Having a deep seated disappointment in the woeful costume design and makeup of the Zygons is always going to taint our review of any episode that features them, and once again they’re a part of what doesn’t quite work with Episode 8: The Zygon Inversion. It’s a bit of mixed bag though with some moments of mild genius backed up by infrequent bouts of troubled storyline direction and delivery, which kind of leaves you mostly satisfied with the two-part outing as a whole, but bemoaning the missed opportunities.
It picks up on the breakdown of the Zygon-human peace treaty that came to a head in the first part of the story, The Zygon Invasion, where we were left not knowing whether or not Clara was truly dead or just a red herring misdirection in anticipation of her eventual exit from the show some time during Series 9. That sounds as though it should have been a major cliffhanger, and it sort of was, but not nearly as big a as it could have been with the size of the stakes at play.
The episode starts off really strongly with creepy mysteries and a slow tread in the direction of it all making sense, but it falls down almost as soon as the first Zygon shows up on the screen, reminding you that it’s all a bit of a sham. Jenna Coleman is the most significant saving grace throughout the episode, drawing you into Clara’s predicament brilliantly, while also convincing you of Zygon high commander, Bonnie’s determination to bring an end to peace.
Peter Capaldi, on the other hand, has his worst episode to-date, as he’s drawn a little too far into the point that the writers, Peter Harness and Steven Moffat, are trying to make about war and the real world socio-political incarnation of that with relations with the Middle East and Afghanistan. To drive this home there’s a climactic scene with both sides of the battle lines poised over an opposing Osgood box with their hands hovering between the truth or consequences buttons and the Doctor waxing lyrical about the realities of war and the difficult choices we need to make to avoid it. This in itself would have been fine if it weren’t for the fact that it was accompanied by a really annoying American accent, which is brash to the point of detracting from the reference it’s so vociferously trying to make about US foreign policy.
It’s not that we don’t agree with the point to a large extent, it’s just that it’s clumsy in its delivery and stands out a bit like a sore thumb, when it should have been deft and probably a bit more direct or honest with its allegorical aspirations. The Zygon Invasion suffered from the very same issue with the overextended scene featuring the rogue aliens mask reading as family members of he army men holding them up at gun point. If either of these instances had been treated with a bit more credibility then our review would be a whole lot higher, irrespective of our subjective dismay at the Zygon outfit.
On the other hand, it is good to catch up with Osgood once again, played nicely by Ingrid Oliver, with some decent dialogue between her and the Doctor as they work together to salvage the tenuous peace between he two races. Not to give too much away, but it looks like we’re going to be seeing at least a little more of her in the not too distant future and she’s probably at least a contender, alongside Maisie Williams, as a potential replacement for Jenna Coleman when she does finally leave the TARDIS ride for good.
While we’re not massive fans of The Zygon Inversion, it was at least enjoyable in parts, which kind of makes us think that it probably only needed a few small tweeks to make it a much better episode. Throw in a design review of the Zygons (who we’ve seen described in relation to elephant nuts), add a bit more credible intent to key scenes and build on the tension that was naturally inherent in the story and it could have been a classic. The good news is that the trailer for the next episode, Sleep No More, looks very strong, so we should be back on course for a better scoring review next week.
Doctor Who Series 9, Episode 8: The Zygon Inversion review: 3/5