Doctor Who: The Zygon Invasion / The Zygon Inversion (2015) Review

Doctor Who The Zygon Inversion Regrouping 2

“The Zygon Invasion / The Zygon Inversion” is co-written by Peter Harness and Steven Moffat, and serves as a follow-up story to two previous episodes, “The Day Of The Doctor” and “Death In Heaven“. It explores the fallout of both Osgood’s death and the new Zygon / human peace treaty that the Doctor arranged during the 50th anniversary special. This two-parter feels very reminiscent of the sort of UNIT stories you’d get during the RTD era of Doctor Who (“Aliens Of London“, “The Sound Of Drums” and “The Sontaran Stratagem“): it’s a politically themed action-adventure thriller that makes the villains of the week an allegory for real-world issues. As a globe-trekking adventure, it’s certainly one of the more ambitious stories in Series 9, and it’s a nice step up from Peter Harness’ previous contribution, “Kill The Moon“, which was probably the most average episode of Series 8.

However, “The Zygon Invasion” is a decidedly weaker installment than “The Zygon Inversion”, because of how predictable the plot can be. Clara being kidnapped by the Zygons and replaced by an impostor is treated like a shocking twist at the end of the first episode, when it was actually pretty obvious from the start (there’s no way Clara would ignore a blatant red flag like a little kid being dragged away screaming by his ‘parents’, who are acting like sinister robots). The same can be said about Kate suspiciously finding a sole police officer in the middle of nowhere, amongst a destroyed Zygon settlement, who of course turns out to be a Zygon herself later. The men and women of UNIT also seem to be even thicker than usual in this episode: in one scene, a bunch of soldiers, who already know they’re dealing with manipulative shapeshifters, actually let the Zygons talk them into following them inside of their death trap to die – which is unintentionally hilarious to watch unfold.

Doctor Who The Zygon Inversion Mutually Assured Destruction 5

Compared to the previous three stories (“The Magician’s Apprentice“, “Under The Lake“, “The Girl Who Died“), which have all portrayed our leading man in a very flawed but sympathetic light, the Twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi) is given a more traditionally heroic role in this two-parter. With a full-blown species war about to break out between a bunch of Zygon terrorists and a bunch of trigger-happy humans over control of the planet, the Doctor tries to keep the peace between the two factions, and he often feels like the only sane man in the room besides Osgood. Throughout Series 9, the Twelfth Doctor has clearly matured a lot from his soldier-hating phase last season, since he no longer has any problems working with soldiers whenever the situation calls for it, and that’s especially apparent in this two-parter, where he teams up with UNIT to stop the Zygons (partly so he can keep the humans from doing anything stupid just as much as the Zygons).

The Doctor is forced to work without his usual wingman this time around, since Clara has been kidnapped by the Zygons. Luckily, Osgood does a phenomenal job of filling in her usual role, while also taking the Doctor to task for his own skewed priorities. Twelve is given a stark reminder of what’s at stake for both races, when he tries and fails to talk down a suicidal Zygon whose life Bonnie destroyed. And from there, the climax takes us back to Black Archive, to bring this conflict full circle and recreate the showdown from “The Day Of The Doctor”. With both sides locked into a mutually-assured destruction scenario, and both sides refusing to back down, we’re treated to another rare instance of the Doctor baring his soul to talk some sense into them. What follows is a ten minute long scene of Peter Capaldi giving 100% with his performance, which is easily the most iconic part of this two-parter.

Bonnie tries her best to guilt-trip him, to blame him for all of her atrocities, and she fails when he quite rightly dismisses all of her deflections. He proceeds to verbally eviscerate every bit of propaganda she spouts out, all of her self-righteous delusions of grandeur – exposing her grab for power for what it truly is – and it’s glorious. The Doctor understands the nature of warfare and the full consequences of wanton bloodshed a lot better than she does, so he implores her to break the cycle of violence and revenge, for both herself and her species. We’ve seen the Twelfth Doctor be sassy, short-tempered, and philosophical lots of times, but this scene really makes it apparent just how far he’s willing to go to honor his principles and make the world a kinder place whenever he can, just how passionate he is, and just how much he cares about the people he’s helping, even when it seems like he doesn’t.

