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Friday, 19 August 2016

Doctor Who 9-08: The Zygon Inversion

Episode:821|Serial:258|Writer:Peter Harness and Steven Moffat|Air Date:07-Nov-2015

This week on Sci-Fi Adventures, the second half of another Doctor Who two parter.

The first half, The Zygon Invasion, was perhaps the most divisive episode of series 9 up to this point... or perhaps not, it's hard to tell. I've definitely read a lot of hate about it though, with people calling it tone deaf, xenophobic and generally not very good. Personally I thought it was watchable enough, when it wasn't being painfully stupid, but I've got higher hopes for The Zygon Inversion for two reasons:
  1. It's got Steven Moffat's name in the writing credits and he's generally pretty good at this.
  2. The word 'Inversion' makes me think that all is not what it appears, and that'd be a good thing in this case.
But before I give away my thoughts on the entire plot, here's a quick SPOILER WARNING for you. Warning, I'll be giving away the entire plot for this episode and spoiling some earlier episodes too. I won't say a word about anything that aired after it though.

Previously on Doctor Who:
  • 20 million Zygons were allowed to be born on Earth and take human form. Most are living here peacefully, some not so much.
  • The Doctor left UNIT the 'Osgood Box' as a last resort if things go bad.
  • A group of rogue Zygons have executed their leaders, wiped out a town in New Mexico, killed a whole lot of UNIT (including Kate and Jac apparently), and have been sticking Londoners in pods under the city.
  • Clara's stuck in one of the pods.
  • Clara's evil duplicate (aka. Bonnie the Zygon) just fired a missile at a plane heading to London.
  • The Doctor and Osgood (the person not the box) are on the plane.
But the episode is in no rush to deal with any of that. Instead it starts with Pod Clara waking up at home and doing normal waking up things. Like glancing over to see that it's in the morning and then getting up to brush her teeth with sinister toothpaste.

In fact you could say the clock has been... inverted.

It doesn't take her long to realise that there's some weird dream shit going on, and the clues definitely point to her being asleep in a Zygon pod right now. Though 'This is Toothpaste' would seem a lot weirder if things like 'I Can't Believe It's Not Butter' didn't already exist.

Yep, you can definitely tell this is a dream world, as this version of her apartment isn't covered in Post-it notes.

She soon figures out that she’s trapped in here, with planks blocking the door and a bit of beige cloth covering up the window. Clara's got a lot of strengths, but her imagination apparently isn't one of them. Though she's had experience with lucid dreaming back in Last Christmas so she knows to check the newspaper to see what it says.

Seems that the psychic link to Bonnie the Zygon goes both ways, with Clara hearing what she’s saying via the paper and seeing what she’s seeing via the television. And what she’s seeing is that Bonnie's about to blow up the Doctor's plane with an RPG.

So she instinctively shoves the TV...

... and it works! She throws off Bonnie's aim and the missile goes sailing past the plane. Which is cool, because they actually showed the missile launcher lurching to the side at the end of part one. I thought it was supposed to be her getting thrown by the recoil, but nope it was the Clara in her head.

So the Doctor and Osgood are saved! For a few seconds anyway. There's a war of wills as Clara tries use her mental connection to keep Bonnie's finger off the trigger, but she can't manage it for long, and it all leads to a great looking plane explosion.

Very impressive. Though the Doctor and Osgood just got blown up and that's sad.


Now that she's sorted that out, Bonnie rides all the way back to London to use her list of secret Zygons to get her war started. The plan seems to be to chase the innocent Zygons down, zap them to interfere with their ability to hold human form, then let them out into world to spread panic.

Look at the panic, look at the people screaming in terror!

Actually there's no reaction from these people are all, which is kind of weird considering that he's covered in red suction cups right now. He looks like he's got the plague, that's something to be concerned about!

I suppose it's possible that they're part of Bonnie's crew of rogue Zygons, there are some of those fizzling hairballs rolling around the streets showing that they've been killing people with their zap power, but that just raises the question of why she didn't want them to react.

Meanwhile Clara's been searching through Bonnie's memory and manages to find something her doppelgänger doesn't realise she saw:

The Doctor and Osgood have parachuted to safety! Everyone else on the plane is certainly dead, including their Zygon prisoner, but at least there were parachutes for the both of them.

