TV REVIEW: Doctor Who, S9, E8: The Zygon Inversion

With its global scale, excellent pacing and underlying feeling of mistrust and dread, last week’s  Doctor Who impressed. This week, The Zygon Inversion concludes the two-part story and Peter Harness is joined in the writing credits by show-runner, Steven Moffat. This should be a winning combination – but how does the episode fare? Find out what I thought beneath the blurb…

Shapeshifting Zygons are everywhere in the UK, and there is no way of knowing who to trust. With UNIT neutralised, only the Doctor stands in their way. But how do you stop a war? And what can the Doctor do to save his friends?

First up, I have to say that this episode had a very effective conclusion to a cliff-hanger. The direction particularly helped sell the feeling of control and conflict within. Excellent stuff. The resolution managed to provide a way out for the Doctor and Osgood without actually diminishing the threat implied by the conclusion to the previous episode.

Once again, the story is filled with a constant background of paranoia as humans, Zygons and radical Zygons make their appearances. There are several times when it is delightfully unclear who is who within the episode. As with last week, there is what I felt an unnecessary flash-back to explain a character reveal, but that’s a minor point and did not really take me out of the flow of the story this time around.

It’s a delight to see Ingrid Oliver spend time with Peter Capaldi and an interesting relationship develops between the two. One that is clearly based on mutual-respect and a growing trust in the other. Of course, given the “Osgood box” solution that has been the MacGuffin for the story, it’s clear that this trust from the Doctor to Osgood must have been present but the notion that the surviving Osgood may be a Zygon seems to unnerve the Time Lord somewhat.

Ingrid Oliver is wonderful to watch, bringing an intelligence but also the actress’ own underlying wit into the performance. While, as I mentioned last week, I like the character as one of those “drop in and see” type of characters, I would certainly not be averse to the scientist making a few trips in the TARDIS. I think there would be an interesting dynamic between the two – one much more compelling than the very strange obsessive-dependancy that the Doctor currently has with Clara Oswald.

Clara was rather excellent this episode, it has to be said. I’ve always liked Jenna Coleman and the character she portrays, even if I would have liked Victorian Clara to be the one in the TARDIS. In this story, Jenna gets the chance to be delightfully naughty (she never seems actually evil) while attempting to set the world ablaze in a Zygonic tantrum. The scenes in which Clara works from within work well and show that there is something about Clara … presumably the something that causes the Doctor’s odd clinginess to her.

The story features one of those Doctor moments that should go down as a classic. As the climax approaches, the leaders of each side gather around the solution that the Doctor left on Earth … the Osgood box. Why is it called an Osgood box? Well that’s part of the joy of the story! In an effort to prevent escalating the scenario and releasing a toxin deadly to Zygons (Nice “Harry Sullivan is an imbecile!” reference there for us old-time fans) or possibly a signal to revert all Zygons to their natural form, Peter Capaldi delivers a Shakespearean performance that truly captures the attention.

If I were to have a major criticism of the story it would be this. Why did it have to be a Zygon radical faction that was causing the potential end of peace? The story is a clear comment on radicalism, immigration and integration of cultures … and yet the “blame” lies squarely on the shoulders of those entering the borders. This is an odd message as there are always radicals on both sides of the fence. In my eyes, Kate Stewart is as much at fault in this story. Her response is to wish to eradicate the aliens from the world. This is not the rational, scientific Kate we know and respect.

Perhaps I am missing something fundamental here, but surely if you are providing some kind of social commentary in a story it should be a more complete picture of that society.

This rather odd commentary aside, I enjoyed this episode. It wasn’t action-packed but it didn’t need to be. It was a ground-level almost civilian-eye view of society breaking down. At no point did the story’s flow become stunted or feel lacking in any way. Okay, so there’s a MacGuffin to end the threat embedded in the story’s construction but it’s handled remarkably well in this story. The Zygon Inversion and this story as a whole is a very worthy addition to the Doctor Who library in this reviewer’s eyes.

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Rating: 4 /5
Reviewer: WedgeDoc

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