Doctor Who S09E08 “The Zygon Inversion” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on BBC One, Saturdays
Writers: Peter Harness, Steven Moffat
Director: Daniel Nettheim
Essential Plot Points:
- Clara, waking up in a dream world, realises she can subtly – and secretly – affect Bonnie’s behaviour. She helps save the Doctor and Osgood from being killed when Bonnie blows up the presidential plane.
- When Bonnie realises what’s happening she forces out of Clara the whereabouts of the Osgood box – UNIT’s Black Archive beneath the Tower Of London.
- But there are two boxes! The Doctor’s playing games. And each box has two buttons! He keeps changing the rules. Bonnie is furious because she doesn’t know which button to press.
- The Doctor, Osgood and Kate (she didn’t die in New Mexico, she used the Zygon for target practice then impersonated it impersonating her) go to the Black Archive for the final showdown.
- The Doctor says one box will either release the Zygon-killing gas or detonate a nuclear bomb under the Tower Of London. The other will either make all Zygons permanently human of force them all the normalise.
- Then, using some of the most amazing rhetoric he’s ever produced and reaching into his own soul to convince Bonnie not to make the same mistakes he did, the Doctor brokers a peace… on a 16th attempt (he’s been wiping their memories after each failed attempt).
- But Bonnie deduced the boxes are empty. Kate thinks this changes things but the Doctor wipes Kate’s memory again. He doesn’t, however, wipe Bonnie’s. It’s better for her to understand why the peace will work, and why it’s desirable.
- Bonnie becomes the new “other” Osgood.
“There’s no point turning over,” says evil Zygon Bonnie at one point in the episode. “There’s nothing better on the other side.” She’s not kidding. If you missed the last 15 minutes of “The Zygon Inversion” you missed some of the best Doctor Who that the show has produced in 52 years.
There was more to this episode than the amazing verbal fireworks of its climax (including a whole series of clever – and logical – twists, and some wonderfully witty dialogue), but it’s the Doctor’s impassioned, extended plea for peace that this episode will always be remember for. It’s blistering stuff: powerful, emotive, gripping, thought-provoking. The cynical might call the arguments simplistic, but those with who still possess a soul can’t fail to be moved by the Doctor’s appeal for more jaw jaw and less war war.
“Let me ask you a question about this brave new world of yours,” he says in a crucial moment. “When you’ve killed all the bad guys, and when it’s all perfect and just and fair; when you have finally got it exactly the way you want it, what are you going to do with the people like you? The troublemakers.” This is Doctor Who does George Orwell. Revolution breeds revolution.
What really sways Bonnie Zygon though, is when the Doctor starts to make her realise how similar they truly are. He’s no hippy peacenik; he is the product of the War Doctor. The exchanges become almost Biblical in resonance. The War Doctor was the Old Testament God, all retribution and final solutions. The twelfth Doctor though, is more New Testament in his outlook. There’s that famous quote from Luke 15:7: “There will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” Look at the Doctor’s joy at winning Bonnie over. Listen to the way, “My watch” becomes, “Our watch.” Kate may have stepped back from the brink first – and the Doctor thanks her (before mindwiping her) – but he feels there’s more to be gained getting the “troublemaker” on his side.
It’s a very interesting, clever subtext that make the whole scene even more of a triumph than just, “The Doctor convinces two sides to kiss and make up”. Because Kate implies that – knowing the boxes are empty – that changes things and the peace might not stand. But not for Bonnie. Knowing the boxes are empty are what will keep the peace in place from now on. From her point of view at least.
The final irony is the revelation that the Doctor has been through this – unsuccessfully – 15 times already, mindwiping Bonnie and Kate each time. You could say he was honing his performance until he knew exactly the right things to say. It must have been so tempting to show a montage of Kate and Bonnie pressing various buttons, but having the Doctor admit that’s what’s been going on in a throwaway line has much more dramatic impact.
All of which is pompous-as-hell over-analysis. Let’s be honest – it was a great, grandstanding scene with fabulous performances in a set full of Easter eggs (ooh, was that a Cyberman helmet?).
After the globetrotting antics of the first part, “Inversion” is a less flashy story: London centric, urban and – at times – claustrophobic. But if the canvas is smaller the scope certainly isn’t and proves that great drama is often as much about words as it is images.
Aside from the barnstorming climax we had the brilliant pairing of the Doctor and companion-never-to-be Osgood to enjoy. They make a great double act and their dialogues practically sing like a Lee Hazelwood/Nancy Sinatra duet at times. But it’s probably for the best she won’t be a companion; she actually has more potential as an occasionally recurring character.
Jenna Coleman is on fine form too, especially with the amount of talking to herself that she has to do. The FX are near flawless, the direction is edgy and tense, and Murray Gold’s music is wonderfully low-key and ominous.
There are little irritation. Clara’s dreamworld is full of surreal promise that’s quickly dropped. The Kate escape from her cliffhanger scene last week is remarkably trite (Who in-joke notwithstanding). The evil Zygons’ original plan – to slowly reveal themselves to the world one-by-one using unwilling victims – doesn’t really make much sense, especially if they’re going to use Zygons who seem to live in estates full of Zygons who seem incredibly unimpressed. None of these, though, detract from the overall power of the episode.
We hope we’re not wrong when we predict that in a a few years’ time, “The Zygon Inversion” will be considered one of the series’ all-time classics.
