Review: Doctor Who – 9.8 – ‘The Zygon Inversion’

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Photograph: 'The TARDIS' / Phil Long
Photograph: 'The TARDIS' / Phil Long

What’s that you ask, a tear in the eye? Well, a bit of sleep more likely.

No, I’m not incredibly prescient. I will freely admit now that this review was written after ‘Sleep No More’ because I’ve been a little pressed for time as of late.

Nevertheless, and my own wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey problems aside, this episode was a masterstroke in anti-war propaganda. When you say those words to yourself all of a sudden the weaknesses of ‘The Zygon Invasion’ and this week’s ‘The Zygon Inversion’ fall completely away. It becomes, instead, one of the finest and most moving hours of Doctor Who ever put to screen.

To get it out of the way: it’s a bit cliched in places and a bit predictable (Clara fighting her double, for example) but it has been a long time since Doctor Who has had an underlying message and statement of principle. He doesn’t carry a gun and he abhors violence, but he’s fought in many battles many times before. ‘The Day of the Doctor’ might have introduced the War Doctor, the incarnation that he disowned because he fought in the Time War, but it never went far enough to state his evil deeds that he committed in the name of peace. The genocide of, and latterly the avoidance of killing, his own people was an easy-out from ever having to go into the details of it. Indeed, it’s a curious point that for all the whimsicalness of Russell T.Davies’ era the big plot point that was sporadically addressed and then only properly in his closing episode was that The Doctor butchered billions of living creatures, including his own.

What was it Stalin said? Murder one person and it’s a tragedy, murder millions ts a statistic. So it is true in fiction too.

Yet what ‘The Zygon Inversion’ gets right, in addition to being a sort of sequel to ‘The Day of the Doctor’, is to properly address the themes of war, and morality, and loss that neither Tennant, Smith or Hurt quite got right because the script never gave them the specifics of their misdeeds.

Queue Peter Capaldi. Of all the speeches in the new-Who, his anti-war diatribe might be the crown of the lot. It’s worth rewatching because it is the most dazzling display of characterisation I’ve seen in the show but also the most destructive. Here he is, scruffy looking, in need of a haircut, exhausted and jaded; this colossus of a being, The Doctor, has often been defined as a self-conceited meddler or a accidental hero who wandered the universe. To date, only Capaldi, in this moment, makes you believe that he is a vulnerable hero who, whatever plain of advanced technology and knowledge he operates on, is capable of immense sadness and weakness about his past.

This is the scene that makes the episode, and calls into doubt whether anything else in it is more than a build-up to this speech. I believe that it is, and the urban street warfare, the barbarity of characters transforming into aliens and casual execution by monsters that look like they may be the most farcical of Who villains (up there with the Slitheen) are actually the most insidious and cruel.

As I’ve already said this review was written after ‘Sleep No More’, so please allow me to indulge the point that in light of the terrorist attacks in Paris, this episode seems all the more remarkable for having a moral centre and for making a political point. Violence begets violence before you inevitably end up back where you were always going to end up in the first place, needing to talk. It’s an important message and a positive one for all ages watching a remarkable piece of television in a time of senseless violence.

 The Zygon Inversion

The Doctor: You just want cruelty to beget cruelty. You’re not superior to people who were cruel to you. You’re just a whole bunch of new cruel people. A whole bunch of new cruel people, being cruel to some other people, who’ll end up being cruel to you. The only way anyone can live in peace is if they’re prepared to forgive. Why don’t you break the cycle?

Bonnie: Why should we?

The Doctor: What is it that you actually want?

Bonnie: War.

The Doctor: Ah. And when this war is over, when — when you have the homeland free from humans, what do you think it’s going to be like? Do you know? Have you thought about it? Have you given it any consideration? Because you’re very close to getting what you want. What’s it going to be like? Paint me a picture. Are you going to live in houses? Do you want people to go to work? What’ll be holidays? Oh! Will there be music? Do you think people will be allowed to play violins? Who will make the violins? Well? Oh, You don’t actually know, do you? Because, just like every other tantruming child in history, Bonnie, you don’t actually know what you want. So, let me ask you a question about this brave new world of yours. When you’ve killed all the bad guys, and it’s all perfect and just and fair, when you have finally got it exactly the way you want it, what are you going to do with the people like you? The troublemakers. How are you going to protect your glorious revolution from the next one?

