It’s probably easy to explain our slight ambivalence to Episode 7: The Zygon Invasion with the knowledge that the Zygons are our least favourite of the Doctor’s intergalactic enemies. Not only do they look a bit rubbish, but they’re also a million miles away from having the same momentous impact as other big hitting baddies like the Daleks, Cybermen, Weeping Angels or the Silence (not to mention the Master!).  Episodes with them included are generally less about the action and more about talking and alliteration, however, these were definitely not as bad as some of the others we’ve seen in recent years.

The dangling subplot of the Zygons from “The Day of the Doctor” was picked up here.  We learn that humanity and the Zygons did manage to reach an agreement that enabled 20 million Zygons to secretly settle on Earth in human form.  Unfortunately, a splinter group of militants has formed made up of Zygons who do not want to live as humans, who wish to embrace their alien heritage.  They regard humans as the enemy and assimilated Zygons as traitors.   The revolutionaries, led by a Zygon known as “Bonnie,” are motivated by the dream of a society that is totally free from both the presence and ideology of anything that is not Zygon.  They are willing to commit horrible acts of violence to achieve this “perfect” world.

They’re joke references from the Doctor about them stealing our jobs and rational debates about atrocities and the impact of perceptions and propaganda on the way people behave, which all feels very relevant to modern day socio-political problems. However, there are a couple of instances when this becomes a little too stretched to make a point, which wasn’t really needed. When the soldiers are going after the Zygons, about to shoot them down, they end up giving up because they adopt the faces of their family and loved ones. This would have been fine if they hadn’t then also been lured to their, as a result, which seems way too far fetched to fill well into the series. It just ends up with a mixed message, which starts with the premise of what would you do if they were your family and ends with a heap of scorched mounds where once there were soldiers.

However, they’re sort of not meant to be out-and-out villains, acting more like mirrors on humanity, so perhaps we’re being a little harsh on the big blobby-headed face robbers. Our biggest issue is that they look a bit naff, more like a dude in a costume than an advanced and complex alien race with their own fight for survival to work on. On a more positive note, writer, Peter Harness, has put a lot of effort into building in some of the complexity behind race relations that have got very clear parallels in real life. Bonnie intends to cause the Zygons who have assimilated to return to their original forms, realizing this will create massive panic among humanity.  This will force the assimilated Zygons to join her group solely to survive the inevitable human violence.  Bonnie even recognizes that realistically 20 million Zygons do not stand a chance against six million humans, but she would rather die on her feet in pursuit of her goals, taking as many humans with her as possible, than live on her knees.

Etoine: I’m not part of your fight. I never wanted to fight anyone. I just wanted to live here. Why can’t I just live?

The Doctor: We are on your side.

Etoine: I’m not on anyone’s side! This is my home!

Seeing no way out, Etoine commits suicide in front of the Doctor.  It’s a heartbreaking scene, with a sad, moving performance by Asbury.  It really demonstrates the suffering that ordinary people endure because self-important revolutionaries prize ideals more than they do actual lives, when fanatics espouse the belief that the ends justify any means.

UNIT, in turn, faced with millions of shape-shifting aliens who have the ability to infiltrate all levels of government, to assume to guises of friends and loved ones before they strike, are ready to wipe out all of the Zygons, guilty and innocent, in order to prevent more violence.

There’s also a flippancy to the episode, which is a little to be expected from the character direction in the series, but doesn’t feel quite right this time around with such weighty topics underlying the episodes story. This is all the more at odds in The Zygon Invasion when you also take into account (SPOILERS ALERT!!!) that Clara bites the dust towards the end of the episode. It’s not impossible that this could be a clever decoy death and that somehow she’ll be restored to life in next week’s episode, The Zygon Inversion, but it’s also possible that Clara is no more and all we’ll have of her for the rest of her stay is the Zygon shadow of her former self.  I know that at this point a number of viewers, myself included, are experiencing a bit of Clara fatigue.  The character has been around for a while now and, as with other companions, the quality of writing given to her has been somewhat inconsistent.  Given that, I think it can become easy to overlook Coleman.  But she actually is a great actor. This is ably demonstrated when Bonnie takes on Clara’s form for the majority of these two episodes.  Bonnie is a completely different character from Clara, and Coleman plays the part perfectly.  It definitely demonstrates her versatility.

