Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Doctor Who: The Zygon Invasion (Episode Review)

Welcome to this series' Kill The Moon. No, this is really that bad, and unsurprisingly it's been penned by the same damn person, Peter Harness. Handling its subtext with all the subtlety of a mammoth wielding a sledgehammer, it repeatedly starts beating the audience over the head with tired old terrorism messages. 

The story this time follows up on the ceasefire established a few years back, when the zygon invasion abruptly ended thanks to the Doctor(s) erasing all memories or identity of those involved. Sadly this seems to be breaking down, and for some reason the zygons have gone a little kill happy, infiltrating everywhere and executing everyone in sight.

Now, let's be fair and just ignore the fact that the zygons were established as war-like and bent on conquest, but were instead a peaceful race. Instead let's just look at what the episode covers:

  • We have a new generation of immigrants desiring to return to the old ways, turning into violent extremists. Hell-bent on self-determination, they are using self-expression as an excuse to start killing people, with each murderer claiming they are being repressed.
  • With many living in the UK, they are completely undetectable and stroll about unnoticed, with many only realising they are hostile long before it's too late. 
  • The rogue zygons start releasing execution videos, make captives read off lists of demands, hold training camps out in the desert and hide among innocents in remote villages
  • Many in the military just want to go in bombing the hell out of them, while we have one sane man (the Doctor) arguing this is just a minority group and all but posting #NotAllZygons on Twitter.

Honestly, all we need now is a generic "Jihadistan" fake country and we're set.


Harness has officially shoehorned every single last tired old terrorism plot point into this story. After a decade of these sorts of stories, this isn't even derivative anymore, it's downright cliched by this point. The muddled, turgid writing is just grabbing for every point possible in the faint hope that it'll produce something worthwhile. Instead, we just get a brainless, tired old "mystery" tale which makes CSI look intelligent.

The bigger, much bigger problem is the fact that, even with the shameshifters on hand, the script can't even hope to use them convincingly. The closest we come to a hint of a good idea is when the show mentions that zygons from one training camp use their abilities to hide numbers and then scatter into the local wildlife if threatened. The rest, really, it's not even remotely decent.

One of the big, big points the episode keeps bringing up is how the zygons can look like your loved ones and use that to throw you off. Okay, good idea, but in this case it apparently just drains the braincells of anyone they're looking at. For starters, the military wants to bomb a town held by the zygons. They start to do it, only for the woman guiding the bombs in to see her family there. Not as hostages, not even in the background, but cheerfully standing there waving up at them.
As if this wasn't enough of a "THIS IS A FAKE" sign, one which somehow managed to actually work, the strike team has it even worse. The zygons all turn into loved ones of the team and claim that they're being held hostage. With no sign of being harmed, no issues or even indications of ever being in the wrong, they keep trying to force the team down. Even after openly refusing to answer questions only they'd know, they simply instead say "come inside this building and all will be revealed." So, does the team take them down with tear gas or non-lethal means? Do they even force them back or have them get down onto the ground, keeping their distance? Nope. They all stroll inside without a question and abruptly die.

The plot-holes in this tale are simply staggering, and it's amazing to think someone working for the BBC's flagship science fiction show could get away with this crap. For starters, take that town in Unstoppabletideofislamistan. When it's attacked and threatened, the zygons scatter. Okay, fine. Then, however, we learn that the zygons have all escaped and are in the UK. So, how did they accomplish this? Transmat systems? With secret alien technology? How about even a spaceship? Nope. tunnels. Yeah, not even enhanced tunnels, just tubes carved out of the rock. Apparently the writer decided he needed to give the zygons the powers of the goddamn Flash in order to have them bounce from place to place.

This episode opts to double down on its stupidity so many times that, in all honesty, you could write a college length essay on just where this went wrong, blow by blow. Why does Kate Lethbridge-Stewart go to a hostile town with no backup? Just because the script says she does. Why does she trust the only person left there implicitly? Because the script says so. Why is she surprised that the person there is revealed to be a hostile alien, but doesn't shoot it in the ten seconds it takes to transform? Because the script says so.

