Doctor Who – “The Zygon Inversion”

Shapeshifting Zygons are everywhere in the UK, and there is no way of knowing who to trust. With UNIT neutralised, only the Doctor stands in their way.

But how do you stop a war? And what can the Doctor do to save his friends?

Peter Capaldi is the Doctor in The Zygon Inversion.

X X X X X

Cast
The Doctor – Peter Capaldi
Clara – Jenna Coleman
Osgood – Ingrid Oliver
Kate – Jemma Redgrave
Etoine – Nicholas Asbury
Zygons – Aidan Cook, Tom Wilton, Jack Parker
Voice of the Zygons – Nicholas Briggs

Written by: Peter Harness and Steven Moffat
Directed by: Daniel Nettheim

Trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U3LMOcIDTSU

Gifs by: J-Ru

X X X X X

The Zygon Inversion is much better than the episode that preceded it. The first 40 minutes of the episode feel a bit like filler as there’s a lot of running around talking as well as standing around talking, and some of the political/societal aspect don’t quite hold water.. But it’s all set-up for Peter Capaldi delivering perhaps his finest performance so far as the Doctor, codifying this episode’s (and the last episode’s) anti-war theme with a brilliant final 10 minutes.

UNIT is in disarray. Kate Stewart is at the mercy of a Zygon. The Doctor and Osgood are presumed dead in a plane explosion. And Bonnie is ready to proceed with her plans to draw humanity into a war with the Zygons, with all of Clara’s memories at her fingertips. Even the revelation that the Doctor and Osgood are still alive does little to concern her. All she had to do is break into the Black Archive (with Clara’s unwilling help) and take control of the one weapon that will ensure total Zygon victory; the mysterious Osgood Box…

Whereas The Zygon Invasion was a bit muddled in terms of the content of its message, The Zygon Inversion firmly plants its banner in fertile “anti-war” ground. But in order to get to the flag raising, Peter Harness and Steven Moffat first take the viewer down a winding, meandering river. If The Zygon Invasion and The Zygon Inversion are meant to be combined into one singular narrative, than it’s a story that could have been told in 50 minutes as opposed to 100. While I wouldn’t quite call the first 40 minutes of this episode “filler,” they could have been handled better, benefiting from a pass with the editor’s scalpel or the addition of an extra scene. The scenes with the Doctor and Osgood surviving the plane crash was well done with Osgood pointing out how the Doctor was trying to distract her from their near-death experience, and the scene between Bonnie and Clara was a great exercise in bluff/counter-bluff. The other scenes however were just…lacking something. I don’t know if I’d call it a sense of urgency or a sense of plot continuation, but I found myself glancing down at my phone more often than not. The reveal that Kate Stewart wasn’t a Zygon fell flat, with the revelation that Kate simply shot her Zygon attacker (“five rounds rapid”) meant to be this big awesome moment when the awesome moment should have been “Kate Stewart pretending she was a Zygon and bluffing her way from New Mexico back to London without being discovered (what, do all humanized-Zygons look alike to the Zygons?).” With that said, it was nice to see Kate stand on her own, without a mention of her father. Hopefully this is some characterization that Jemma Redgrave can carry forward in future appearances, including the upcoming Big Finish UNIT: Extinction release.

The scene in the shop with the “non-rebel Zygon,” Etoine, was another moment that just felt like it could have more weight to it. The special effects were top-notch as he slowly started to show evidence of being a Zygon, and Nicholas Asbury was superb with his panic, his wish to just be left alone, and willingness to sacrifice himself to prevent a war breaking out. Here was the non-rebel Zygon that I wanted to see last episode, someone who agrees with the peace treaty and what it represents. But something about the scene just felt off to me. I think I would have to liked to have seen a little more of Etoine trying to maintain his human form and avoiding inciting a riot before the Doctor and Osgood met him.

Props to Ingrid Oliver for her turn as Osgood. Oliver has taken the overeager, asthmatic fangirl from The Day of the Doctor and turned her into someone who takes her responsibilities (the burden the Doctor has laid upon her to keep the ceasefire) seriously, to the point where she refuses to answer the Doctor’s repeated inquiry of “human or Zygon” because the question only can be answered when the answer isn’t important anymore. Osgood didn’t get all that much to do during this episode in terms of being an active observer, but her on-screen time was enjoyable as the Doctor’s companion for the episode, a companion who understood the seriousness of the situation and focused on the task at hand. The highest praise I can give Ingrid Oliver is this – if it turned out that Osgood is the Doctor’s new companion once Clara leaves, I don’t think I’d mind all that much.

And find me another actress who can make “twins taking a simultaneous hit off their inhalers” somewhat badass.

Credit has to go to Jenna Coleman for playing against herself for most of the episode. Physical and metaphysical locations aside, Clara and Bonnie (Zygella) are two completely different characters in the way Clara plays them. Bonnie is the character who thinks she has the upper hand and shows her smarts by out-bluffing Clara a time or two as she goes ahead with her plan, determined to see things through to the very end no matter how the situation breaks down – dedicated, ruthless, and zealous in her belief that what she’s doing is the right thing, even if it’s in a losing cause. On the other hand, Clara shows her quick thinking when she realizes her ability to lie like a politician is useless and takes another tract – telling the truth. Not all of the truth, but just enough of it. There’s also her method of communicating with the Doctor through small body motions (unconscious text messaging, blinking twice for “yes” during Facetime). This episode is very much a case of “show, don’t tell” in terms of how strong Clara is as a companion and why the Doctor thinks so highly of her, but Coleman’s time as Bonnie shouldn’t be discounted in the least.

