Doctor Who recap: The Zygon Inversion
The key to preventing a war is in the Osgood Box.
If we can count on the Doctor for anything, it’s this: Minutes after he’s survived a plane crash, he’ll probably start talking about invisible watches. “You’re talking nonsense to distract me from being really scared,” Osgood says. “It’s one of your known character traits.” It’s one of Doctor Who’s known traits, too. Last week’s “Zygon Invasion” was an hour of misdirection that made it hard to feel the consequence of anything; this week’s “Inversion” is all about consequence but light on any actual repercussions — which must mean they’re coming. The nonsense can’t hold, and I think it just hit me that Clara’s days with the Doctor are numbered.
Why now? After weeks of not-so-subtle reminders that he won’t always be able to save Clara, the Doctor spent most of his time in this episode trying to do just that. It was safe to assume that he’d be back with her in the end, just as it was safe to assume that no one, human or Zygon, would actually blow up London. But the assumptions put me on edge — it’s too easy to presume victory before it’s guaranteed. Not every box is empty.
Clara suggested at the start of this season that the Doctor wins because he believes he’s going to win, but that’s true only in the short term. In the grand scheme of things, he can only ever expect to lose, both wars and companions. Today, he’s losing a war with himself about his companion. Is Clara dead? The Doctor claims that he’s “still in the hope phase” (which is “hell”), but then he slips and refers to her in the past tense. It’s Osgood who shakes the Doctor out of it when he gets a text sent from Clara’s phone: ”I’m awake.”
Back in her pod, Clara’s consciousness is alert but trapped in a windowless, doorless version of her apartment. What is it with Clara and dream worlds? Dream worlds love her. At least she knows how to work the system: When her TV taps into Bonnie’s point of view — the Doctor’s plane in the sights of a bazooka — Clara shoves the screen, causing her Zygon double to miss the shot. Even biting her trigger finger can’t stop Bonnie from making the next one, but that first miss gives the Doctor and Osgood time to parachute to safety.
Still working their connection to her advantage, Clara moves her own finger in order to move Bonnie’s, texting the Doctor without Bonnie’s knowledge — and without typos, which is more than I can achieve when I’m looking at an actual phone. She is good. The Doctor’s hope phase gets more hellish. He calls Bonnie, who keeps unintentionally winking, and tells Clara not to let Bonnie into her memories. She can’t give up the location of the Osgood Box. Bonnie does the rest of the hard work, booking it to Clara’s pod and leading the Doctor and Osgood right to her.
They track Clara’s phone to a shopping center in south London, where, not too long ago, Bonnie uploaded a video of a Zygon running free in his natural form. She staged the whole thing, forcing him to, as the Zygons would say, “normalize” in order to spread panic. The video makes it look like he’s terrorizing the locals, but he’s actually reaching out for help, and they’re not responding — at all. The Doctor and Osgood met similarly unresponsive police officers back at the site of their crash. It’s as if the world is frozen: the calm at the eye of the storm.
The only action in the whole city seems to revolve around Bonnie, who makes her way to Clara’s pod and taps into her TV feed. Clara refuses to give up what she knows, but Bonnie has a trump card: Their pulses are connected. If Clara lies, Bonnie will know, and she’ll kill her. Traveling with the Doctor really should require some sort of Sydney Bristow-esque lie detector training course, but it doesn’t, so Clara is forced to give up the Box’s location: It’s in the Black Archives, which Bonnie can access with Clara’s body print. As for why it’s called the Osgood Box, Clara’s not telling — when Bonnie finds out, she’ll want to speak to her again. Two can play at the “keeping Clara alive” game.
Bonnie takes Clara’s entire pod with her to the Black Archives like it’s some kind of rolling suitcase, putting a crimp in the Doctor’s rescue plans. He and Osgood are met in the shopping center by Kate and two guards, and despite his suspicion that she’s not who she claims to be, the Doctor lets Kate lead him to the location formerly known as Clara’s pod. As the guards return to Zygon form, Kate calls Bonnie, who’s found the Osgood Box. It has a twin. Two Osgoods, two boxes: one to normalize the Zygons, and one to destroy them.
