Sunday 1 November 2015

The Zygon Invasion (time shift)

The measure of success is not whether you have a tough problem to deal with, but whether it's the same problem you had last year.
- John Foster Dulles

Or, if you want to be all obvious about it:

In communities where men build ships for their own sons to fish or fight from, quality is never a problem.
- J. Deville

Me:  Right.  Well.  What did you think it should've been called?

Him:  'Schrödinger's Zygon'.

Me:  Yeah, I'd agree about that.

Him:  I said that right from the start as well.

Me:  You did.  Well...

Him:  I don't know where you're going to start, there's no obvious ordering to your notes.  It's just been written in a frenzied rage.  In blood.SEA BADGER

Me:  Yeah. 'Zed.  Sixty-seven.'  "This plot-point lifted from Warriors of the Deep," which is nice.  It's The Poison Sky all over again.  For a start.  We've got that going on...  The music didn't help.

Him:  It was more subtle than it usually is, 'cause I could hear the dialogue.  Usually, you can't hear the dialogue, it's, "DUM DE DUMM DUMM MURRAY MURRAY DUMM DE DUM DUM!"

Me:  It's interesting that as the music gets, somewhat, more subtle-

Him:  I don't know if he's not even that bad, right, or if I'm just so used to him now that I don't really even notice it any more.

Me:  Yeah.  Well.  Hmmmm.  Okay.  Filming that in Cardiff might've been a bit touchy, for various reasons.  It's... painted with very broad strokes which doesn't leave it much room for subtlety.  I'm not sure that Doctor Who's the place to attempt to do Spooks storylines but, there we go.  It's all over the shop.  That was a mess.

Him:  It's three stories.

Me:  Yeah. 

Him:  I'm guessing they were all supposed to come together by the end. 

Me:  All of which move at the wrong speed.  Things contradict other things that've been in it.  Y'know...  The old Zygons wouldn't have fitted into the story that the current production team wanted to tell so, rather than create an entirely new species that doesn't have any built-in nostalgia bonus-

Him:  No.  It's probably that the Zygons look quite effective.

Me:  They've never looked more like men in suits than they do this week.

Him:  That's not what I meant, but okay.

Me:  Even in the 1970s they looked more convincing than they do here.

Him:  Yeah, but you're the man that thought that KKLAK! was an effective sound effect-

Me:  Ha!

Him:  Along with 'ROOOAR!'

Me:  Nothing wrong with 'ROOOAR!The Zygon Invasion's attempting to deal with things that're incredibly complicated-

Him:  Yeah, but it was-  I feel like it's got good potential to it.  But... No.  I did disagree with you when we were watching it, but I do think you're right.  It doesn't belong as a... Doctor Who episode...

Me:  Well, in the 60s and 70s Doctor Who discussed mining and issues surrounding rights and things like that, but it didn't go full-on about the IRA. 

Him:  This does have a lot of potential, but, yeah, for varying reasons it-  It's supposed to be a sort of psychological thriller.

Me:  Yeah, but it's not.  It's too-

Him:  It doesn't work because-  I guess this is what Steven Moffat meant by, "Here's your grown-up Doctor Who." 

Me:  Ha!

Him:  But it still doesn't come across as that, as it can't be grown up Doctor Who.

Me:  Because they're not making it as grown up Doctor Who.  It's still got to be a case of, "Well, this is this character and they're like this-"

Him:  But sometimes you've got to remember that it's not for you.

Me:  Yeah, I know it's not for me, but I'm not sure who it's being aimed at.

Him:  Well, that's true.

Me:  Maybe it'll all pull together next week.  We'll see.

Him:  No, it all pulled together at the end.  That's what I mean.  That's when it's supposed to all pull together seamlessly, at the end. 

Me:  But it doesn't.

Him:  No. 

Me:  And it's not just that, it's the fact that-

Him:  Well, it does, it's just not that... seamless.

Me:  Here y'go.  What time-scale was that story told in?  Bearing in mind how long it takes to fly from one place to another.

Him:  Oh, but it's a secret super plane.

Me:  Yeah.  It's all over the place.  It's really messy.  And some of the stuff that's supposed to be subtle, y'know, 'No British.  No Dogs.'  It just doesn't-

Him:  'No Visigoths'.

Me:  Groovy.  It looked nice.  Looked like they'd spent some money on it.  Problem is, with these two-parters, if you get stuck with a clunker, you're stuck with a clunker for-

Him:  Yeah, why do they keep doing the two-parters?  Why? 

Me:  It's to allow the story to breathe more. 

Him:  With The Girl Who Died and The Woman Who Lived or The Lady That Almost Lived and all that stuff.  I guess that wasn't technically a two-parter, that was supposed to be "two separate episodes with an interlinking character."