Bonnie: We’ll win.

Doctor: Oh, will you? Well maybe — maybe you will win. But nobody wins for long. The wheel just keepts turning. So, come on. Break the cycle.

Bonnie: Then why are you still talking?

The Doctor: Because I’m trying to get you to see. And I’m almost there.

Bonnie: Do you know what I see, Doctor? A box. A box with everything I need. A 50% chance.

Kate: For us, too.

[The Doctor sighs.]

The Doctor: And we’re off! Fingers on buzzers! Are you feeling lucky? Are you ready to play the game? Who’s going to be quickest? Who’s going to be the luckiest?

Kate: This is not a game!

The Doctor: No, it’s not a game, sweetheart, and I mean that most sincerely.

Bonnie: Why are you doing this?

Kate: Yes, I’d like to know that too. You set this up — why?

The Doctor: Because it’s not a game, Kate. This is a scale model of war. Every war ever fought right there in front of you. Because it’s always the same. When you fire that first shot, no matter how right you feel, you have no idea who’s going to die. You don’t know who’s children are going to scream and burn. How many hearts will be broken! How many lives shattered! How much blood will spill until everybody does what they’re always going to have to do from the very beginning — sit down and talk! Listen to me, listen. I just — I just want you to think. Do you know what thinking is? It’s just a fancy word for changing your mind.

Bonnie: I will not change my mind.

The Doctor: Then you will die stupid. Alternatively, you could step away from that box. You could walk right out of that door, and you could stand your revolution down.

Bonnie: No, I’m not stopping this, Doctor. I started it. I will not stop it. You think they’ll let me go after what I’ve done?

The Doctor: You’re all the same, you screaming kids, you know that? “Look at me, I’m unforgivable.” Well here’s the unforeseeable, I forgive you. After all you’ve done. I forgive you.

Bonnie: You don’t understand. You will never understand.

The Doctor: I don’t understand? Are you kidding? Me? Of course I understand. I mean, do you call this a war, this funny little thing? This is not a war. I fought in a bigger war than you will ever know. I did worse things than you could ever imagine, and when I close my eyes… I hear more screams than anyone could ever be able to count! And do you know what you do with all that pain? Shall I tell you where you put it? You hold it tight… Til it burns your hand. And you say this — no one else will ever have to live like this. No one else will ever have to feel this pain. Not on my watch.

[Kate closes her box.]

The Doctor: Thank you. Thank you.

Kate: I’m sorry.

The Doctor: I know. I know, thank you.

[The Doctor looks back to Bonnie.]

Well?

Bonnie: It’s empty, isn’t it? Both boxes — there’s nothing in them. Just buttons.

The Doctor: Of course. But you know how you know that? Because you’ve started to think like me. It’s hell, isn’t it? No one should have to think like that. And no one will. Not on our watch.

[The Doctor and Bonnie stare at one another for a moment.]

The Doctor: Gotcha.

Bonnie: How can you be so sure?

The Doctor: Because you have a disadvantage, Zygella. I know that face.

Kate: Well, this is all very well, but as know the boxes are empty now. We can’t forget that.

The Doctor: No, well, uh… You’ve said that the last 15 times.

[The Doctor uses his sunglasses, which begin pulsing.]

Bonnie: You didn’t wipe my memory.

The Doctor: No. Just Kate’s. Oh, and your little friends here, of course. When they wake up, they won’t remember what you’ve done. It’ll be our secret.

Bonnie: You’re going to protect me?

Osgood: Well, you’re one of us now, whether you like it or not.

Bonnie: I don’t understand how You could just forgive me.

The Doctor: Because I’ve been where you have. There was another box. I was gonna press another button. I was going to wipe out all of my own kind. Man, woman, and child. I was so sure I was right.

Bonnie: What happened?

The Doctor: Same thing that happened to you. I let Clara Oswald get inside my head.

[The Doctor looks at Clara.]

The Doctor: Trust me… She doesn’t leave.

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About Alastair Stewart 226 Articles
Alastair Stewart is a freelance writer and journalist. He was previously a press officer in the Scottish Parliament and worked in public affairs. He graduated from Edinburgh University with an MA in International Relations and writes regularly on politics and the arts in the Spanish and British press.

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