Doctor Who series 9: geeky spots in The Zygon Invasion

UNIT, shape-shifters and the Doctor cosplay. Here are the geeky bits and pieces we spotted in Doctor Who's The Zygon Invasion...

For at least the third time this series, one or all of the characters you care about on this show are dead. So what better way to celebrate than to read through our weekly list of callbacks, allusions, shared themes and generally interesting (if tenuous) nonsense? As ever, feel free to leave your own contributions in the comments below!

The Old-Who Invasion

This is the third appearance of the Zygons in Doctor Who; they first menaced the fourth Doctor in 1975’s Terror Of The Zygons, a story which revealed the Loch Ness Monster to be one of the Skarasen, a race from the Zygon homeworld. UNIT also featured in that tale, with Kate’s father Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart revealing his Scots heritage in a fetching kilt.

The Zygons took the form of one of the Doctor’s companions on that occasion too: Harry Sullivan, a Royal Navy surgeon attached to UNIT. It is likely that the line about a naval surgeon developing a gas to defeat the Zygons was alluding to Harry, though this didn’t happen during the televised story.

Kate refers to the previous attempted Zygon invasion as having happened “in the 70s, 80s”. This is a reference to what is known within fan circles as the ‘UNIT dating controversy’, which stems from the fact it’s impossible to reconcile the UNIT stories into one coherent timeline. The Doctor’s first meeting with Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, in 1968’s The Web Of Fear, was stated to take place in 1975, with follow-up adventure The Invasion taking place four years later. During the third Doctor’s era (1970-1974), producers Terrance Dicks and Barry Letts were always keen not to specify an exact year for the Doctor’s adventures, save that it was sometime in the near future.

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In 1975’s Pyramids Of Mars, Sarah Jane Smith further muddied the waters by claiming to be from 1980. Finally, 1983’s Mawdryn Undead well and truly put a sonic spanner in the works of an already impossible situation by claiming that the Brigadier retired from UNIT in 1976. There have been no real attempts to reconcile these in the series since, but it has been referred to a few times; in 2008’s The Sontaran Strategem the Doctor mentions having worked for UNIT “back in the 70s. Or was it the 80s?”. And in 2013’s The Day Of The Doctor, Kate asks for a file from the “70s or 80s, depending on the dating protocol.” So that clears that up, then.

Incidentally, the story’s writer Peter Harness recently revealed on Twitter that he originally wrote an exchange in which the Doctor asked Osgood if she had a boyfriend and Osgood replied “You kind of have to give up on dating if you have anything to do with UNIT.”

Doppelgangers are a popular device in sci-fi (as shown by our recent article) and so it’s no surprise that they’ve made many appearances in Doctor Who over the last five decades. The first time the Doctor or his friends faced an evil double came in 1965’s The Chase, which saw the first Doctor engage in a walking stick duel with a robot duplicate created by the Daleks. Other shapeshifting foes include the Chameleons from 1967’s The Faceless Ones; the Autons, who have created plastic doubles of the Doctor’s allies on many occasions; and the Flesh, which was used to create ‘Gangers’ of both the eleventh Doctor and Amy Pond.

The Doctor has had a couple of shapeshifting companions over the years; as previously detailed in this column, the fifth Doctor travelled with shapeshifting robot Kamelion for a time on television. Meanwhile, in the Doctor Who Magazine comic strips of the 1980s, the sixth and seventh Doctors travelled with Frobisher, a shapeshifting Whifferdill who largely took the form of a talking penguin.

As in her previous appearances, Osgood demonstrates that work and cosplay can mix; in their opening video, one Osgood wears the question mark pullover made fashionable by Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor, while the other wears a bow tie in the style of the second and eleventh Doctors, as well as Tom Baker’s trademark scarf. The Doctor later notices the question marks on Osgood’s shirt collar – these were introduced at the tail end of the fourth Doctor’s reign and stayed with the character through to Colin Baker’s departure in 1986.

The Doctor Who merchandise machine has yet to capitalise on question-mark underwear, but for a time in the 70s it was possible to buy pants bearing Tom Baker’s face and the show’s logo…

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There is a painting of William Hartnell hanging on the wall of the UNIT safe house. The first Doctor didn’t have any televised dealings with UNIT (bar a small role in The Three Doctors), which leads us to wonder whether the safe house was at some point one of the Doctor’s residences…

This isn’t the first time there’s been something sinister hidden within a London school; the Krillitanes took over Deffry Vale School in 2006’s School Reunion, all manner of alien woes befell Park Vale Comprehensive over the course of The Sarah Jane Adventures, and Imperial Daleks used Coal Hill School as a gateway in 1988’s Remembrance Of The Daleks. Coal Hill has made several appearances in the modern series, and its invasion rate is likely to rocket when spinoff series Class makes its debut next year.

More generally, aliens have often been a bit partial to hiding under London. The most memorable of these were during the Patrick Troughton era, with the Great Intelligence taking over the London Underground in The Web Of Fear, and the Cybermen emerging from the sewers in front of St Paul’s Cathedral in The Invasion.

The Doctor is riled by Kate’s plan to bomb the Zygons. In 1970’s Doctor Who And The Silurians, the third Doctor hopes to make peace with the Silurians living in hibernation in caves underneath Wenley Moor and come to a compromise by which they can live alongside humanity. However, the Brigadier has other orders and blows up the caves, causing a rift between himself and the Doctor that lasts all the way through to the beginning of the next episode.