The level of plot holes present in the story are only matched by the writer's sheer incompetence when it comes to military tactics. While my personal understanding of military and infantry procedures tends to range from the Roman Empire up to late 1940s, even I know that soldiers don't stroll up to an enemy stronghold all grouped together. They don't ignore open cover and trundle inside with no one covering exits, no one scanning the room or examining the place for possible threats. More importantly, they tend to have faster reaction times than the average sloth, so it's a little hard to believe they only react to an ambush a full minute after it's been sprung.

There's honestly only two points this story gets right: First of all, a surprise twist with Clara which hits home far, far harder than anything else in this story. Really, it's actually quite well handled.
Second of all, the direction of Daniel Nettheim. While it suffers at a few points, his cinematography is undeniably creepy and handles more than a few scares quite skillfully. He gets some of the unconventional shots down remarkably well and, while sadly failing when it comes to certain scenes with masses of people, the individual moments are rather striking.
Honestly, beyond that, there's not much. Even Capaldi seems to only have a fraction of his usually awesome lines to deliver.

Look, this is clearly an episode penned by someone who had a message and built up the story as an afterthought. The problem is that it's only grabbing onto current themes, current stuff in the headlines, not the subject itself. You want to see this same idea done well? Watch Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's two-parter Homefront and Paradise Lost. It covers many of the same ideas, but because it focuses upon the general theme and not Zygonsuicidebombersareonthewayistan, it's a far stronger and much more intelligent story.

As for this one? Skip it. It's just sadly a sign that, for all the hopes people might have had at two-parters upping the quality of Doctor Who as a whole, we're still going to see some serious stinkers in the future.


  1. This episode was awful. Fucking awful. Really fucking awful and you could tell how awful it was going to be really early when the Zygons threw a smoke grenade at two other Zygons, who stood perfectly still as hostile Zygons walked up to them, picked them up, then walked away.

    The whole episode it like that, people just do whatever the villains want them to because the episode would be over in minutes if people weren't complete morons simply because the script demands them to be. At one point the UNIT commander actually says something along the lines of "Oh, so a hideout is in the same place as the place our agent sent out their distress signal." Because checking out where your agent was attacked and captured never even crossed her mind.

    What's funny too is you mentioned the Zygons apparently mystic abilities to not only know who the family members of people going to attack them are, but also how to get the attention of an unmanned drone, but you make it sound like they see into the window of a bomber, rather than simply know who's piloting the drone.

    It also seems like this is one of the cheaper episodes, at one point the Doctor and crew receive a video from Zygons who are literally on the exact same set as them. I actually thought it was going to be a clue to something later before I realized it was just laziness.

    Also while I didn't catch it when watching the episode, while googling "Turmezistan" (I wanted to make sure it was a real place) I learned that the set for it is the same set as Tenzalore.

    This was way worse than any other Capaldi episode, and I'm having a really hard time thinking of any other episode that was this stupid, even Kill The Moon had characters who had at least half a working brain.

    What makes this worse is my parents met in the military, watching this beside them and seeing "soldiers" (I wish I could make bigger airquotes there) act like this is a complete joke.

    1. Honestly, i'm inclined to agree with you that this is Capaldi's worst episode. Even after reflecting upon Kill The Moon and the terrible school focused episodes, nothing was quite THIS insulting to the intelligence of the audience.

      The whole agent point was bloody irritating enough, and rightfully so with the gaping plot hole you cited. However, in thinking about that I've realised there's another gaping one: Why the hell did they abandon the command centre? ZygISIS could have just abducted their predecessors, replaced them, and then continued pretending everything was normal. Hell, if they'd done that rather than performing open terror attacks, they could have continued with UNIT being seemingly none the wiser! It's honestly shocking that so many magazines and works are giving this near perfect scores with with terrible failings, and that so few are actually calling it out on its offensive nature.

      I don't blame either of your parents in the slightest as, quite frankly, anyone with a brain has had that same reaction. Having decided to re-watch it I managed to get a friend studying military history and another one who is simply a big fan of XCOM. Both had exactly the same reaction to the ludicrous depiction of the military and cited a lot of the same points. This shouldn't be easy stuff to forget when anyone with a vague grasp on tactics is capable of bringing up huge problems with the story's depiction of the military.

      Also, fair point, I should have made it clearer about the drone criticism.