Hello hello, I know, long time-no post. Well don’t worry I’m back!
First thing’s first, since today they announced Broadchurch’s Jodie Whittaker as the 13th Doctor, we’re left with a bit of a good news/bad news situation: Good news; the future of the show is in good hands, bad news; this was the very last scrap of Doctor Who related new stuff we see till Christmas.
So what I’ve decided to do is have my own little trip down memory lane to occupy my time. And since this is the internet, I have to assume you all care about what I have to say.
So here’s the procedure: I’m picking two of my favorite episodes from every season, two-parters or individual episodes, working backwards from the most recent (before 10, since we all literally just watched that). I may sometimes follow up with honorable mention, and I’ll skip all the season-independent specials unless I feel they’re particularly mention-able.
To get started, I debated whether or not to include the first entry of the two-part episode since all the fantastic angry Scottishness takes place in the latter. Invasion is very slow paced, not a lot happens, what does seems predictable, and none of the main characters… really do that much.
Well wide, beautiful, enthusiastic readership, I made my decision to include what may seem like the weak link of a very strong season (but that prize unfortunately goes to Sleep No More–sorry Gatiss but if Neil Gaiman can write a dud, you can too) for I think the same reason it was included in the season at all: Build-up.
When you look at the two parts as a whole, which you should do with any story arch, you see that yes it is slow, yes, it seems like nobody does that much, and yes, that one weird cop lady in New Mexico is almost definitely a secret alien shape-shifter, but that is because the action is taking place on the bad guys’ side of the playing field.
The fact of the matter is the titular rebel Zygons are pretty much in command of the situation the entire span of both episodes, and that buildup helps to raise that many more goosebumps when it gets to the clash of ideals between Kate, Bonny, and The Doctor.
But let’s rewind a bit before we get to Inversion.
In the light of Invasion not being your typical Doctor Who story and being more of an episode where the baddies hold all the cards and are slowly playing them on the audience, I think it’s worth noting that Jenna Coleman deserves some special recognition for playing Clara’s evil Zygon duplicate.
Clara is often criticized for being just kind of… meh. Her story gets pulled in a bunch of different directions between family members that are never really quite fleshed out and those random two kids she nannied for in that one episode that were never seen again, to her big main story arch that culminated in the season 7 finale and just kind of ended.
One thing Invasion really highlights is that this is through no fault of Coleman. She gets a chance in this episode to stretch some acting muscles to the point where part of me likes her better as evil-Clara than as regular Clara. She does a wonderfully cold take on the character as she orders around her cronies with a distinctly not-nice edge to her voice, she carries herself casually, but in the sense that she’s not relaxed but just doesn’t need to break a sweat to kill you. I noticed particularly that in several scenes she keeps her hands in her coat pockets as she chases down a fellow Zygon who’s against her little revolution or waltzes with her thugs on each side. Good job, Jenna.
Another reason we’re all indebted to Invasion is that it facilitates the return of Ingrid Oliver’s character, Osgood, who was last seen getting murdered in the face by an irate Melissa Gomez. Not only does it bring her back, but it gives her character an actually plausible explanation for her return, which is refreshing in a climate of superheroes coming back from the dead left and right for increasingly ridiculous reasons. The fact that her character introduces an interesting dynamic for human/Zygon relations that gets everyone, even the Doctor, a little on edge (“Which one are you?”) is an added bonus.
In summation, Invasion is absolutely worth a watch, as it does exactly what it should; ensure that when the shit hits the fan in part two, you feel it.
So this brings us to Inversion.
I brought up Evil Clara when talking about Invasion, but as the reveal is towards the tail end of the episode, she really just lays the groundwork for her later performance. But as we just discussed, that was kind of the whole point of that episode, so it’s no surprise that her evilness really gets a chance to shine in Inversion.
Aside from the episode’s climactic moment, one of my favorite moments of Evil-Clara was when she interrogates Clara-Clara, who she is sharing a psychic bond with to access her memories and form. It’s a great example of mental sparring, where both parties can’t lie to each other (as they share a pulse, and can simply check their own to see if the other is lying). Evil-Clara makes it clear what she’s willing to do to achieve her goals, and it’s actually smarts, not plot-armor, that gets Clara-Clara out of danger.
The best part of Evil-Clara in this episode though is we get to see her lose it. She rocks the Bond-villain aesthetic in the first episode with her cool, calm, collected execution of her plan, but it’s always great to see the mastermind react when things start to not go their way. What makes it better is that it really relies on the writing to shine through the performance as you can hear the frustration in Evil-Clara’s voice when reason, just actual regular rational thought, starts poking holes in her anarchic-revolutionary rhetoric.
