Monday, November 9, 2015

Doctor Who Season 9, Episode 8: The Zygon Inversion

This week Doctor Who wraps up its latest two part story, with mixed results. 

In most of the two parters this season, the first half has been all set up while the second half was more action packed. These two episodes are just the opposite. You might even say they've been... inverted!

This episode contained a lot of filler as the writer seemingly realized he didn't have enough material for two parts, and so had the characters kill time as they waited for the Doctor's big speech in the third act. The Clara vs. Bonnie bits were nice of course, but they weren't absolutely necessary to the plot, and could have been left out. Same goes for the Doctor's interaction with Osgood after the plane crash. And that bit where Bonnie forces a disguised Zygon to reveal his true form? That entire sequence was nothing but pure filler.

I really had no idea how they were going to resolve the complicated Zygon situation in just forty five minutes. I kind of thought they might use Harry Sullivan's secret gas to turn the Zygons inside out (hey, more inversion). I certainly didn't foresee the Doctor's solution to be simply talking the Zygons out of war. 

Last week's episode was very clearly based on real-world events, specifically terrorist groups like ISIS. Somehow I doubt that this episode's solution to the problem— giving the terrorists a good talking too until they trust the other side— would work in reality. I don't see an ISIS terrorist recognizing that his actions are simply causing the very violence and pain he's fighting against and standing down.


The Plot:
Clara, who's been captured by Zygons and kept unconscious in one of their duplication pods, wakens in a dream version of her apartment. She can somehow see what's happening in the real world on her dream TV set. She sees the Zygon Leader who's taken her form (and inexplicably named herself "Bonnie") aiming a rocket launcher at the Doctor's plane. Because they share a limited psychic connection, Clara makes Bonnie miss her first shot, which gives the Doctor and Osgood time to jump out of the plane with parachutes.

Bonnie then pads out the screen time by forcing a Zygon disguised as a human to revert to his true form. She records the incident and uploads it to the internet, in a puzzling subplot that goes absolutely nowhere. Clara uses her psychic connection to cause Bonnie to text the Doctor and tell him she's still alive.

Bonnie senses Clara's awake, and forces her to reveal where the location of the Osgood box (which can end the war between Humans and Zygons). Clara is compelled to tell her that it's in UNIT's Black Archive, under the Tower Of London. Bonnie 

The Doctor and Osgood, who survived the plane explosion, are captured by a Zygon disguised at Kate Stewart. She takes the two to the Black Archive as well. Once inside the Archive, Kate kills her Zygon guards, revealing that she's really human. 

Bonnie arrives at the Black Archive and discovers there are actually two Osgood boxes, one red and one blue, each one containing two buttons labled "Truth" and "Consequences." She calls the Doctor and asks him what's going on. He tells her that one box is for Humanity, and the other for Zygons. The Human box will either kill all Zygons by releasing the Z-67 gas, or it'll kill everyone in London with a nuclear bomb. The Zygon box will either make them all revert to their true forms for an hour (exposing them and forcing them to fight in the rebellion) or trap them in human form forever.

Bonnie has Clara removed from her pod to ask her which button to push, but she honestly doesn't know. Kate and Bonnie then stand before their respective Osgood box, each ready to push one of the buttons.

The Doctor then delivers an impassioned speech to try and talk both sides out of starting a war. He brings up his experiences in the Great Time War, which apparently convinces Bonnie to stand down. The Doctor then admits that the boxes are really empty, and this is the fifteenth time they've been through this! He says in order for the Osgood boxes to have a chance at deterring war again, he's wiped the memories of both sides each time they've been used. 

He wipes Kate Stewart's memory of the event, but not Bonnie's. He allows her to keep her memory intact, so she can use her newfound outlook to keep the peace. She then takes the form of Osgood, so there's now two of them again. The Doctor asks the other Osgood if she's Human or Zygon, but she still refuses to answer, saying it doesn't matter.

• Gosh, the titles of this two part story (The Zygon Invasion and The Zygon Inversion) won't be confusing at all, will they? Who thought this was a good idea?

• The Doctor and Osgood's last second escape from the exploding plane was groan-inducing and felt like a cheat. Not that I expected (or wanted) the characters to die, mind you, but surely there had to be a better way to save them than jumping out of the plane in parachutes?

This episode really underscores how silly it is that the Doctor doesn't have any way of remotely summoning the TARDIS. Jesus, the thing can travel anywhere in time and space, but he can't push a button and make it appear next to him?

Dramatically I understand why they don't do this. If the Doctor can call the TARDIS and leap into it at any time, then the writers will never be able to place him in any danger. But realistically (!) it makes absolutely no sense that he doesn't have a TARDIS remote.

Like the various Star Treks, Doctor Who is a victim of its own technology. The Doctor has so many magical gizmos at his disposal that it's hard to actually place him in any danger. There are too many ways for the Doctor to win without artificially stacking the deck against him, which is usually awkward and obvious.

• By the way, what a lucky break that the Doctor and Osgood were able to parachute from the plane just in time. Too bad about the pilot, co-pilot, navigator, stewardesses and various other crew on the plane though, who all apparently perished. But hey, the Doctor survived, so that's all that matters.

One last thing about the parachutes. The Doctor's Union Jack 'chute is a nod to the one used by James Bond in The Spy Who Loved Me.

• The Doctor and Osgood steal a van to get away from a group of Zygon cops. It looked odd to see the Doctor actually driving a car, and I wondered where and when he learned. Then I remembered that the Third Doctor often drove an antique car he called "Bessie," as well as a futuristic one that fans dubbed the "Whomobile."