Lifts have led their occupants into unexpected trouble before; in 2006, The Runaway Bride saw the tenth Doctor and Donna discover a secret Torchwood base within Donna’s workplace, while in 2011 a broken lift in a department store was the gateway to a crashed Cyberman ship at Closing Time. And in The Power Of Three, the eleventh Doctor and the Ponds discovered a portal to an alien vessel within a hospital elevator.

This isn’t the first time one of the Doctor’s companions (sort of) has wielded a rocket launcher; in Remembrance Of The Daleks, explosion enthusiast Ace gets her hands on one and uses it to destroy a Dalek in Coal Hill School.

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Clara’s Zygon duplicate calls herself Bonnie – this may or may not be a tip of the hat to actress Bonnie Langford, who played Mel opposite the sixth and seventh Doctors…

Terror of the Modern Series References

As we’re told in the pre-credits sequence, this episode picks up on a number of threads from the 2013 anniversary special The Day Of The Doctor, during which the tenth and eleventh Doctors forced Kate and the Zygons into negotiating a ‘perfect’ peace treaty, the results of which we’re seeing here for the first time. That was also when the Doctor ‘snogged a Zygon’, who had taken the form of his lover Queen Elizabeth I.

The Day Of The Doctor also introduced the world to asthmatic UNIT scientist and Doctor Who superfan Osgood, whose name is a nod to a UNIT technical officer who worked alongside the third Doctor in 1971’s The Daemons. When everyone’s memory was erased by the Doctors, the two Osgoods learned which Osgood was which through the presence of her inhaler, which had been stolen by the Zygon. They resolved to keep quiet about this discovery.

Osgood quickly became a fan favourite, leading to her return in last year’s Death In Heaven – and her untimely death at the hands of Missy. The character is set to return alongside Kate in a series of Big Finish audio dramas, with the first boxset due out next month.

The Day Of The Doctor featured a Gallifreyan superweapon called the Moment, which had the power to wipe out entire races and facilitate multi-Doctor events. The Moment is similar in appearance to the Osgood Box, though it’s extremely unlikely the Doctor would furnish anyone – even Osgood – with that sort of weapon.

The TARDIS was first shown to have its own working phone in 2005’s World War Three, and it’s been used on many occasions since for the Doctor and his companions and allies to communicate. However, this is the first time anyone’s thought to text the TARDIS instead.

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The Doctor picks up his electric guitar for the fourth time in seven episodes, this time playing Amazing Grace, the Christian hymn first published in 1779. The hymn’s message of forgiveness and redemption is likely a subtle link to the idea that the Zygons can live peacefully on Earth despite previous scuffles between the two races.

The Doctor is once again provided with a presidential aircraft in his role as president of Earth. The Doctor was inducted into this office during Death In Heaven after UNIT decided it made sense to have one person in charge of the world’s military forces during a full-scale alien invasion. His first plane, Boat One, was destroyed by the Cybermen, and this one appears to be on course to meet a similar fate…

When the Doctor introduces himself to Walsh as the president of the world, she replies “Yes, we know who you are.” This is a callback to Harriet Jones, former prime minister and associate of the Doctor. During her first appearance, in 2005’s Aliens Of London, she would introduce herself to other characters by flashing her badge and saying “Harriet Jones, MP for Flydale North.” Following her subsequent general election victory, she would introduce herself as “Harriet Jones, prime minister,” which would always be met with a confused “Yes, we/I know who you are.” This continued right up to the character’s death in 2008, when a Dalek issued the reply shortly before exterminating her.

When the Doctor and Osgood are discussing his old question mark apparel, she tells him it makes her wonder what the question is. Though never explicitly stated, it’s plausible that they referred to the question of the Doctor’s name, which has been addressed on the show over the last few years – the question ‘Doctor Who?’ was, after all, the real-life reason for their introduction.

The Doctor refers to Osgood as a hybrid, continuing the thread started in The Magician’s Apprentice and adding Osgood to the list of possible hybrids prophesied by the Time Lords, alongside Ashildr, possibly Sam Swift and any of the regenerative Daleks…

Truth or References

Truth or Consequences is absolutely a real city in New Mexico; originally named Hot Springs, its name was changed in 1950 when the host of popular radio quiz Truth Or Consequences announced he would host the show from the first town to rename itself after the programme – Hot Springs got in there first, and the name has stuck ever since.

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The Doctor refers to the Zygon commanders as Monster High and Cinderella based on their backpacks. Cinderella is, in this case, the animated 1950 Disney adaptation of the 17th-century fairy tale. Monster High, on the other hand, is a series of sci-fi and horror-themed dolls created by Mattel, the manufacturers of Barbie. The line has gone on to spawn all manner of merchandise, from stationery and backpacks to video games and DVD movies.

Walsh is played in this story by actress Rebecca Front, a face familiar to fans of UK comedy for her appearances in shows such as The Day Today, Knowing Me, Knowing You With Alan Partridge, Fist Of Fun and many more. In 2009 she joined the cast of The Thick Of It, playing opposition leader Nicola Murray alongside a particularly sweary Peter Capaldi.

A tumbleweed drifts across the scene in an establishing shot for Truth and Consequences; these have become famous through their use in many Western films to represent a deserted town or street, usually before a big action sequence.

Not a reference as such, but Kate really should have twigged sooner that she was dealing with a Zygon rather than a genuine police officer; a closer look at the police paperwork reveals that it contains references to the streets ‘Made-Up Crescent’ and ‘Fictional Close’…

When he’s not analysing Doctor Who in too much detail, Pete presents and produces Geeks Say Things, the Den of Geek podcast. You can subscribe and download all four episodes so far here.