I was so excited to see Clara have so much more to do in “The Zygon Invasion” than she has the whole rest of the season that I didn’t even realize that she was replaced by Zygon before she’d spoken half a dozen words. I only called it about a minute before it was actually revealed to the audience, and I’m usually pretty good at detecting evil twins. I’m not sure if I’m happy to have been surprised by what was really a pretty well-written episode or if I’m just terribly irritated by the revelation that Clara is once again being reduced to furniture.
Aside from that, this was (objectively) a fairly good episode and one of few in the Moffat era to pass the Bechdel test. With Jemma Redgrave returning as Kate Stewart, Ingrid Oliver reprising her role as Doctor fangirl Osgood, and several minor female characters making their Doctor Who debuts, it’s an episode that is just packed full of women in key roles. Peter Capaldi has really settled into his role as the Doctor, and he continues to be great fun to watch. I even rather like the Zygons, although I’m not sure where the show is going with this storyline.
Here’s the thing about this episode, though: I just didn’t like it. Clara being damseled is part of the reason, certainly. There’s not much that will annoy me more about any story than female characters being reduced to objects in need of rescue. But that’s not entirely it, either.
Mostly, I found the episode to be thematically muddled and, frankly, boring. Honestly? I think I’m just almost unable to get really excited about this show anymore unless it does something really fascinating, which it didn’t manage to do this week.
The peace with the Zygons that was negotiated in the anniversary special seems highly impractical, and the desire of the Zygon radicals this week—supposedly to live openly rather than secretly and in hiding—seems eminently reasonable enough that it’s hard to see them as entirely villainous. On the other hand, with the Zygons having, apparently, made no effort to resolve their problem through diplomatic channels, their violence seems disproportionately and absurdly unnecessary and counterproductive. By using language that ties the Zygons to real-world terrorists, the show is inviting a comparison that doesn’t really stand up to any real scrutiny.
Doctor Who is a show that only rarely addresses these kind of real world political issues, and it’s disappointing to see it done in this manner, if only because this shallow treatment of complex issues risks becoming incoherent. Things didn’t break down entirely this week, though, and the second half of the two-parter might make more sense of the copious set-up we were presented with this week. We’ll see.