Sunday 8 November 2015

Miss Zygon

Two part stories haven't really fared terribly well this season. There haven't been any that have been completely and utterly disastrous, although The Woman Who Lived, while not strictly a two-parter, was something of a damp squib. So, after such a strong episode last week, I was more than a little trepidatious about how The Zygon Inversion would fare.
Following on from the superb cliffhanger at the end of The Zygon Invasion, the Doctor and Osgood are unceremoniously blown out of the sky, although as we see, they parachute to safety, with the Doctor, rather brilliantly, using a ‘Bond-esque’ Union Flag parachute as “camouflage”. Blending in is something the Doctor has never been terribly adept at, and Twelve is certainly no exception! As a side note, it is pleasing to see a realistic resolution to the events of the previous episode, rather than resorting to a “timey-wimey” solution or badly misplaced Zygon doubles.
In a London shopping centre. an unnamed man is approached by the ISIS styled 'Truth or Consequences' Commander, who is donning Clara's body print and is, somewhat inexplicably, calling herself  'Bonnie' (I would have gone with Zara!). Against his will, she "sets him free" by forcing him to reveal his true Zygon persona. Credit must go to the make up department for these scenes, as the half Zygon, half human form is a horrifying sight, and one which is, perhaps, best suited to the later time slot which seems to be plaguing the series thus far.

One of Moffat's trademarks has always been the use of telephones. He used them to great effect in The Empty Child and Blink, and they span across many of his other series, including Joking Apart. Given he co-wrote this episode, it comes as no surprise that they come into play here, with Clara, who, linked to her Zygon counterpart, sends a text message to the Doctor, informing him that she is "awake". It takes Osgood to realise that this means she is still alive, and they head off to London in pursuit of both Clara and the Osgood Box.
Meanwhile, Bonnie is at UNIT HQ, where she retrieves a laptop from a safe, neatly concealed behind the portrait of the First Doctor, as seen in the previous episode. While I doubt the allusion was intentional, the idea of the "Original" keeping watch over things; keeping us ‘safe’ is rather pleasing, and was, for me at least, a surprisingly poignant moment.
In scenes which are reminiscent of the manipulative nature of the Seventh, the Doctor engages in some small mind games with Clara and Bonnie, imploring Clara not to tell the Zygons about the Osgood Box or its location.
Underground, Clara is awakened from her cocoon by Bonnie, and the scenes with the synchronised heartbeats indicating truth or lies work surprisingly well. Jenna Coleman acquits herself reasonably well as the sinister Bonnie, although occasionally lacks the gravitas to fully engage with her darker counterpart. Curiously, it is, perhaps, one of her strongest portrayals of Clara to date, and in her “regular” role, she performs admirably.

Meanwhile, back at the shopping centre, the Doctor and Osgood are attempting to help the half human, half Zygon. This, along with another scene, which we will come to shortly, was, for me, one of the highlights of the episode. The body-horror is shocking, somewhat reminiscent of the Brundleflly (from the the Goldblum film, The Fly), and, to paraphrase the Fourth Doctor, is a grotesque parody of the human form. The Zygon's desire to simply be happy and live his life in peace, free from taking sides, is a truly poignant moment. I had never imagined that I would empathise with a Zygon, but his struggle to retain his humanity is genuinely very moving. In a rare and brave piece of scripting, he elects to commit suicide, rather than live in his true form, or allow himself to be killed. There have been suicides in Doctor Who in the past (Image of the Fendahl), and it is a subject the series has always handled with dignity. It is gratifying that this episode is no exception.
It is soon revealed that Kate Lethbridge-Stewart survived her encounter with the Zygon in the town of 'Truth of Consequences' by killing the creature with 'five rounds, rapid', a line previously used by her father in The Daemons. Reusing previously spoken dialogue is a risky business, and one which doesn't always pay dividends. "You've redecorated, I don't like it" has been used ad nauseum, and has lost much of it’s humour or impact. And yet, here the reuse of the line works beautifully, and immediately evokes memories of the much loved, and much missed Nicholas Courtney. Similarly, it was a joy to hear the Z67 gas referred to as “Sullivan’s Gas”, as whilst alluded to in the previous episode, it was never specifically stated that it was Harry Sullivan behind it’s development.