The revelation of the Osgood Box is brilliant, and a very well done reveal by Harness and Moffat that I did not see coming – of course there isn’t one Osgood Box. There are two.

And of course the arc words from the very beginning of the first episode of this story would come back into play.

Here is where Peter Capaldi shines. After an episode-and-a-half of having relatively little to do, the Doctor comes roaring out of the booth and nails his hatred at the futility of war. The Doctor has seen war in all its forms – the beginning of war, war in progress, the end of war, and he’s done his best to stop them all, to minimize the damage and the casualties. The Time War is where it all changed, where the man who was always seen as a healer and a peacemaker proceeded to do things so against his nature that thousands of years later, he still sees the consequences when he closes his eyes. Here is a man speaking from centuries of experience, someone who has seen the most beautiful and horrific things (often at the same time), and as long as there is the thinnest chance at peace, he will do all he can to grab a hold of that thread and pull it for all its worth. That’s the Doctor in a nutshell – he knows when evil must be fought (the Daleks, the Cybermen) and when peace should be given a chance. I wish I could put into words just how easily Capaldi relates this concept to Bonnie and Kate, all the pain and anguish mixed in with the faintest of hopes.

The Osgood Boxes are war boiled down to its basic form – one button leads to peace, the other button leads to utter destruction. Before war, peace exists. After war, utter destruction exists…and so does peace. Why experience utter destruction and massive death if peace is the end result in both the case of war and no war? And what if the Zygons get what they want? What them? It’s the question all revolutions should ask – once your goals are achieved, then what? The Doctor has been there before, and while he could force peace upon both the humans and the Zygons, he instead decides to set the parameters and allow the two sides to choose peace and negotiation – much like the cease-fire negotiations during The Day of the Doctor. War is a hard decision. Peace is even harder.

It’s a lovely scene, a monologue (well…is there a word for 10 minutes of Capaldi being wonderful mixed in with occasional interjection from Coleman and Redgrave?) that Capaldi delivers in a straight forward, honest, almost anguished manner. And while I watched it, I was enthralled as both UNIT and the Zygons chose peace. But…

…Bonnie just calls the militant Zygons off. That’s it? There’s no repercussions for her or the rest of Zygon High Command, a group who killed UNIT soldiers left and right, kidnapped English civilians in order to copy them, and caused another Zygon to commit suicide, but they walk off scot free? I mean, I would think that UNIT would want some kind of assurance or way to ensure the peace is kept…

…except the Doctor wiped Kate Stewart’s mind so she’s not aware that the Osgood Boxes are truly empty. Aside from the simple fact that THE DOCTOR WOULD NEVER HAVE DONE THAT TO THE GENTLY CARRESSING BRIGADIER, it’s the casual way that he states “I’ve done this fifteen times before.” Fifteen times the Zygons and UNIT have been at each others’ throats? Fifteen times he’s casually wiped Kate’s mind? It’s way too flippant and way too open ended…especially since, you know, you’re letting a known terrorist walk away knowing that you don’t have a final option.

It’s just too pat. For a two-parter that drops a whole lot of anvils about the topic of xenophobia, assimilation, and terrorism as a means to an end, the conclusion just plays it a little too safe. There should have been more to the negotiations, or perhaps some mention of peaceful protests/ongoing discussions by the Zygons to ensure their voices are heard. Instead, all of their (legitimate) demands are dropped and they’re just going go their merry way and everything will be all sunshine and rainbows…

…just like the fifteen times before?

I get the television production concerns of 20 million Zygons living in the United Kingdom when Doctor Who keeps ending up there – you can’t have a random Zygon extra just wandering in the background – but for a story trying to deliver a strong message, The Zygon Inversion falls apart after the credits roll. Really, if it wasn’t for Peter Capaldi’s brilliant performance that cuts to the heart of what it means to be the Doctor there would be strong consideration that The Zygon Invasion/The Zygon Inversion would be the weakest episode of Twelve’s run. It’s definitely the weakest episode this season, which is a bit of a downer as it’s the episode that has the most to say.

Random Thoughts
– Basil Puntastic. Doctor John Disco. Thick McRunfast. Bob Johnson.
– “I’m over 2000 years old. I’m old enough to be your Messiah!”
– I liked the Zygon morphing effects. It seemed like the Zygon inside was bursting out of the human balloon
– Two Osgoods? I can’t begin to tell you what I’m thinking right now.

Cobi’s Synopsis – The denouement breaks down the more you think about it, so just did back and enjoy the final 10 minutes of The Zygon Inversion as Peter Capaldi puts on his best performance this season.

Next up – Terrifying footage is discovered in the wreckage of Le Verrier Space Station. …

Peter Capaldi is the Doctor in…Sleep No More.

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About cobiwann

A guy who's into a niche fandom of a niche fandom - the Big Finish audio plays of "Doctor Who." Also into the show itself, both old and new, plus pop culture and a smattering of human insight.
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One Response to Doctor Who – “The Zygon Inversion”

  1. I pretty much agree with you on all points. Even though I liked this episode, there are parts of it that don’t really stand up to much scrutiny. I agree with you that the peace is problematic; maybe Earth should have been a temporary home to the Zygons while they looked for a place they could call their own. I have a hard time wrapping my head around how the humans and Zygons living together would work as a permanent solution.

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