Last week’s episode felt like series nine of Doctor Who finally hitting its stride. The Zygon Invasion was a fast-paced, action-packed adventure that combined epic spectacle, scares and wit with an overt layer of social commentary we’re not used to seeing in the modern sci-fi series.
Yet, for all its thrills, the episode also felt a little padded with characters shifted around the world to service the needs of that doozy of a cliffhanger as much as the plot. Ultimately, it all felt like one long, frustrating set-up for this week’s second part. But boy was it worth the wait.
The Zygon Inversion arrives as a leaner, more focused beast, scaling back on the globe trotting and cinematic set-pieces for a concluding chapter that’s more intimate and character-driven, and perhaps even more impressive. Now teamed with showrunner Steven Moffat, writer Peter Harness delivers a taut and suspenseful tale that has a challenging moral conundrum at its core.
Harness’s story continues to explore topical themes of terrorism, xenophobia and the seeming impossibility of peace, albeit in a less overt manner. By cutting back on the long-winded speeches, Harness is able to focus more on the personal cost of the conflict, which proves far more effective. “I’m not part of your fight – I just want to live here,” pleads a concealed Zygon forced to revert to his true form in a devastating scene that perfectly highlights the human suffering caused by social conflicts.
The rising tensions between the humans and the Zygons feeds into the 70s-era vibe director Daniel Nettheim successfully evokes throughout the story. There’s a thick cloud of fear and paranoia hanging over the action, made all the more intense by Nettheim setting the action within the claustrophobic confines of London tower blocks. Add that to the frequent scenes of disturbing body horror as Zygons suffer a slow, painful transformation, and you’ve got one of the creepiest Doctor Who tales of recent memory.
That’s not the last of the classic sci-fi references, though. Both episodes have felt like a modern adaptation of The Invasion of the Body Snatchers – the 1956 film that actually popularized the term ‘pod people’ – and that description becomes more relevant here as the Doctor and Osgood set out to thwart the alien invasion.
With the real Clara trapped in a Salvador Dali version of her flat, Osgood effectively steps into the role of temporary companion here. Peter Capaldi and Ingrid Oliver instantly strike up a winning rapport as they set out to save Clara and the increased screen time allows Osgood to develop into a fully formed character as she demonstrates a greater understanding of what’s at stake than even the Doctor himself.
Of course, they’re not the only new dynamic to feature this week as The Zygon Inversion sees Clara face-off against her devilish double, Bonnie. Though she typically excels as the Doctor’s fearless and resourceful companion, Jenna Coleman clearly has a lot of fun playing Clara’s twisted doppelgänger, throwing everything into her cold, calculating performance whilst also showing the villain’s softer side as we discover the emotional drive behind her actions.
Inversion might not have the relentless pace of The Zygon Invasion, but it still packs one hell of an emotional punch via some absorbing character moments. The writers prove here that dialogue heavy scenes can carry just as much tension and suspense as any action sequence, a fact they put on show in stunning fashion as the race to reach the ‘Osgood Box’ transforms into a complex and intriguing experiment in morality.
Revealing a stark choice that could result in ultimate victory or defeat for either side, it’s in this spectacular final act where Capaldi finally comes into his own. “Nobody wins for long – the wheels just keep turning,” the Doctor sighs as he launches into a desperate, fiery confrontation with Kate Stewart and Bonnie. Sounding off on the vicious circle of cruelty that is seemingly inherent in every race, the scene is Capaldi’s finest moment, perfectly summing up the Scot’s incarnation as he swings from wild enthusiasm to mournful introspection as he reflects on his actions during the Time War. For the Doctor, finding a resolution is as much about his own redemption as it is securing peace.
While last week’s first part was far from perfect, The Zygon Inversion is as near to flawless as it’s possible to be. Mounting an unbearably tense thriller with barely an explosion or action sequence in sight, this concluding chapter delivers a powerful climax on the back of some poignant character moments and spectacular performances. Smart, inventive and endlessly entertaining, when Doctor Who is on this kind of form, there really is nothing better around.
Click here to watch Doctor Who: The Zygon Inversion on BBC iPlayer