Things looked pretty grim in the last episode of Doctor Who. UNIT was supposedly neutralized, at least in the United Kingdom, and a missile was headed towards The Doctor’s World Presidential plane from a Zygon assuming Clara Oswald’s form. I also mentioned, last time, that the plan of the Zygon radicals was worthy of HYDRA.
But perhaps “Hail Zygon!” was a little premature.
Take, for instance, what the Zygons did with Clara. They put her in a pod: her trapping her mind in a dreamscape to gather more information from her subconscious. And this is where the writers of “The Zygon Inversion” do something very … interesting. As it turns out, despite having a year to prepare and work itself into UNIT, the radical Zygon faction didn’t do their homework. They didn’t know about the events of “Last Christmas”: where Clara and The Doctor were held by dream crabs. Of course, that might not be entirely fair. I mean, they wouldn’t have had reason to know about “The Bells of Saint John” with the Great Intelligence or even “Asylum of the Daleks” and “The Name of The Doctor.” UNIT, assuming the faction even went as far as getting all of its information, didn’t even know about many of those events.
Clara has had her mind influenced before. It has been split across space and time. The Great Intelligence tried to synchronize it. And there have been many times she has been trapped somewhere: at the fringe between the damsel and refrigerator tropes. But “Last Christmas” in particular made Clara painfully aware of dreamscapes and the flaws within them. The Zygons did a shoddy job of making a dreamscape that was believable: a contrast to Steven Moffat and Peter Harness who use “the Gimmie” — the suspension of disbelief — to make us believe that she has a strong enough mind to resist and even influence the Zygon trying to access and steal her memories.
As unbelievable as it might sound, the way that Clara faces off against her Zygon counterpart Bonnie is nothing short of bad ass. Somehow Moffat, Harness, and Jenna Coleman make the character have this about face moment: leading you to realize just how screwed Bonnie — Clara’s Zygon duplicate — is going to be. Clara’s “schooling” of Bonnie is a hint of what Clara should have been from the very beginning.
But the epic element does not stop there.
You see, it’s really a combination of things. For instance, the show hits home exactly what the problem is with the Zygon radical faction. In my last recap, I likened them to HYDRA but I fear I might have grossly overestimated them. Oh, they shared HYDRA’s hubris, but their planning is only similar on a superficial level. The fact is: the radicals could have done a lot of damage in the longer term if they had been smart about it. They had about a year to prepare for an invasion without war. They are shapeshifters and are aware of what they are. Especially after one of the Osgoods died, they could have infiltrated UNIT across the world or — better yet — taken out the Zygon High Command first and dealt with UNIT later.
They could have appealed to the rest of their kind’s need to be more open, or to gain more resources through hit and run means. Meanwhile, they might have expanded their plan to use revealed Zygons — preferably “traitors” to their cause — as lightning rods to distract the humans and make a show of stopping them. Over time, they could have taken over places of human government and slowly improved human technology to make them more dependent on their innovation. And if they had taken UNIT in particular, it wouldn’t have taken much to place a bomb on, say, a World Presidential plane while its crew might have been … distracted by events.
The Zygon radical faction could have become the new Zygon High Command if they had been smarter: rallying the others of their kind by their example and using human civilization as its slave that they could monitor from within itself.
What happened instead was that Bonnie, as the leader of the radicals, wanted to make a statement. She wanted to reveal twenty million prepared and unprepared Zygons to seven billion humans right away. She didn’t care that those Zygons would most likely get slaughtered over time. Zygons are shapeshifters. Their greatest strength is hiding who they are until they have the advantage. Getting the Osgood Box would have only taken this advantage away by outing all of them.
The radicals are shown to be short-sighted and fueled by rage and a tremendous sense of self-entitlement. As The Doctor himself explains, they are more like rebellious children than anything else: rebels that are willing to destroy themselves and everyone else to be right rather than build anything lasting.
And this is where Peter Capaldi’s Doctor shines. He presents the radicals, through Bonnie, with a challenge. It seems as though The Moment affected him greatly as both humans and Zygons don’t merely have one box that could reveal or destroy them: but two. And it is almost a sick joke that both boxes have the radical motto on them: truth or consequences.
It is revealed that many threats to the Human-Zygon ceasefire have happened before. This is why The Doctor knows so much about Bonnie: because others had tried this before and he had erased their memories. But it goes further than that. He derails both Kate Lethbridge Stewart’s violence and Bonnie the Zygon’s fanaticism by showing them just how terrifying war is essentialized into two boxes with push buttons. He tells them about what real war is all about. And then he gives an excellent lesson to Bonnie. He teaches a shapeshifter that “thinking is a fancy way of changing your mind.” Of course. The Doctor himself is a much longer lived shapeshifter that did horrific things in the Time War so he would know all about it. The way he calls her out on the futility of revolutions and rebellion as a cycle and his own experiences in War made for a compelling and poignant moment in his own portrayal worthy of his other incarnations.
But even when you put Clara and The Doctor aside, there is Osgood to consider. When asked if she is either a Zygon or a human, Osgood basically says, “Yes.” She holds her own to The Doctor, still respecting him, but recognizing his strengths and flaws. And she stands by her convictions. Many fans believe Osgood to be the Companion that he should have had, but now it’s clear that she has her own destiny as an agency in her own right. And it’s not everyday that someone discovers they have a new sister after the loss of their other sibling.
I do think that Bonnie got off very lightly for what she and the others had done to human and Zygon lives. If this was a learning experience for her, it was a costly one. One can only hope that she will continue to improve herself as the next Osgood. She has great shoes to fill.
“The Zygon Inversion” took the concept of a Zygon infiltration, and a wasteful revolution of radicals and turned it into something else entirely: an examination of the futility of war and the working towards something greater. Almost every character in this story had their bad ass moment and even The Doctor’s manipulation of the situation — in an almost terrifying manner — hits home one fact that may not have always been clear in the last season. Because in those lines, and in those words there was The Doctor. There he is.