It’s genuinely a shame that Jenna Coleman is leaving the show as she had built up a very strong on-screen relationship with Peter Capaldi, but it’ll be more of a shame if she has been written out inEpisode 7, because it lacks the momentous delivery to give her passing the credit it deserves. The episode doesn’t stack up as well as the previous two entries in Series 9, but with the second of the two-part story going out next week there’s at least some scope for a reprisal.

Some negative thoughts

Peter Capldi and Jenna Coleman put in some amazing performances, but there are some mind-boggling daft moments, like pretty much anything involving UNIT. First we have Kate Stewart being a little too bloodthirsty (“Science leads, Kate”, remember?), then Colonel Walsh being pretty much in charge of nothing, based on how many of her troops just ignore her orders. Then we have those troops, who one would, considering the job they should be used to doing, assume that situations involving aliens might be more than they first appear. Yet they roll over for what is a pretty obvious trick by the Zygons without much fuss, which makes them pretty ineffectual, something they’ve struggled with since the show returned in 2005.  In addition the Director of ultra black ops top secret agency goes to investigate enemy stronghold, in her best ass-kicking pantsuit. Alone. Armed with a sidearm and incomprehensible gullibility, she’ll surely get the job done! I mean, you just happened to stumble into the sole survivor of a massacre done by aliens that can look like anyone. What luck! Definitely didn’t need that backup now that you’ve got Officer Alien… I mean Officer I-Survived-Somehow watching your back! Great reaction time with that sidearm by the way while she slowly “killed” you, wink wink. Though I’m quite sure we’re going to be subjected to the easiest to see “twist” ever written in the next episode.

Lets start with the positive on this episode as it must be said, there were some misses, but still quite a bit to like and while this episode was not as good as The Magician’s Apprentice, it still moved forward in a fairly quick and interesting fashion.

While we all knew that Missy and Clara were not killed at the end of the previous episode, their means of escape from the Dalek’s was explained quite well and their interactions throughout the show were spot on. I especially liked the “view” that Clara had of the Doctor’s escape in a similar fashion and her explanation of his gift for similar escapes from other enemies in the past. Missy specifically while seeming “almost good” last episode, continued that trend here, but gradually and convincingly started to revert to type in a more and more demented fashion and started to remind me of the Joker in some weird and wonderful ways!

Similarly the Doctor and Davros’ conversations and interactions were exceedingly well done and you could absolutely get into it. While anyone would assume that Davros was bluffing and playing on the Doctor’s feelings, more and more throughout the episode, he managed to persuade you of the genuinness of his feelings and his eventual betrayal when it came, as well as how it came was a surprise.

Quick Recap

If you recall from last weeks episode, Clara and Missy were supposedly killed by the Daleks. Well this week starts with them explaining how they escaped (basically Missy had reprogrammed their teleportation devices to send them elsewhere when they were shot by the Daleks) and then discussing how they can break back into the city that is filled with murderous Daleks so that they can save the Doctor.

Entering the sewers of the city – Clara rightly asks, why do Daleks even have sewers? Missy informs her that the sewers are not for removing waste from the Daleks but as they are essentially immortal, when their shell decays the remnants of the Dalek pool in the sewers of the city. While they no longer have the ability to navigate and drive a Dalek shell/body – they still continue to hate as a Dalek and Missy uses this knowledge to trap and kill a Dalek that has come into the sewers searching for the intruder.

“genetically hardwired to keep on living, whatever happens”.

