO Who, or the record premiere for Series 9 in America. If
worst comes to worst, they can always regenerate the good Doctor early.

Anonymous said...

"Be very careful at weapons pointed at planes in fiction." Really???

Urlance Woolsbane said...

Yeah. With all due respect Joe (you are always quite thoughtful in your reviews,) why should fiction bother showing death and mayhem, if there's always the risk that it might run parallel to the real world? If an element of a story does strike too close to the bone, and there's time to change it (ala Robots of Sherwood,) then doing so is probably a good idea. But if you operate on the assumption that any sort of violence you portray is going to have a counterpart in the headlines, then you'll be in a sad way indeed.

Mr. Jordan said...

You're absolutely spot on here, Joe. It's so disappointing that a story that could have been a real barn burner is so timid and naff.

What wound me up the most is that 'UNIT vs The Zygons' is just completely the wrong story to try and bolt an allegory for religious extremism to. It's trying to be Battlestar Galactica about 10 years too late and missing the point by a mile. Using a blatant allusion to the alienation of young British Muslims today to kick off a fucking 'Bad Foreigners Are Coming to Get Us' story is beyond cowardly.

Part 2 is going to have to go a long way to salvage this.

Jesus said...

I have to agree on the show needing to be more daring if its going to have a political message, satirical or otherwise. This had elements of satire in it, though really only when the Doctor made the benefits joke. The story has taken a bold move by having same sex couples in the supporting cast for many episodes, but its been done to death. Also, on another note on your plane comment, it seems odd that this came out at the same time that Europe claims to be experiencing a "refugee crisis". Bar that, I liked the story, and whilst I still like Capaldi as the Doctor, the electric guitar and sun glasses piss me off. Clara I've always liked because I thought there was a certain subtlety, but this series, she seems to be improving, can she please just drop the school and be a normal companion??? Bar that, I loved this episode and think this series has been great, and certainly more consistent than last series, bar the woman that lived which was meh, nothing offensive, but nothing great either. What's your opinion on the two part format used this series so far?

Ed Azad said...

"leave that to Tennant"

He casts a long shadow, eh? At least it took Tennant three years to be a Mary Sue, not just one.

The problem is this production team has done all it can. They can only upstage the Doctor with badass (if bland) female substitutes, or fall back on fanservice.

Eleven and Twelve will not stick out in the popular consciousness. At least not to fans who were watching before S5. I'd go on but it was all said in the Time Monster review. "The general lethargy in the production is mostly to blame, I think. It infects everything from the writing, the performances, and the direction. Something might have been salvaged had one of these problems struck but the coming together of all three creates a feeling of this story being made up on the spot by a team of regulars (including the production staff) that are far too comfortable with each other...It's the story you can stop and point it if you are one of those people that suggests that the Pertwee/Smith/Capaldi era lacked potency."

Urlance Woolsbane said...

"The problem is this production team has done all it can. They can only upstage the Doctor with badass (if bland) female substitutes, or fall back on fanservice."

Is this Doctor Who you're talking about? Surely the scale of show means that there are always new things to be done, regardless of who's making it? Even a very set-in-its-ways production team will see a number of obvious alternatives to the status-quo. I'd say that Series Eight is proof enough of this.

"Eleven and Twelve will not stick out in the popular consciousness. At least not to fans who were watching before S5."

A few things here:

Surely Twelve is assured a place in Who's history, by simple virtue of being the first older-looking star of the programme since Pertwee, and the first less-than cuddly Doctor since Collin Baker? Smith managed to dodge the "not-Tennant" stigma, but Capaldi's popularity seems to have suffered for his dissimilarities with what has come before. For better or worse, he stands out, and I don't see that this will easily change.

Also, I am of the understanding that a large number of viewers came on board during Smith's tenure. If this is true, then I'd imagine he'll stick out to a number of folks as their first Doctor.

"At least not to fans who were watching before S5. I'd go on but it was all said in the Time Monster review."

Interesting. The only area in which I'd really call the Moffat era lethargic is Series 6, and that seems to be down to the writer's discomfort with the melancholy of the ongoing character arc, and Mofffat's hand-off approach to script-editing (my biggest criticism of his show-running.) Series 5 and 7A felt rather energetic to me, and 7B, while not quite as on-fire, seemed to be having fun.

