After the thrilling, real-world cliffhanger of “The Zygon Invasion,” picking up events in Clara’s hazy Zygon dream state was unexpected to say the least. But then this second half is much different in its aims than the far more action-packed first half. Whereas “The Zygon Invasion” was concerned with the outer, “Inversion” is appropriately concerned with the inner, and as such, perhaps there was no better place to begin than inside Clara’s mind. The episode backtracks a few beats, prior to the Zygon Zygella/Bonnie (what is the point of giving this character two names?) firing the rocket launcher, as we get the scenario from Clara’s perspective.
Trapped inside her little ZyPod, those events outside in the real world start creeping in. Her subconscious nags at her, dropping hints that her current perception of reality is bogus. After similar events experienced in “Last Christmas,” she quickly figures out what’s up, after hearing a familiar, gruff Scottish accent coming through the TV. Though the ensuing battle of wills doesn’t fix the outside situation (the bazooka still hits it target), it does show Clara that she’s able to exert some control over her Zygon counterpart, which comes in handy later on.
Post-credits, instead of immediately showing the aftermath of the explosion, the story shifts over to the inversion that the episode title is likely referring to, and that is Zygella’s plan to unmask all of the peaceful Zygons for the world to see, provoking paranoia and fear, leading to war. The episode keeps this development intimate, by showcasing the Cronenbergian body-horror transformation of only a single victim, Etoine (Nicholas Asbury), though it seems he’s only named in the credits and never onscreen. Here’s one of the more disturbing series of images (in a season that’s hardly shied away from creeping out viewers), not least because this is a guy who was perfectly content living among the humans. But he ends up a pawn, and takes his own life, which hearkens back to the lengthy scene of the human soldier Hitchley last week. These individuals represent the cost of war. They’re the blood on the hands of leaders who call the shots.
The Doctor and Osgood escaped the exploding aircraft via parachute, though in keeping with the episode’s de-emphasis on action, we’re only shown the aftermath (and the opening scenes of Lost this was not). The pair’s ensuing back and forth will likely have fans begging to have Osgood upped to official companion status (though Moffat’s already put the kibosh on that), and with good reason: They are quite at ease with one another. The best bit, I think, is when Osgood’s “fandom” has led to her reasonably deducing the easiest way to kill the Doctor includes having 12 bullets handy in the event of his body continuing to regenerate (precisely the sort of thing that as fans we ourselves tend to consider). Osgood is so in tune with the Doctor she recognizes that a text from Clara is indeed a text from Clara. She gives him hope in the moments when he most needs it. Ingrid Oliver has been such a tremendous re-addition to the series. She must stay around in some form or another for many years to come.
The Bonnie/Clara situation continues to play out with each attempting to control the other. Most folks who read my recaps know I’m a huge Clara fan, and by proxy, Jenna Coleman as well. She does some great work in this episode playing dual roles, but if we’re being honest, Bonnie is yet another in a long line of icy, well-dressed, high-heeled villainesses that Doctor Who has served up all too often. The only thing she’s missing is a pair of glasses. Jenna does a fine job, probably making a bit more out of the part than what was on the page, but it’s a shame she wasn’t given material with a little more variety.
The Osgood boxes are central to the third act, set in the Black Archive, and yet they, along with their buttons marked “truth” and “consequences” are not particularly elegant creations. We think they’re important, because the script subtly tells us repeatedly that they are, but it never quite adds up. The truth and consequences motif in particular felt like taking that entire aspect of the story a step too far. (So, it’s the Zygon’s mantra, a town in New Mexico, and now this?) The idea of the whole thing is supposed to again refer back to “The Day of the Doctor,” and the situation the Doctor found himself in with his own box of destruction, but it doesn’t work as well here, and I lost interest in what each of the boxes and buttons did once the Doctor laid it all out. Simply, it was enough to know that everybody was going to go boom.
Having said that, the scenario is saved entirely by the Doctor’s lengthy sermon on the pitfalls of war, and the acting skills of Peter Capaldi. Kate Stewart lords over one box, while Bonnie/Zygella hovers over the other, with the Doctor in-between the pair as a sort of referee/negotiator/conscience. What follows is core to the character of the Doctor, and the material is so powerful and played so perfectly that it deserves to stand on its own, much like the dazzling opening scene of The Newsroom that got passed around the internet a few years ago. It embodies absolutely the core philosophy of Doctor Who. If you want to show someone what Doctor Who is all about, show them this scene, because you’ll find none better. For over 10 minutes, it’s deftly held together by Capaldi’s magnetism. This is what you get when you hire a brilliant actor like Peter Capaldi to play the Doctor. The other 11 men who have played the role over the last 50 years have each done the Doctor obvious justice (to say the least), but Peter Capaldi operates on a different field altogether — and not just from the other 11 Doctors, but from most actors in general. We are as lucky to have him playing the Doctor as he is lucky to have finally nabbed the role he always wanted.
Last week I mentioned “Doctor Who and the Silurians” (that is the actual title of the serial, by the way) and now I am once again. “The Silurians” is a mammoth seven-parter from Jon Pertwee’s first season, during which the Doctor spends the bulk of the serial trying to broker peace between the Silurians and UNIT. In the end he fails, and UNIT for all intents and purposes annihilates the Silurian threat. “The Zygon Inversion” inverts that serial’s ending by giving the Doctor this incredible win, and this time instead of the Brigadier bombing the Silurians, it’s his daughter Kate actively choosing to avoid doing the same. For all of its desires to hearken back to the 50th anniversary special, this serial’s ultimate win is in reaching back even further, all the way to 1970, and twisting around a piece of 45-year-old drama that remains fresh today.
The Doctor: “Listen, I just want you to think. Do you know what thinking is? It’s just a fancy word for changing your mind.”
Odds and ends
- Seems Kate has more than a bit of the Brig in her after all. She’s quite handy with a handgun here, and her line “Five rounds rapid!” is another throwback to her father. That’s one of the Brigadier’s most famous lines, from “The Daemons.”
- Ace bits: The Mire helmet prominently seen in the Black Archive; “Totally And Rapidly Driving In Space”; the Union Jack parachute — perfect for a James Bond weekend!; “London — what a dump!”; Doctor John Disco
- Naff bits: Having Zygella take the form of Osgood felt like too pat of an ending; reminiscent of the newborn hatching a moon-sized egg at the close of Harness’s “Kill the Moon”; Basil is not the Doctor’s first name; Doctor John Disco
- Cheers to director Daniel Nettheim for overseeing these two linked episodes with such very different vibes. This guy nailed it. More of him behind the camera, please!
- The series’s ongoing dropping of numerous not-so-subtle hints of Clara’s upcoming departure has become something of a predictable drag. This week Moffat publicly said of her exit, “Clara is gone and will never return,” as well as, “I can only say that what will happen will shock, surprise, and terrify. Strictly in that order.” Many folks are predicting her death. I don’t see that happening. She’s been on the show for too long, and it would be utterly traumatic for younger viewers. Also, if Moffat really was killing her off, why would he be so open about her never coming back, and why would the show so tastelessly wink at us every week? I’m going to make a vague prediction: Somehow, in some way, the Doctor will do something that permanently breaks Clara’s belief and trust in him — something from which no friendship could ever recover, and it will have to be catastrophic, given everything he’s put her through already.
Or, she’ll sacrifice her life for the Doctor. Time will tell — it always does.