Me:  There's a lot of really good ideas in this that, for whatever reason, they just haven't had the chance to pull together. 

Him:  Yeah, I do think that had a lot of potential, like I said.

Me:  Yeah.

Him:  It bothers me when I see something with a lot of potential that doesn't work.  As opposed to, say, something with no potential that doesn't work.  Something with a lot of potential can't be done again.

Me:  Gotta be said though, that episode did contain possibly the funniest scene in this series of Doctor Who so far...

Him:  Ha!

Me:  Which was the scene outside the church... Ha!

Him:  It did remind you of-

Me:  It was terrible

Him:  It reminded you of Garth Marenghi's version of On the Sidewalk Bleeding...

(I'm in fits at this stage, just remembering. 
This is probably quite an important moment, lady and gentleman.  When me and the Him were working our way through the traditional ascent of the Classic series of
Doctor Who, we laughed a lot.  Mostly, this was as a direct result of something intentionally funny happening in the script or the performance.  Every now and again it was because the production team had tried something that hadn't been as successful as it looked in the script or director/producer's head. 
However, the thing that reduced us to hysteria last night wasn't on the same scale as a stagehand dropping a bird on a lizard - it was, I'd argue, a fundamental stumble in the production itself. 
That scene on the the steps should've been heartbreaking. 
It wasn't, because we didn't care. 
For more on this, see:

Me:  That bit was...  Oh, dearie me.

Him:  "Laura.  Laura.  Laura."

Us:  "And bits of sick." 


That was a mess.  Too many ideas and plotlines from other shows - Battlestar Galactica, Spooks and even bloody Torchwood, may Kroll have mercy on our black souls - and not enough time.  Which is rich, seeing as this is another two-parter. 

I'm sure that Harry was only hinted at in order to offer plausible deniability to any fans of the character, but seeing as the Brigadier got a go last series - and this one does feature Zygons -  it's to be expected. 

So.  It looks as though the real-world events that deleted that scene from Robot of Sherwood had the misfortune to pop up on a producer's radar.  I say 'producer' in order to offer plausible deniability to anyone who fancies it.  Bet it sounded fab in tone meetings.  I bet it also looked great on paper.  Unfortunately, to me, it stunk on the screen. 

The Zygon Invasion falls into the usual potholes of fan fiction - most obviously the ones involving Returning Characters and the law of diminishing returns.  This felt like the sort of thing that might be pitched to Big Finish: lots of familiar faces and a 'gritty' real-world problem to be addressed.  Unfortunately, it's less about the real-world problem than pleasing the fans - which is a shame because, to quote Dez Skinn again, "...the fans'll buy it anyway."

There was an opportunity to address something relevant there, to address a problem that's as much political as it is religious.  Battlestar Galactica had the guts to go for the religion, The Zygon Invasion barely mustered any commentary at all - not even reaching the less-than-dizzying heights of 'massive weapons of destruction'. 

The Clara story was done better when it was Fleshy Amy Pond, Osgood's story doesn't make sense, and not just going on what we know about Zygons, but within Doctor Who itself.  Lines are thrown in to explain away continuity errors, but I'm guessing that's down to budget restrictions, Steven Moffat used to patch things like that up with 'prologues', 'preludes' and other VAM.  Of course, VAM can't be canon, so those plot-holes still gawp open like unshut trapdoors for the majority of Doctor Who's actual audience.

As to an audience, who was that aimed at?  It sails close to some really unpleasant things - things that would often cause an episode to be edited (or pulled completely) for reasons of taste and compassion if they coincided with an event with a bodycount that'd made headlines.  It sails close, then...  Nothing.  In many ways, it came across as gutless.  If these things are going to be addressed by the BBC's flagship family-entertainment show, then at least have the courage to actually do it.

Personally, I think that would've been better served in one of two ways.  Either do it properly - and have it as the backbone for the entire twelve-episodes, exploring nuances, contradictions, the motivations behind these things - whilst taking welcome potshots at manipulative nonsense like 24 or Fox News - or...  Pitch it to Big Finish as something that'll slot in one of the gaps they've found sitting between TARDIS jaunts for their Russell T. Davies era of box sets.  Simply swap Osgood for Martha and you're good to go.

Maybe this'll turn out to be the greatest story in Doctor Who's history.  I hope so.  So far, each of the two-parters has had an uneven balance: one is superior to the other.  As to which way round that is, well, personal taste, innit?  Like what I'm saying here. 

I really hope that The Zygon Inversion is as good as it possibly can be.  And that better not involve the Doctor just going back in time and changing the goalposts, because that isn't an option for any of the people caught up in the real world issues that this story 'addressed' as a piece of Saturday entertainment for the family.  I'm very willing to have the rug pulled away, and be blind-sided by something really special.

Right now, anything less than that would be just plain rude.

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