He explains he chose a Union Jack parachute for 'camouflage', which is bullshit as that plane goes a lot of places and he didn't know he'd have to jump out over the UK. Though Osgood figures out he's using humour to distract her from being scared. I'm just glad he apparently had the sense to pack his own parachute this time seeing as he fell out of his last presidential jet as well. He's taken three flights and only landed once.

The Doctor doesn't get to pose in his sonic sunglasses long though as Osgood needs them to replace her glasses that were broken in the fall. Man, these things do everything (including letting her see his... interesting browser history).

Osgoods a little confused why Bonnie didn’t have someone standing by to put a bullet in the Doctor’s head, and he’s confused that Bonnie's started sending him text messages. We already know it’s Clara taking control of her hand though and they soon figure it out too.

Next they need to solve the mystery of why the Doctor's still wearing that rubbish jumper with the holes in it. He could at least fasten the hoodie to cover it up.

The pair try to get some help from the police, but the actors aren’t paid to do anything more than look sinister, so they walk away and look for a car to steal instead. No one but the main cast are reacting to anything in this episode!

They manage to get a call through to Bonnie to reveal their continued survival, with video and everything, and get a secret message from Clara via her winking... which the Doctor immediately gives away. Clara never learned Morse code but she’s able to answer a yes/no question like ‘are you in a tunnel under London’ before Bonnie covers her eyes. He also lets slip that Clara knows where the Osgood Box is, so Bonnie will be coming to her pod for information now. The Doctor is rubbish at secrets this week.

Mobile phones have been changing how stories are told since Star Trek, or earlier, but it's nice to see that how they change them is still changing. This scene just couldn't have worked without their phones having video, and they're not even sci-fi phones! Well okay Bonnie's phone can actually communicate through time and across galaxies because she stole it from Clara... but ignore that.

Wow, it’s so strange seeing the Doctor doing something as normal as driving a car to London. Though I suppose he’d know the way as well as anyone, considering all the years he was stuck on Earth as the Third Doctor, driving around in Bessy. That Tom Baker smile is also weirding me out.

They see Bonnie's Zygon video on the news so they decide to head over to where that was filmed. Meanwhile Bonnie goes underground to interrogate Clara close up, seeing as their long range mental link is proving to be more of a liability.

The two Claras mind wrestle again, with human Clara managing to psychically change Bonnie back into Zygon form momentarily. But in the end Clara’s the one stuck in a pod, and if she doesn’t tell Bonnie where the Osgood Box is and how to get to it, then she’s dead. Clara’s a great liar these days, but that doesn’t help when her interrogator shares her pulse and both of them believe it's possible to detect lies from someone's heartbeat. So she changes tack and tries telling the truth.

Turns out the Osgood Box is at the Black Archive from Day of the Doctor, and only Osgood, the Doctor and Clara can get in. So Bonnie already has her key packaged up in a pod!

Meanwhile the Doctor and Osgood have been trying to help the malfunctioning Zygon, but they fail to talk him around and he zaps himself to death!

We finally got the a sympathetic Zygon who didn’t want to be on anyone’s side and he’s already dead. Still, now we can be fairly sure that at least 1 of the 20 million Zygons on the planet just wanted to get on with living as a human and stay out of Bonnie’s war. Part one was always saying that most of the refugees were peaceful but it makes all the difference to actually meet an average Zygon that's not a terrorist.

Kate's evil Zygon duplicate turns up to meet them with some UNIT agents and together they go down to the tunnels to look for Clara's pod. Unfortunately they just missed her, as Bonnie's already dragged the pod over to the Black Archive to get access. I bet someone in UNIT is going to wish they hadn't given a school teacher clearance to their secret facilities... if any of them even survive this episode.

Surprise! turns out that Osgood Boxes, like Osgoods, come in pairs! Bonnie phones the Doctor up to ask him what the deal is and he explains that one box will revert all 20 million Zygons to their normal form (which is what she wants) and the other will kill them (which she doesn't want).

But she's got Clara as a hostage so she just threatens her life until the Doctor tells her which is which.

The contents aren’t exactly what she expected. But they are technically what she wanted!

So hang on, a terrorist group calling themselves 'Truth or Consequences' that named themselves after an event in a town called 'Truth or Consequences' just opened the super weapon boxes they were after only to find that inside... they offer a choice between ‘Truth’ and ‘Consequences’? What the hell? Was the guy who made them a time traveller or something? Oh wait.

