It’s common for the second episode of a two-part episode to make me reevaluate my opinion of the first half. Last week, when I wrote about “The Zygon Invasion,” I knew that I couldn’t really judge the episode without seeing its second half. However, “The Zygon Inversion” was not at all what I was anticipating. Aside from my own wild speculations being wrong, “The Zygon Inversion” leaves most of the lingering questions I had about the first half unanswered, making me think even less of “The Zygon Invasion.” Nevertheless, “The Zygon Inversion” is, in my opinion, the better of the two episodes; despite its flaws it has some great moments.
As I stated above, this episode is not without its flaws. Honestly, most of the plot before the great final scenes feels…undeveloped. I found myself wondering if scenes had been cut from this episode that would have made sense of the somewhat random collection of events that make up the majority of this episode. For instance, creepy, strange acting police menace the Doctor and Osgood. However, the two of them just hop in a nearby van and drive away and that’s the end of it. The same is true of the scene in which Bonnie forces the peaceful Zygon to change. He runs past someone sweeping up human remains. When he leaves his apartment again, nobody reacts to a man suddenly turning into an alien. It seems that they must have been Zygons, but why exactly were they all there? Wouldn’t it produce more panic to have him change surrounded by humans? Basically, with some exceptions, most of the first two-thirds of this episode felt like filler to get us to the memorable final third.
This episode continues the trend of having a second half that feels very different from the first half. However, this had some negative consequences in this particular narrative. Once again, except for Osgood, UNIT remains fairly useless. Just how many UNIT soldiers died in these two episodes? It doesn’t seem like there could be many left. Additionally, Walsh, who played an important role in the previous episode has disappeared from the narrative. While I can sort of understand how she could be dropped from the narrative without any wrap up to her character, I didn’t understand why Jac was likewise dropped from the story. Presumably Bonnie killed her at the end of the previous episode, but she doesn’t even merit a passing mention in this one.
At least we did get an explanation of how Kate got out of danger (I knew she couldn’t be stupid enough to trust that woman) and a nice reference to her father again. I know she has an important role to play in the conclusion, but I’d like to see her develop into more of an actual character rather than a walking reminder of the Brigadier. While I have to admit I enjoyed hearing her use the lines “five rounds rapid,” I’d really like to see her step out from her father’s shadow and become a more fully developed individual. I’m also not sure what it says about her that she has been in that room with the Osgood box 15 times before. I guess it’s good that she always steps down, but it kind of tarnishes the Doctor’s victory a bit, to know that this probably happens every few months or so. And how does Kate not notice that she is missing time? Does she not notice all the dead soldiers, blown up jets, etc…
The other aspect of the story that bothered me were the sudden new powers of the Zygons. All of the questions that I had about them from the previous episode remained unanswered here. I won’t go into them again, but I am a bit tired of the writers constantly taking alien races and suddenly giving them whole new sets of powers that they never used to have, always cloaked under the guise of evolution (which doesn’t just magically help you develop brand new powers that quickly, but I digress…).
From my rather lengthy list of criticisms, you might think that I didn’t like the episode. Well, surprise! I actually did. What it got right, it did very well. While it did not do Kate any favors, this episode continued to develop Osgood into a complex character, not just a fan stand-in. While there was a bit of development due to the events of last season’s finale, this episode sees Osgood grow beyond hero-worship of the Doctor. She still admires him, but she is on more equal footing with him now; after all she is the keeper of the peace between the humans and Zygons. Despite his constant attempts to wear her down, she stuck by her belief that whether she was human or Zygon shouldn’t matter. She has grown from the person who had to take a hit off her inhaler every time she spoke to the Doctor to someone who turns down the opportunity to travel with the Doctor because she had greater responsibilities.
One of the other strengths of this episode builds off of something I wrote about last week: Jenna Coleman’s performance. The parts dealing with Clara fighting back against Bonnie were some of the best scenes in the first two-thirds of the story. In particular, the “lie detector” scene was a real highlight. It was easy to forget at times that both sides of the tense confrontation was the same actress. It was fun to watch as the balance of power shifted from Clara to Bonnie and back again. The scene also was perfectly written to stay true to the character of Clara. Just as earlier she was clever enough to figure out a way to communicate with the Doctor from her pod, she is clever enough to figure out a way to “lie” to Bonnie by telling the truth.
The real reason, however, that I enjoyed this episode had to do with that final third to which I keep alluding. Once again, the Doctor uses his wits to prevent a slaughter (well, if you don’t count all the people and Zygons killed leading up to that moment). I read an interview with Toby Whithouse in which he said that he didn’t want to tell people what to think in his episodes. That’s fine, but “The Zygon Invasion” was a bit too non-committal for me. While it is clearly about immigration, it really could be interpreted many ways, by people on either side of the issue. It doesn’t really say anything.
This episode, on the other hand, is very clearly anti-war, thanks to the Doctor’s sort-of-speech about the reality of war. He makes the valid point that war just means that people will die before the parties involved get around to doing what they should have done in the first place: sat down and talked. He also brings up the issue of planning; very few groups actually have a valid system of government in mind when they revolt.
What really makes the speech effective, however, is the way that Peter Capaldi delivers it. After not quite feeling like the Doctor to me in the previous episode, he comes roaring back with the speech that may be his Doctor’s defining moment, much like “The Pandorica Opens” speech was to Matt Smith’s Doctor. Capaldi makes you feel the pain behind the Doctor’s words as you realize how clever his Osgood box is: it boils the horrors of war down to the push of a button. Making this even more of a sequel to “The Day of the Doctor,” it’s clear the events of the Time War still weigh heavily on the Doctor, causing him to try and prevent others from having a burden like his.
I really can’t say that this season has had a bad episode yet. While this two-part story is my least favorite of the year so far, it is not a bad story. I’m immensely curious to see where this season is going to end up. When the Doctor says to Clara that thinking she was dead was the longest month of his life, we get another hint that perhaps the Doctor has already somehow lost Clara. Plus, this episode continues with the themes that have been reoccurring in the season so far. While there is no direct mention, we still have the Zygon/human hybrid, resurrected characters, and a look at the consequences of the Doctor’s actions. I still have no idea just where this is leading, but I’m looking forward to next week.