- This series is continuing its run of stellar form with what looks to be yet another modern classic. Seriously, there hasn’t been anything approaching a bung episode so far this series. The only two episodes that have fallen flat for me are Before the Flood and The Woman Who Lived, and that’s really only because they haven’t lived up to the unreasonably lofty standards set by the rest of this series’ episodes. In any other series they’d be among the series’ highlights. Both were made up for by their first “halves” anyway, and the second by Maisie, who turns anything she touches into gold dust.
- But this episode, though. It was splendidly written, by one of Doctor Who’s most promising new writers, Peter Harness. I found it intelligent, involving and suspenseful and I’m excited af for the second half.
- What I really love about this script is that it isn’t a generic invasion story. It isn’t “aliens are invading Earth (read: London) for the umpteenth time, OMG”, a trope that Doctor Who has done to death even only in the modern series. No, we’ve moved on from predictable Dalek, Cyberman, Sontaran, Sycorax and Slitheen assaults upon the planet and we’re given something genuinely imaginative and relevant in this follow-up to the events of The Day of the Doctor. There’s real-world analogies to Islamic State and religious radicalisation among immigrant communities living in Western countries, and that’s what made this narrative so unique and gripping.
- And the terror analogy was really well deployed. The images of a hostage video, with two menacing Zygons leering at the camera beside a captive Osgood, and of a staged execution of Zygon “traitors”, and the black rebel Zygon war flag, were all very evocative and, honestly, more unnerving in this age of terror and paranoia than any of the monsters-of-the-week we’ve seen in recent times. This is hiding-behind-the-sofa for adults.
- The political allusions were discussed with sensitivity and maturity. Topics including immigration and assimilation and the current crisis in the Middle East were commented upon, but, mercifully, the episode didn’t beat the audience over the head with the views of the writers. It acknowledged that these are incredibly sensitive and complex topics which have no simple answers. It gave us the Doctor’s views but also presented the opposing outlooks of Kate Stewart and Colonel Walsh with sympathy.
- The Zygons themselves are as menacing as they’ve ever been. The directors rightly appreciated that the Zygons are most effectively scary when bathed in shadow (literally and figuratively), hence the liberal use of shots like the one above. The Zygons’ shape-shifting abilities were exploited to disquieting and shocking effect, as well, most notably in that delightfully suspenseful scene in front of the church, and in the revelation of Zygon-Clara.
- Perhaps the one thing I didn’t like about the Zygons is the facial designs. The Zygons’ faces seem to be stuck in a permanent snarl, teeth bared and all. When those two “good” Zygons who represented the Zygon High Command, disguised as little twin girls, transformed into their Zygon forms, I wasn’t sure at first if they had been the ones speaking and making threats to the camera, because their Zygon faces were twisted into the most horrible snarls. The Zygons in the modern series have been pretty much totally faithful to their original designs in the classic series, but they may have benefited from also retaining the less, er… “snarly” faces of the classic Zygons, which look more real and less comic book.
- “Doctor Funkenstein”. Love it.
- I think Jenna Coleman’s having a bit too much fun playing her evil Zygon double. She’s a class act, this one, though.
- I’m astounded that Peter Harness managed to get the two The Thick of It leads back together and resisted the temptation to script a proper shouting match between them. Maybe next week.
- Honestly, I’m immoderately excited about the second half of this story, and I’m confident that, if it follows up on this week’s episode as well as it promises to, this two-parter will be remembered as an instant classic and a modern masterpiece. It’s already looking like the best story of this series (so far), and is easily some of the best Who we’ve seen in years.