Bonnie's a bit pissed off about this and orders Evil Zygon Kate to bring the Doctor to her, as it turns out that Kate and the agents with her are all Zygons!

But actually Evil Zygon Kate was only pretending to be a Zygon and she guns the fake UNIT agents down!

then we get a flashback revealing the secret of how she managed to survive the incident at Truth or Consequences back in part one. Turns out that Kate… just shot her attacker with a gun that'd ended up in her hands and then took the Zygon's place.

Well that was massively anticlimactic, even if she does drop her father’s famous ‘five rounds rapid’ line when explaining it. I was kind of hoping she'd been saved by her backup to be honest, because I didn't really believe that the head of UNIT was stupid enough to investigate an empty town on her own. The Doctor’s about as reckless as they come and even he brings backup!

It’s a shame that Kate killed the Zygons really as the Doctor just goes straight to the Black Archive anyway. Then we end up with the weird situation where two Zygons have Clara hostage, but both Bonnie and Kate are both able to walk over to a doomsday box without anyone getting shot or zapped.

The Doctor explains the set up in an American game show host voice: In the red box one button will gas all Zygons and the other will nuke London. In the blue box one button will permanently normalise all Zygons, and the other will permanently lock them in human form. They’ve got a 50/50 chance of getting what they want and a 50/50 chance of utter disaster. This is the safeguard put in place by both sides during the treaty negotiations and then wiped from their memories.

This is the Doctor's big chance to have a long rant to a captive audience and he's damn well going to take it. He accuses Bonnie's splinter group of being the latest bunch of cruel people that'll cause other people to be cruel to them in return and so on.

But he forgives her, as that's the only way people can move on to live in peace. She murdered innocent Zygons, wiped out half of UNIT, put Clara in a pod and blew up his plane, but it doesn't help anyone to continue this conflict.

Except Bonnie actually kind of wants a war.

That Mire helmet in the display case is getting a lot of screen time isn't it? It's like the episode's sneakily trying to remind people that Ashildr's still in play.

Three minutes in and the scene keeps going, with the Doctor questioning Bonnie to see what her plan is after she’s wiped out humanity. What her surviving Zygons are going to do. Because the truth is that they’re currently benefiting from humanity’s well established society and to destroy it might not work out so great for them. More to the point, she hasn’t actually given proper consideration to what exactly she wants from all this.

Then he shifts topics again, asking her what she plans to do about the next Zygon revolution, the one that will want to topple the perfect regime she’s forced upon them because it’s not to their liking. Even if she can inflict her will upon the world she won’t be able to do it forever.

Five minutes into the scene and the two sides are getting a bit sick of standing in front of their buttons listening to the Doctor talk. But he’s not going to stop now that he’s on a roll!

He explains that the boxes are a scale model of war. Because when you pull the trigger on a war you can’t know who will end up dying due to your decisions. It’s poor Osgood I feel the most sorry for here, standing there in the background of every scene with nothing to say and nothing to do. Though Jenna Coleman’s on both sides of the room so she had to pull double duty here.

Actually that’s a point, this is pretty much an inverted version of the conclusion to Peter Harness’s last Doctor Who story, Kill the Moon. In that the Doctor got in his TARDIS and buggered off to leave his current sidekicks alone to make a choice that could potentially save or doom the Earth. In this its his sidekicks that have been totally sidelined and he’s here doing his best to convince two other women of the choice they should make.

Bonnie claims that he doesn’t understand, which turns out to be a tactical mistake as it gets the Doctor on a Time War rant. He’s anti-war because he’s lived it and it’s just made him more determined that no one else should ever have to feel the same pain. All the cruelty he’s seen has just made him kinder, and if she can learn the same lesson she could just walk away from this now.

Kate closes her box and apologises, but Bonnie doesn't make her choice. Instead she realises that the boxes were empty all along. Of course the Doctor’s true ultimate super weapon would actually be a lecture to a captive audience!

And it's a weapon that can be used again as the room still has those memory erasers in the ceiling. In fact the Doctor has a line about having to wipe Kate's mind 15 times already, which is... a strange thing to say. Is this his 16th attempt to talk them both down today? Is this the 16th violent Zygon rebellion in just two years? It's a mystery.

Anyway Kate's mind gets wiped to set up the stage for next time, while Bonnie gets to remember the lesson and is allowed to go free without punishment. The Doctor has been in Bonnie's place before back in Day of the Doctor so he can’t exactly blame her for nearly making the same mistake he did.

