1. Sequel Episode
Do you remember “Day of the Doctor”? Well, for those of you new to the series, it was the 50th Anniversary special that starred Ten, Eleven and the War Doctor and one of the plots involved Zygons, aliens capable of shapeshifting, on Earth. This is essentially a sequel to that plot point. Were you curious about what happened after the Doctors brokered a peace between Human and Zygon? No, of course you weren’t, because that was the most boring part of that anniversary special!
This episode also serves as a follow-up to “Death in Heaven” in regards to U.N.I.T. scientist and Doctor fangirl Osgood (Ingrid Oliver), who died at the hands of Missy in that episode. The cold opening to this episode does explain how she is still alive. Spoilers: She isn’t. Maybe. It’s ambiguous. Essentially, there were two Osgood’s Post-DotD, the original and her Zygon “sister”. One of those two died in “Death of Heaven”. Granted, if you’ve never seen “Death of Heaven” (and good for you if you haven’t because, as I’ve implied in previous reviews, it was a very bad episode) than the opening to “Zygon Invasion” will be really confusing.
2. DID YOU KNOW THE ZYGONS ARE A STAND-IN FOR IMMIGRANTS AND REFUGEES?!
Like, no subtlety whatsoever. Whether it is the Post-9/11 world perspective on terrorism or the more current Syrian Refugee Crisis (what I found hilariously coincidental was the notion that the Zygons were allowed to hatch 20,000 younglings which would impersonate British citizens, the same number of Syrian refugees that the UK plans to accept by 2020).
It’s too bad the episode really indulges in that right-wing Trump/Tory-esque brand of fear and paranoia of the Other without really ever calling it out for the awful behavior it is. Oh sure, there are some attempts to dissuade it, such as stating that it’s not all Zygons who have become radicalized but just a “young splinter group” (although we barely see or understand the perspective of those Zygons that do want to live in peace with Humans) and for the Doctor trying to constantly trying to reach a peaceful solution. But then you have such aspects as “terrorist videos of hostages” or these Zygons hiding out in caves or in a place in the fictional stand-in for a East-Europe/Middle East country or good ol’ “Truth Or Consequences, New Mexico”.
And yes, Truth or Consequences, New Mexico is a real place, south of Albuquerque.
3. Certainly the Most Contemporary Doctor Who Episode in A While
Actually, going to talk about this a bit more. One specific scene finally introduced the concept of Drone Warfare to Doctor Who. And in an episode that seemed strategically designed to make me sickened, it does its job pretty well by never actually showing the drone but having it take place from the perspective of the Drone Operator and her computer screen. But like above, no discussion, no examination of this very serious topic. Just the Drone Operator refusing to kill a family with her drone, the most basic attempts at plucking heartstrings.
4. Agents of U.N.I.T.
So, something kind of positive was the amount of female characters in this episode. I think there was only about three or four guys (and two of them were in Zygon costumes) whereas we had Clara, Osgood, Kate Stewart, the Drone Operator, U.N.I.T. Colonel Walsh (played by fellow The Thick of It alumn, Rebecca Front), the Sheriff of Truth and Consequences and a couple of others. And they all varied in personality and appearances. It was very applaud worthy.
5. The Sci-Fi Problem
Having said that in #4, I think I legitimately despise this episode.
Yes, I will say, my very left politics does paint my opinion on this episode. The moral message behind this episode really comes off: “You should fear every damn person that isn’t like you. Hell, your friends or family? They can be potentially enemies as Others as well so fear them as well!” Now, I understand that the Doctor’s perspective here is the right one but he is not only ineffectual in this episode but he also seems relegated to a background position for a great chunk of this episode and even Clara seemed unimportant at least until the mandatory last-five-minute plot twist. Now I understand that there is a second part, but as of now, this episode left me very infuriated.Continued below
It also has a massive undercurrent of cultural assimilation in it, which is just as creepy but in a different vein. Any Zygon that takes a bit of pride in their heritage is treated as a psychopathic monster and, again, we never do hear from the perspective of those Zygons who do want to live in peace with Humanity. We never get to see their point of view on their heritage and thoughts on their species.
Listen, I don’t mind Sci-Fi being used to talk about bigger issues in our present day world. But when it comes to things like Aliens here or with cyborgs in the upcoming video game Deus Ex: Mankind Divided or the, in my opinion, poorly conceived mutant metaphor in “X-Men” it comes off as “Let’s talk about racism/classism/bigotry without having the spine to depict actual racism/classism/bigotry”. It is only compounded here, with it’s awful message.