Of course, I enjoyed both the Time Monster and Silver Nemesis (which, having read so much about, I was dreading,) so I'm hardly representative of the casual viewer. I tend towards not having visceral reactions, so maybe that has something to do with it.

Urlance Woolsbane said...

Also, re the Zygon designs:
I think the alienness of the current lot is diminished by two factors, these being the emotive, human expressions, in marked contrast to the stranger, rather neutral ones of the originals; and the fleshy look, as opposed to the briny, coral-like appearance of the ones in [i]Terror[/i]

Anonymous said...

I like Capaldi more as a grandfather rocker that the asshole soulless of the last season.

Ed Azad said...

He's starting to act like Billy Mack and I don't know how I feel about that! Then again It's not far removed from Davies; they've implied the Doctor has banged a lot of aliens in his time, and that's the sort of thing a washed-up rocker would bring up at every opportunity.

Anonymous said...

It's weird... We've seen dopplegangers and moles done well in Doctor Who numerous times before. Hell, outside of the show Gerry Anderson pioneered it in Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons and UFO. This should have been a good, good show and yet... It feels shallow and pedantic somehow. Almost as if there's a desperate clawing to get back to the ineffectual (and, YMMV, painful) goofiness of the Eleventh Doctor era. The story's tone is all over the place.

You're right that the RTD era was more gutsy in the respect that it showed innocent casualties of war and pushed the horrific consequences of fighting adversaries who have no regard for the lives of others. There's never been a cross over to the Saward years where we got people like Sil and Quillam who actually *enjoyed* hurting people, but the gut punch was still there with the deaths of characters like Harriet Jones and Mrs. Moore.

Methinks Mr. Moffat was a poor choice for such a grim story because ultimately he can't do true depth. Worst still, poor Peter Capaldi comes across as a creepy old man with little to no impact on the events surrounding him. The worst scene I can think of is the showdown between the soldier and his "mother" where it feels like he's accidentally wandered on set. It's a tragic waste of an actor and he really deserves better than what he's being given.

Anonymous said...

The electric guitar and the sunglasses annoy me to no end. I loved the excentricity of classic Doctors, the Second Doctor's recorder, the jelly babies, but this sounds fake to me. It's like Moffat forcing the Doctor to be hip ("Doctor Disco"?? do me a favour. His First self would be livid at that. "Doctor Funkenstein" facepalm ashaming)

Agree with you about the Zygons design and liked the Zygon Clara more than the normal Clara, yes, she is a great actress and yes , she has been wasted. Under the RTD mantle she would have became a more nearer, approachable, identifiable companion

Snogging zygons... Big Finish did this with a totally different(i.e much better) approach with Auntie Pat and Trevor

AndrewBuckley said...

Surely there will be no complaints about Capaldi fading into the background in "Inversion"? That Osgood box scene was a defining moment, a proper tour de force and the single strongest piece of acting from any Doctor since Christopher Ecclestone in "Dalek". His rage and sadness and frustration and love and optimism shone through and there he was; our Doctor. As for some of the goofier aspects this year, I think they have made him more loveable especially when we see his fire is still there. Moffat has, contrary to what many people seem to say, carried RTD's candle in more ways than he hasn't - we still have a show full of heart and soul and hope, made by people who LOVE the Doctor and his rich history. I, for one, could watch this show forever!

AndrewBuckley said...


Tango said...

No, his best single strongest piece of acting was the epic emotional speech "The Rings of Akhaten". Eccleston what was in fact the only time he convinced me that it was a war wounded, the rest was just a cynical college student.

I do not understand why people complain about the "goofiness"? The RTD was used to have a lot of that.

Harry Sullivan creating a anti-Zygonweapon gives him more depth to the character with a dark angle rather than a pathetic stereotype of English gentleman. I do not understand why you are against that?

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David Pirtle said...

Personally I love his guitar. You don't need to be having a midlife crisis to enjoy playing the guitar. And I can tolerate the sonic shades, though I'm not keen on them. However, though I don't think Capaldi's Doctor lost all of his edge, I do agree that the writers were overcompensating a bit this season in trying to make the character less abrasive. It's pretty jarring watching seasons 8 and 9 back to back.