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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Doctor Who blogging: “The Zygon Inversion”

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[previous: “The Zygon Invasion”]

warning: spoilers!

I feel like we have finally met Peter Capaldi’s Doctor for the first time. At last.

This was an incredible episode. Okay, the last 15 minutes were incredible. It was a bit of filler getting to that point, but even the filler had some good stuff: Osgood getting to hang out with and help the Doctor, almost like a companion; the sad Zygon so terrified it commits suicide, surprisingly poignant; Jenna Coleman showing off how good an actor she actually is with hard, callous Zygon Bonnie, who looks so very unlike Clara, for all that the Doctor can say that he “knows that face.” All so much better — smarter, more emotional, more cohesive as a story — than almost anything we’ve seen out of Doctor Who in years.

And then we get to this:

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A “scale model of war.” A game show with deadly consequences. (And that’s a nice touch, considering that Truth or Consequences was actually a game show.) Sure, what follows from here is little more than the Doctor monologuing — or, perhaps more precisely, drawing Bonnie through a Socratic dialogue on the nature of war, and its follies. But it’s brilliant. It’s powerful. It’s the Doctor actually using his pain and his past to try to influence events for the better (like he didn’t do with, say, Ashildr). The Doctor rages here, and it’s very moving. I feel like Capaldi is actually engaged with the Doctor here in a way that he hasn’t been up till this moment.

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This is dynamic. This is the Doctor caring like we have not seen from this Doctor at all until this very moment. Capaldi actually looks different, more alive, than we’ve seen him before.

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This is the Doctor I know and love. His face has changed, but this is the Doctor, finally. I’m so happy to meet him.

I don’t know why he goes here, however: “I let Clara Oswald get inside my head. Trust me, she doesn’t leave.”

We don’t have any basis for understanding what he means. Clara has been so inconsistent a character since her introduction that what he could mean by this is a mystery. It’s very frustrating! It’s also very frustrating wondering just why the hell UNIT would give access to its Black Archive to Clara; what is so special about Clara that she is trusted by UNIT over UNIT itself? There are entire swathes of Clara’s story that are vital, and missing, and that we’re never going to get. Probably because Steven Moffat thinks he’s already given us what we need.

It’s clear that Clara’s endgame is upon us, though. What’s with this look that he gives Clara

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after he says that it was a long “month” during which he believed Clara was dead? Like Clara herself, we would have thought that it was “only five minutes.” He knows something she doesn’t know. Does he merely mean that the “15 times” that he had to play the Osgood Box game show mostly occurred before he learned Clara was still alive? Or is there more to it?

Random thoughts on “The Zygon Inversion”:

• I noted in the last episode how all the major speaking roles apart from the Doctor were played by women. That is almost the case here, and it culminates in a very important moment:

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It is two women — Kate and Bonnie — representing entire races of beings, human and Zygon. Women are neutral here in a way that we hardly ever see, including hardly ever on Doctor Who. Women are stand-ins for everyone in an argument that is meant to have universal application. This is extraordinary… especially considering that cowriter Peter Harness is the one responsible for doing the exact (and stereotypical) opposite in “Kill the Moon,” in which women characters were engaged in an argument that had specifically female ramifications.

• How many times is Clara going to get trapped in her own head?

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There was also the time she didn’t realize she was a Dalek, the time she thought she was having Christmas with Danny but it was actually an alien facehugger eating her brain…

• I really would like to know why this Zygon liked living in a grungy council flat so much.

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I understand that he didn’t want to be outed, because he feared for his own life if that were to happen, but what is it like being a Zygon disguised as a human on early 21st-century Earth? How is it preferable to whatever other options they might have (such as going home, or if they can’t go home, why not)? How are they spending their time? Are some of them having a better experience than others — like, living more comfortably — and is that engendering jealousy?

I don’t mean this as a negative criticism of the episode, just an indication that there’s clearly more to the story and we didn’t get it all here. (Hooray! There’s room for fan fiction in Doctor Who again.)

• Space Invaders T-shirt. Heh.

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Nice touch.

• Oh dear. This is some rather unfortunate imagery

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in light of the recent disaster/terrorist bombing in Sinai.

• The Doctor drives!

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I’m trying to remember that last time we saw the Doctor driving. Did Matt Smith drive a big Cadillac around Utah? Or did we only see him sitting on it? I can’t recall.

• The safe with Osgood’s laptop in it is hidden behind a portrait of the first Doctor:

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Except he didn’t have any dealings with UNIT. I don’t know how they would even know what he looked like.

Speaking of:

• The board behind the Doctor in the Black Archive features photos of past companions:

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Though why these would still be considered active enough to be on a board like this is mysterious. Peri is probably long considered a missing person, since she never returned to Earth after her travels with the Doctor. If UNIT has had any contact with Tegan (and it’s plausible to assume that it has), then she would have told them that Adric is dead and Nyssa is no longer traveling with the Doctor and is in a place and time where she won’t appear on Earth again. We can presume that UNIT has regular contact with Sarah Jane (who could certainly still be alive even though Lis Sladen has died). The Brigadier is long dead. (I can’t readily identify the others.)

Unless all these people have somehow turned up in London recently…? (Fan fiction!)

