Doctor Who has been a show of indeterminate quality this year, with excellent performances often mired by uneven storytelling. On first viewing this episode is an inverse of that paradigm, with one scene in particular managing to ruin any momentum the story managed to build. That's after you even consider the suspension of disbelief science fiction media requires of its consumers.
It really was that bad.
It's on the second viewing, however, where you begin to notice that the further the action moves from London, the more writers are clearly stalling for time to fill two episodes. It feels like a misguided effort to find some middle ground between the slow, deliberate pacing of the old Fourth Doctor serials, and the modern, frantic pace established by those of the Ninth Doctor in 2005.
But regardless of the obvious pacing issues, let’s start with the surface plot here as it's one that started back in 2013’s 50th anniversary special, The Day of the Doctor. In that story the 10th and 11th Doctors joined forces with the War Doctor in order to help negotiate a truce between humanity and an invading force of Zygons. While there was no on-screen explanation of what was resolved as a result of those talks, it felt strange that it hadn’t been revisited or at least clarified in the episodes that followed.
OSGOOD, THE DOCTOR'S #1 FAN IS BACK
We discover in the opening moments that this truce involved letting the Zygons settle on Earth, taking the appearance of humans they’ve copied. It’s probably the worst possible outcome that humanity could have ever hoped for. It also puts a lot of what happens over the course of this story on the shoulders of the Doctor, the Time Lord who now has to clean up the mess that three of his previous incarnations helped bring about. On the plus side, Osgood is back!
When the character was killed by Missy in last years series finale Death in Heaven, many viewers were shocked and appalled at the casual execution of a fan favorite. What we didn't realise (because it was never explained) was that Osgood had a counterpart; someone who considered themselves to be part human, part Zygon. They also had possession of the Osgood Box, a mysterious object left with the duo by the Doctor. There's no indication on what it contains, but we're certain to find out next week.
As a living, breathing representation of the tense peace that exists between two species, we still don't know if the Osgood that was killed was the human or alien version of the character. That at least keeps things more than a little interesting for now but we're glad to have her back on our screens.
Osgood is what Peter Capaldi recently stated: a love letter to Doctor Who fandom, and just like bow-ties, Osgood is cool.
THE UNITED STATES HAS BECOME A DUMPING GROUND FOR ALIENS
For their part, it's nice to see a show runner and writing team try and tackle very real issues that are taking place in the world of 2015. The issue here is that they've crammed quite a number of those in, and not many of them carry the gravitas they deserve. It's a brave decision to even attempt this, especially when you consider the supposed apolitical nature of the majority of BBC programming outside of news broadcasts. It's one that we can't really label a successful attempt just yet, at least not until the concluding part lands next week.
What we can do though is highlight some of the important, underlying themes that ran through the first part of this story.
1) The people living in Truth or Consequences really don't like "British" immigrants.
When Kate Stewart arrived in New Mexico to investigate the town of Truth or Consequences she met a single resident, a sheriff named Norlander who asks if she is "one of them". Obviously she's referring to the Zygons, but the discussion soon turns to the "Brits" who nobody wanted, the "people" who first arrived in the town two years ago.
"No jobs. Nowhere to live. No money. And they were ... they were odd. They started getting into fights. Couple of them got killed."
This irrational fear of immigrants is nothing new either in the real world, or with presidential candidates, but the underlying parallel with the ongoing refugee situations around the globe is clear as day.
As is often the case in life, whether you're from Syria or Mexico, the blame is always on the "alien".
2) U.N.I.T. are quicker to bomb a "potential" threat than negotiate
At one point in this story, the Doctor takes his Presidential plane to Turmezistan, where the Zygons have taken over a town and to get rid of the problem. In case you're confused by that, the Doctor holds the Office of "President of Earth". Which is kind of hilarious, given he's a literal alien representing humanity when a crisis comes around.
The Zygons are painted as terrorists here, and the setting of Turmezistan is no accident. Only two letters removed from its almost-namesake, Turkmenistan, the country is suspected of housing a Zygon "training camp," as described by the U.N.I.T. commander, Walsh.
When the Doctor tells them that out of the millions of Zygons worldwide, this is at best a "splinter group", the humans are resistant of that fact by using paranoia as a mask to justify their action. It's better to take action now, than later.
"This is a splinter group. The rest of the Zygons, the vast majority — they want to live in peace. You start bombing them, you’ll radicali`e the lot. That’s exactly what the sprinter group wants."
This is also the setting for probably the most awkward, unbelievable scene since Steven Moffat took the reins as showrunner in 2010. With the Zygons taking refuge inside a church — a place of faith — the U.N.I.T. soldiers take formation outside, demanding they leave the building. When they finally do emerge they have taken the appearance of family members of the soldiers surrounding them, and even though it's obvious they're being tricked the soldiers gullibly walk to their deaths by following their disguised executioners inside.
It was a terribly acted scene with no emotional impact whatsoever, and you wouldn't be wrong to call it a dramatic low point for the show, if not the entire series itself.
3) Racial profiling is how you detect threats, apparently
When Zygon Clara (or Bonnie) goes investigating with Jac into the suspicious bundles being placed in elevators in her building of residence, the first people we see followed are South Asian. This sets off a chain of events which includes using New Scotland Yard's networked system of security cameras (apparently they watch residences) to check the events occurring in other elevators across London, including a verbal mention of SOAS.
In case you haven't heard of SOAS, it's a University of London institute that refers to itself as "the only Higher Education institution in Europe specializing in the study of Asia, Africa and the Near and Middle East."
I'll reiterate what I said earlier. This is a story about immigration, the rights of immigrants (the Zygons are being forced to hide as humans), and the instinct to label an entire race as a terrorist threat based upon the actions of a few. It's very much a commentary on the relations between the West and Central Asia, and I'm not entirely sure they gave the topic the weighty discussion it deserves.
There is no preview for next weeks episode, so I'll leave you with the following questions:
- Will the Doctor and Osgood both survive Zygon Clara's rocket launcher attack?
- Is Kate dead at the hands of the Zygon Sheriff?
- How is the real Clara going to get out of this?
- Is Osgood the hybrid spoken of in Gallifreyan legend?
That's another recap down, folks. How did you get on with this week's episode? You can follow along with this series of Doctor Who via our StoryStream, and if you like that why not check out the rest of our television coverage here at Polygon at the following link.