Though in that episode the Doctor ultimately didn't need to press the 'kill everyone' button because he came up with an ingenious alternative solution instead. This time around they seem to be skipping the ingenious alternative solution part, so is the moral of this story to just put up with your problems and accept the status quo?

Anyway that was about 10 minutes straight of Peter Capaldi taking over the screen and winning peace through complete verbal domination. A full quarter of the episode. It kind of makes sense now why he was unable to convince anyone to do anything throughout the entire two-parter if it was all leading to a big conclusion where he finally wins an argument.

Later, ex-terrorist leader Bonnie goes to the command centre under the school to reassure the 20 million innocent Zygons that they’re safe now. I suppose she’s in charge of them now, seeing as she executed the previous leaders. But has she learned that security is more important than freedom? It's hard to say because no one's saying it.

But she’s not going to keep using Clara’s face, as there’s someone else she can replace...

So now there’s two Osgoods again, and neither’s saying which of them is Zygon and which is human until the day the question doesn’t matter any more. Of course they may well both be Zygons, as it could've been the human Osgood who died back in Death in Heaven. Either way the Doctor reveals… that he’s a very big fan of hers. He also tells her she’s a credit to her race, but I'd rather pretend that he didn’t.


Wow, an entire two parter that doesn't dwell on either mortality or immortality! Sure the Doctor was genuinely worried that Clara was dead for a while, and he made that crack about being old enough to be Bonnie's messiah, but otherwise I think we got off fairly lightly. Also we've finally learned that the Doctor's name is Dr. Basil Disco and 'T.A.R.D.I.S.' stands for 'Totally and Radically Driving in Space' so I hope all the appropriate wikis have been updated.

I think I actually liked The Zygon Invasion overall. I mean it may not be my favourite of series 9 so far, but it's a step up from the last one and it was nice to see the Doctor put a bit more effort into saving people this time around. He was very Doctory in this one, with his mad grin and his cunning manipulations, and it gave Peter Capaldi a chance to do some acting, which he turns out to be pretty good at. Evil Jenna Coleman also put in a great performance opposite Regular Jenna Coleman and Ingrid Oliver has successfully convinced me that she should be a companion or two. The script definitely served them all well. UNIT also came across as more competent this time around, as they're all dead or off screen except for Osgood and her boss, and Kate had the sense not to nuke London! Though I'm surprised Colonel Walsh sat this one out considering how important she was in part one.

The trouble I have with the episode though is that there's two ways to look at the Doctor's epic monologue:
  1. He talked the bad guys into giving up their terrorist ways and in exchange offered them forgiveness.
  2. He told an oppressed minority with genuine issues that everyone has problems and they should stop fighting for basic freedoms and accept what they've got.
Personally I think it's great that the Doctor manipulated both sides into accepting peace and forgiveness even though one group had done some pretty nasty things just to start a fight and the other is unforgivably stupid. I'm a big fan of skipping wars, strikes and protests and going straight to the part where you solve problems with negotiation and compromise, and giving both groups equal power by putting them in the same room in front of imaginary nuclear options is one way to make that possible!

But the problem solved in this episode is the rebel Zygons' extreme reaction to their mistreatment, not the fact that they've been treated like crap in the first place. Sure the unwritten law of the series says that they can never reveal themselves and walk amongst humans openly, but it would've been nice to see them trying something to avoid another Truth or Consequences, to make things better. Instead Bonnie becomes a clone of Osgood, gets ice cream and then goes off to protect the world from the next alien menace. That's not an overly happy ending when you consider the Zygons to be a stand-in for other real world groups. Refugees are the obvious one, and we're shown here than the ideal outcome for them is absolute assimilation, without retaining any of their culture or bringing anything of their own to their new communities. But it's also easy to see the Zygons standing in for certain other humans that want to come out of the closet, or change their shape to what they consider to be their true form, or so many other things!

Well at least the episode makes you think.

Doctor Who will return with Sleep No More. But next on Sci-Fi Adventures, I'll be watching Babylon 5 episode And the Sky Fall of Stars.

Thanks for reading, leave a comment if you want!

1 comment:

  1. The Doctor and Osgood have parachuted to safety!

    Or to the wreckage of the Byzantium, from the looks of it.

    I remember loving this episode, except for the "we've done this fifteen times" bit, which still puzzles me.