Doctor Who: “The Zygon Inversion”

You might remember I thought the previous Doctor Who episode, “The Zygon Invasion,” was okay but kind of boring. It was all set up, and I figured everything important was going to happen in the second part, “The Zygon Inversion.” For about half the episode, though, I had the sinking feeling it was going to be no better or more interesting than the first episode. Then the second half of the episode came to the rescue.

***SPOILERS AHEAD***

The second half of the episode takes place entirely inside the Black Archive, which we haven’t seen since the 50th Anniversary special, “The Day of the Doctor,” and consists primarily of the Doctor trying to convince Kate Lethbridge-Stewart and Bonnie, leader of the Zygon revolution, not to start a war. All he’s got in his favor are two mysterious boxes, the Osgood Boxes, and a slim chance to convince them to stand down. He gives a long speech, a good speech about how you can’t know who will die in a war, a speech that covers so much of what the Doctor felt during the Last Great Time War, and one that is completely heartfelt thanks to Peter Capaldi’s BAFTA-worthy delivery. It’s a speech about being able to forgive yourself and each other in order to move forward. It’s the heart of the story. The only drawback is that it took an episode and a half to get there, but once it arrived I thought it was pretty damn good.

When I initially saw what was inside the Osgood Boxes, I felt my suspension of disbelief slip. How could the buttons be labeled Truth and Consequences, the same words the Zygon revolutionaries use as their rallying cry? How could the Doctor have known after the events of “The Day of the Doctor” that those words, and that very concept, would come into such heavy play later? I was tempted to pass it off as just another flashy but illogical Moffatism (Steven Moffat co-wrote the episode with Peter Harness), but then a line at the end of the scene, little more than a throwaway really, implied that this was actually the fifteenth time the ceasefire had broken down. Kate and Bonnie didn’t remember because of the Black Archive’s mind wipe. So it’s possible that at some point in the previous fourteen crises, the Doctor altered the contents of the boxes to match the recurring Truth or Consequences theme. (One must also presume that during the other fourteen crises no one was killed and no one saw a Zygon au naturale, because there’s no way the Doctor would have been able to accurately wipe so many people’s memories outside of the Black Archive. How the people who lost loved ones this time around will cope with what happened is left unaddressed.) Once again, Doctor Who has given us an amazing scene that doesn’t involve explosions or running down corridors or someone talking really, really fast. Just Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor talking to people like they’re adults. Like in “The Witch’s Familiar” earlier this season, it’s the best part of the story.

Anyway, this time the Doctor tries to prevent a future, sixteenth reoccurrence by only wiping Kate’s memory and not Bonnie’s. Then, in an about-face that is way too fast, Bonnie goes on to become the new second Osgood to help defend the Earth. It’s a sweet and likable moment with the two Osgoods at the very end of the episode, but it seems to me that this big a change of heart requires a lot more time and healing than “later that day…” After the amazing scene in the Black Archive, it rang a bit false.

I admire the episode for sticking to its guns and not revealing which Osgood we were seeing all this time, the human or the Zygon. Even the Doctor can’t resist asking, but she refuses to tell him, saying she’ll only do it on the day when it no longer matters. That, too, was a sweet moment and central to the story’s theme. (Also a sweet moment: When the Doctor tells Osgood he’s a big fan.)

All in all, I found the “Zygon Invasion”/”Zygon Inversion” two-parter not very interesting, at least until the end, but ultimately solid. One weird thing I noticed, though: I think the Zygon costume design actually looked better in 1975’s “Terror of the Zygons” than it does now. These new designs look too…dry. The Zygons should be slimier. Also, bring back the Skarasen!

And now for some fun Doctor Who neepery! The painting of the First Doctor in the UNIT safe house makes another appearance, with a wall safe behind it. Kate uses the phrase “Five rounds rapid” in explaining how she escaped from the Zygon that was about to kill her — a phrase made famous by her father, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, in the 1971 Third Doctor serial “The Daemons” (which happens to be one of my favorites!). There’s another mention of “Sullivan’s gas,” the anti-Zygon weapon created by former companion Harry Sullivan, which the Doctor goes on to call “imbecile gas,” a reference to the Fourth Doctor memorably calling Harry Sullivan an imbecile in the 1975 serial “Revenge of the Cybermen.” In the Black Archive, we can clearly see the battle helmet of a Mire in the background. And finally, at the end of the episode one of the Osgoods is again wearing the Seventh Doctor’s outfit.

(And here’s some bonus James Bond neepery: the Doctor’s Union Jack parachute is a callback to Bond’s identical one in the opening scene of The Spy Who Loved Me!)

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