- Capaldi is at his blistering best. He was is such fine form during the negotiation scenes he could have convinced Nigel Farage to smuggle Syrian refugees through the Channel Tunnel in the boot of his 4×4. His delivery of, “When I close my eyes I hear more screams than I will ever be able to count,” may well bring a lump to your throat. Elsewhere he also delivers the zingers with relish too: “You do know what winking means, don’t you? You’re sending out some very mixed messages here. You know I’m over 2,000 years old. I am old enough to be your messiah.”
- The brilliantly simple twist in the line, “You said that the last 15 times.” In fact, the whole episode is full of brilliantly simple little twists, from the reveal of the two Osgood boxes to the fact that they are empty.
- Plus, the final twist in the “which Osgood are you? Human or Zygon?” mystery was just lovely.
- “Why do you have a Union Jack parachute?” “Camouflage. “Camouflage?” “Yes, we’re in Britain.”
- “Bullet between the eyes. First thing. Twelve times if necessary.” “You’ve really thought this through, haven’t you?” Wouldn’t that be a great scene? Someone killing a Time Lord multiple times as they regenerate after each attempt.
- Bonnie’s hissyfit on the laptop. That’s some serious tech-rage there. Was Jenna Coleman method acting, do you think?
- “I’m dead now and I think I might be a bit more dead in a minute.”
- The Doctor calling Bonnie Zygella.
- All the Bonnie vs Clara mindgames are great fun.
- “Basil.” “Petronella.” “Let’s just stick with what we had.”
- The Zygon suicide – “This is my home!”
- The wonderful shot of Bonnie’s hand becoming a Zygon claw. The fact that it’s not shown on screen (and therefore achieved with CGI) stops it being a mere gimmick and turns it into something quite moving.
- If you don’t realise that “Five rounds rapid” is a Doctor Who in-joke (her dad, the Brigadier, first uttered the immortal line, “Chap with wings… five rounds rapid!” in “The Dæmons” (1971)) then Kate’s explanation for escaping the Zygon in New Mexico is remarkably dull. And did anybody actually believe that she was dead?
- Why are Zygon policemen so slow?
- Blimey that Zygon does some serious gurning after he’s forced to change. It rather undercuts the horror of the scene when the Zygon looks like he’s about to do a comedy sneeze.
- The evil Zygons’ orginal plan to force unwilling Zygons to reveal themselves one-by-one still seems unnecessarily overcomplicated (we mentioned this in last week’s review) – why don’t the evil Zygons just reveal themselves to the world? Surely with the whole theme of radicalisation last week, it would have been more in keeping for the evil Zygons to convince other Zygons to sacrifice themselves rather than force them. With the “forced normalisation” option, the evil Zygons are more likely to turn the good Zygons against them. (Admittedly, however, the changed plan – to use the Osgood box to normalise every Zygon on the planet simultaneously normalise, would force the good Zygons to side with evil ones.)
And The Random:
- Considering that seems to be a false shop sign for “Spooner Minicabs”, could it be a reference to former Doctor Who script editor (during the Hartnell years) Dennis Spooner?
- Concerning hybrids: Osgood (both of her) is now an Osgood/Clara/Zygon hybrid. Just saying…
- In last week’s review we speculated that former companion Harry Sullivan – who travelled with the Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith for the first Tom Baker season – was behind the Z67 gas; this week the connection’s made explicit when it’s called Sullivan’s gas.
- It’s always slightly annoying when an associate of the Doctor is able to overcome some kind of conditioning that others humans wouldn’t be able to, simply because knowing the Doctor somehow makes you immediately mentally superior (see also: people who manage to overcome becoming Cybermen). But in this case, you can believe that Clara’s experiences in “Last Christmas” would equip her with an awareness of her situation that other people wouldn’t have.
- We were rather mystified by the picture of a seahorse on the front of a newspaper, but maybe, just maybe, it was inspired by a behind-the-scenes picture that went viral on the internet during the location filming of this two-parter… of a Zygon on a playground seahorse.
- “Specs… setting 137.” So we’re back to settings for sonic devices? Isn’t that a bit old school? Recent seasons have all been about controlling them telepathically.
- The Black Archive was last seen in “Day Of The Doctor” (2013) but was actually introduced in “Enemy Of The Bane” (2008), a two-part story in the second season of The Sarah Jane Adventures.
- You can see a Mire helmet in the Black Archive as well as all other archive photos and props back from “The Day Of The Doctor”. Oh, and earlier on, in the UNIT HQ in the abandoned house, you can see the seventh Doctor’s question mark jumper.
- What are we to make of the little exchange between the Doctor and Clara in the TARDIS at the end, when the Doctor says it felt like months that Clara had been dead? Clara says it could only have been five minutes, and he says, “Let me be the judge of time.” With Peter Capaldi suggesting in interviews recently that Clara’s departure happens over multiple episodes and is heartbreaking… could she be dead already? Maybe she has been ever since “Last Christmas”?
- “I’ve heard a couple of different versions,” says Osgood, referring to what TARDIS stands for. She probably means that at various times various characters have either said it means, ”Time And Relative Dimension In Space” (dimension in singular) or, “Time And Relative Dimensions In Space” (dimensions plural). The Doctor’s granddaughter Susan used the first explanation on the very first episode of the show, “An Unearthly Child” (1963) but her replacement, Vicki, used the second in “The Watcher”, the first part of “The Time Meddler” (1965). After that, the second, plural-dimensions explanation became the norm for most of the classic series (fifth Doctor story “Frontios” (1984) being an exception). But with US TV movie and the new BBC series there’s been a move to reclaim the singular-dimension explanation.
- But we prefer, “Totally, Radically, Driving In Space”.
Review by Dave Golder