Doctor Who: “The Zygon Inversion”
Last week’s episode, “The Zygon Invasion” was a total surprise. After six episode that hung together in a way that no Doctor Who season has pulled off so impressively since the reboot, the sudden hard right into political parable was as startling as it was nearly impossible to solve. That impossibility somewhat weakened this week’s final installment of back to back two-part episodes since the season started. But even though the twists were easy to see coming long before they arrived (was anyone surprised the boxes were empty? Exactly.) that was made up for by Capaldi, on a mission to make this a performance worthy of an Emmy.
The Doctor: “When you’ve killed all the bad guys, and when it’s all perfect and you’ve got it exactly the way you want it, what are you gonna do about the people like you?… How are your going to protect your glorious revolution from the next one? “
But before we get to Capaldi’s glorious performance under the tower of London, we should get to his whole “survival” that occurs from the end of last week’s cliffhanger. In a scene reminiscent of Series 4’s “Silence In the Library/Forest of the Dead,” we find Clara living in an apartment of her own mind, watching the events occurring outside the pod through her own eyes on TV, and fighting to keep Evil Clara/Bonnie/Zygonella from taking down the Doctor once and for all. (Side note: both that scene with the “This Is Toothpaste” combined with the Doctor in the bodega really gave this week a They Live! feel.) She doesn’t succeed completely–that’s yet another presidential plane The Doctor’s now gone through–but she buys him enough time to parachute out with Osgood.
In comparison with last week’s globe-trotting adventure, this week found everyone staying much closer to home. The smallness of the show this week was remarkable, from a beach run from the cops (who are lost surprisingly quickly, considering the Doctor hasn’t driven a car since the Whomobile) to a local shop, to the small room called The Black Archives, under the Tower of London. Everything this week seemed defined by the smallness of the spaces they were in. Clara, stuck inside her own mind for most of the hour. Evil Clara, in narrow passages underground. Kate Lethbridge-Stewart may be able to fire five rounds rapid like her father before her, but she takes the Zygons down because they haven’t anywhere to run in the sheriff’s office, or the pod storage. Small places, for small-minded people.
The Doctor: “You know, I’m over two thousand years old. I’m old enough to be your messiah.”
And the small-minded is exactly what this episode was thematically about. Capaldi hasn’t had his “Doctor Defining moment” as the Radio Times cranked recently. They should have waiting to complain. Confronted in a small room, surrounded by small people who cannot imagine that peace can happen, or that their crimes could be forgiven to save humanity, Capaldi reared up, larger than life, in a Shakespearian level performance that will stand next to such moments as Matt Smith in “The Pandorica Opens,” Christopher Eccleston’s “Everybody lives!” in “The Doctor Dances” or David Tennant’s “One word: Run.” from “Family of Blood.” His roar at Bonnie Zygonella when she tells him he could not possibly understand, a teenager’s whine to a parent who has been through this all before, and knows the consequences of not stepping back from the brink better than anyone who ever insisted on making war before will be a scene that sits in the “Best of Doctor Who” lists for years to come.
As for Bonnie Zygonella, we should also note that along with Capaldi’s best performances since he came to the series, this week also featured Jenna Coleman’s best performance to date–and considering she’ll be gone in four episode or less from now, probably her best performance for the entire run of the show. “Companions possessed” are usually some of the best moments for the Doctor’s costar–think Billie Piper in “New Earth”–but the Clara vs Clara scenes were golden. Everything about Coleman, from the subtle shift in body language, to the slight emphasis of the Blackpool accent vs a posher one made this two distinct characters playing chess against over the possession of a single mind. Evil Clara may have won the round. But once she got to the Tower of London and discovered that, like the Osgoods and the Claras, there were two boxes…
Bonnie Zygonella: “It’s empty, isn’t it? Both boxes. There’s nothing in them, just buttons.”
The Doctor: “Of course, and you know how you know that? Because you’ve started to think like me.”
Two boxes, both alike in dignity, in the Black Archive where we lay our scene. Forget the fact that the two boxes will in fact be revealed to contain nothing, (because of course the Doctor didn’t actually give Humans or Zygons the ability to massacre each other), the fact is these buttons are real to Lethebridge-Stewart and Bonnie Zygonella, as they stand their trying to decide if starting a war is worth the risk. But as the Doctor asks “What is it you are actually hoping for?” What do you hope for when you push a Button that will cause years of destruction, and a toll of unknown pain for millions going forward? Think of the one Zygon who already had his choice taken away, forced out of the skin that protected him for so long: “I just wanted to live here.” His cry, like that of millions of civilians caught in a crossfire started by the games self-appointed leaders play. Earth has already gone through two Word Wars, started by leaders who could not articulate an answer to that question. Why should a few Zygon rebels start it again? Just because to fall back would mean losing face?
This being fantasy, the answer to that whole “losing face” is solved with a simple memory wipe, though not before the Doctor sighs in exasperation that they’ve already gone through this over a dozen times. That memory wipe also solves the problem of revealing the boxes to be empty and resets them again as a threat. Only Bonnie Zygonella is spared the memory erasure, with the hope that allowing her to remember will find a new way to keep the peace. And it does, though not the way the Doctor expected. Though Petronella Osgood continues to refuse to answer the question of “Human or Zygon” until the answer no longer matters, the give away is in the face that steps out behind her: Zygonella Osgood, in a Seventh Doctor cosplay to match Petronella’s fifth Doctor togs. Once again, two Osgoods, keeping the planet safe. The greatest cosplayers in the world, and a credit to their species. Double plus Osgood.
The Doctor: “You’ve said that the last 15 times.”
Perhaps their standing proof of the Doctor’s ability to leave behind good on Earth instead of pain might convince Lady Me to lay off? Doubtful though. We won’t find out for another two weeks what’s happening there though. Next week is the Gatiss penned “found footage episode,” and our first stand alone episode of the season.