Doctor Who, Series 9, Episodes 7 and 8, “The Zygon Invasion” and “The Zygon Inversion”
Written by Peter Harness and Steven Moffat (“The Zygon Inversion”)
Directed by Daniel Nettheim
Airs Saturdays at 9pm (ET) on BBC America
Doctor Who’s season of two-parters carries on with the return of the Zgyons, fan-favorite baddies from the classic series who have reared their suction-cupped heads a few times in NuWho. Most memorably, they were at the center of the fantastic 50th anniversary special, “The Day of the Doctor”, and it’s fitting that writers Peter Harness and Steven Moffat intrinsically tie this story to that special. While many were undoubtedly excited to see the shape-shifting villains return, more exciting for this Whovian is the return of Osgood, after her irritatingly-handled murder in “Death in Heaven”. Though in “The Day of the Doctor” she is little more than a stand-in for the fandom, Ingrid Oliver made an impression in the role and it’s satisfying to see her get the hero treatment here.
The premise of this two-parter is fairly straightforward: The peace treaty negotiated in “The Day of the Doctor” is breaking down due to the actions of a splinter cell of extremist Zygons who hope to spark a war between the 20 million Zygons in hiding on Earth and humanity. With Clara sidelined for much of the story and Kate Stewart of UNIT ready to take out all Zygons on Earth if she must, The Doctor and Osgood must find a way to deescalate the situation and save the day. On the whole, while it’s a minor disappointment after the fabulous double dose of Maisie Williams’ Ashildr, this is a solid story and one that lets Jenna Coleman stretch her legs as the dastardly Clara doppelgänger, Bonnie. As is often the case in two-parters, the first is much stronger than the second, with the reveal of Bonnie a pleasant, cliffhanging surprise to end part one, but aside from its tidy ending, part two mostly works as well, continuing the season’s hot streak and positioning series nine as a definite contender in the conversation of best (or at least most consistent) seasons of NuWho.
Where “The Zygon Inversion” falls down is in its climax, The Doctor’s impassioned speech to Bonnie and Kate. Peter Capaldi shone in The Doctor’s quieter moments with Clara and Ashildr in “The Girl Who Died” and “The Woman Who Lived”. Here he’s asked to get shouty and for the most part, it’s nowhere near as effective. Capaldi goes big, giving a theatrical performance that just about works, but then the score comes in and the manipulative, over-the-top strings take the whole scene over the edge. It’s a shame: With better handling, the climax of this two-parter could have been a definitive scene for this Doctor and instead, it trods all over powerful sentiment and Coleman’s strong supporting performance. Also frustrating is the tag, which seeks to give Osgood a happy ending, having Bonnie take on the role of Other Osgood and letting the version we’ve followed throughout the story have a partner once again, but which instead implies that the Osgood callously killed off in series eight is interchangeable with any Zygon, and thus easily replaceable. It’s an unfortunate tag that shows a shocking lack of understanding of the audience’s connection with Osgood (and characters in general) and is perhaps best disregarded.
Fortunately, much of the rest of this story works, and works well. It’s great to have a break from the season’s “Will Clara die soon?” foreshadowing in “The Zygon Invasion” and even with Clara constantly being threatened in part two and The Doctor asserting how important she is to him, “The Zygon Inversion” also feels light-handed on the topic. (The Doctor and his ability to forgive remains center stage, however. Are we headed towards a finale that sees The Doctor faced with needing to forgive someone for killing Clara, or Clara for getting a bit too Doctory, with devastating results?) As mentioned above, Coleman is great throughout and it’s a blast to watch her in a different role, and to see a new dynamic between her and Capaldi. Plus while part two can’t help itself on this front, part one finally gives Kate the chance to stand on her own, keeping any Brig references subtle enough that this fan of the character missed them. Shout-outs to Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart are more than welcome—he’s an all-time top five Companion in this Whovian’s book—but Kate has begun to suffer as a character from Moffat’s unwillingness to let her stand completely on her own two feet. Instead of quoting The Brig’s brilliantly unflappable, “Chap with the wings there, five rounds rapid” from “The Daemons”, why not give Kate her own memorable dialogue?
These episodes don’t have the visual flair of much of the rest of the season, though the red lighting in the Zygon catacombs is a stylish touch, but as a straightforward alien invasion story, this two-parter works. It cleanses the palate after the character-heavy “The Girl Who Died”/“The Woman Who Lived” and distances what appears to be another spooky base-under-siege story, the upcoming “Sleep No More”/“Face the Raven”, from “Under the Lake”/“Before the Flood”. There’s lighthearted intrigue and suspense and the whole affair feels surprisingly low-stakes, and intentionally so. Basically, this is a fun one, and in a season full of dramatic two-parters, that makes for a welcome change of pace.