Which brings us to the good bit. I mean, the really, really, REALLY good bit. Evil-Clara’s been hunting down a hidden superweapon known only as The Osgood Box for two episodes, knowing only that it had the capability to “end the cease-fire” between humans and Zygons, which Clara had used to bargain for her life. Evil-Clara sees it through a doorway on a table, walks towards it, and sees, impossibly, there are two. Two unmarked boxes, one red, one blue, each with their own set of buttons marked only “Truth” and “Consequences.”
The red box, the human box, can either destroy every living Zygon on the planet using a deadly gas that’s fatal to shape-shifters or detonate a nuclear warhead under London. The blue box, the Zygon’s, can expose all the Zygons according to Evil-Clara’s plan and force them to join her cause and fight the humans for their survival, or rob every Zygon of their powers, leaving them stuck living as they humans they are impersonating, which Evil-Clara considers “slavery.”
I think this is some of the best writing in the season, and up their as some of the best writing in the series, the way the Doctor manipulates the wants and fears of both sides of the would-be war, paralyzing them with indecision, while he gets a chance to try the real plan.
That’s the moment, when both sides are busy doing the math on their odds of making it out alive, when you realize there’s a reason the Doctor seemed so inactive and ineffectual up till this point. You realize that there’s a reason Clara let Evil-Clara get the location of the Osgood Box from her rather than dying to save the planet. Because unlike some other episodes where enemies are lured into inescapable traps or bound in unbreakable chains, or just plain blown up, in this one, this is the plan:
In a way that only Peter Capaldi can, and in one of the most brilliantly-written and acted speeches in the show since its revival, The Doctor fires Scottishness and attack eyebrows on full cylinder and shouts the goddamned aliens into re-thinking their life choices.
This scene is the reason I did not even have to think about this being the best episode of the season. As far as world-saving plans go, diplomacy sounds pretty tame, but Capaldi’s growling, grisled, gravely delivery of the lines, with his hair all askew and his face lined and skull-like like a Tim Burton character, you forget that just one regeneration ago this happy-go-lucky time traveler was portrayed by the youngest actor to play the role and trying to convince you that fez’s were cool. Capaldi brings every inch of the age and gravity of his Doctor to his intense tough-love monologue and it works.
Delivery aside, the logic of the argument is phenomenally written. It’s always impressive when a fast-talker can bluff their way out of a tricky situation, but it’s something else completely to confront a brainwashed zealot and actually change their mind.
The opening of the argument is especially brilliant, with the Doctor’s flat-out contradiction of Evil-Clara (or Zygella, in the dialogue)’s flawed conception of her situation (read below).
CLARA-Z: This is wrong.
DOCTOR: No, it’s not.
CLARA-Z: You are responsible for all the violence. All of the suffering.
DOCTOR: No, I’m not.
CLARA-Z: Yes. You engineered this situation, Doctor. This is your fault.
DOCTOR: No, it’s not. It’s your fault.
CLARA-Z: I had to do what I’ve done.
DOCTOR: So did I.
CLARA-Z: We’ve been treated like cattle.
DOCTOR: So what.
CLARA-Z: We’ve been left to fend for ourselves.
DOCTOR: So’s everyone.
CLARA-Z: It’s not fair.
DOCTOR: Oh, it’s not fair! Oh, I didn’t realise that it was not fair! Well, you know what? My Tardis doesn’t work properly and I don’t have my own personal tailor.
CLARA-Z: The things don’t equate.
DOCTOR: These things have happened, Zygella. They are facts. 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?
CLARA-Z: Why should we?
DOCTOR: What is it that you actually want?
It’s almost comical to the point where you can’t blame Kate for thinking that the Doctor isn’t completely taking this seriously. “Yes” “No” “Yes” “No” hardly seems like intelligent debate, and that’s exactly why it isn’t. He’s not about to debate the merits of killing all humans versus not killing all humans, he instead calls a tantrum a tantrum and lets her beat her head against a wall with him before pulling the rug out from under her feet with his last question, “What is it that you actually want?”
I always find myself wishing I could ask that question to bad guys both fictional or otherwise, just to watch it dawn on them that they don’t actually have that much of a clear picture of it themselves, or realize how unrealistic and outlandish their plots actually are. Especially given modern entertainment media’s tendency to make everything more complex and clever and cynical, it’s refreshing to see this “scaled down model of war” simplified further for it’s combatants to the main point: Cruelty begets cruelty, revenge creates more need for revenge.
He says it best with “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 whose 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 until what they were always going to have to do from the very beginning. Sit down and talk!”
This, I think, is one of the most quintessentially “Doctor” moments in the show, making it as I mentioned above, an easy pick for Season 9’s Greatest Hits.
Disagree? Have another episode in mind? Leave a comment! Argue! Have Fun!