Doctor Who very rarely “does politics” and, in the past, the results have been mixed. The Green Death managed to be an engaging story as well as informing the viewer on environmental matters and their political ramifications and The Curse of Peladon takes a look at an independent body joining a composite political entity that could be applied to EEC/EU membership. However, we also have the less successful likes of The Mutants in the 20th century and the ‘massive weapons of destruction’ which form the weakest part of the weakest story of the Eccleston era. "The Zygon Invasion"/ "The Zygon Inversion" immediately attracts, due to its irresistible title(s), but it also attempts to deal with some present-day hot-button issues - especially bearing in mind the events of 31 October and 13 November of 2015, chillingly close to broadcast. These aims have to hit their mark, especially now and the degree to which the story succeeds is completely unprecedented.
Following the events of "The Day of the Doctor", 20 million Zygons have assimilated into the human population. The overwhelming majority are peaceful, but a few of the younger generation are growing restless with the need to hide, to conform and have radicalised to form the group Truth or Consequences. The elder generation are appalled, but insist it is best for them to be dealt with by their own. It doesn’t take a genius to realise how much of this applies to radical Islam but the script by Peter Harness makes the issues easy to understand, without grossly simplifying them. Both sides spout hateful rhetoric, yet the viewer can understand the motivations of the characters spouting it. However, the dangers of radicalisation are only a part of the whole, for Harness and Moffat are just as keen on attacking modern warfare, indeed the entire concept of war itself. One abhorrent aspect of modern warfare that the vast majority of people just ignore or worse, accept, is the use of drones. Killing has become like a computer game, where, in a place of complete safety, operators can target images on a screen. Dehumanising the enemy makes their killing more effectively, and a dehumanised target is a faceless target. This story simply, yet devastatingly effectively, shows what happens when the faceless are given a face. Daniel Nettheim’s direction is unshowy, yet devastatingly effective in realising this and many other things. It takes a second to realise that the tumbleweeds in New Mexico are something more sinister and the dynamics of the Doctor negotiating peace with what looks like two little girls in a playground are fully explored for both incongruous comedy and grim drama. The Invasion of the Body Snatchers aspect of the Zygons is alluded to more strongly than ever before, most notably the 1978 version. It goes without saying that the production is fantastic, with the scene with the forced transformation of the peaceful Zygon being a deft mixture of the grotesque and the poignant.
The dialogue is brilliantly effective – the scene where the Doctor and Colonel Walsh have to give a pep talk to the UNIT soldiers follows a scene where they have a fundamental disagreement. Their speeches complement each other, yet do not betray their disagreement. However, it is in the key scene with the Osgood boxes that concept, dialogue, direction and performance combine to form one of the greatest sequences the programme has ever had in its 52-year history. War, the Doctor points out, is both preceded and succeeded by diplomacy and is the middle-man that needs cutting the most. Capaldi truly gives one of the best ever performances in the title role and, with the kindly smile he gives Bonnie, you can swear that you see all 2000 years of the Doctor’s life in his eyes. Jenna Coleman is great as both Clara and Zygella (sorry, Bonnie!) and we have the welcome return of Jemma Redgrave’s Kate and the brilliant Ingrid Oliver as, the far steelier, but still adorable, Osgood. We say goodbye, all to soon to Jaye Griffiths's Jac, but hello to Rebecca Front as Walsh - there is not a hint of The Thick of It when she and Capaldi share scenes.
"The Zygon Invasion"/ "The Zygon Inversion" doesn’t end with a bang, but neither does it end with a whimper. Zygella doesn’t betray the peace at the last minute and Kate doesn’t order UNIT to blow the Zygons up. What we have is better than a bang, a crescendo. "The Zygon Invasion"/ "The Zygon Inversion" is a story that I am tempted to throw superlatives at – ‘the best UNIT story since Inferno’ springs to mind. However, what I will say is this; there may be better stories than this one, but I cannot think of one that better shows how marvellous a programme Doctor Who is.
NEXT: "Sleep No More"