Monday, 9 November 2015

Review: Doctor Who - The Zygon Inversion

The world wide threat of last week is subverted here in the surprising and suitably-titled 'The Zygon Inversion'...

'This is a scale model of war. Every war ever fought, right there in front of you.' 

'The Zygon Inversion' continues Series Nine’s peculiar proclivity for oblique episode titles that we have to deduce the meaning of as we watch. Well, rather than just referring to the subject matter, 'The Zygon Inversion' surely applies to the whole ethos of the episode - a fantastic piece of television which inverts your expectations at every turn. 

Firstly, it swaps the globe-trotting aspects of 'The Zygon Invasion' for an increasingly scaled-down version of the conflict (we never even see the episode's potential big action set piece - the Doctor escaping the plane with his Roger Moore-esque union jack parachute). Likewise, last week's callbacks to real world politics are perhaps wisely toned down here to be replaced by the evergreen nature of war and the difficulty of holding peace. Half the episode is set in the confines of UNIT's Black Archive and centres around a dilemma of both the mind and morals which evokes writers Steven Moffat and Peter Harness' previous works such as 'Kill the Moon' and Sherlock's 'A Study in Pink' - as well as revisiting the themes of 'The Day of the Doctor' in a very satisfying way. 

Zygon fans, however, might be disappointed as the monsters, in their natural form, don't feature all that much for an episode that tells us they are spread throughout the world. However, we do get to see a good Zygon who we sympathize with despite his hideous blobbiness (a welcome change from the 'anything that looks different is evil' trope). And, of course, the nature of the poster person for this Zygon conflict, (Petronella) Osgood, is bravely kept as a mystery, with the issue only being complicated by the end. 

But if the Zygons are short-changed then the series leads certainly aren’t. As Bonnie, Jenna Coleman delivers her most interesting performance all year; giving the warmongering Zygon an icy demeanour and Received Pronunciation are nice touches. In fact, it makes you wish we had Bonnie in the TARDIS all along, supplying a fresh dynamic and allowing Jenna a chance to stretch her acting muscles, a task she clearly relishes here. 

However, while the first half makes you think this will be Jenna's episode, Peter Capaldi then goes and gives his greatest performance in the role as yet. In the aforementioned Black Archive scene, the Doctor's outer, familiar layers – wisecracks, silly accents - peel away until we see a Time Lord weary from all the suffering he has experienced and witnessed. A man who just wants his enemies to see the universe as he does. It is the best moment of his entire era so far and deserves to be remembered as one of the Doctor's definitive speeches alongside Tom Baker's famed 'indomitable' scene. It's utterly mesmerising and moving in equal measure.

Much more low-key and contemplative than expected, with the cast giving it their all, 'The Zygon Inversion' subverts what you think you are going to get at every turn. The cleverest inversion is surely the very fact that we never saw the Zygons themselves 'inverted', turned inside out by Sullivan's gas (any episode that namechecks the unfairly overlooked Harry Sullivan gets my blessing), as threatened. 

Sɿɘnɘqo ƨɘiɿɘƨ ɘʜƚ ɘɔniƨ ɘboƨiqɘ ƚƨɘniʇ ɘʜƚ ƨɒw ƨiʜt. How's that for an inversion?

Clara is captured by Zygons (or is it Bonnie with her minions?) in this episode that keeps you on your toes.
Next week: 'You must not watch this. I'm warning you. You can never unseen it.' Don't miss 'Sleep No More', Saturday 14th, 20.15PM. BBC One. 

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