If you’re the kind of impeccable viewer who’s been checking Etsy on a daily basis for Question Mark underpants (none at the time of writing…I’ve, err, heard), or you’re a sucker for choice chunks of Who nostalgia, or if you just savour the relief of a Part 2 that lives up to its Part 1, then ‘The Zygon Inversion’ is exactly what Doctor Disco ordered.
‘Doctor Disco’. What’s with The Doctor and names in this two-parter? Two weeks ago he was reminding everyone of his long-established rule on puns and banter, and now he’s dropping bad jokes like a Christmas cracker and calling himself ‘Doctor Puntastic’ and (last week) ‘Doctor Funkenstein’.
He’s even taken lesson’s from Britain’s greatest pun-loving hero, James Bond, and nicked a Union Flag parachute. Nobody wears it better.
Is ‘Basil’ simply playing the fool for benefit of Petronella (‘Petronella Osgood’…love that) and a nervous Human/Zygon kind, as he says?
Or do we still not have a full understanding of a man who has been more mercurial than ever this season? Both probably, but with hope toward the latter. The day we fully understand The Doctor, we might as well turn over to The X Factor.
He’s certainly at his most unpredictable here, moving frictionlessly between the puns and the pathos, all to great effect.
As last week’s global satire narrows down to the Black Archive, Capaldi delivers a performance that holds you and your conscience to the screen – managing to be flippant and serious, disco and Doctor – as Peter Harness and Steven Moffat boil an entire global threat down into the drama of just one room. One room, two boxes, and a ‘deal or no deal’ scenario between two species. A stand-off that, dispiritingly but not surprisingly been, played out more than once.
It’s a breathtaking bit of Who, carefully moving from the strange levity of a Hughie Green quote and the artifice of a $64,000 Question American accent, and toward a blistering Time War-relevant crescendo. An admission as bold and raw as we’ve ever seen it. It should be no surprise that Capaldi nails it.
And it’s not just Capaldi. Everyone seems to be getting the best out of Harness and Moffat’s script this week. Osgood demonstrates she’s the companion that The Doctor deserves but doesn’t need, because she’s fully-formed and independent enough to live her own life, save Earth in her own way(s) rather than Totally And Radically Driving In Space.
Even Kate Stewart is saved from being relegated to being a UNIT mouthpiece for aggression with a moment which completely bypasses all critical thinking and directly hits the ‘Squeee!’ centres of the brain for fans of The Brig.
And among an episode of doubles there is only one Jenna Coleman. Smart and feisty as Clara, cold and hateful as Bonnie (and practising a theatre rep accent that’ll come in handy in ITV’s Victoria), brilliant when playing against one another; this is the kind of episode we should’ve had more of earlier.
Not just something with double Claras, but something that allowed her to show us she’s an actress playing more than a puzzle, or a girlfriend, or a bossypants from Blackpool. Something that made her vital.
Season 8 left her so distanced but this year has really gone all out to prove why she’s indispensable to The Doctor. So much so that it’s already become clear that we’re being played. We know she’s going, but after two feinted exits (‘Death in Heaven’ and ‘Last Christmas’) the show is at pains to make leaving actually mean something when the time comes.
It’s not mad to say that ‘The Zygon Inversion’ is Season 9’s ‘The Doctor Dances’ or its ‘Forest of the Dead’. Like them it’s a Part 2 which closes a terrific story with satisfaction, but leaves you with the itchy, excitable feeling that you want more.
So if Peter Harness wants to come back and give us more – more Zygons, more Osgood, more anything really – he’ll be very welcome indeed.
Airs at 8pm on Saturday 7 November 2015 on BBC One.
What did you think of this week’s episode? Let us know below…