Sunday, November 8, 2015

High Minded Antiwar Bore On Doctor Who: "The Zygon Inversion!"

The Good: Morality, Direction, Performances, Moments of character development
The Bad: Light on character development, Pacing
The Basics: "The Zygon Inversion" resolves the events of "The Zygon Invasion" surprisingly well!

Every now and then, I have a truly fascinating experience with something I review. That happened today with my review of the latest episode of Doctor Who. The new episode is "The Zygon Inversion" and it is a direct sequel to "The Zygon Invasion" (reviewed here!). It is also, in many ways, that episode's opposite. While "The Zygon Invasion" left me excited and challenged and cursing Doctor Who, I was easily able to admit that the episode was not particularly good (in the course of reviewing it, I kept lowering my ultimate rating of the episode). In other words, I enjoyed the episode on an aesthetic level, but not an intellectual one.

"The Zygon Inversion," on the other hand, I found well-constructed, clear and philosophically important. But, it bored me. Part of the problem is the impact of the set-up episode on "The Zygon Inversion" and it is impossible to discuss "The Zygon Inversion" without some references to how "The Zygon Invasion" ended. "The Zygon Invasion" climaxed with Clara being exposed as a Zygon infiltrator who claimed Clara was dead, shooting at The Doctor and Osgood's airplane. Kate Lethbridge-Stewart was "killed" off in a virtually identical way to Dr. Garner in the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.L episode "Devils You Know" (reviewed here!) two weeks before, leaving genre audiences feeling pretty insulted by two of their favorite shows (and, hey, odds are running pretty high that The Walking Dead is playing the exact same card tonight!). So, going into "The Zygon Inversion," viewers had a pretty good idea that The Doctor would figure out how to save Clara and Kate would be proven to be still alive; all that we had as far as dramatic tension was the reveal of how the obvious plot events would play out.

And the writers and director Daniel Nettheim do a pretty decent job of playing the various elements out. "The Zygon Invasion" might have been an insipid set-up, but "The Zygon Inversion" is an inspired use of the elements left in play.

Opening with Clara waking up in her own nightmare, she begins to realize the connection between her and the Zygon infiltrator goes both ways. Clara is able to exert influence over her doppelganger long enough for The Doctor and Osgood to escape the plane before it is shot down with the replicant's second shot. As The Doctor and Osgood regroup, Clara manages to use the Zygon's body she is tethered to to send a text to The Doctor. Bonnie, the Zygon with Clara's form and memories, continues her relentless hunt for the Osgood Box.

As Bonnie searches for the Osgood Box, The Doctor calls the Zygon high commander and gets Clara to reveal through blinking where she is being held. After a side trip to a hospital where an exposed Zygon is killing people, The Doctor and Osgood make it to the underground facility where Clara was being kept in a Zygon pod, where they are reunited with Kate. But the Doctor and Osgood are too late; Bonnie interrogated Clara to learn the location of the Osgood Box and took Clara with her. The two sides converge in the Black Archive under the Tower Of London where The Doctor has to talk Kate and Bonnie out of activating their Osgood Boxes!

"The Zygon Inversion" is philosophy-heavy and it reminds viewers of some of the best episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Peter Capaldi invites comparisons to Patrick Stewart for the way Capaldi's Doctor suddenly becomes a very talk-heavy philosopher. The world stands on the brink of destruction and a rousing speech is used to change the world. And it works. Peter Capaldi pulls off the emotion of a serious motivational speech without the wit or rancor that has defined much of his tenure as The Doctor so far, while still making it seem like he is the exact same character as he has played for the past season and a half.

The real performance victory in "The Zygon Inversion" comes from Jenna Coleman. Coleman plays both Clara Oswald and Bonnie and she makes both roles pop. As Bonnie, Coleman is able to play menacing, strategic and cold; as Clara, she plays very energetic and alive. There are quick intercuts between Bonnie and Clara at various points in the episode and Coleman's performance is so masterful that just watching the eyes of the person on screen, the character is obvious.

The rest of the performers are good, with Ingrid Oliver and Jemma Redgrave making their recurring guest star roles of Osgood and Kate, respectively, seem effortless to play.

The pace of "The Zygon Inversion" is a little slow and the episode has the feeling of being stretched to meet a minimum time requirement. The whole diversion at the hospital feels very much like filler and for an already short episode, that makes it somewhat less enjoyable.

The result is an episode where the parts work much better than those in "The Zygon Invasion," but the episode feels more tedious and mundane. Still, "The Zygon Inversion" uses the elements left to it well enough that it is far easier to recommend than its predecessor.

For other works with characters who have been replaced, please check out my reviews of:
"In Purgatory's Shadow" - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
"The Man In The Yellow Suit" - The Flash
"Face My Enemy" - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Doctor Who - The Complete Ninth Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the sophomore season of Peter Capaldi as The Doctor here!


For more Doctor Who reviews, please check out my Doctor Who Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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