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Doctor Who: The Zygon Inversion

Doctor: 'I don't understand? Are you kidding? Me? Of course I understand. You mean, you call this a war? This funny little thing? This is not a war! I fought in a bigger war than you will ever know. I did worse things than you could ever imagine. And when I close my eyes... I hear more screams than anyone could ever be able to count! And you know what you do with all that pain? Shall I tell you where you put it? You hold it tight... till it burns your hand, and you say this... No one else will ever have to live like this! No one else will ever have to feel this pain! Not on my watch!'

It seems like every time I express concern over Clara's lack of involvement in the show, they trot out an episode in which she shines, and I end up looking like a complete arse. I loved everything about tonight's episode. I was even able to overlook the preposterous way the Doctor and Osgood escaped from a pressurized plane courtesy of union flag parachutes... that's how much I liked it. A lesser writer would have kept us in the dark over their fates for as long as possible, but with Kate's reveal coming via off-camera shenanigans, Clara knowing they were safe both avoided repetition and helped re-establish her brilliance. Not that it was ever in question, but it was nice to see Clara make some intellectual headway with Bonnie early in the episode—especially after how easily she was captured.

Last week, I questioned whether two parts would be enough to give the serious subject matter a fair airing. Whether you feel it did or not, Peter Harness gave it his best shot. Whereas 'The Zygon Invasion' touched upon immigration and radicalisation, tonight's story moved on to the thorny subject of war, and the Doctor's speech at the end was probably the finest the show's ever produced. It was spellbinding! At first, I thought that it wasn't going to work—calling someone childish, no matter how true the sentiment, rarely helps when it comes to diplomacy—but the Doctor had more than mere ad hominem up his sleeve. Two millennia of cocking things up has given him an abundance of experience to draw on. He's acted childishly on numerous occasions, and has lived to tell the tale.

Of course, forgiveness and rational discourse is always the answer. We know it, we've always known it, but it so often becomes the last port of call. Without forgiveness the acrimony grows, until all that's left is two people in a room trying to kill each other by pressing suspicious looking buttons. Thankfully, Bonnie was intelligent enough to recognise that (a) she was being played, (b) there was still hope, and (c) childishness isn't an irreversible condition. Living in anonymity isn't the ideal solution for all Zygons, but it's a preferable compromise for most, and an acceptable stopgap until a more suitable arrangement can be found. It's also infinitely superior to annihilation.

There was something deliciously ironic about the Doctor insisting that war isn't a game, only to win by playing the riskiest game of all. And while Basil diffused the situation with his crazy acting chops, Capaldi was delivering a masterclass all of his own. Capaldi threw everything into that final speech. His character was an absolute powerhouse of frustration and desperation, wrapped in a shell of bitter experience and pain. Kate's acquiescence came after contemplating the sheer brutality of war; Bonnie's came after the fog of discontent and anger was pierced by the Doctor's undeniable logic. Yes, it was a simplified view of war—it's hard to sum anything up in just four minutes—but it covered all of the major points, and in the context of the story was perfect.

I took a quick peek at Twitter post-episode and was surprised at how many people previously lukewarm to Capaldi's Doctor were lauding his performance. If that doesn't say it all, I don't know what does. And while Capaldi was roaring up a character defining storm, Jenna was doing some solid work of her own. I was a little disappointed last week to see Clara and the Doctor split apart, so the thought of Clara spending the bulk of tonight's episode unconscious didn't exactly fill me full of joy. Who could have predicted that it would produce such an engrossing slew of verbal exchanges? The to and fro-ing between Clara and Bonnie, which culminated in multiple saves, was just beautiful, both visually as well as intellectually. Clara's smile said it all. Even semi-conscious in a Zygon pod, Clara knows how to save the day.

When I saw Moffat was co-writing the episode I had this terrible feeling that Clara wasn't going to make it out alive and that Osgood would end up taking her place. Moffat's gone on record as saying that the Doctor's next companion won't be a returning character—which, of course, means that it absolutely could be. Remember when he told us that Clara wouldn't be appearing until Christmas 2012 and what a pile of horse shit that turned out to be? Thankfully, Clara did survive, so presumably Moffat's writing credit was there for that final speech. I'm not sure I entirely bought the speed at which Zygella filled the place at Osgood's side, but it was a nice idea, even if it did feel a little expedient. If I were our Osgood, I'd be keeping a keen eye on UNIT's newest recruit.

Was there anything to be learned from the Doctor's 'longest month of my life' comment to Clara? The camera did seem to linger a little too long on Clara's face for the exchange to be entirely meaningless. Was the Doctor simply making the point that it'd felt like months, or will we be revisiting tonight's exchange in the weeks to come? And now the reset button's been pressed on the Zygon situation, is that them essentially out of the picture for the rest of the season? Whatever happens, this was a thoroughly enjoyable earth-bound excursion, adding much kudos to Peter Harness' already impressive account.

Mark Gatiss' turn next week. Try not to fuck it up, eh?

Other Thoughts:

—Is Jacqueline dead? Obviously we didn't see her body, but still.