Placing Clara in the Dalek shell – with eerie similarities to Clara’s first appearance on the Doctor in epic Asylum of the Daleks – Clara is “taught” by Missy how to navigate and use the Dalek body. Scarily emotions and words like love and hate and exterminate are the tools that power the Daleks disintegration beams and Clara is quickly frightened by what she’s gotten herself into.

‘How are you supposed to make it go without pedals?’ Clara asked.
‘Telepathic control.’
But inside when she spoke, to her horror she found everything was automatically translated into Dalek-speak.
‘I am Clara Oswald’ came out as ‘I am a Dalek.’

Meanwhile the Doctor and Davros continue their repartee and in a short interlude it seems that the Doctor might have found a quick and easy way to escape when he removes Davros from his chair and uses it to taunt the Daleks in their control chamber.

‘Davros is an insane, paranoid, genius who has survived among several billion trigger-happy mini tanks for centuries,’ he told the army of Davros’ ‘children’. ‘Conclusion? I’m definitely having his chair!’

While this interlude is short, the interaction between the two in the latter half of the episode is both poignant and moving, and Davros particularly does an exceptional job in his portrayal of a dying madman that has seen the truth. When he opens his eyes – well I’ll be honest, thats a scene I NEVER expected to see!

Davros even wept as he asked: ‘I need to know before I go. Am I a good man?’

However, as we’ve come to expect from both the Doctor and his most bitter enemy, leopards just don’t change their spots and while the Doctor is seemingly trapped in his efforts to restore Davros to life so that he can see one more sunrise, in reality the Doctor has realized that its all a setup and trick. Bequething his Time Lord energy to Daleks, the Doctor has realized that its not going just to Davros and those Daleks still in their bodies, but to ALL Daleks on the planet including the bodies of millions and millions of quiescent Daleks that were previously only in the sewers.

generations of Daleks just woke up very cross and they are coming up the pipes ! This city is about to be sucked into the ground, your own sewer is about to consume you !’

Realizing that Clara is trapped in the Dalek shell when she utters the word “mercy”, the Doctor helps her get out. Missy meanwhile is forced to flee as while she’d saved the Doctor from Davros, she’d commited a more heinous crime when she attempted to trick him into killing Clara by pretending that the Dalek body she was inhabiting had actually been the one that killed her.

While we were left last week with the Doctor facing a young Davros seemingly about to destroy him, this week we see the conclusion to that and the Doctor instead exterminates the handmines and saves Davros’ life. The boy wanted to know if was a friend or an enemy though.

‘I’m not sure any of that matters – friends, enemies..’ the Doctor assured him. ‘So long as there’s mercy.’

No!!! Not the Sonic Screwdriver!!

Overall a bit of a mixed feelings here. I mean the first and most obvious thing that must be said here, is that millions of toys around the world have now been consigned to the dustbin of history and I’m sure whole factories full of toy makers are cursing the BBC and Moffat for what he’s done in this most recent episode. If you recall from last week’s episode (The Magician’s Apprentice), the Doctor had given his Sonic Screwdriver to a young Davros, well now its gone (perhaps for good?) and has been replaced by “wearable technology” – sonic (?) sunglasses! I’ll be honest, that’s one thing I really didn’t like – if they wanted to introduce a new line of toys or gadgets, wouldn’t a smartwatch have made more sense? Sunglasses while admittadly cool, just aren’t the right tool in certain situations and just don’t make sense. Of course, in terms of a (secret) grand reveal it’s quite appropriate, as I’m sure everyone was rightfully surprised when it happened! As Capaldi has been featured wearing these shades in episodes being filmed for the remainder of Season 9, it can be assumed that they are here to stay – at least for this season & while the Sonic “Screwdriver” was most definitely not a screwdriver, its a gadget that I will personally miss.

Finally this episode has done nothing more than reenergize the Daleks as while it might seem they are setback by the muck from the sewers, we all know they will be back and if the Doctor knew that Davros was pretending, he’s done nothing more than give him additional life which seems a bit wrong to me? In addition, the same can be said of Missy couldn’t it? She’s an excellent character and I really love the spin she’s brought to the show, but previous iterations of Who had done what they could to stop her … here, he’s just told her to go away. Seems like a bit of a cop out.