The highlight of the episode, however, must surely be the scene in the Black Archive and, in particular, the Doctor's speech. Capaldi absolutely smashes it! It is easily the defining moment of his tenure (so far), and is arguably one of the most defining moments of the whole of the New Series. Yes, it really is that powerful!
The Doctors soliloquy echoes the anger of the Seventh and Ninth Doctors, particularly when the subject of the Time War is raised. Whilst his speech is protracted and lengthy, it doesn’t outstay its welcome, and is utterly compelling, raising questions many of us ponder in relation to the Middle East. It is gripping, contemporary, and relevant, as the Doctor attempts to broker a diplomatic peace treaty over militaristic violence, a characteristic most commonly attributed to the Third Doctor.

It rapidly becomes clear that Bonnie is, effectively, little more than a petulant child, and the dilemma presented by the Doctor, in which the two buttons in each of the Osgood Boxes represent a scale model of war again, again echo the current geopolitical climate, and with Remembrance Sunday following on the day after airing, serve as a stark reminder of the atrocity and futility of war.
Capaldi is positively on fire in this episode, wringing out every ounce of emotion with passion and conviction. His forgiveness of Bonnie is a truly special moment, while his sadness and anger at the lives lost in the time war are palpable to the point of heart-breaking.
In last weeks review, I mentioned that I found it inconceivable that The Zygon Invasion was written by the same person who spewed out Kill The Moon; after this week, I'll forgive him for that one! Harness and Moffat have crafted an exciting, relevant and well rounded episode. It's a moralistic tale, but one which is substantially more subtle than its predecessor. The script is powerful, suffused with humour in all the right places, and above all it just works.

The episode isn't entirely flawless. I still find the design of the Zygons to be a somewhat exaggerated representation of their classic design, and personally I would have liked to have seen more of UNIT, and particularly Kate, who I felt was somewhat underused. Similarly, Coleman did falter a little when it came to portraying the more sinister aspects of her Zygon counterpart. These are, however, largely insignificant issues, and are more than made up for by the strong storyline and a truly exemplary performance by Peter Capaldi. Equally, the supporting cast, whilst occasionally underused, excel in every scene, and it is a delight to spend more time in the company of Ingrid Oliver, who plays the immensely likeable Osgood, or rather, Osgood’s!
So, how do I score the episode? That's easy. Despite a few minor flaws, it earns a well deserved 10/10..!  It is, by far, my favourite story of Capaldi's tenure, comfortably surpassing the outstanding Flatline, and is arguably one of my favourite episodes since the season returned in 2005. As many of you know, I've been extremely critical of Moffat at times, however this is on a par with The Empty Child, School Reunion or Vincent and the Doctor, all personal favourites of mine. Capaldi is absolutely THE Doctor, in every sense of the word, and in this episode, it feels as if he has truly come of age. His performance is utterly captivating, from his gentle, compassionate interactions with Osgood, and with the half human, half Zygon, to his impassioned desire for peace, or his righteous, embittered anger and sorrow at the devastation of the Time War. He manages to capably channel elements of his former selves, whilst remaining true to his Doctor.
I've said on many occasions, that since his debut in Deep Breath, Capaldi is magnificent, but that we've barely scratched the surface. With the extraordinarily powerful performance from tonight's episode, I think we are now seeing exactly how capable he is. He dances carefully between sadness and anger, with nuanced humour and an extraordinary ability to convey compassion, anger or sorrow with subtle facial expressions.
Harness and Moffat have written something truly special with The Zygon Inversion, and it is, for me, the best episode of the season, and a strong contender for one of the finest since the series returned, way back in 2005!

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