More speaking of old companions:

• “The imbecile’s gas” is how the Doctor refers to the anti-Zygon gas that Kate Stewart confirms was Harry Sullivan’s. (Actually, she says only “Sullivan’s,” but that’s enough. I had guessed during the previous episode that it had to be Harry who developed it: he was a medical doctor and was involved in the Doctor’s attempts to thwart the previous Zygon invasion in the 1970s (or was it 80s?). And he was a bit dense and stolid, just the sort of medical man you might imagine could forget the Hippocratic oath in order to concoct a deadly nerve agent. Very early on in Harry’s travels with the Doctor, the Doctor called him “an imbecile,” and I wouldn’t have imagined the Doctor had ever changed his mind about Harry. And now we know that’s true: the Doctor still thinks of him as an imbecile.

• Why don’t I ever get phone calls like this?

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Why is the Doctor never asking me, “Do you want to come along?”

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Dammit.

• Great quotes:

“You’re talking nonsense to distract me from being really scared. It’s one of your known character traits.” –Osgood, to the Doctor

“You spend an awful lot of time here [in London], considering it’s a dump.” –Osgood, to the Doctor (This is true. Time to spend some time away from Earth, Doctor…)

“Five rounds, rapid.” –Kate, explaining how she survived the Zygon (she’s echoing something her father the brigadier once said)

[next: “Sleep No More”]


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  • Stephen Robinson

    UNIT’s photos of The Doctor’s companions raises the larger issue of time travel. Yes, Tegan and Sarah Jane are still alive *now* but how would UNIT know conclusively that the versions of them who traveled with the Doctor might not show up tomorrow in their “future”? And, yes, the same can be said of The Doctor himself. Unfortunately, other than River Song, the series has usually taken a linear approach to time travel. Kate has worked with two separate Doctors but consistent with his timeline. It would be great to hear a reference to an “untold” adventure of, say, the Fourth, Fifth, or Sixth Doctor that Kate has had at some point.

  • Danielm80

    What’s with this look that he gives Clara after he says that it was a long “month” during which he believed Clara was dead? Like Clara herself, we would have thought that it was “only five minutes.”

    I took it to mean roughly the same thing people mean when they say, “I spent a week in Ohio one afternoon.” But if it does mean something more, I look forward to seeing that episode.

  • Tonio Kruger

    SPOILER for The Sarah Jane Adventures episode “The Death of the Doctor”

    RTD hinted at the present lives of several of the Doctor’s former companions toward the end of “The Death of the Doctor” — — the last Doctor Who crossover episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures — when he had Sarah Jane Smith and her companions compare notes about the current whereabouts of said companions after they had met Jo Grant (one of the former companions, natch, for those of you who have never seen a Jon Pertwee episode of the original series).

    Of course, given the differences between Moffat’s and RTD’s approaches to storytelling, I would be very surprised if any of that episode was referenced in future episodes of Doctor Who.

  • RogerBW

    The First Doctor worked with Space Security, which had some personnel in common with UNIT. :-)

    Actually if they’re going to throw in sops to the long-term fans I’d rather it be small visual gags like this, that don’t seriously derail the plot, than major points – I remember Attack of the Cybermen where it was foregrounded, and that just felt as if it were trying too hard.

  • Agreed.

  • Ah, perhaps.

  • So then *all* the past companions should be up there, not only a few!

  • Danielm80

    On the TV show Angel, the title character was more than 200 years old, and there was a library with a whole wing dedicated to files about Angel. In my head canon, UNIT has a special archive with information about the Doctor. They call it the Presidential Library. Each companion has his or her own call number. But when an active UNIT assignment relates to the Doctor and his companions, as it often does, a name may get flagged for further research in the archives.

  • RogerBW

    And the story that flows out of that is that they try to find common factors and build someone up to be a candidate-companion while still being loyal to UNIT…

  • Danielm80

    By the end of the day, we’ll have written an entire episode here on FlickFilosopher.

  • Namnoot

    Anyone who has been paying attention over the last 3 years knows full well why Clara would get inside the Doctor’s head. Why it’s a mystery to anyone is beyond me though the fact you seem to think this is the first good performance Coleman as given might suggest you’re in the Clara-hater (or Clara-dislike if that’s too strong a word) group. I understood immediately what was being said and it also pays off from a moment in Girl Who Died where Clara does get inside the Doctor’s head when she basically coerces him to stay and help the village (which means she’s responsible for Ashildr). The companion photo board was in the Black Archive in Day of the Doctor so that’s nothing new (but nice bit of continuity to see it again). The First Doctor interacted with UNIT during the storyline The Three Doctors and we don’t know what other adventures he might have had with UNIT that were not televised. Or it could have been Osgood’s picture. Remember, she/they is/are a fan.

  • Nathan

    Hopefully that story line would resolve as the “turncoat spy” instead of the “Liar revealed.”

  • Anyone who has been paying attention over the last 3 years knows full well why Clara would get inside the Doctor’s head.

    I know why Moffat wants us to think that Clara has had such an enormous impact on the Doctor. But that is not at all the same thing as having depicting that impact in a way that is emotionally plausible. Which Moffat has not done.

    might suggest you’re in the Clara-hater (or Clara-dislike if that’s too strong a word) group

    And what is wrong with that? No, I don’t like Clara. I’ve made no secret of this. I don’t like her because she’s a badly written character.

  • RogerBW

    There seems to be an assumption in the narrative that we must all regard Clara as wonderful, but (as with so many modern productions) the show has never bothered to give us a reason to feel that way.

  • Radek Piskorski

    I think the Zygon planet was supposed to have been destroyed in the Time War.

  • Radek Piskorski

    And by getting inside his head, I think the Doctor means the way Clara influenced him when he wanted to use the Moment.

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