Doctor Who: The Zygon Inversion

BBC

BBC

This week we got to see the thrilling conclusion to “Invasion of the Zygons.” Aptly titled “The Zygon Inversion,” part two went a long way in redeeming some of the drawbacks to last week’s entry.

Picking up just moments before the end of part one, we find that Clara has regained consciousness in her Zygon pod and is mentally linked to her doppelganger. How fortunate for The Doctor since she is able to use this connection to save his life, being able to exert minor control over her double. Clara’s dream world is cleverly represented as her apartment with the doors and windows bricked up. Most of the text she tries to read is gibberish and the things that Clara can read are odd. I really liked the way her television was used as her window through her double’s eyes. A very simple way to represent her prison of the mind but an effective one as well.

We also finally learn the ultimate plan of the Zygon revolution. The Clara double causes a peaceful Zygon to transform back into his normal form and films it to post on the web. Later we find that the revolution wants to unmask all their fellow Zygons to force war and give those of their race who do not want to fight no other choice but to join the revolution.

The not-Clara becomes fixed on last week’s briefly mentioned Osgood Box, which becomes the center point of the whole episode. But before we get to that, a few clever moments between Osgood and The Doctor: after parachuting out of their destroyed plane, The Doctor’s idea that a Union Jack parachute counts as camouflage in London was a great little throwaway joke. Also, Moffat is toying with the fans again, having Osgood comment on the Sonic Shades and how pointless they are, which leads us to find out it’s hardly the most useless thing The Doctor has created (invisible watch?). Osgood and The Doctor make a nice pairing and play off one another very well. I’m also curious to get reaction from the fans across the pond, having heard The Doctor calling London a dump and comparing his frequent visitation of the city to that of a battlefield.

The real all-star this week is Jenna Coleman as Clara. Playing normal Clara as well as her evil replicant, she just killed it this week. She was completely successful in separating the characters by vocalization and body language. Also being able to play her evil self while the human Clara attempts to wink a message over Face Chat was a clever and funny bit of writing that could have come off very stupid without the right performance. Another great part of her performance this week was the Clara vs Clara segments. Interrogating herself and using their connection to feel each other’s heartbeats as a makeshift lie detector was one of those ideas that’s equal parts clever and silly that gives Doctor Who its unique flavor.

Another nice touch this episode was the humanization of the Zygons. Rather than just presenting them all as warmongering monsters, we see that the revolution is merely a small fraction of their populace, and most want no part in either side of any potential war. They merely want to live their lives. An obvious metaphor for the war on terror, and just like UNIT does to the Zygons, many people group all those who practice Islam or live in certain parts of the world as terrorists rather than understanding that the violent portion is merely a sliver of their population. One Zygon is so anti-war that he turns his own powers against himself, choosing suicide over seeing the life he’s built fall apart.

Everything leads up to the big question left last week: what is the Osgood box? Like the woman herself, the box is about questions without answers and the truths they present to us. For one thing, it’s not the Osgood box but the Osgood boxes. Yes, two boxes, one red and one blue. After the Clara clone furiously demands to know which one will reveal her people’s true forms and thereby trigger the war she wants. This is where the first questionable moment of this exchange takes place. The Doctor claims the blue one is the box she wants. But is The Doctor lying? Could he be doing a switch? Well, once not-Clara opens it she finds that there are two buttons. Two boxes and two buttons. One box that will either reveal or hide the Zygons forever, the other will kill the Zygons or blow up London. The buttons labeled “truth” and “consequences” is both a clever nod to last week and a bit cheesy all at once but hey, it works.

What it beautifully leads to is a fantastically written, and amazingly delivered speech by Peter Capaldi, pointing out the idiocy of war. The boxes are designed to force both sides to do the inevitable which is to sit down and talk things out. As The Doctor points out, every war, no matter how much death and destruction, eventually leads to both sides sitting down and discussing terms for peace. So as The Doctor has designed here a way to force that sit down and save some lives, the boxes are a “scale model of war,” since war involves making a decision and not being sure who will get killed in the process. The whole speech is fantastic but the real high point is when The Doctor reminds us he has seen worse war, and done more terrible things than most of us could ever imagine. Capaldi shows such passion and pain in this section of the speech, showing that The Doctor still carries the pain and memories every day as motivation for stopping war wherever he can. A wonderful moment for the character and an incredible performance from the actor.

It’s only after all this and both sides finally agreeing to step down from their mutually assured destruction that we get the real swift kick to the grapes. Both boxes are empty. Yes, The Doctor lies … and often, here being that while he wanted to force negotiations between the races, he’s also not dumb enough to really give either of them the means of genocide. I have to say I felt the boxes were very out of character for The Doctor until this reveal, so nice job by the writers subverting expectations twice in a row like that. Then we really get our minds blown when The Doctor wipes the memories of those involved to protect his trick with the boxes while telling us it worked the last fifteen times. Fifteen times apparently the cease fire has been threatened and he has been forced to make peace. How exhausting and frustrating this has to be for him, and how depressing that there have been that many conflicts and god knows how many lives lost each time.

If you really ponder it for a while it gets quite depressing that the peace has been so impossible to sustain. Like our own conflicts in the real world, having the same wars and same conflicts over and over again, returning to status quo, lather, rinse, repeat.

We end this week with not-Clara, after being allowed to keep her memories, turning into a second Osgood. Completing the pair again and no one really knowing if the original is still alive or if there are two Zygon versions now. They pledge to keep the boxes and hopefully keep refreshing the peace between human and Zygon factions. Also an ominous comment from The Doctor to Clara saying losing her was the longest month of his life. Is he just expressing how much he cares for her as a metaphor, or has he already lost her later in the timeline? Time travel can really give you a headache.

So I said last week that part two would need to do a lot to redeem the weakness of part one. I say that it did so … mostly. There are some plot and logic holes all over this two-parter but in service of a message that is an important one for everyone to hear. So I’ll forgive some short cuts to its delivery. Between Coleman’s and Capaldi’s performances there were some of the most impressive moments from both actors this week. The ominous spectre of Clara’s exit still looms over the show and as we draw closer to the end of the season its inevitability hangs over us like a dark cloud.

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2 Comments

    • I agree, I loved when they chose Capaldi and this season he’s really hitting his stride