Doctor Who #968: The Zygon Inversion

"Step right up! Fingers on buzzers!"
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Nov.7 2015, the week of Remembrance Day.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor must convince the Zygon rebellion to stand down.

If part 1 of this story felt like it was conflating anything and everything relating to tensions between minorities and the majority, part 2 brings it home by reducing it to one simple idea, the cycle of violence. And I'm sorry if I'm skipping to the end here, but the final act, in the Black Archive, with Kate and Bonnie facing each other with a "scale model of war", with access to two reductive outcomes (victory or defeat, genocide or suicide) at the press of a button, only you don't know which is which, gets me a-blubbering every time. It's become fans' favorite 12th Doctor "speech", but it's really a long back and forth as the Doctor uses everything he can, everything he IS, to convince UNIT and the Zygons to stand down and restore the peace. It's a very full scene, with black humor and deep emotion, wonderfully played by all involved, and all the more shocking when you realize just how much this is a sequel to The Day of the Doctor. It's not just about the Zygon treaty brokered in the 50th Anniversary special, but about the resolution of the Time War as well. When the Doctor would have pressed another button on another box in just as reductive of a symbol for war. Capaldi is so strong in these moments, and his Doctor so sincere when he thanks Kate for backing down. The scene is even more powerful for the boxes being empty. Why is the Doctor so desperate to make Bonnie not press a button that wouldn't do anything anyway? Because what's at stake isn't the Earth, but her very soul, and by extension, his. Making Jenna play Bonnie is a stroke of genius too, not just because she's terrific, but because it plays nicely into the plot. The Doctor knows that face, and he knows when she's finally changed her mind. It's lovely that Clara did the same to him as recently as The Girl Who Died. "Gotcha" indeed.

The game show set up - a game that isn't a game - was heralded by the whole Truth or Consequences thing (see Theories for more), and is a interesting leitmotif that, looking back, you can also find in The Zygon Invasion. Several times, characters are asked questions, with differing consequences based on their answers. The soldiers at the church (I've read that the old game show hosted by Bob Barker featured soldiers reuniting with their families, makes me wonder) ask questions of their "loved ones". The Zygon in New Mexico asks questions of Kate to find out if she brought back-up. And here we have Bonnie's lie detector interrogation of Clara, and continuously, the Doctor apparently testing Osgood by asking her to reveal if she's human or Zygon even though the answer seems fairly clear, at least by the end (track the broken glasses; or is it?). Osgood finally gets an invitation to travel in the TARDIS, and she's shown such leadership and even wisdom in these two episodes that I would actually have been okay with that, but it plays as a final test of her resolve in keeping the peace. Sadly, Bonnie as Osgood 3 didn't pay tribute to yet another Doctor. Ah well. Kate also "plays Zygon" as an additional mirror effect, but as a ruse that's a bit of a cheap trick, but her saying "Five rounds, rapid" is probably a punch-the-air moment to fans of the UNIT era (I'm hoping the Brig's secret memoirs have the same title as Nicholas Courtney's).

And though the final sequence is so thunderingly good that you sort of forget all that went before, I do want to praise the sequences in Clara's "mind palace", the sort of unfinished dream reality that the experienced companion has ready tests against (she did live through Last Christmas, after all), and can use to her advantage and to give the Doctor more time (totally down with him having a Roger Moore parachute). It's all very clever and well used, and allows her to call the Doctor "from beyond the grave", continuing to foreshadow her death/non-death in later episodes. Their final moment in the TARDIS where he calls the 5 minutes he thought her dead "the loneliest month of his life" is another highlight. When asked about the discrepancy: "I'll be the judge of time." The sadness that comes with the hopelessness of his "duty of care" coming in loud and clear.

