Doctor Who The Zygon Inversion review: Peter Capaldi triumphs in a soul-searching peace negotiation for our times

Real-world self-appointed “peacemakers” take note!

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★★★★★  If I seemed stingy last week with my four-star rating, I won’t apologise. I usually overrate and don’t underrate Doctor Who, such is my zeal for the programme. In truth, The Zygon Invasion was probably a four-and-a-half-star production overall but lost a few percentage points for the stiffness of Jemma Redgrave, the general uselessness of Unit and the low-wattage Doctor Who-does-Homeland vibe. And I knew that this follow-up episode was the business, the bigger, tastier cut of meat, as it were.

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Redgrave redeems herself in The Zygon Inversion. As Unit leader Kate Stewart, she still tends towards the stoical but starts to feel what’s happening around her. And of course she does get that killer line “Five rounds rapid!” and delivers it with aplomb. A punch-the-air moment for the Doctor Who fan. In case you don’t know, Kate’s dad, the Brigadier, issued the command “Chap with the wings there. Five rounds rapid!” in the 1971 classic The Dæmons. (The now immortal line, written by 70s producer Barry Letts, was almost cut by his script editor Terrance Dicks.)

And Osgood, dear Osgood. Let’s not forget she’s another echo of The Dæmons; she’s named after Sgt Osgood, Unit’s hapless “technical fellow” who fell foul of Jon Pertwee’s Doctor in that story. Ingrid Oliver plays her so engagingly. In The Zygon Inversion she’s constantly at the Doctor’s side and entirely wins him over. “You’re a credit to your species,” he says. “Oh, and you should know – I’m a very big fan.” 

When offered all of time and space, she has the sense to remain and protect the Earth, but in my mind deserves elevation to the status of companion – even if an intermittent one. And at last we’ve found out her first name. Petronella. The Doctor pretends that his is Basil, then murmurs, “Let’s just stick with what we had.” One of several lines that tickled me.

From his first words (“Any questions?”) as he fumbles with a parachute on the beach, to his final, sobering remark to Clara (“I’ll be the judge of time”), Peter Capaldi is majestic. It’s been a few weeks since I’ve extolled the star of the show. Here he delivers another commanding performance that makes me totally believe in him as the Doctor.

Capaldi’s tour de force is, of course, the Time Lord’s peace negotiation in the Black Archive. An incredible piece of writing and acting. The scene lasts a full ten minutes as the Doctor runs the gamut of emotions in his effort to make Clara/Bonnie/Zygella stand down and “break the cycle” of cruelty and war. The Time Lord and the writers (Peter Harness and Steven Moffat) are wearing their hearts and political colours on their sleeves. It’s wonderful to watch and absorb. Real-world self-appointed “peacemakers” take note. 

What’s extra-clever is that the Osgood boxes, which appear ridiculous with their Truth or Consequences buttons and supposed deadly contents, are empty and innocuous. They’re a MacGuffin to focus the drama and change hearts and minds.

Praise for Jenna Coleman, too, who is a cool customer throughout, whether playing Clara or her Zygon double Bonnie. She has many scenes “together”, which are so polished you never think for a moment how tricky they must have been to set up then edit.

Did you spot the cheeky moment when Bonnie walks past a mirror and the reflection is actually Clara? (They have different clothes and hairdos.) These subtle touches are sometimes what I enjoy most in a production. Small rewards for the attentive. Almost subliminal details. In Clara’s dream-state apartment why is her alarm-clock display upside down? Her toothpaste black not white? Her newspaper’s headlines jumbled? Its front cover a photo of a seahorse? Look no further than the episode title… 

Every story since 1963 reviewed in RT’s Doctor Who Story Guide

Series nine reviews: 

Episode one: The Magician’s Apprentice ★★★★★

Episode two: The Witch’s Familiar  ★★★★★

Episode three: Under the Lake ★★★

Episode four: Before the Flood ★★★

Episode five: The Girl Who Died ★★★★★

Episode six: The Woman Who Lived ★★★★

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Episode seven: The Zygon Invasion ★★★★