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Doctor Who S9.08 "The Zygon Inversion" review

After last week’s alien invasion by numbers, the second half to this year’s Zygon two-parter is refreshingly inventive, an episode that may not be big on action, yet feels like a dramatically satisfying conclusion to last week’s set-up. And how often do we get to say that the second instalment of a two-parter is better than the first?

The inventiveness starts early, with the Doctor’s escape from a seemingly inevitable demise at the hands of Bonnie’s plane-bound rocket. No need to resort to some contrived Sonic Sunglasses shenanigans or convenient interference with the rules of space and time. Instead, Clara’s consciousness is still alive in her evil counterpart Bonnie’s mind (the slightly inverted virtual recreation of her flat, complete with black toothpaste and a backwards clock is wonderfully unsettling) , and Clara’s presence is enough to buy the Doctor and Osgood enough time to grab parachutes and leap out of the doomed aircraft.

The interaction between Clara and Bonnie is actually the highlight of the episode. Jenna Coleman manages to make them feel like subtly distinct characters, and has a blast playing against herself in one (or should that be two?) of her best performances of the series. A foe who’s every bit your equal and can tell when you’re lying is a wonderful dramatic device, and the scenes between the pair exploit that to the max.

Nobody does it better

So, the Doctor’s a Bond fan! The Doctor with a union jack parachute? Genius. And what better reason to wear it than, er, “camouflage”. He is in Britain, after all.

It’s also great that an episode about an alien race trying to bring about a war between two species is prepared to resort to talking as a solution. That the big set-piece – the dramatic denouement – should simply be a bunch of people debating in a room, is a brave move that pays off wonderfully.

The idea of the Osgood Box is every bit as tricksy as you’d expect from a script co-written by Steven Moffat, a wonderful piece of sleight-of-hand by the Doctor that manages to outfox both sides with a pair of boring, empty boxes. Wonder if he’s been watching Deal Or No Deal? The implication that the memory-wiping abilities of the Black Archive have allowed the ”nightmare scenario” to happen 15 times before (and presumably it will happen again) is also a great set-up for future shapeshifting stories.

“The Zygon Inversion” is not perfect. 
It loses its momentum in those final Black Archive moments, over-stretching the boxes’ premise to breaking point; and the Doctor is a tad condescending (that side of his character is never the most appealing to watch); and you need to have done a fair bit of revision on 50th anniversary episode “The Day Of The Doctor” to have any chance of understanding what’s going on. But this two-parter has made sure the Zygons remain essential villains in the Who canon. And when the likes of the Cybermen, the Zygons and the Sontarans have had their power to scare neutered by disappointing stories, that’s got to count as a victory.

Doctor Who airs on Saturday evenings on BBC One in the UK and BBC America in the US.

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WritersPeter Harness and Steven Moffat
DirectorDaniel Nettheim
The One WhereThe Doctor, Osgood and Clara try to stop Zygon duplicate Bonnie from getting her hands on the Osgood box that could end the ceasefire.

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Available platformsTV
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Rich Edwards

Rich is a freelancer journalist and editor, and was once a physicist. Rich was once the editor of SFX Magazine, but has since gone freelance, writing for websites and publications including GamesRadar, SFX, Total Film, and more. He also co-hosts the podcast, Robby the Robot's Waiting, which is focused on sci-fi and fantasy.