THEORIES: How many times has this happened before? I ask because it may just "fix" some of the episode's outstanding plot holes. Before he zaps Kate's memory, he flippantly mentions the 15 other times they might have gone through this scenario, which makes it sound like the Doctor has had to make this impassioned speech many times since The Day of the Doctor. Perhaps it's not fifteen, but it must have happened before, perhaps with the Zygon leadership represented by the two little girls, but most likely with Bonnie herself. Two things make me say that. First, he insists on calling her Zygella as if he knew her from before her Bonnie identity. Second, is it a terrible coincidence that  the Zygons' slogan and one of their home bases are both "Truth and Consequences" AND turns out the Doctor put those very words in the Osgood boxes? In part 1, he even seems mystified by the phrase. Could it be that Zygella has gone through this before, and the words have filtered through to her subconscious, leading her to adopt the slogan and take over the town so named? The Doctor might then be wondering why his words are in the Zygons' mouths. We can at least agree that the Zygon radicals never got this far before, and that perhaps, neither did the Doctor. That is to say, he never really convinced Zygella and had to wipe her memory, simply setting her group's plans back. This time, she had too many followers for the revolution to be so easily stopped.

REWATCHABILITY: High - Would get my highest recommendation just based on that final key sequence, but the rest of the episode has some terrific bits both before and after that scene as well.


snell said…
Rarely have I disagreed with you more...
Siskoid said…
Please, do elaborate. It won't start a fight, I swear.
I agree completely. And I think fandom have latched on to that scene quite rightly. For me, 'Listen' was where Capaldi proved that he could indeed BE the Doctor... but this episode was, for me, where he actually BECAME the Doctor. A phenomenal ending scene that really rescued the whole episode.

Likewise... I really do not like Clara. At least, Capaldi-era Clara; as of Deep Breath, she seemed to become an entirely different person. And one that grated on my nerves. So for most of the last two seasons, I have been actively irritated by her, particularly when they talk her up as this amazing person (for instance, UNIT calling for her help in Magician's Apprentice). BUT... this was the first episode where I actually felt as if that reputation was justified. In this episode, she was clever, resourceful, and interesting, and her interplay with Bonnie was a similar highlight.

My only real gripe about the story was Osgood (a character who I liked, though not loved, and was upset to see her so callously murdered in Death In Heaven). I get the pedantic, beat-you-over-the-head point she was trying to make by refusing to disclose her origins... but practically, there IS a major functional difference. There comes a time when fleeing for your lives that the question of 'Yes, I get that you're 'you,' but do you have a biological vulnerability to Zygon nerve gas, are you secretly strong enough to rip this door off its hinges, and can you shapeshift and shoot electricity out of your hands?' becomes an EXTREMELY pertinent question. (It serves as a good metaphor for the way modern society tries to obscure natural biological differences, strengths, and weaknesses between the genders, I suppose). So I kept getting profoundly annoyed with Osgood for sticking with the symbolism and not answering a question that could mean the difference between life and death in the Doctor's tactical calculations.

Also, I have to assume that the Human Osgood is the one in this episode, because the all-important symbolism would be kind of marred by two Zygon Osgoods and no Human running around, wouldn't it? Plus, the magical 'oh, no, we don't need the original for total duplication anymore' paradigm doesn't seem like it would be enough to completely and flawlessly duplicate a person from the already-duplicated memories of a Zygon double. In order to be convincing, I'd thinking Bonnie would *have* to re-copy from the original source. So, logistically, the Zygon dying in Death In Heaven is the only thing that makes sense to me.

...Anyhow, the Osgood quibbles were minor annoyances at most. This episode was really fantastic, and it blew me away as an absolute favorite of this season... at least, until we faced the Raven...
snell said…
FWIW, the episode didn't work for me at all. Capaldi's performance notwithstanding, I found his 20 minute patronizing lecture ahem I mean impassioned speech unconvincing. It clearly felt like a bit by a superior writer stuck into an inferior script, while doing little to answer the problems of that inferior script.

Perhaps I might be accused of taking a too-real-world view here--but the story started it, by wiping out the population of an American town, killing dozens of soldiers, kidnapping millions (?) of Britons...and despite the Doctor being willing to forgive, I don't see any explanation/closure for the relatives of the dead and those who've had their lives disrupted/ruined. It's Star Wars-level story-telling--destroying Alderaan, and then never mentioning it or its population ever again.

