Monday, 9 November 2015

Doctor Who: The Zygon Inversion (Episode Review)

So, last week we had an episode which decided messages were better than storytelling and prompted to beat the audience over the head with them. Riddled with plot holes, contrivances and refusing to deal with consequences, it insulted the audience's intelligence at more or less every turn. Well, it might surprise you that the Zygon Inversion is a marked improvement. Oh it's still bad, still nothing you'd want to watch again, but it goes from being one of the worst episodes ever to grace science fiction to just plain bad. So, say what you want about Steven Moffat, but he did help elevate the quality of this script

So, with UNIT defeated in seemingly mere minutes and the zygons running amok, the story moves onto the episode's next big objective. It's setting up the scene where the aliens have their grand plan, their objective and desires goal in sight, right after coming within inches of killing the Doctor.

What's going to have most people rolling their eyes from the very start is how the episode actually goes so far as to re-edit scenes to have new outcomes. A big complaint last time was how Kate Lethbridge-Stewart had such a slow reaction time, allowing the zygon to quickly kill her. In this, the same scene plays out, but it cuts a few seconds earlier, and Kate abruptly has a gun in her hand. Normally i'd mention spoilers at this point, but when an episode outright cheats the audience like that, it deserves to be mentioned.

Another problem is that, in all honesty, the episode repeatedly fails to understand how to make the zygons sympathetic or fully address their prior invasion. It tries to drum up sympathy when the extremists use one of their own kind to provoke the world into a war with the alien race, forcing him to revert to his true form. It works in terms of how painful and unnatural the transformation is, but you quickly lose all sympathy when you realise two things: 
Firstly, this guy emerged as part of a full blown invasion force bent upon conquering humanity and taking their world. As such his claims of just wanting to peacefully live there ring hollow.
Secondly, the Doctor passes several burning corpses of innocent humans left in this person's wake. Corpses only the fleeing alien we're supposed to feel for could have left. Okay, he's scared, but when you turn that guy into a mass murderer, all empathy tends to go out the window.

The sheer lack of any sympathy for any of the zygons only becomes gradually worse as the story goes on, especially when it comes to its chief villains. We see them performing acts of torture, murder, betraying their own kind, hunting down methods to perform mass genocide, and drag their race into a war they cannot win. No, honestly, when confronted over the fact the few million zygons can't hope to win a battle against billions of humans, their reaction is "So what? Better that than living here under the tyranny of a race trying to share their planet with us." Well, by the end, that same person is someone who gets of scott-free. Despite almost leading their kind of extinction and killing how knows how many sentient beings, she more or less gets off with just a warning. 

The villain escaping without any justice being dispensed was something which was intended to help the episode establish its message. Well, it's new message anyway. Back-peddling out of the terrorist cliche-storm of the last script, we instead now have a massive "war's bad m'kay?" line which never actually manages to convince the audience of anything. There's a whole speech which tries to present war as being a futile thing entirely, as being not worth making and that murdering thousands is never worth it. The problem is that nothing here even vaguely suggests the zygons would ever agree to this, and actually doing so requires them to act entirely out of character. It's not development so much as one person pulling an abrupt 180 and going from evil to good. 

So, you might have noticed that this review is focusing a lot upon that one single point here. Well, that's because almost this entire conclusion is little more than window dressing for the Doctor to make the aforementioned speech and have it all end. Honestly, little to nothing else here actually has any impact upon the tale's outcome and, as such, rather than serving as a natural conclusion it's just rushed. It's a ten minute portion of the episode quickly wrapping up and resolving everything, hammering in the message, and then ending things.

Almost every review itself praises the speech itself and, in fairness, it's a surprisingly good one. A big part of that is down to the intensity of Capaldi's performance and his uncanny ability to turn the most writery of lines to natural dialogue. It makes a few genuinely good points, and taken on its own it actually would work well. The problem is the baggage of the episode and everything else drags it down, and it seems not to want to address that. The script just wants to just set up one single scene to wow the audience but not deal with almost anything else with as much seriousness, riding on the success of that one moment. The sad thing is that it might have worked. Look online and you'll find a thousand positive, glowing reviews, just about all of which hinge upon this one scene claiming it makes the episode as a whole great. It's The Almost People all over again, with one genuinely great moment blinding them to the problems everywhere else.

Look, many of the same problems from last time carry over to here and there honestly isn't all that much which is great. Those which do stand out are often marred or limited by problems in the same damn scene. For example, the horrifying and painful reverse-transformation looks and sounds excellent. The problem is that the humans watching this play out only look on with stone faced apathy, rather than reacting in any normal way. There's a few genuinely great or tense moments in the build up, where Clara slowly discovers the situation she's stuck in. The problem is it's so drawn out, so up front that it gradually loses all impact.

If you have iPlayer it's worth skipping to the ten minute Capaldi speech, but otherwise skip this one entirely. It's a bad ending to a terrible two-parter, and you'd be better off just forgetting this one ever existed.


  1. Yeah the last episode was outright terrible and this one wasn't much better, I agree in that I thought the speech was really good, but it lost all impact when the Doctor simply forgave Bonnie for everything, as if that made everything better. It's not going to bring back those soldiers she just killed (who all have family that she had her Zygons impersonate), it's not going to bring back those UNIT operatives she had murdered, she screwed over the Zygon's command structure by murdering their leaders and never replacing them, but we should accept all of that because the Doctor forgave her.

    I guess my reading of that scene with the Zygon was different than yours, I thought that he was supposed to be one of those that were not a part of the extremists (which is why Bonnie says "the first one has been turned") and I also thought the piles of... Hair? Were Zygons that he killed, since at that point the entire city was supposed to be taken over by them.

    I'd also have liked Capaldi's speech far more if it didn't boil down to: "You'll all die and it'll be really sad!" "Good!" "Trust me, it'll be really, REALLY sad." "Oh, I didn't know that!"

    Lastly I want to know which moron thought it would be a good idea to just let the former commander of a radical splinter group get such a high ranking at UNIT.

    That last point cemented it as a bad episode to me, I fail to see why a mass murderer bent on Genocide until just a day ago (at absolute most, though it was probably only a few hours) should be given that much power. Let's assume she's lying because she figured out what's in the box but still wants this revolution, the Doctor has now given her a position where she can monitor every Zygon and counter/control (by doing more body swapping) all of Earth's extraterrestrial defences. All that we've got that she WON'T do this is her word, they didn't even do something smart like use Clara to make sure she wasn't lying!

    1. We're pretty much completely on the same page here. When taken purely on its own, or possibly even with the following stories, it works well. Once you actually pause and look at all the stuff it's supposed to resolve, it fails to really click nearly as well as it should have. At best it seems like the Doctor has added a loose cannon into the mix and a zealot willing to murder everything. Even if he did let her go though, the problem is the tone. Helping to try and maintain the ceasefire until a better world can be established? Okay, can definitely get behind that one if she's repenting for her acts. The problem is it's not established as that, and instead she's just let go with none of the weight of past crimes hanging over her.

      I'd also repeat that, in all honesty, it's more Capaldi's performance which makes the speech scene work than the writing. Really, if you read it word for word it honesty doesn't work all that well, and it just seems to be the guy's intensity which makes you forget about that for the moment. Well, if you're getting into the scene anyway.

      Ah well, here's hoping we'll see a better outing next week.