Doctor Who Recap Series 9, Episode 8 - "The Zygon Inversion"
In this continuation of episode 7 “The Zygon Invasion”, Clara wakes up to find herself in a battle against “Bonnie,” her Zygon counterpart and leader of the extreme Zygons trying to start a revolution. Clara, ever clever, is able to stop Bonnie’s initial attempt to blow up the Doctor’s plane, giving him and Osgood a chance to escape. As The Doctor and Osgood race Bonnie and the other extremist Zygons to the Osgood Box, which has the ability to stop the uprising or start the war, Clara and Bonnie are also locked in a game of wits about why Bonnie should keep Clara alive. Bonnie arrives at UNIT headquarters to find out that there is not one but two Osgood boxes, each with two options “truth” or “consequences”, the Doctor explaining that by choosing one button all 20 million Zygons on Earth would be forced to reveal their true forms and likely start a war, while the other button would release a nerve agent that would target and kill all the Zygons. The Doctor gives an intense and emotional speech against war and violent revolution in which he convinces Bonnie to not press either button. He then reveals that this is not the first (or last) time the peace has been threatened and wipes Kate Stewart's and the other Zygon memories while leaving Bonnie’s intact. Bonnie calls off the uprising then abandons Clara’s form and assumes the form of the second Osgood to maintain the treaty.
I thought that this episode was an interesting and well done conclusion to this two-part story. Of the four that we’ve had in this season, this one felt the most cohesive, exploring a side of the Doctor, and of other races (both human and alien) in a way similar -- but I think overshadowed -- in “The Day of the Doctor.” I appreciated Clara’s role in this episode, mostly because of the twist on the “damsel in distress” trope. While she was captured by the Zygons and was definitely in need of rescuing, she was still able to breakthrough and rescue the Doctor through her link with Bonnie. I think that without her still being able to semi-control Bonnie it would have been more boring and predictable. At the same time, I also love Jenna Coleman’s performance as Bonnie. While I was still not sure why Bonnie kept Clara’s form after all the talk of wanting Zygons to be able to be themselves (other than the moment where using Clara’s bodyprint was beneficial to her), I thought it gave Jenna an opportunity to show off more of her acting skills than is possible when she only plays Clara. The fact that Bonnie becomes Osgood in the end was an interesting twist to me, because it showed why it doesn’t matter whether Osgood is human or Zygon. By now, Osgood is both and neither; she is more of an idea, a representation of peace, and this is illustrated well by Bonnie being able to step into the place of the dead-Osgood.
I did have some issue with the representation of the Zygons. In the last episode, I really appreciated how complicated their plight was; at the root of their struggle was the desire to be able to be themselves, and wanting to fight back because they weren’t allowed that. And while they did carry that theme into this episode, there was clearly a bias toward the human POV. For one, Bonnie was forcing Zygons who didn’t want to be exposed to expose themselves, literally driving one to suicide. For an oppressed race (and I do see the Zygons as oppressed in this situation), that is extremely problematic. Generally if you are forced to hide, you know not to push the ones who would rather stay silent, especially when it connects to their safety. And while I liked the Doctor’s monologue in the end, one thing he said didn’t sit right with me. After Bonnie complains about the Zygons’ position being unfair, essentially expressing her anger with being oppressed by the humans, the Doctor responds by saying that overthrowing a group of cruel people just breeds “a whole bunch of new cruel people.” He then says that peace means being prepared to forgive. I didn’t like this because it places the burden of peace on the oppressed. It basically is the Doctor saying to ignore all the things that are keeping you down systematically so that there is no war. And while I understand the Doctor’s wish for peace and to prevent total annihilation of both the Zygons and the humans, his phrasing of this puts very little blame on the humans and feels almost like the opposite of what the Doctor would truly think. Here, it feels like there is a clash between the Doctor’s hate of oppression and his almost unconditional love for the humans, and this becomes problematic in a very real way. Because of these things, the representation of the Zygons seems to fluctuate between being one-dimensional to truly complicated characters.
This is already long, but here are a couple small things I noticed/liked:
I love Punny Doctor: “You know what they say about invading a planet, you’ve got to plan it!”
Why would the code to get into the Black Archives be a bodyprint if they’re trying to keep the Zygons out? Not a great plan.
Kate stays winning: while Kate’s character is complicated and sometimes in the wrong, I knew she wasn’t going to let that Zygon from last episode take her down.
This really happened 15 other times? I guess it makes some sense but the Doctor really stays having to babysit Earth. I like that he didn’t wipe Bonnie’s memories this time; hopefully the cease-fire finally stands.
Though I didn’t fully agree with all of the content of the monologue, I thought Capaldi delivered it well. One of my favorite things about Matt Smith’s Doctor was his ability to deliver a monologue, so it was cool to see the new Doctor do what I tend to associate with 11.
TARDIS: Totally And Radically Driving In Space
I’m pretty sure it was human-Osgood who was killed by Missy. At the beginning of this episode, Osgood mentions never having met Clara, which makes no sense given the beginning of “The Day of the Doctor” when they LITERALLY meet. This only works if it’s the Zygon talking, seeing as they never formally met during the stand-off at the end of the special.
I think this was the best two-parter so far this season as it really felt like a cohesive story all the way through and also because of Osgood, she’s just the best. I feel torn about the plight of the Zygons and these conflicting emotions really made having concrete thoughts about this episode difficult for me. While I think the demand of the Zygons is understandable, to live as their true selves in the open, it’s also important to remember that their initial plan was to invade and conquer Earth since their planet was destroyed, so if the alternative is all-out war I do not agree that they should just be allowed to wage a war with Earth who actually made a humane decision to share their planet with the Zygons (even if it was The Doctor who ultimately made that decision). So while I do agree with Bayana that the Doctors speech essentially put the onus on the Zygons to forgive and ignore their oppression, I take some relief in the fact that the pressure is on them because they’re the “immigrants” to Earth. The trouble I have is that there is an obvious 3rd solution that is thrown out because of a lack of credit given to the Human race, I think. This third option is that the Zygons (who want to be their true selves) announce their presence and commitment to peace and be welcomed on Earth as countries currently do with immigrants. It's not as though the world of Doctor Who is ignorant to the fact that aliens exist and though there isn’t much mention of the RTD years of New Who, humans have shown the ability to accept friendly aliens before (ghosts, the slow invasion of black boxes).
I’m starting to feel uncomfortable with this current characterization of Clara as all-knowing and the clever savior. The Doctor is beginning to rely on her in a way that feels disingenuous to his character - he is the clever one who is always in control while his companions are the smart, adaptable, quick on their feet type. In the past few episodes, it seems as though Clara is in complete control regardless of the situation she finds herself in. In the few short episodes between “The Girl Who Died,” when she was obviously bluffing to save herself and Ashildr from the Mire to this one where she finds herself in Bonnie’s Zygon pod and pretty immediately begins to take control and bluff her way out of the situation in a very Doctor-esque fashion. I’m not sure why this rubbed me the wrong way but it did and I have been trying to sort out my Clara feelings ever since. After the lost of Danny Pink, it's understandable that Clara would change, I just wish the change was addressed and did not seem so jarring.
Overall though, great episode and this season has really started to find it’s groove. I know we will be losing Clara soon but we are also getting close to the return of River Song! Can’t wait to see what adventures we go on next week!