This week’s review, The Zygon Inversion, was an episode that had many fans calling for Peter Capaldi to be given an Oscar (shouldn’t that be another Oscar?). But let’s delve a little deeper into this story and see if the two-parter really paid off everything it planted and if it truly satisfies.
I have to begin by saying that, like almost everyone else, I was blown away by Capaldi’s performance in this episode, by his passion, his energy, and his sheer screen presence. In the climactic monologue of the episode, he pretty much cemented himself in many minds as one of the best actors to portray the character of the Doctor – and that’s saying an awful lot. Indeed, after that one scene I was left buzzing for hours and was willing to overlook some of the issues the episode had. But then that would make for a very short article, so let’s not do that.
Jenna Coleman continued to give a top class performance herself and it is a little sad that she is getting looked over by so many. She had the task of portraying a multi-layered character, one who was not only Clara, but also a Zygon replica, one who was struggling to raise a rebellion, to free their people, and make history. She managed to showcase not only that she was ruthless and calculating, but there was also the naiveté of a young revolutionary who hasn’t thought things through to the end. For all the talk of glory in battle, the result would simply have been death, bloodshed, and loss – this is where the Doctor manages to get her to turn.
Indeed, Clara’s sidelining this series continues to worry me. We had a bit more of her this week and got to see her strength of will, ability to break out of being controlled, and her sheer determination. However, so much of it was buried under everything else that was going on in the episode. Again, like I said last week, I worry that if the story arc they are going with for Clara is to pan out – that she is headed down a dark path where she becomes the manipulative evil mastermind – the lack of screen time and development is going to be a problem. Let’s hope we get to see more of her in the next few weeks, and that we get more inside her head – metaphorically this time.
One of the concerns I had had in the first part of this story was that the Zygon’s side of the issue wasn’t really given a fair amount of screen time. We didn’t see Zygons who wanted to live in peace, we didn’t see any of them struggling with the issues the rebels raised, and we didn’t take their perspective seriously. There were some attempts this week to address this, but I felt like it fell a little short of the mark. We see one Zygon forced into being revealed to humanity, we see them struggling and hurting at having their wishes violated. We see how scared they were of being discovered. That was an issue I wanted more development for.
Even in the Doctor’s dramatic monologue in which he gives the rebellion a dressing down, there’s an implicit dismissal of their concerns and grievances. I was left thinking that maybe they had a point – they were being forced to hide, to pretend, and to lie about who they were, and it was all out of fear. The whole peace treaty, the Osgood boxes, and what they contained – it was all a gigantic illusion of fear. The fear of war, and the fear of annihilation. An illusion, yes, but the fear was what mattered.
Doctor Who always deals with political issues, sometimes consciously, sometimes not. Here in this two-part story we see a very clear analogy for current attitudes towards immigration, Islam, and extremism. The fact that the ceasefire has apparently broken down multiple times before perhaps exposes how weak the policy of fear is and I would like to have seen the Doctor comment on this a bit more.
In his great speech, the Doctor refers to the feeling of guilt, regret, and pain and how he doesn’t want anyone else to feel like this again. Giving people the opportunity to feel like that, doesn’t seem like a good way of doing that to me. However, I got the impression that this was the first time the rebellion leader, Bonnie, had chosen to stand down and that this was the Doctor’s source of hope.
There are some tremendous positives that have also come out of this episode, don’t get me wrong. The cast was almost entirely female, and given the rough ride women have had under Steven Moffat’s tenure, this is perhaps a sign of better days ahead. Jemma Redgrave continues to perform Kate Stewart with perfection and I really want to see more of her; there’s definitely something of the Brig still in her and I hope they let it out in future.
However, here are a couple of other nitpicks I could make. Osgood seemed to work out that Clara was still alive in frightening detail rather quickly. The Doctor even gave her a suspicious look when she did so, but this never seemed to come back as a plot point. Moreover, why did nobody who saw the man turning into a Zygon react at all to him? Why did the police not react at all to the Doctor and Osgood? Again, we assume they too were Zygons, but this was left hanging in mid-air. It’s one thing to let the audience work it out for themselves now and again, but it’s another to come across as forgetful of plot points, which is how these bits came across to me.
Overall, though, I was pleased with the story. Political issues aside, it was an exciting and dramatic tale that pushed all of the actors to achieve better things, and they all did. I feel like I should start doing rankings for episodes, star ratings and such. Maybe next year, it’s a bit late now.
Next week, Mark Gaitis tells us to Sleep No More.