Doctor Who Review: The Zygon Inversion

“Do you know what thinking is? It’s just a fancy word for changing your mind.”

The Doctor


The Zygon Inversion, follow-up to last week’s Zygon Invasion and hence an episode taxed with the difficult task of suggesting What to Do About ISIS, is primarily interested in twins. Twin Osgoods; twin Claras; twin boxes; twin buttons; twin pairs of buttons.

But where The Zygon Invasion saw the Zygons’ ability to copy the body-prints of humanity as something threatening, unnatural, alien, Inversion seems to countenance something much less traditional and much less hostile, something almost collaborative, in its twin-pairs. Its attitude to twins focuses around what we find in the Osgood boxes: a pair of buttons marked “Truth” and “Consequences”.

Now, if we’re thinking logically, there’s no actual reason why the boxes should be labelled so. Are we supposed to believe that the fifteen Zygon uprisings which, according to the episode’s ending, have happened before this one all operated out of the small and unfortunate town of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico? Are we supposed to assume that the Osgoods foresaw the phrase’s significance when they set up the treaty?

But this scene isn’t supposed to make us think logically; we’re still, here, on the level of allegory and symbol. What the labels say doesn’t matter too much; it’s what they represent that’s important. Because, in the end, what’s in the boxes is, despite the Doctor’s bluffing, exactly the same: nothing. These twins are the same. It’s just the labels that are different.

And this, it seems to me, is the very heart and crux of the entire episode. This is what Osgood has been trying to tell us for two episodes: human and Zygon are the same, just with different labels. Clara and Bonnie are the same – both trapped in an alien body, both angry and determined to survive – they just wear different labels. It’s an incredibly clever use of the twin motif, relevant and original (most of the twins we encounter in art are Gothic twins, doppelgangers, profoundly uncanny and dangerous), and that symbolic ending – in which both Kate and Bonnie have to come to terms with the fact that they are in the same position, just with different labels; that Truth and Consequence are in their ultimate effect the same thing, just with different labels – is the right one, thematically, emotionally, and in terms of characterisation. I can’t stress enough just how much I love this image.

Unfortunately, it’s undercut somewhat by the Plot Ending that Harness and Moffat feel obliged to give the episode. In the Logical Plot (as opposed to the Symbolic Plot) the Doctor manages to call off the uprising by, er, chuntering at Kate and Bonnie about the Time War at great length. This is, to be fair, a very old plot device on Doctor Who (well, the chuntering is, anyway), but Bonnie’s decision to step away from the Osgood box feels, like many of Moffat’s endings, unearned, the result not of mutual understanding between two women who care deeply about their respective races – but of a man telling two women what to do, because he is a Man and a Time Lord and therefore knows so much better than they do.

To be fair, he probably does; but thematically I felt that the episode needed an ending in which the two races made peace directly between themselves. Perhaps then we could start believing in Bonnie’s peace, which as it stands feels a little too easily dealt with; are we really supposed to think that the radicalisation of groups like ISIS stands or falls on the actions of one angry young person?

As a side note, I do also appreciate that the Zygons’ crusade has nothing to do with religion. It’s become all too easy for creators to rely on the trope of the mad prophet driving his followers to suicide as a shorthand for Ultimate Terror.

Altogether, then, a surprisingly un-lazy episode for Doctor Who, though it has its issues. Certainly I think it may be the strongest two-parter this season (if not quite as good as Under the Lake): well-paced, sharply imaged, and reasonably carefully handled.

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