Oh me of little faith. After lambasting the overstuffed and eventless “The Zygon Invasion” last week, my expectations for this week were rock bottom. Even with such an easy hurdle to clear, “The Zygon Inversion” soared way, way above my expectations and fully restored my faith in series 9.
Opening, as is now par for the course, not with the urgent cliff-hanger but a rewind to sometime before, we were treated to Dutch angles aplenty as we shared Clara’s experiences inside the Zygon pod.
Of course Clara would be capable of resisting the Zygon control, she’s the most lionised companion in the history of Who and there’s much about this episode which will displease her growing number of detractors. It’s undeniable that she’s been over-powered by successive writers to the point where she’s hogging the limelight on a regular basis. It’s funny to think that her ‘Impossible Girl’ arc was actually the most humble phase of the character. I’m not as hostile towards her as many Whovians now seem to be but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t slightly relieved to know that her ‘it’s all about me’ time with the Doctor is coming to an end. That being said, Jenna Coleman is much more fun this week as Fräulein Flick Of The Clarastapo aka Bonnie, the Zygon villain of the piece who goes up against the Doctor.
It’s the stripped down, more intimate narrative of this episode which salvages the wreckage of last week and hones it down into a gripping balance of terror as the Doctor seeks to rescue Clara and avert a seemingly inevitable war.
From the Doctor’s “The Spy Who Loved Me”-evoking escape from the doomed Presidential Plane, the episode steps up a gear and doesn’t look back. The paranoia and tension so palpably missing from last week is present and correct, especially during the Doctor and Osgood’s encounter with some policemen and Bonnie’s outing of an innocent Zygon on a London housing estate. Also making a welcome return is the snappy dialogue and the Doctor is the chief beneficiary. Delivering cracking lines like ‘Don’t look at my browser history’ and ‘I’m old enough to be your Messiah’, Capaldi strides through this episode like a colossus, no more so than in the gripping, emotional finale of the episode where even the score falls largely silent to marvel at the performance.
Like no actor to have held the role before him, Capaldi seizes the essence of what makes the Doctor the Doctor and compresses the vastness of the character into a flawless jewel of a performance. He owns the scene utterly, and the rest of the cast are merely witnesses, privileged to share the set with an actor of such consummate skill delivering the performance of a lifetime. Every facet of Capaldi’s love for the character – as an actor and a fan – shines through in a powerhouse soliloquy where the Doctor argues, pleads and persuades intractable enemies to step back from the brink of genocide.
That ‘Osgood Box’ scene is so incredible, it’s easy to forgive some of the bumps in the road it took to get there. There’s no real resolution to any of the multiple UNIT situations set up last week and all the international globetrotting feels even hollower because it didn’t matter at all in the grand scheme of the story (the throwaway comment about this being the fifteenth time also undercuts everything that’s happened and makes you wonder how many people have had to die to keep this precious peace). Kate Stewart’s survival feels a little bit too convenient but I can’t grumble too much when the explanation is an irresistible call back to the great man himself. Osgood makes for a sparky companion in place of the incapacitated Clara and it’s disappointing although entirely unsurprising when she declines the invitation to join the TARDIS crew. It’s probably for the best; I suspect Osgood’s fangirl charms would wear very thin very quickly week in, week out. Of course, Clara Osgood’s ‘me, me, me’-ness just has to ruin the very last minutes of the episode as she quizzes the Doctor about what it was like for him when he thought that she was dead, spoiling the poignancy of the Osgood reveal at the end.
For a series where nothing is ever done lightly or without some kind of master plan, all of the doppelgänger switches, call-backs, references and character moments, “The Zygon Inversion” leaves one key mystery, a tantalising statement too obvious to dismiss: how and why does UNIT have a Mire helmet stored in the Black Vault?