Now that the Doctor has gained some closure for his role in the time war and started to make peace with his past, he’s decided to learn from his own failures and use the wisdom that he’s gained from them to keep others from going down the same path he did. And it feels right that Clara should be here to witness this, since she was also there on the last day of the time war, one of the most defining moments of the Doctor’s life. “The Zygon Inversion” winds up being one of the Doctor’s finest hours when it comes to him living up to the standards he set for himself when he chose his name a long time ago. He shows Bonnie mercy and forgiveness, even when most people wouldn’t, and through his empathy he manages to have a positive impact on her. After pestering Osgood all day about whether or not she’s human or Zygon, he also finally accepts that he’ll never know the answer to that question, and that’s alright – a little bit of mystery makes life more fun, after all.

Doctor Who The Zygon Inversion Mutually Assured Destruction 6

Much like in the previous two-parter, Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) is sidelined this week, when she gets kidnapped by the Zygons and replaced by an impostor. She actually spends most of this story trapped as a prisoner inside her own mind, until she uses what she learned from “Last Christmas” to become aware of her surroundings and fight Bonnie for control over her body, so she can help the Doctor. She even manages to save the Doctor’s life at one point: because as it turns out, Bonnie isn’t the only one who can sabotage people from within. Once her Zygon captor becomes aware of her resistance, she decides to pay her a visit, so she can pump her for info about the Doctor’s plans. And from there, we’re treated to the truly surreal sight of Jenna Coleman interrogating herself.

Back in Series 8, Clara gained plenty of experience when it comes to handling interrogations (“Deep Breath“, “Robot Of Sherwood“, “Death In Heaven”), so she goes into this scene feeling pretty confident, calling Bonnie out on all of her bluffs. However, she’s quickly put on the backfoot when she realizes she can’t lie to her – which is basically her secret weapon – and just like that, this scene becomes a lot more tense. Clara is basically all alone with a killer, with no help coming her way any time soon. She puts up a good poker face, but Bonnie holds all the power here and Clara is completely at her mercy, and they both know it. The only thing Clara can do is stall her and buy some time for the Doctor to act against her. Clara doesn’t contribute much to the climax, as the Zygons hold her hostage, but the Doctor does give her some of the credit for their victory. He acknowledges that Clara has helped him to become a better person since they first met: the sort of person who could empathize with Bonnie and talk her down from a figurative ledge.

Petronella Osgood (Ingrid Oliver) made her debut during the original Zygon invasion in “The Day Of The Doctor”, where she gained an alien duplicate, and ever since that day, she and her new sister have been totally invested in helping their species by being the face of the Zygon / human peace treaty. Both of them were let in on the Doctor’s plan, his final fallback option should anything go wrong between the two factions, and now that her sister is dead, the remaining Osgood is determined to carry on their work alone. She plays a vital role in both the plot and the overall themes of this two-parter. She refuses to let anyone know whether she’s human or Zygon, because in her eyes it shouldn’t matter, and she maintains that level of secrecy even from the Doctor.

Osgood is still just as nerdy and eccentric as she’s always been, but she’s also very confident and courageous. She’s really come into her own because of her new purpose in life, which shows in the way she treats the Doctor now. She treats him less like an idol who she looks up to and more like a colleague: she’s more willing to challenge his beliefs and his biases, and she has inside knowledge of the way Zygon culture works that even he lacks. She also serves as a foil to Bonnie: someone who absolutely refuses to let hatred and bigotry give way to senseless bloodshed, even if she has to give her life for her cause. After the danger has passed, she turns down a chance to travel in the TARDIS, which was once her biggest dream, so she can continue to dedicate herself to her mission, as well as keep an eye on Bonnie during her rehabilitation – which signifies that her character growth since her debut is now complete. “The Zygon Invasion” was Osgood’s final appearance in the series to date, so I’m very satisfied to say that it was also the best showcase of her character to date as well.

Doctor Who The Zygon Inversion Smug Bonnie 2

In “The Day Of The Doctor”, the Zygons attempted an invasion of Earth which failed because of the Doctor. But because of the time lord’s efforts, the matter was resolved peacefully and the Zygons were allowed to settle on Earth, so long as they integrated into human society. Problems start to arise when a group of violent radicals try to bring about a Zygon uprising. They want the whole world to themselves – so they can live as their true selves, instead of having to constantly hide in fear of what the humans might do should they discover their true forms – so they wage a war against humanity. This conflict is very obviously an allegory for ISIS and the terrorist attacks that were ravaging the UK during the time this two-parter was written. A scene where the Zygons force Osgood to make a video reciting their propaganda, under threat of death, really drives home that parallel.

