08 November 2015

Doctor Who: Inversion of the Zygons

This latest two-part epic has found praise far and wide, with many already calling it one of the greatest stories of Doctor Who's near-52 year history. I, however, am not so sure.

It's true that I did really enjoy last week's episode, as I noted in my review. This instalment was very much a second part, rather than a second half though. What I mean by that is  that the way the story is being told - even the tone - has changed completely betwee n episodes. Last week, the action was split across three continents and told us a parable about current immigration issues in the world. This week, the story is set almost exclusively in London (what a dump) and conveys the same message - acceptance and thankfulness - but in a totally different way, thanks, I suspect, to the arrival of Steven Moffat and his keyboard.

Moffat sometimes has a tendency to forget his plot and I think it's fair to say that the pacing of this episode is completely different to its predecessor. Here you'll find longer, more dialogue-heavy scenes in the place of the snappier set pieces of Invasion of the Zygons. There's a place for both but the seismic shift took me by surprise somewhat. I'm not saying that this is bad at all, though; far from it.

The centrepiece of this episode is of course the scene in the Black Archive, when both Kate and Bonnie have their fingers on the trigger, almost literally. Although this is a good scene, which has Moffat's paw prints all over it, the execution feels a little off to me. Finally someone stops to ask the villain why they want to destroy mankind but in this case it's perhaps clearer than ever before, making the question a little redundant. The Zygons feel that they have been hidden away, like a dirty secret, only able to assume their true form behind closed doors. They're almost stepping on eggshells. Considering they started out by trying to conquer the planet, I think they've done pretty well to get twenty million of their kind living in peace across its surface. Of course the ideal is living in harmony, but just to spring it on humanity without any kind of consultation just isn't a realistic option.

But back to the scene in question. With the Zygons' aim obvious, more should have been made of the consequences of their potential victory. What kind of structure would take humanity's place? What kind of society would be established to ensure all Zygons were content, and none would start an uprising like Bonnie? This was the meatiest bit of the whole episode, so I thought it was a shame it was almost glossed over, despite being presented as the concept that completely inverted the Zygon's viewpoint.

What Peter Harness, it seems to me now, is really good at is writing about the big issues. In both this story and Kill the Moon he has taken an idea relevant to society at this point in time (abortion/immigration), shown it's relevant to the whole world (the Moon destroying society/a Zygon uprising) and then given a veiled solution. Last time, the human race got to vote whether a dragon thing got to live and Clara overruled them. This time, the conclusion is still about changing the world, but in a drastically different way. A significant number of Zygons are prepared to wipe out the humans, and the resolution is all about changing perceptions, not getting rid of the Zygons. It's getting rid of the threat in a much better way.

This is all a very long-winded way of saying I really admire what the writers were going for here, but I don't think it quite came off. The Doctor was trying to change their minds, because there was no danger they'd do anything given the weapon they thought they had turned out to be useless. It follows, and fits with the arc Peter Capaldi's Doctor seems to be going on this year, but in the end is almost as hollow as the Osgood Boxes themselves. Capaldi gives a great performance here, as pretty much everyone has been saying, but it's a real shame his hair's such a mess.

Another regret I have about this episode is how little time the Doctor and Clara spend together. Jenna Coleman is excellent as Bonnie (though why does she have an RP accent when all the other duplicates are identical?) but this is the third episode in a row where Clara is given a very slim role. Given the upcoming Heaven Sent is also devoid of her, it seems something of a shame that a third of Coleman's final run - marketed as the glory years - stars Clara so sparingly. On a similar topic, there was mercifully little Kate Stewart in this episode.

Story aside, the production of this episode is also to be commended. If ever there was an audition for a James Bond director and composer team, Daniel Nettheim and Murray Gold have given it. This is the most filmic the series has looked since the opening sequence of The Magician's Apprentice and for a very long time before that. Gold's soundtrack didn't quite hit the right notes in the last episode but punctuates the story much more successfully this week. Cinematographer Mark Waters also deserves applause for managing to make this episode so sumptuous, and I hope this isn't his last work for the series.

'Truth or Consequences' is a phrase that's been bandied around a lot in this story, sometimes as an ultimatum, sometimes not. What's frustrating though is how the latter part of that, the consequences, aren't dealt with in this episode. Jac and a helluvalot of UNIT soldiers were killed in the last episode but no-one seems to even think about that here, not to mention the Zygon(s) that died in the plane crash. Also, it was nice to see one of the aliens that just wants to live in peace, but given he's the only one we see (why did Bonnie pick him? And why only him?) it almost feels like he's the token 'look they have feelings too' plot device. It's a little too convenient that he kills himself too, which is strange because Harness doesn't usually take the easy way out.

There are, as always, a few elements that don't ring true but most of them - such as wondering how Clara can afford that flat in London on a teacher's wage - are just me being awkward.

In short, I think this is a very good episode and that it's fantastic that the resolution is such a brave departure from the norm. It's not taken lightly though, and the effort involved with the negotiation is very well conveyed. It does have its shortcomings and I think I like the Harness bits more than the Moffat bits but overall this is a strong entry. Capaldi and Coleman are given refreshingly different material to normal and both shine. I think in this Zygon two-parter we may have seem the archetypal Capaldi/Moffat story; a mixture of kisses to the past - Zygons, the 1973-ness of it all, an RTD-style invasion - and heavy emotional consequences (for the most part).

Great, but not amazing, Invasion/Inversion of the Zygons is probably the strongest showrunner audition we'll see this year.

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