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Doctor Who – S9E8 – The Zygon Inversion

Previously on Doctor Who, ‘The Zygon Invasion’

All I can say is, if you haven’t been won over by Capaldi’s Doctor by the end of “The Zygon Inversion,” you should probably just stop watching Doctor Who. We’ve had hints and allusions to this Doctor’s personality, but as he presides over the two warmakers under the Tower of London, his character crystallizes—a gruff grandfather, all attack eyebrows and wild hair, unsettling and unpredictable, wanting nothing more than for nobody to hurt like he has and nobody to hurt others like he did. A heart so big, he’s happy to do this over… and over… and over until it sticks, distilling an impending war down to the crucial question. Earnest, desperate, and determined, he’s never been more like Tom Baker’s Doctor, and yet is very distinctly himself.

The Osgood boxes represent the nuclear question faced by each developed country today. Each side believes the beginning to their victory is just one button push away, but is it? The Doctor walks Kate and Bonnie through this conundrum, patient and effacing in a way 10 never was, honest in a way 11 couldn’t be. The big red Truth or Consequences buttons force them to stare each other in the face, to comprehend the individual cost of people who just want to live, and to skip the senseless deaths between the beginning and end. Once they finally get it, he reveals that, unlike what we’ve seen on-screen, not only is this not the second or even third time they’ve had this very discussion—it’s the 15th. He doesn’t say this with exasperation or fatigue; it’s simply a fact of his life.

“That’s why they’re called planets, to remind you to plan it.”

Real Clara realizes her predicament quickly, employing a series of Dream Checks which she no doubt developed after her Death in Heaven experience. She witnesses Bonnie aiming at the Doctor’s plane through the television, gaining control of her finger for an instant to make the first missile miss, allowing the Doctor and Osgood time to escape. Comic relief: He claims his Union Jack parachute, a nod to Roger Moore’s Bond, is “camouflage.” Then he loans Osgood his sonic sunglasses when hers break, commanding, “Don’t look at my browser history!” She does of course. Wiser, mature, and insightful in her role as peacekeeper, Osgood puzzles out the entire situation easily—Clara’s partial control of Bonnie and the Doctor’s concern for her.

Bonnie picks an average Zygon/human off the street and removes his ability to remain hidden, films it, and uploads it to spread terror. Unbeknownst to her, Clara texts the Doctor, “I’m awake.” Osgood has him video chat Bonnie and ask yes/no questions that Clara answers through blinks while he blathers on to distract Bonnie and nicknames her Zygella, amused that she seems to be winging this whole thing. “You know I’m 2000 years old? I’m old enough to be your Messiah.” Planting the idea that Clara has hidden memories about the Osgood Box, he grins gleefully behind the wheel of a stolen vehicle, gloating over what games Clara will play.

Osgood Doctor video chat Doctor Who 9x08

Images: BBC America

Indeed, as Bonnie passes a mirror in UNIT, Clara smiles back at herself, already worming her way in. From a safe hidden by a photo of the first Doctor, Bonnie retrieves a laptop she believes has the Osgood Box key. Foiled by the two Osgood video, Bonnie improvises a lie detector test with Clara, monitoring their shared pulse, and extracts what is surely only the obvious information: the box is under the Tower of London in the Black Archive. Clara adds that the button will unmask every Zygon for an hour, creating mass panic.

“We will die in the fire instead of living in chains.”

The Doctor and Osgood hunt down the man in the video, offering to help him. But he’s beyond help in his mind, frustrated and struggling to impossibly maintain his normalcy. “You’re Truth or Consequences. I just want to live.” He commits suicide using his Zygon hand to electrocute his human brain, a sad moment full of truth, boiling down the conflict of every civilian in the coming war, human or Zygon. It’s hard to watch this scene without feeling absolutely sick for him.

Zygon human man Doctor Who 9x08

Disheartened, the Doctor and Osgood attempt to retrieve Clara’s pod. On the way, Osgood stolidly refuses to reveal which one she is, human or Zygon, but allows her first name, Petronella. The name derives from the Greek for “stone” and is a feminine form of Peter, about whom Jesus said, “On this Rock I will build my church.” In this context, Osgood is the rock on which the Messiah, the Doctor, builds his church of anti-war. In response, the Doctor jokes that his name is Basil.

