Saturday, 7 November 2015

Doctor Who - The Zygon Inversion

Contains spoilers.

Every now and then, an episode of television comes along that is so special that its excellence transcends words. In these episodes of television, not only does everything fall into place and not only has everything just been pieced together nicely, but it becomes the embodiment of more than you would ever expect from the show. It just feels special, and even after it's finished you can still feel the emotion and the excitement it gave you while you watched it. The Zygon Inversion is one of those episodes.

If part one, The Zygon Invasion, was a big, epic globe trotting adventure that took on themes like immigration, then The Zygon Inversion is a small, focused political thriller that takes on the theme of war. It may be small in terms of scale, but the scope is enormous. Less characters speak, the locations are much smaller, the episode only sticks to one country, yet you never lose sight of the fact that the entire world is at stake in this story. It's superbly crafted, with a wonderful sense of attention to detail and a gripping plot that moves at a pretty rapid pace from the get go. But there's just one scene. One scene that not only exceeds anything we've been offered in this wonderfully brilliant series, but a scene that makes great claim to be the best thing Doctor Who has potentially ever done.

I am talking about the scene inside the Black Archive, in which the Doctor attempts to change the minds of both Kate and Bonnie simply by talking to them. Using words, rather than bombs. Peter Capaldi has been a fantastic Doctor so far, but this is his moment; his Doctor moment which I genuinely believe he will be remembered by whenever he chooses to depart from the show. The writing for this scene, by Peter Harness and Steven Moffat, is exceptional. In that one sequence, that one monologue that spans ten risky but breathtaking minutes, they allow the Doctor to channel so much emotion, so much of his own history, and relate it seamlessly not only to the events of this episode, but the events of the world today.

It isn't hidden in subtext, Doctor Who is talking about the world in which we live. This is tricky subject matter, and it's certainly a bold move; while Doctor Who is taking on big political themes like this and discussing war and its many consequences, The X Factor is two channels away, and isn't Saturday night meant to be the fun night of the week? Not that I'm declaring The X Factor fun, but it just further demonstrates how important it is that Doctor Who took this risk. I would even go as far to say that this is the most important episode that Doctor Who has ever aired. The fact that it paid off by the bucket load is just the icing on this already wonderful cake.

Of course, though, as precise and emotional as the writing in this sequence is, none of it would have landed without Capaldi's exceptional delivery. I simply cannot imagine any other actor from the revived era of this show delivering these words in the manner that he does. Capaldi's Doctor - actually, no, not Capaldi's Doctor, the Doctor - is recognised for his sterner side, the side of him that doesn't care what mere humans think of him. In this sequence he emphasises this sterner side with aplomb, the conversation between the Doctor, Kate and Bonnie is not only wonderfully acted, but deliriously intense. Across this conversation, Capaldi soars through accents, blurs and combines emotions, he smashes a hundred different ways of delivering those words into one elongated piece of dialogue, and it's fantastic.

But after Kate tells him that what he's doing isn't a game, he just...loses it. Capaldi - and, in that, the Doctor - just lets go, and everything comes pouring out. The Doctor talks about the war inside his head, the countless wars he has been a part of. He mentions the pain he faces every day over the decisions he has made in the past. He angrily unleashes his opinion of war, he tells Kate and Bonnie that they don't realise what they are doing, and he changes their minds. He stops a war breaking out on Earth, and he does it with words, not bombs, not bullets, but words. It's what makes this episode so special, the episode itself is the embodiment of the Doctor's character, the episode talks about the Doctor just as much as he does himself.

The ways that Moffat and Harness have packed all of this into one sequence is masterful. As Capaldi delivered his monologue, I felt the hairs on my arms stand on end. I felt a tear building in the corner of my eye. Despite taking place inside one windowless room, it felt as if the entire Earth stood still while the Doctor delivered that speech. It was a perfect combination of the Doctor's human traits and his alien side, all bundled together to create arguably the greatest moment this show has ever done, but definitively Capaldi's best piece of acting in this role to date.

The rest of the episode is excellent too, by the way. Jenna Coleman gives her best performance(s) of the series thus far as both Bonnie and Clara. She separates them expertly, using body language and pronunciations to really demonstrate them both as entirely different entities; Clara always shows the emotion on her face, whereas Bonnie rarely blinks throughout the episode. Ingrid Oliver and Jemma Redgrave also both give series best performances, they both add a hearty amount of depth to their characters, allowing them to grow with each subsequent appearance. Every performance in this episode, in this entire bloody series actually, has been spot on. The Zygon Inversion, though, belongs to Peter Capaldi. He truly is something else. What a great piece of television that was.

Notes -
  • I really ran out of room to discuss anything else, so this Notes section could be a long one!
  • I'm not sure how I expected this episode to start, but that wasn't it. Clara in that dreamscape was seriously unnerving, mostly from the simple yet brilliantly effective image of her clock time inversed. 
  • Clara and Bonnie's interrogation of each other through the TV screen was another fantastic sequence. The balance shifts consistently, neither is on top for long enough to have a firm hold on the situation. It was incredibly well written, and Coleman acts the hell out of it.
  • Murray Gold also was on top form tonight. His scoring for this two parter has been some of his best work on this show.
  • "I once made an invisible watch. Spot the design flaw."
  • The scene inside the TARDIS at the end was rather emotional. "You must've thought I was dead, what was that like?" "Hardest month of my life." "It must only have been five minutes?" "I'll be the judge of time". Clara is leaving in a matter of episodes, and boy does the show want us to know. She will be very sorely missed.
  • The two Osgoods, who could potentially both be Zygons, taking a simultaneous inhaler puff before walking off to get ice cream was just the perfect way to end this pretty perfect episode.
  • I legitimately considered making a new 10/10 rating image with a different for the end of this review, just to emphasise how good this really was.
  • I decided against it.
  • But it seriously is that good. 

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