—Loved the brief shot of William Hartnell's picture hiding the safe.

—How quickly did that clip of the Zygon loose in London get picked up by BBC News?

—So Osgood didn't know that TARDIS stands for Totally and Radically Driving in Space? What a noob! Seriously, that whole exchange felt like it was based on something so small — the letter 's' — I really think we could have done without it.

—The Doctor's Hughie Green impersonation must have gone over most people's heads.

—Kate's 'five rounds rapid' was a nice tip of the hat to Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and 'The Daemons'.

—Was 'The Zygon Inversion' simply a pun on one of the Osgood box's purported effects on Zygons?


Doctor: 'Don't look at my browser history.'
Osgood: 'Whoa!'
Doctor: 'Yeah, I said don't.'

Osgood: 'Why didn't that Zygon blow us up with her big bazooka?'
Doctor: 'She did blow us up with her big bazooka. This is us been blown up by a big bazooka.'

Doctor: 'You know I'm over 2000 years old? I'm old enough to be your messiah.'

Osgood: 'I don't think I've ever seen you smile before.'
Doctor: 'It's dazzling, isn't it?'

Doctor: 'I forgive you. After all you've done, I forgive you.'

Doctor: 'It's not a game, Kate. This is a scale model of war. Every war ever fought, right there in front of you. Because it's always the same. When you fire that first shot, no matter how right you feel, you have no idea who's going to die. You don't know whose children are going to scream and burn! How many hearts will be broken! How many lives shattered! How much blood will spill until everybody does what they were always going to have to do from the very beginning—sit down and talk!'

Doctor: 'Do you know what thinking is? It's just a fancy word for changing your mind.'
Bonnie: 'I will not change my mind.'
Doctor: 'Then you will die stupid.'

Clara: 'You must have thought I was dead for a while.'
Doctor: 'Yeah.'
Clara: 'How was that?'
Doctor: 'Longest month of my life.'
Clara: 'It could only have been five minutes.'
Doctor: 'I'll be the judge of time.'

Paul Kelly is a licensed practitioner of Allomancy. Unfortunately, he illegally burned pewter to enhance his seeking skills during the 2014 Quiddich World Cup, resulting in his team's disqualification, and a ten year ban from international competition. He also put the bomp in the bomp bah bomp bah bomp and the ram in the rama lama ding dong.

Also posted at The Time Meddler.


  1. I didn't like that episode that much.

    Seems like the message was that both Bonnie and Kate are on the same level, both thinking war is the default answer. But it didn't work. Kate was shooting to protect — first herself, then the Doctor and Osgood. Bonnie was going to get all her people killed, along with some humans.

    What happens if the Zygon tries to assume the shape of another Zygon? And isn't reappearence of the second Osgood a proof that the first one was definitely human? Not an option I like. And what's with the Doctor's obsession with "Zygon or human", when the whole point was that it didn't matter at all?

    And isn't Osgood — not exactly human, not exactly Zygon — now a hybrid?

  2. I'm torn with this one. On the one hand, there's a lot to like here. The performance are excellent. Peter Capaldi is absolutely phenomenal here and the talk of him hopefully getting a Bafta is absolutely not unfounded. Considering the talk that his performance in the finale is even better, I'm completely stunned. He might not be my favourite Doctor (although he's up there), but he's absolutely one of the best actors to play the part.

    Jenna Coleman is also excellent here. She plays evil very well and gives Bonnie a lot more depth than is present in the text. The dual scenes were a lot of fun.

    I like that they decided to use a controversial topic for the basis of the story, I just wish it was handled better. The heavy-handedness diminished the impact of the message for me. While the speech was brilliantly delivered and acted, lengthy monologues to get the point across doesn't equate to good writing. I still enjoyed the episode but I would be particularly disappointed if Harness never wrote for the show again.

  3. It's a shame this show isn't getting as much attention as it used to on this site. Since last season many people have noticeably and understandably stopped watching. Likely due to disliking where the show went, episode quality and the new Doctor.

    Personally I think Peter Capaldi is doing a fantastic job and thought the darker direction his character went in worked pretty well (with the exception of some of the soldier stuff). It was clear that the alien detachment (which many previous Doctors have also shown) was due to his focus on saving as many lives as possible as opposed to him not caring. If he didn't care he wouldn't be The Doctor. Having said that I completely understand why some people didn't quite see it that way.

    While this season hasn't quite reached the highs of previous seasons (there's yet to be a flat-out amazing episode), there also hasn't been a single bad episode. I don't think we've had that since the Classic series. I do hope we get a truly great episode by the end of the season though as I'm not loving it as much as most people seem to be.

  4. I'm enjoying this series more than last year, and I think the episodes are much higher quality, plus Capaldi is great. This one felt quite old-school UNIT, which was fun, though I'm not convinced it made much sense if examined too closely (though that's true of a lot of things!)

  5. Mixed bag for me, but the pros outweighed the cons, and I fully agree about Capaldi here, he's a fantastic actor, and he really shows that here. Jenna Coleman is also always good (whether I like Clara or not), and her playing Bonnie shows that as well.


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