Overall I didn’t love this one as much as I did the previous episode. There was some good stuff for sure, but the negatives in my opinion did more to hurt it.

Clara is starting have trouble juggling her double life at Coal Hill School and in the TARDIS, especially now that she is dating Danny. She is let off the hook when The Doctor announces he is going ‘deep cover’ and tells Danny she wants to spend more time with him. Unfortunately, The Doctor’s undercover operation is at Coal Hill where he is the new caretaker. The Doctor is using his cover to track a killer robot that is patrolling the area called the Skovox Blitzer, who he plans to jettison a billion years into the future with time vortex manipulators.

The Doctor meets Danny but does not clock him as Clara’s boyfriend and instead suspects English teacher Adrian, who bears an uncanny resemblance to his previous incarnation. Danny is immediately suspicious of The Doctor, and barges in on his trap, accidentally sending Skovox Blitzer only a few days forward. Danny finds out about The Doctor, Clara and the TARDIS and later saves Clara and The Doctor from the robot when it returns. Meanwhile, The Doctor takes disruptive student Courtney Woods in the TARDIS, who throws up. Danny tells Clara to let him know when The Doctor has gone too far.

Whether or not you think it’s worth spending an episode on Danny finding out Clara is a time traveller, it’s hard to deny that Gareth Roberts and Steven Moffat (who began his TV showrunner career on school comedy Chalk) know exactly how to pull off this kind of sitcom-style Doctor Who story. Perhaps it’s because Coal Hill School has played such a defining role in Doctor Who since the very first episode that we don’t much mind stopping there for a while, or it could be the fact that the programme is always better when it feeds off relatable experiences.

However, the secondary school setting isn’t utilized as well as in the 2006 episode ‘School Reunion’ where it actually mattered that it was a school under attack. It’s also surprising that there isn’t much teaching going on in the episode given the abundance of teachers, students and classrooms as well as Doctor Who’s origins as an educational programme. To say that Skovox Blitzer isn’t developed enough for a Doctor Who villain is an understatement, but it’s made pretty clear that he isn’t the focus of the episode. Still, the robot is pretty campy and dated-looking, even by Doctor Who’s standards.

As there’s not much of a story in Blitzer’s attack on the school, most of the episode is about how Danny and Clara’s relationship changes once he finds out she’s travelling with The Doctor. We also get to see how The Doctor reacts to Danny’s history as a soldier, through the comic device of The Doctor being unable to think of him as anything but a P.E. teacher. Danny’s impression of The Doctor as an upper-class commanding officer is a totally new spin on the Timelord. It’s also rare not to see a companion immediately rushing off in the TARDIS.

The references to Matt Smith are both good and bad for the programme. On the one hand, it’s a great visual gag and no memory of Smith can be a bad one but I can’t help feeling nostalgia like that holds the viewer back from completely embracing Capaldi as the new Doctor. It also revives the romantic attachment between the two, which I’d hoped we’d left behind. The season arc with Missy is fleshed out some more, as we witness a police officer arrive in the ‘Nethersphere’ and start to see ‘Heaven’ as possibly more corporate than we previously imagined.

 I much prefer these sustained comic episodes of Doctor Who to putting laboured comedy routines in episodes where they don’t belong, especially when they’re as well-written as ‘The Caretaker’. But it is fair to say this is one of the blandest stories you’ll see this season, especially the science-fiction aspects. Character development is the key here, and there’s plenty of time left over for that, but in a programme aimed partly at children, you do expect it to do something more with the idea of a secondary school than a few homework clichés. Halfway through the season, it feels like a bit of a holiday, but one you do something worthwhile with! The ‘caretaker’ is actually a good metaphor for the episode, since it’s job is to clear up the mess created by previous episodes and keep Doctor Who ticking along in preparation for the second half of the season.