Bonnie’s splinter group is a threat to both human and Zygon races, because they’re only acting in their own best interests and not the greater good of their species. They have no problem killing other Zygons who they deem to be traitors for fraternizing with humans or conforming to human society. The pure selfishness of Bonnie’s cult is put on display when she destroys the life of an innocent Zygon just to make a point. She forcibly unmasks him and makes his whole body unstable, so he’ll become a danger to himself and everyone around him. This culminates in a tragic scene where he decides to commit suicide, because it’s better to die at his own hand than be killed by humans, or his so-called ‘saviors’. Bonnie and her gang also plan to do the same to every other Zygon on Earth. They want to radicalize their whole race by turning humanity against them, so they’ll have no choice but to join their revolution.

Jenna Coleman gets to play a double role this week as Bonnie, the leader of the Zygon rebels. Early on, she decides to go undercover, learn her enemies’ secrets and sabotage them from within by posing as a member of the Doctor’s entourage. She does a good job of pretending to be Clara, only slipping up once while the Doctor is around. Once he’s gone, she starts acting more and more out-of-character, being cold and ruthless, because she lacks Clara’s natural warmth. She sends Kate to a trap in New Mexico, and lures many of UNIT’s troops to another trap underground before she shows her true colors. She has a very smug and condescending personality, but she’s also prone to throwing tantrums and smashing things when she doesn’t get her way, which is hilarious.

Nevertheless, she’s still a credible threat since she’s perfectly willing to kill anyone, human or Zygon, to accomplish her goals. She also takes a sadistic glee out of terrifying Clara and putting her in her place during her interrogation, since Clara kept talking back to her. By the climax, things have spiraled well out of Bonnie’s control, but she refuses to accept defeat because she’s come too far to turn back now, until the Doctor manages to do the impossible – he changes her mind. By the coda, there are now two Osgoods again. After her change of heart, Bonnie has decided to work closely with Osgood, so they can improve Zygon / human relations together, and I have some mixed feelings about this outcome. On the one hand, it’s a very appropriate and positive ending for both of their character arcs. But on the other hand, considering how deadset Bonnie was on carrying out a massacre for this entire two-parter, I’m not quite sure I buy her entire worldview changing so quickly after just one speech from the Doctor (albeit a very powerful one).

Doctor Who The Zygon Invasion Kate's Investigation

UNIT certainly have their hands full in this two-parter. They’ve always been a very paranoid organization that’s obsessed with secrecy, because they possess all sorts of dangerous knowledge that could easily bring about the end of the world. The Zygons are arguably more dangerous to them than most other alien races: anyone could be an impostor, and any one of UNIT’s soldiers could fall victim to the Zygons’ emotional manipulation, should they decide to weaponize the faces of their loved ones against them. Their fear of what the Zygons could do with their shape-changing abilities is proven to be completely justified when Bonnie manages to infiltrate their ranks disguised as Clara and gets a whole lot of troops killed before she drops her façade. As a result, the top brass at UNIT are starting to get pretty antsy by the time the Doctor is called in, and the other world leaders we encounter in this story are not much better.

The Zygon rebels are the main threat in this two-parter, but the human supporting characters are not portrayed in the best light either – and I really appreciate the fact that Peter Harness makes it clear this species war is not a one-sided problem. The military leaders (Kate included) are more than a bit bloodthirsty, and they all seem to want to take the easy way out of getting rid of their problems by simply vaporizing them. It’s even implied that humans fired the first shot against the Zygons that started this war. In a Zygon settlement in New Mexico, humans enacted violence upon some Zygons out of xenophobia, once they discovered their true identities. The Zygons decided to fight back, things want way too far way too quickly from there, and the violence and bloodshed eventually spread to other colonies.

Kate Stewart (Jemma Redgrave) and the Doctor are at odds with each other again in this story, because the Zygons really seem to bring out the worst in her. She refuses to entertain the idea of negotiating with terrorists, since she would rather wipe them all out instead, and the Doctor has to repeatedly push her into pursuing peaceful alternatives. When Kate makes the rather unwise decision to go on a mission to a different continent by herself, she’s quickly ambushed by a Zygon. Thankfully, she manages to escape, because she’s really quick on the draw. From there, she’s able to infiltrate the Zygons’ ranks, using the same trick Queen Elizabeth did two seasons ago, and it is very satisfying to see her turn the tables on them when their guard is down.

