Doctor Who: Talky and Repetitive, Dour Instalment Struggles
I spent a long time trying to put my finger on the correct word to sum up this episode- over-written? Pointed? Conducted with all the subtlety of a beating with a rusty spade? But the word I’m going with is laboured, because that’s what this episode was. Not necessarily awful, but The Zygon Inversion (which DIDN’T involve ant Zygons getting turned inside out by killer gas, boo!) felt as if it had a whole lot of episode to fill with a scant amount of plot.
The Doctor attempts to maintain the ceasefire between the Zygons and the humans as a the leader of the revolutionary Zygons, who also happens to be in Clara’s body, does everything s/he can to start a war. In order to do this, s/he needs to get hold of Osgood’s box-whoops, no the Osgood box, which will determine the fate of the earthbound Zygons. And in between those plot points, there’s lots and lots of….talking.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a good talky episode of Who as much of the next person (the sublime Boom Town springs immediately to mind). But, well, I think the Robot Devil can put it better than I ever could-
Over and over again, Peter Harness and Steven Moffat (co-credited as writing this script) seemed too busy jumping to the next forced joke or clunky moral plot point to have anyone express anything without having to have it underlined a thousand times by someone else. And, like The Woman Who Lived a few weeks back, everything seemed curiously repetitive, especially the climactic scene between Kate, Zygella and the Doctor. The Doctor’s giant, dramatic speech-which felt like it went on for at least 75% of the episode- wavered between Peter Capaldi managing to just pull it back into watchable, and repeating the same point over and over and over and over again to the point of brain-implosion. A point which barely even stands anymore, since the events of Day of the Doctor (I get why he was keen to stop the war from happening, but is it really fair to invoke the “I CARRY AROUND THE SCREAMS OF A MILLION PEOPLE I MURDERED” when you, um, didn’t actually murder them?).
Add to that a handful of annoying plotholes-if Kate could shoot the Zygon dead, why didn’t the armed U.N.I.T soldiers do that last episode? If there are only 20 million Zygons on Earth and they can be easily killed with firearms, the war really isn’t going to pose that much of a problem, is it? If the Doctor has had to diffuse situations like this one before, as implied by the “last fifteen times” line, why don’t they just remove the Zygons from Earth? And the biggest one of all: why the fucking Christ would U.N.I.T agree to settle Zygons on Earth after they TRIED TO TAKE IT OVER?- and this script was pretty awful, especially compared to last week’s tight, exciting thriller. It just didn’t have much to work with, with most of the plot being dealt with (and swiftly forgotten) last episode.
There were a couple of good scenes, that said- I’m coming round to Osgood(s) in a big way, as Ingrid Oliver managed to balance the charm and quirk with the sense of duty really nicely and was just generally really watchable. The other set of doubles in the episode- the two Claras- were not quite as good, despite a very cool scene where Evil!Clara tries to figure out the location of the Osgood box and the two of them have a bit of a mental joust. I really didn’t care for Jenna Coleman in this episode, who looked for a lot of the runtime as if she was phoning it in with one foot out the door, which is a shame but fits pretty well with the patchy nature of the writing for her character(s) since the start of this season.
One thing that did strike me about this episode, and this series by extension, is the problems they seem to have balancing fun with serious. The Zygon Inversion had a lot of stuff to say about the pointlessness of war (with a weirdly out-of-place reference to the Glorious Revolution, for what it’s worth), but the only way it could get it’s point across was through repetition ad finitum and Peter Capaldi doing that awful game show voice. The show has shown over and over again that it can balance rollicking fun with serious moral points (David Tennant’s first proper episode New Earth springs to mind), but the last couple of seasons have lurched awkwardly between stilted jokes and overly serious moralilty without taking the time to fit the two together. There hasn’t been a really outrightly fun episode this season- Under the Lake had it’s moments, as did The Woman Who Lived, but both revolved around heavy central ideas-and I feel like the show is starting to get a little bogged down in it’s seriousness. That all said, next week is a found footage episode with Reese Shearsmith in it, and therefore was created expressly for me!
AND the Zygons still look like demon Mr Blobbys. I’ll have you yet, Moffar.