And regardless of how many times this cycle has been repeated--15 is surely an exaggeration--that means even more deaths. And it also means the Doctor's plan (and harangue) just didn't work before, and won't work again this time. Sure, he (unconvincingly) convinced Zygella, but surely a lot of her followers will just label her a traitor and sell-out, and a few months later some Zygon will accidentally reveal itself and humans will attack and Zygon "radicals" will react and we'll be back where we started this episode from.

As impassioned and lovely as the speech is, it doesn't address any of the underlying problems of this ill-advised Zygon/human solution, and it doesn't address any of the terrible mishmash of the script form the other 3/4 of the story. Where many see that bit elevating the rest of the two-parter, I see the rest of the two-parter dragging it down, as well-meaning but ultimately irrelevant to what the rest of the story thought it was doing.
I do see your point there. I think that- and my memory may be cheating here- that was addressed, to a degree, though. The idea that forgiveness has to come eventually; that the attrocities of war will always have terrible consequences, but clinging to the need to make the other side pay will merely perpetuate the war, and the deaths.

Mind, an imperfect metaphor, since this was much more of a terrorist attack than a war, one-sided and unprovoked. It falls into the majority of Doctor Who's anti-war statements; 'Yeah, that'd be a really compelling argument if we were starting wars for fun and profit, but actually your statements about not carrying guns and fighting another day only work if the people that want to kill us listen first!' The Doctor's relationship with war, weapons, and combat has always been hypocritical and inconsistent ('you have a gun, that makes you the bad guy' in Poison Sky vs. 'Until one tiny, damp little island says “No”. “No. Not here”. A mouse in front of a lion. You’re amazing, the lot of you.' in Doctor Dances, and so on).

I think the sheer passion of the performance is what one a lot of people- including me- over, since this is usually the exact sort of thing I roll my eyes at (just as you are). But for some reason, the performance and dialogue really clicked, sufficiently to (for most of us) gloss over the very issues you point out.

So... guess I'm going to have to re-evaluate this one a bit, maybe.
Siskoid said…
I understand and respect that opinion entirely Snell. The whole idea of not taking revenge or even bringing anyone to justice in this case to break the cycle of violence is utopian at best, but perhaps that's why it's a nice idea. And I can play at suppositions too, going the other way - that the other times never resulted in deaths, that Bonnie can lead her brood to peace just as well as war (and knows who they all are), that since the trouble began after Osgood2's death then Osgood3 brings a stability we don't quite understand to the treaty, etc.

Andrew: Excellent deductions about the identity of the Osgoods.
I think for me, the bottom line is that I do think Justice is an absolute virtue (though oftentimes it is the Almighty's to administer, rather than ours) and self-defense is probably a key right, Mercy is also an absolute value, and one we under-practice far more than we over-practice. So, while this solution is over-idealistic, and not necessarily applicable to our current cultural situation in its entirety, it felt like it was a lot more thought-provoking than preachy, as modern Who has tended to be on the subject. And if it can get us to consider the balance of Mercy vs. Justice we apply in the process of defending ourselves (even if its own suggestion of the answer is off the mark), then it is laudable for that.

In the end, I felt like this story did honor, rather than dishonor, the achievements of the 50th (not sure why I cared; I didn't like the 50th... but I guess it's the principle of the thing!), and gave Capaldi a chance to really shine; and as an episode of Doctor Who, that is precisely how it should have turned out. As a story with a moral or an overall narrative, it doesn't do so well, perhaps... that's something I need to sit down and have a think about, now. But at least for its role in the tapestry of Doctor Who, I feel like it does exactly as it should.
Anonymous said…
I'm more or less with Andrew Gilbertson here. Yes I certainly liked the Doctor's speech, but the Doctor also knows that sometimes war comes to your doorstep and you don't have a gimmicky way out. By all means, strive for peace, explore every method that avoids bloodshed ... but once in a while you reach a point where you have genuinely exhausted the nonviolent options.

And as the most excellent PM Harriet Jones noted, earth can't rely on the Doctor; he almost didn't happen to show up and save the day that one time, and even then, didn't the Doctor kill the Sycorax leader? Still bloodshed, and what's more that was bloodshed because he was in a bad mood.
Of course, that was the same Doctor that immediately refused to accept an act of bloodshed on her behalf (though he'd been perfectly happy as his last self to have such responsibility taken out of his hands and let her make those decisions for her country), and destroyed an entire golden age (as well as arguably setting up every loss of companion and life that he suffered) in response. Must've been one heck of a bad mood.

