This week marks Remembrance day in the UK and rest of the Commonwealth. A time to remember and pay respect to all those members of the armed forces who gave their lives in service of their country. It’s somewhat timely then that this two-parter tale from Doctor Who looks at both the causes of war and the fallout from it. Actions and repercussions, inevitable no matter how noble the intent. It also sees the return of the shapeshifting Zygons, an alien species last seen in the 50th Anniversary episode, The Day of the Doctor.
The two-parter kicks off with a recap, explaining the fallout from the previous Zygon incursion which resulted in 20 million of the aliens assuming human form and being granted sanctuary on Earth. Their presence controlled by UNIT and the Zygon high council, both together maintaining a tenuous peace. The Doctor is called back to Earth as the ceasefire has been seemingly broken, a Zygon faction inciting rebellion over their true identities being suppressed and the brokers of the peace, the Osgood twins (both Zygon and human) divided, one being killed and the other taken hostage. With the Zygons using their human forms to infiltrate and confuse any response, the Doctor has to somehow salvage the peace accords as fear and anger mount.
The tale itself is an ambitious one. It’s not often you get a recap on Doctor Who but it’s a worthwhile one as it allows Who to tackle some of the weightiest ideas yet on the show and in doing so provides some great material for Capaldi to deal with. “Radicalization of the younger brood” is a line that strikes a chord. A people (aliens to be exact but still) in a sense subjugated and forced to acquiesce to a different set of laws and expectations. A younger generation taking exception to a path they are led down by their elders and striking back. These rebellious Zygons even make and send propaganda/threatening videos. From a kids’ perspective, a sucker covered, shapeshifting alien creature is scary enough but for adult’s watching the hints of ISIL and middle-eastern politics is chilling.
It’s something of a jetsetting episode, feeling large in scope, more like a war film or Bond movie at times with all the intrigue and action. A Whoniverse take on Invasion of the Bodysnatchers, not knowing who to trust and the Zygons using their abilities to assume forms familiar to UNIT troops to play on their emotions. A complex and emotionally unnerving tale; weaving in threads to show the polarizing effects of war, no matter how heavy handed, is just good sci-fi at work. Taking something a little undigestable and merging it with the fantastical to tell a story that seems out of our time but is inherently inspired by it.
The cliffhanger ending for the Zygon Invasion left things looking bleak. UNIT seemingly wiped out, Kate Lethbridge-Stewart seemingly dead and Clara sealed away and her Zygon clone letting off a rocket to take down the Doctor’s plane. How is the Doctor going to get out of this one? The answer of course is by talking. A bluff, aided by two handy props setup to hopefully diffuse the situation. The Osgood Box, well, two of them actually. One for each side, a representative maneuvered into place by the Doctor. Each box has two buttons, one button wipes out your enemy, the other your own kind, you don’t know which. It’s a setup that tests your dedication but the Doctor’s hope is that his impassioned speech is sufficient to pull each party back from the brink. The fact that this tactic has been used 20 times with a memory reset afterwards is a testament to the uncertainty of the brokered peace but also to the Doctor’s enduring faith in people (aliens) to make the right choice when it comes down to it. The Doctor’s an optimist, who knew!
His impassioned speech in The Zygon Inversion showed the truth behind the Doctor, for all the smarts and bravado he bottles up an incredible amount of fear and compassion. He’s seen so many terrible things, the reality of War having hit home, literally. Its a defining scene for Capaldi’s Doctor. Jenna Coleman puts in double time as both companion Clara and Bonnie, her clone which requires some subtle and unsettling changes to her character that provided a great foil for the Doctor. Most fantastic is the return of Osgood, long thought vaporized by Missy. This audience surrogate has always embodied the biggest Whovian among us, small touches to her outfits paying homage to various incarnations of the Time Lord. But more than this she is an intelligent character that proves herself to such an extent she is offered to join the Doctor as a companion, sadly declining due to her responsibilities on Earth. Ingrid Oliver plays this character with such joy, intelligence and emotion that the clamor for her to join the show full time is understandable.
This two-parter will be remembered for a few things but most notable is Capaldi’s performance, an era defining one. The fact it’s in the middle of a classic sci-fi tale of shapeshifters and ensuing mistrust is a bonus. Mix in a few ‘on-the-nose’ barbs about current international politics and you have a rather memorable installment indeed.