The Whomobile wasn't built by the BBC, but was commissioned by actor Jon Pertwee, who played the Third Doctor, for use on Doctor Who. He kept it after he left the show and would drive it to charity events. Supposedly it had a top speed of 105 mph!

• Osgood's first name is "Petronella," which explains why she always goes by her last name.

• The Doctor tells Osgood, "You know I'm over two thousand years old. I'm old enough to be your messiah." I bet that line causes a few wigs to flip! Maybe not so much in England, but definitely here in 'Murica.

• What was the point of the subplot where Bonnie forces the Panicky Guy to transform back into his true Zygon form? It seemingly existed solely to eat up screen time.

The first time I saw the scene I thought Bonnie was somehow transforming a Human into a Zygon. After watching a second time I realized she was forcing a disguised Zygon to revert to his true form. And what was the point of Bonnie recording his change? To sow seeds of Zygon hate among humans? Nothing about it was very clear, and then it was dropped and never mentioned again.

• The idea of Zygons happily posing as Humans and fitting into our society is a little suspect. Are we really to believe they'd so willingly strip themselves of every bit of their identity and culture just to fit in?

Whether it was intentional or not, that raises some pretty ugly views on immigration. "Them people's welcome to live here as long as they give up their weirdo ways and act just like us."

• Jenna Coleman did an amazing job of playing both Clara and Bonnie here. I actually forgot I was watching the same person!

• During her interrogation, Bonnie uses Clara's heartbeat to tell if she's lying. Whoops! Although that's one of the ways a lie detector works, the machines are considered so unreliable that their results aren't admissible in court. I guess it must have been close enough for Bonnie's purposes.

• When the Doctor asks Kate Stewart how she escaped from the Zygon in New Mexico, she says, "Five rounds, rapid."

That line is associated with Kate's father Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, who said it in the 1972 episode The Daemons.

• Speaking of Kate, last week I mentioned that actress Jemma Redgrave seemed like she was on the verge of falling asleep in the middle of her scenes. She did the same thing this week as well. She seemed flat and unenergetic, like she'd just chugged a gallon of Nyquil. She finally perked up a little bit during the Doctor's speech, but not much.

I don't remember he being so lethargic in previous appearances. Is she ill or something?

• So what was the deal with the Zygon's "Truth Or Consequences" motto? Last week it seemed like an attempt at giving them their own battle cry, ala the Daleks' "Exterminate!" and the Cybermens' "Delete!"

This week the phrase was all but forgotten. Yes, it was engraved in the Osgood boxes, but I don't remember hearing any Zygons say it in this episode.

• UNIT's Black Archive was first seen in The Day Of The Doctor. In this episode the archive seems to house a Mire helmet, last seen a couple weeks ago in The Girl Who Died. So did the Mire return after all, as they threatened?

• Last week the inventor of the Z-67 gas was only hinted at, but this week they confirmed it was the Doctor's former companion Harry Sullivan.

• Last week we didn't get a very clear look at the Osgood Box, but it kind of looked like The Moment from The Day Of The Doctor. This week we got a really good look at the two Osgood Boxes, and they do indeed look less slightly less complicated versions of The Moment.

• Everyone and their dog are universally praising Peter Capaldi's acting ability during his impassioned speech at the end of the episode. And they're right, he is an amazing actor, and this was probably his best moment on the series so far. And therein lies the problem (for me, anyway). 

Capaldi's excellent acting felt like acting. He was like some Shakespearian actor treading the boards in a play, wringing every drop of emotion from the carefully crafted words as he belted out his soliloquy to the people in the rafters.

I've never been a fan of this type of intense, shout-at-the-top-of-your-lungs acting. The whole point of acting is that the audience shouldn't be aware that they're seeing someone act You should feel you're watching a real person speaking, not a character saying lines. I freely admit this is probably my problem more than Capaldi's.

• At the end of the episode the Doctor seems quite pleased with himself that he prevented a Human/Zygon war with a couple of empty boxes and the power of a rousing speech. Then we find out that this is the FIFTEENTH time that relations between the two races have broken down and he's had to fix things. Suddenly his plan doesn't seem so successful after all, does it?

If your car had a faulty engine and the mechanic "repaired" it fifteen times, you wouldn't consider the problem was fixed, would you? Seems like maybe it's time the Doctor tried a new solution.

By the way, we're told the Zygons have been secretly living on Earth for two years now. If this really is the fifteenth time war's been averted, that means the Doctor's had to intervene every 1.6 months!

• So after the crisis is averted, the Doctor wipes Kate's memory of it, but doesn't wipe the Zygon Leader's (aka Bonnie). Note that he says he isn't wiping her memory this time, implying he's probably done so before.

If this really is the fifteenth time this has happened, does the Doctor only wipe the minds of whoever's in the Black Archive? Or does he somehow wipe the minds of every Human and Zygon soldier involved as well? Because if not, what's to stop a Zygon soldier from asking, "Say Leader, we were all set to attack the Humans until you went into that bunker and then came out and called off the attack. Why do you keep doing that every couple of months?"

• Ever since Osgood was first introduced, her shtick has been that she's a fan of the Doctor and knows everything about him. She even incorporates elements of his past incarnations' clothing into her wardrobe. So suddenly she doesn't know what the letters in TARDIS stand for?

• OK, I get that Osgood's constant smug avoidance at answering the question of her race was supposed to be a commentary that such issues don't matter, but it bordered on the annoying. Keep your goddamned secret to yourself then!

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