That is one thing I wish Who would stopped- and it's why Capaldi immediately got on my bad side last season for insulting the woman in Into the Dalek ("Never a soldier!"). The Doctor has NO RIGHT to lecture anyone on violence, war, killing, or even guns (just because he doesn't usually have a thing with a barrel and a bullet doesn't mean that he hasn't had hundreds of devices with equivalent function; press this button/trigger, and enemies die). Even after he got lucky and time-travel shenanigans allowed him to undo destroying Gallifrey, he's claimed SO many lives (usually to save others'), he really has no moral high ground at all. Yet the show seems to take the stance of 'because I have done all these things, I'm the PERFECT person to say it's wrong.' The Doctor's turned into the ultimate 'do as I say, not as I do' hypocrite... and it would work well if it was more often like the better moments of this speech; a heartfelt pleading, with compassion. "Don't go there; believe me, I've been there, and you'll regret it." Instead, way too often (especially with UNIT, and ESPECIALLY with Tennant), he's looking down on someone for doing what he's done- taking up weapons and trying to fight off the aliens that want to kill people. And while he may try to dissuade someone from doing what he's done, belittling or condescending them because they are trying to do what they deem necessary to protect the innocent is one thing he has no right to do, and drives me crazy every time.

With compassion, fine. With contempt- where the heck do you get off, Doctor?

...But that is a very long rabbit-trail. Apologies for the side-lining.
Anonymous said…
So what do you think of the opening moments of "The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe", where the Doctor's destroying an alien spaceship is presented in an indifferent, even slightly comical fashion?

In and of itself I don't mind it: the Doctor almost certainly would like to have resolved the conflict differently, and ran out of options. These things happen. It's when the Doctor gets preachy about it later that I cry foul, just as you say.
LiamKav said…
Andrew: I get your point that from a practical standpoint, Osgood should have said if she was human or Zygon. But I do also get the point they are going for... it's the immigrant being asked "are you Muslim or are you British", and the reply being "I'm both". Treating Doctor Who as a show for all ages where Important Lessons are handed out, sometimes you need to be a bit pig-headed in how you tell the stories...

I'm not quite sure about your comment on how modern society tries to obscure "natural biological differences, strengths, and weaknesses between the genders". Almost all sports are still segregated, and in any case, I think it's better we lean too far in the "everyone is the same" direction than the current one of "tsk, women eh? Can't do a bloody thing".

Regarding the final speech... I didn't love it. It seemed to me to be trying just a bit too hard to be an Epic Doctor Speech. I might change my mind on re-watch.

And on the Doctor's hypocrisy: at this point, I think it's a very definite and deliberate part of the character. Capaldi's first season basically confronted that, with Danny Pink calling him out on his "you say you're not a soldier, and yet you send people off to do the dirty work for you." Moffat has said similar things in interviews. That's the thing people often miss... when the Doctor hung Harriet Jones out to dry, he allowed the Master to swoop in. He was punished in the story for his decision.
Anonymous- well, I love it, but that's because I consider the teaser of The Doctor, The Widow, and the Wardrobe one of the best things ever. Still don't get why people don't like that special.

But yeah- the opening of A Good Man Goes to War does the same thing. I don't have a problem with the Doctor blowing stuff up; sometimes, lethal force has to be used to protect the innocent (particularly in sci-fi). It's when he gets down on others for doing exactly the same thing (like, say, taking up guns to fight Daleks) that it gets annoying.

LiamKav- come on, now. 'tsk, women eh? Can't do a bloody thing'? Nothing of the sort. Each gender having different natural strengths and weaknesses is hardly the same as 'this gender's good at everything, and this one's good at nothing.'