NEXT: This is not a game
Bonnie wakes Clara to use her as collateral, threatening her life in order to get the truth out of the Doctor. He tells Bonnie that she wants the blue box, but that’s not the last choice she’ll have to make. Within the box, Bonnie finds two buttons: one for Truth, and one for Consequences. Kate shoots the Zygon guards — she’s our Kate after all — and heads to the Black Archives with the Doctor and Osgood, taking her place at the red box as Bonnie positions herself at the blue one. Their choices are set: Kate’s buttons will either detonate a bomb beneath London or release Z-67 and kill the Zygons. Bonnie’s buttons will either unmask the Zygons or lock them into human form forever.
There’s a reason why Doctor Who doesn’t tend to comment on current events: The Doctor’s view of the human experience is too broad to capture that kind of nuance. But the parallels here are unavoidable, and all of them are handled messily. Bonnie, we’re told, is a member of a radical splinter group; her views don’t line up with those of most of her people. The majority of Zygons would rather live in peace. It’s a fine point on its own, but in this case, that peace was engineered by an interloper, and it requires them to hide a part of their identity.
The man Bonnie forced to normalize killed himself because he would rather die than live as a Zygon in this society. That isn’t a good sign for anyone. It’s not Bonnie’s place to choose to expose others on their behalf, but it’s also not the Doctor’s place to reply, “So what?” when Bonnie tells him they’ve been treated like cattle. Is it worth being silenced to maintain peace? Pacifism is built into this show’s DNA, but when it’s used in real-world analogies applicable to everything from racism to religious extremism to LGBT rights, it carries implications that threaten to ignore people’s lived experiences. There are some issues too complex to be solved by a rousing speech from the Doctor.
But if anyone can make you want a speech to save the day, it’s Peter Capaldi. The Doctor owns the room, trying every trick in his arsenal (American accent included. AMERICAN. ACCENT) to make Kate and Bonnie understand what they’re about to do. No matter how right the cause, he argues, no one can ever plan for the casualties of war. It always ends where it should have started: with people sitting down to talk, and with survivors, like the Doctor, now sentenced to live with their guilt. “No one else will have to feel this pain,” he vows. “Not on my watch.”
Kate steps away, but it’s Bonnie who figures out the game: The boxes are empty. The Doctor was, as usual, “talking nonsense,” but this time it was to make someone scared — to remind both Kate and Bonnie that war always has personal consequences. He’d already guaranteed his own short-term victory, but only because, in the long term, he’d already lost. And the Doctor is resigned to the fact that he’s going to lose again: By erasing Kate’s memory to preserve the terms of Operation Double, he ensures that the humans won’t learn anything from this. Peace is maintained, but he’ll never have to stop maintaining it.
War is so cyclical that even the second Osgood can’t stay dead. The Doctor gives Bonnie a reprieve — he knows what it’s like to almost press that button — and rather than continue to run around London with Clara’s face, she takes Osgood’s, joining her fellow hybrid in the day-to-day work of defending the earth. There goes the Doctor’s quest to figure out whether she was born human or Zygon. She’ll tell him one day, but only when the answer stops mattering, which is really what the Doctor is after: the day the truth doesn’t come with so many consequences.
- I can’t stop rewinding the American accent. “Bonnie sweetheart.” Like he’s John Wayne or something.
- Peter Capaldi did some of his best work in this episode.
- “The imbecile’s gas.” Now there’s a shout out to Harry Sullivan that only the Doctor could give.
- “You’re all the same, you screaming kids, do you know that? ‘Look at me; I’m unforgivable.’ Well here’s the unforeseeable: I forgive you.”
- “I did this on a very important day for me.”
- Petronella Osgood.
- I’m choosing to take “Basil” as a Fawlty Towers reference.
- “It’s my plane. I had a big plane for purposes of, uh, poncing about.”
- “Yes, well, I’m dead now, and I think I might be a bit more dead in a minute.”
- “London. What a dump.”
- “I’ll be the judge of time.”
- “I made it up from the initials. It stands for Totally and Radically Driving in Space.”