Kate Stewart meets them at Clara’s now-missing pod and shoots her two obviously Zygon escorts with “Five rounds, rapid” (the Brigadier’s signature), revealing what we suspected:

“You are you.”

“I’m me.”

She also tries to suss out which Osgood is present, to which Osgood emphasizes Ashildr-style, “ME.” Kate is all amped up to use the anti-Zygon gas, jabbing at the Doctor once more for taking it away. “Daddy knows best,” he says ruefully. Later he refers to it as “the Imbecile’s gas,” a reference to Harry Sullivan, a fourth Doctor companion whose final story was “Terror of the Zygons.”

Bonnie arrives first at the Osgood box, discovering that it is actually one red box and one blue box, forcing her to wake up Clara and demand the Doctor explain. Facing off against Kate at their respective boxes, Bonnie blames this whole situation on him, petulantly declaring that the Zygons living in secret is simply not fair. Which it isn’t, but… so?

“You’re not superior to people who were cruel to you. You’re just a whole new breed of cruel people.”

The Doctor asks the pertinent question: What do they really want? When peace is achieved, what is to be done with the troublemakers like them? As they stand off, hands hovering over the button, he hops back narrating like a game show host until Kate snaps about his attitude, leading him to scream back, “IT’S NOT A GAME, KATE!” Tearfully, he offers absolution to both sides to prevent them from making a prideful decision, reminding them that this little war is nothing compared to his own actions. His goal is solely to keep others from feeling what he feels every day.

Osgood Box Bonnie Doctor Who 9x08

Broken, Kate closes her box, but Bonnie’s hand hovers still, exchanging a silent conversation of expressions with him until, coming to think like him, she realizes, at last, that the boxes are empty. “Gotcha,” he smiles, gently and paternally, wiping everyone’s memory… except Bonnie’s, as he recounts his experience with The Moment. “I let Clara Oswald get inside my head. Trust me, she doesn’t leave.”

Escorting the Doctor and Clara back to the TARDIS, Osgood has her own question about what TARDIS stands for. Echoing Susan, his granddaughter, he replies, “I made it up from the initials. Totally Radically Driving in Space.” She declines an invitation to ride along, the second potential companion checked off this season, telling Clara to watch after him.

“Don’t let him die or anything.”

“What if he’s really annoying?”

“Then fine.”

One last time, he asks which Osgood she is. Instead, a second Osgood arrives to keep the peace, previously Bonnie, now a convert in the Church of Petronella. He leaves them with his greatest compliment and an echo to her own first words to him, “I’m a very big fan.”

Two Osgoods Doctor Who 9x08.bmp

Back in the TARDIS, Clara wonders how he fared during the short moments he thought she was dead. When he mutters that it was the longest month of his life, she protests that it couldn’t have been longer than a few minutes. He soberly looks back through his wild eyebrows. “I’ll be the judge of time,” he says, in that clearly hurt way people do when they know something horrible that you don’t. Oh, dear.


Doctor Who S9E8
  • 10/10
    Plot - 10/10
  • 10/10
    Dialogue - 10/10
  • 9.5/10
    Performances - 9.5/10
  • 9.5/10
    Aliens - 9.5/10


Rather than going big, this second half of the Zygon adventure goes home to the heart of every civilian in a war. Capaldi fully embodies his Doctor in a stunning, moving performance that will go down as his definitive moment. Jenna Coleman was riveting as Bonnie and convincingly played two distinct characters, while Ingrid Oliver was a deeply compassionate as Osgood. The effects, while limited, were outstanding, although I could do with less inexplicable hissing every time a Zygon turns into its original form. Overall, a seminal episode.

User Review
5 (1 vote)


About Sarah de Poer (199 Articles)
Eminently sensible by day, by night, she can be found watching questionable scifi, pinning all the things, rewriting lists, pantry snacking, and not sleeping. She was once banned over an argument about Starbuck and Apollo, and she has to go right now because someone is wrong on the Internet.

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