I do actually agree with you that it's deliberate hypocrisy, but it still has two flaws, for me.
Firstly, there are large segments of fandom who do nothing but swoon over the Doctor and assume because he is the hero, he can do no wrong (the Jedi Council in the Star Wars prequels has the same issue). 'David Tennant is so dreamy, the Doctor's the best- yeah, that guy must be a bad guy because he carries a gun!' So I don't think a large segment of fandom GETS that this is hypocrisy. they just assume that if the Doctor's saying it, it must be right; if the Doctor and Danny having opposing viewpoints, the wise, millenia-experienced Doctor is the right one. I'd like to think better of my fellow fans than that... but I've seen this evidenced in fandom numerous times.

And secondly, I don't think the show does well enough in distancing itself from that. One of my big complaints about Death In Heaven was that, at the end, the Doctor never repented of his mindset. (I don't count the salute; that was just fulfilling the request of an old friend rather than changing his mind about soldiers). *Danny* gave a fantastic speech- but heck, he WAS a soldier; he's the one who's been defending it all along. Whereas the Doctor who spent an entire season being a bigot, for all intents and purposes, just goes right on doing so, without the show ever clearly calling him out on it. Now, maybe that's just subtlety in writing... but again, I think it allows a large segment of fandom to go along with the wrong impression, and doesn't leave things as clear to me as it is to you that the show is actually *against* the Doctor's hypocritical stances.
Anonymous said…
"Anonymous- well, I love it, but that's because I consider the teaser of The Doctor, The Widow, and the Wardrobe one of the best things ever. Still don't get why people don't like that special."

Same here. When I want to watch an episode and be happy at the end, that's my go-to. And Madge's skillful use of tears gets me every time; this is NOT a woman you dare underestimate. It used to bother me that the Doctor was spending so much time making the kids' rooms like something out of Dr. Seuss, but then it eventually occurred to me that perhaps the Doctor is doing so to avoid his own problems. Then it becomes a second layer to the story that makes the goofy parts more meaningful, and it plays into the ending.

"I don't count the salute; that was just fulfilling the request of an old friend rather than changing his mind about soldiers"

And even if Danny Pink didn't serve as the "answer" to the soldier "dilemma", surely the Brigadier did: both an officer and a soldier who didn't let his rank go to his head, who was willing to do whatever was required to keep his people safe, including give up his own life. Let's look at Nicholas Courtney's last save-the-day moment:

I'm reminded of a sequence from a mid-90s "Wolverine" comic (shut up, Hama's run was pretty good); Wolverine has been called in to instruct the Generation X mutants on fighting:

Some Gen X kid: But what if we just want to incapacitate our opponent?

Wolverine: It's very simple: don't get into a fight unless you're prepared to kill.

Banshee or whoever: This is just a reminder that the Xavier School does not advocate or permit the use of lethal tactics.

Wolverine: I've heard that song before lots of times, but the tune always changes when the wolf's at the door.
LiamKav said…
Andrew: Sorry, I think I was unclear on my point. I'm not saying that there aren't differences between the sexes. I'm just saying that 99% of the time that's brought up, it's in the context of "women just aren't cut out for top level CEO jobs", "girls don't like action movies which is why there aren't any toys of Rey" and "changing the Doctor to a woman would just be wrong." It's a deflection argument, rather than addressing the actual point.

You're absolutely right in the audience not seeing the Doctor's flaws. This is a problem lots of TV and movies have... we are taught that our protagonist is always right and truthful, unless it's really obvious that it's not. There is rarely room for subtlety. It's why something like The Usual Suspects can trick you, because we've been given no reason to believe that anything being told isn't 100% the truth. The side effect is that unless we are specifically told "the main character was lying/being a jerk", we can miss the more subtle points of characterisation.
Siskoid said…
So have we forgotten the #1 rule? The Doctor lies.

As foe the whole argument about same/different when it comes to any minority, both are true and neither is a blanket statement. Are we all the same? Yes, fundamentally we are, and deserve the same rights and opportunities as human beings/sentients. As we all different? Yes, and we should embrace diversity as a strength and complementarity (the IDIC principle). As identity becomes more and more a personal construct, a consequence of the global village and increased awareness of the sexual identity spectrum, there is increasingly no point to pigeon-holing and profiling. "A woman can't..." is now an absurdity.