Throughout this story, Kate seems to get fed up with the Doctor’s stubborn, peacekeeping ways, and seems to regard him as a naïve, pacifistic fool when it comes to the Zygons. During a stand-off with Bonnie in the climax, she gets a much-needed reminder that he’s UNIT most trusted ally for a reason. The Doctor has been through hell all throughout his life, and he’s gained plenty of experience to back-up his philosophies. There’s a reason and purpose behind everything he does, and he makes a lot of hard decisions so other people won’t have to. After realizing the error of her ways, Kate feels more than a bit ashamed of herself. She learns an important lesson about not being stubborn and letting her prejudices get in the way of her better judgment – only for that lesson to be immediately undone when the Doctor decides to mindwipe her a few minutes later. I’ve never had a problem with resetting timelines, but resetting character development has always been a pet peeve of mine, and it is disappointing to see that this growing experience for Kate ultimately won’t stick.

Doctor Who The Zygon Invasion Departure

“The Zygon Invasion / The Zygon Inversion” is helmed by David Netthiem, who takes a very muted and downbeat approach to his direction for this two-parter. He often likes to utilize Dutch angles to give this story an uneasy, off-kilter look, signifying that something is very wrong to the audience long before the characters themselves pick up on it. This decision especially pays-off early on in “The Zygon Inversion”, when Clara is trapped inside of her own mindspace and is slowly becoming aware of her surroundings. He also uses steady cam extensively during combat scenes (and the sequence of Kate exploring an empty town alone in the desert), to place the viewers right in the middle of the action. Location shooting for this story was done in Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands (for the scenes set in Truth or Consequences); the Sennybridge training area in Powys, Wales (for the scenes set in Turmezistan), and Llanedeyrn, Cardiff (for the scenes set in London).

“The Zygon Invasion” is one of those stories like “42“, “The Doctor, The Widow And The Wardrobe“, “Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS” and “Listen“, that has a very striking and distinctive color scheme to it. Red, blue, and green are all sharp colors that contrast each other frequently throughout this story, to elevate an already tense and uneasy mood amongst a hostile environment – especially during the scenes that are set inside the Zygons’ underground lair. Murray Gold’s score is as bold and brassy as usual this week, but it also has a sleek and slightly jazzy tinge to it, to match the main espionage vibes of this two-parter. Tracks like “Deep Cover“, “Just Come Inside“, “This Is Not A War“, and “Defending The Earth” provide plenty of new variations on the Twelfth Doctor’s theme, with the last one in particular being a remix of “Message From Missy” and “Finding The Doctor” from the season premiere.

“The Zygon Invasion / The Zygon Inversion” is a pretty solid two-parter that has its faults (like a predictable plot and a few character turns I don’t quite buy), but it makes up for those shortcomings by really letting the Twelfth Doctor shine as a character, and sending out a positive message about peace and unity that will always be timeless.

Rating: 8/10.

Side-Notes:

Doctor Who The Zygon Inversion Desperation 2

* Osgood visiting the grave of her doppelganger is meant to be a somber moment, but I always chuckle at the close-up shot revealing that the only thing written on the gravestone (in big bold letters) is “my sister“, which is more than a bit bizarre.

* “Any race is capable of the best and the worst, every race is peaceful and warlike, good and evil. My race is no exception, and neither is mine”.

* From Series 7 to Series 9, Jenna Coleman has played Clara Oswald, Clara’s echoes, copies of Clara from different points in her own personal time-stream, and now a Zygon impersonating Clara. This show really likes giving us a whole bunch of Claras.

* “Did you just call yourself Doctor Disco?”

* “Are you enjoying that?” “I snogged a Zygon once. Old habits”.

* Fun fact: as fictional as it sounds, there really is a town called ‘Truth or Consequences’ in New Mexico, that was named after a radio show of the same title back in 1950.

* “The Doctor will go to Turmezistan. Negotiate peace, rescue Osgood, and prevent this war, cause that’s what he does”.

* “Clara, Jac, you stay here. This is your country, protect it from the scary monsters. And also from the Zygons”.

* “I thought you didn’t like being president of the world” “No, but I like poncing about in a big plane”.

* Say what you will about Bonnie’s immaturity, but you’ve got to appreciate how far she plans ahead. She plays Clara, she plays Jac, she plays Kate, and she even manages to play the Doctor for a while. That’s a scarily efficient villain, right there.

