The Zygon Invasion
The Zygon Invasion/Inversion
The Zygon Inversion

Story No. 283 Make your choice
Production Code Series 9, episode 8
Dates November 7, 2015

With Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman
Written by Peter Harness Directed by Daniel Nettheim
Executive Producers: Steven Moffat, Brian Minchin.

Synopsis: There are two races vying for control of the planet and two boxes. The choice is simple: Truth or Consequences.


"You call this a war?" by Donna Bratley 26/5/19

There's only one place to start with The Zygon Inversion, and that's in the Black Archive. With perhaps the single greatest, most impassioned dissection of the Doctor's psyche ever to be packed into one scene.

In the cold light of day, it's easy to pick holes in the logic. After all, when did the Time Lords ever "sit down and TALK!" with the Daleks? What happens to giving peace a chance when one side is irrevocably set on war, actively welcoming - idealising - its horrors? There's ample evidence that Hitler (the Davros of the real world?) regarded the desire of Britain and France to avoid all those screams and burning children as weakness - a "degeneracy" that would allow his stronger will to prevail. Put him in Bonnie's place and wonder: is war always avoidable for those who ask nothing but to live in peace?

Fortunately, for its own sake, The Zygon Inversion chooses to ignore the monstrous exception, setting out its stall a passionate reminder of what we all have to lose when evil wins. If those ten or so minutes could be played ad nauseum to the fanatics of today, maybe (and I wish I could believe it!) the sane majority, just wanting to live here, would stand a better chance.

The Doctor has delivered some speeches in recent years, but none compare to the raw emotional power of this. It could have been self-pitying (Look at me! Look what I've suffered!); it could have been grandstanding. In the wrong hands, it could've been actually quite embarrassing.

In the right ones, it soars. I've praised Peter Capaldi often enough, but for this I'm giving him the highest compliment. It's not an actor who delivers that soul-scorching lecture on the agonising futility of war. It's a two thousand-year-old alien who's been there, done that and got the scars to prove it. It's the Doctor.

That speech towers above the rest of the story, and that's unfair. The Zygon Inversion is much reduced in scale from its predecessor and infinitely stronger for it. In any other review I'd be raving about Jenna Coleman's marvellous versatility and the crisp distinction she draws between her bold, competent, very vulnerable Clara and the coldly obsessive Bonnie. Once she's done playing Queen Victoria, there's a future as a true villainess for Jenna. She's superb at being bad, and her encounter with herself is a masterclass.

A few of the big-name monsters of Who history could learn from her chillingly pragmatic demeanour as she transforms her first terrified victim (and in the process gives us the rawest bit of body-horror new Who had managed to date) against his will. The explicit suicide the Doctor and Osgood are forced to witness - a desperate creature taking the only way out - is as shocking as the show can get. I'm amazed the BBC let it through, but I'm glad they did. The collateral damage the radicalised leave in their wake should never be ignored, and in the long run it's usually their own they hurt the most.

Even Kate gets to display a touch of competence instead of blundering around needing someone to point out the painfully obvious. "Five rounds rapid" from the Brig's daughter made me smile, and it's a welcome change to see a UNIT employee dealing efficiently with an imminent danger. Even if it is one she ought to have identified much earlier...

Thanks to Jemma Redgrave's poker face, I wasn't initially sure whether the human Kate had survived. She's a capable actress sorely under-used, switching between cool capability and hair-tearing idiocy at the writers' whim. The Zygon Inversion allows her to display more of the former and adds a dash of real sympathy in her standoff with Bonnie.

It's cruel that hers are the memories wiped when she's proven herself the more rational of the combatants, being the first to step away. And therein lies the key problem with the anti-war message of the whole storyline. It's preaching to the converted.

Kate - representing tolerance, democracy - contemplates the horror she's about to unleash and recoils, regardless of the other side's intransigence. It's the fanatical - the ones who would blow themselves and all the strangers around them to hell because they "know" they're the righteous - who need the warnings. Are they necessarily the ones watching Doctor Who on a Saturday night?

Her apology to the Doctor and his heartfelt "Thank you" makes plain that she deserves better than to be destined to repeat the cycle all over again: always assuming he wasn't being sarcastic about all those previous times...

Ingrid Oliver's Osgood has grown on me. From being the painfully aggravating fangirl, she's developed into a capable and sympathetic figure. The nearest UNIT has had to a consistent character, she steps into the companion's role with maximum assurance and minimum silliness, adding insights into the Doctor's tricks and identifying his showing off in ways his regular sidekick wouldn't be able to elucidate for an audience.

The Osgood Box itself is a neat, wholly Doctor-ish device; and while I'm still not comfortable with dear old Harry Sullivan being responsible for a murderous nerve gas, at least we can be sure it's never going to be used. Bonnie was a bit slow not to figure it out for herself, but then she's not the brightest of villains all along. She really though her precious box was going to be in that safe with the original's portrait as a touching disguise.

Her redemption is tooth-rotting, but the restoration of Osgood balance must be a good thing, even as it surely identifies the surviving Osgood as the human version. It'd be tricky to have two Zygons patrolling that strange two-species peace, after all.

The TARDIS renaming raises a laugh, and the Doctor's quiet, sincere farewell to the Osgoods is a touching tribute justly earned. The alarm bells for Clara ring ever-louder, the Doctor's awareness of the inevitable etched on his face as the credits roll.

It's a poignant, beautifully underplayed end to an intensely emotional tale.