* “Any living thing in this world, including my family and friends, could turn into a Zygon and kill me, any second now. It’s not paranoia when it’s real”.

* I imagine the Zygons were surprised themselves that the UNIT troops were that easy to fool. I can buy that the Zygons would be able to emotionally manipulate them into not harming them, even if they already knew their true nature. The humans wouldn’t want to take the risk of shooting them, just in case their instincts were wrong. What I do not buy is that all of them would then decide to follow the Zygons into a really obvious trap, when they’ve been given no reason to trust them whatsoever. At that point, whatever happens next is just natural selection at work.

* “Doctor, what are you doing here?” “Rescuing you. In quite a dashing way, I might add”.

* “But I don’t see how these are duplicates, that’s not how Zygons work. They don’t grow duplicates, they kidnap the originals. So these… these are the humans” Top ten anime betrayals.

* “Oh, no, Miss Oswald, please, please!” “Kill the traitors“.

* “Well, you can’t have the United Kingdom. There’s already people living there. They’ll think you’re going to pinch their benefits”.

* “I’m sorry, but Clara’s dead. Kate Stewart is dead. The UNIT troops are all dead. Truth or consequences“.

* During her assassination attempt, Bonnie lies to Twelve that Clara is dead, and he spends the first ten minutes of “The Zygon Inversion” cycling through the seven stages of grief, before Osgood convinces him that his best friend is still alive. This is the fourth story in a row where the Doctor worries about Clara’s mortality. Series 9 is really laying the foreshadowing on thick that Clara’s going to drop dead soon, isn’t it?

* “You’re talking nonsense to distract me from being really scared. It’s one of your known character traits”.

* “Don’t look at my browser history” “Whoa!” “Yeah, I said don’t”.

* “Why didn’t that Zygon blow us up with her big bazooka?” “She did blow us up with her big bazooka. This is us being blown up with a big bazooka!”

* “The first thing I’d do if I wanted to invade the world would be to kill you. I wouldn’t even let you get talking, like you always do. Bullet between the eyes, first thing. Twelve times, if necessary” Oh wow, Osgood.

* “You’re dead” “Yes, well, I’m dead now, and I think I might be a bit more dead in a minute”.

* “Ah, the mind of Clara Oswald. She may never find her way out”.

* “You spend an awful lot of time here, considering it’s a dump” “I spend an awful lot of time being kidnapped, tortured, shot at and exterminated. Doesn’t mean I like it”.

* “You will answer me, Clara. Truth or consequences, lie and you die, where is it?!”

* I love the look on the Doctor’s face when Kate and the other Zygons show up out of nowhere to lure him into Bonnie’s trap. He’s clearly not buying what they’re selling for a single second.

* “How did you survive?” “Five rounds rapid” Savage.

* “You took it” “Well, you know how it is. Daddy knows best”.

* “Because it’s not a game, Kate! This is a scale model of war! Every war ever fought, right there in front of you! Because it’s always the same! When you fire that first shot, no matter how right you feel, you have no idea who’s going to die! You don’t know whose children are going to scream and burn! How many hearts will be broken! How many lives shattered! How much blood will spill until everybody does what they were always going to have to do from the very beginning! SIT DOWN AND TALK!!!

* “I don’t understand? Are you kidding? Me? Of course I understand. I mean, do you call this a war? This funny little thing? This is not a war! I fought in a bigger war than you will ever know! I did worse things than you could ever imagine! And when I close my eyes I hear more screams than anyone could ever be able to count! And do you know what you do with all that pain? Shall I tell you where you put it?! You hold it tight till it burns your hand, and you say this: no one else will ever have to live like this. No one else will have to feel this pain. Not on my watch!

* “You have a disadvantage, Zygella. I know that face. Gotcha” That callback to Series 5 and the Eleventh Doctor’s era makes me so happy.

* “What happened?” “The same thing that happened to you. I let Clara Oswald get inside my head. Trust me, she doesn’t leave”. Yeah, Doctor, about that…

Further Reading:

Doctor Who The Zygon Inversion Aftermath 2

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3 Responses to Doctor Who: The Zygon Invasion / The Zygon Inversion (2015) Review

  1. Pingback: Doctor Who: Kill The Moon (2014) Review | The Cool Kat's Reviews

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  3. Pingback: Doctor Who: Face The Raven / Heaven Sent / Hell Bent (2015) Review | The Cool Kat's Reviews

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