Doctor Who Review: The Zygon Inversion

doctor who the zygon inversion review peter harness steven moffat peter capaldi jenna coleman ingrid oliver jemma redgrave daniel nettheim

You just want cruelty to beget cruelty. You’re not superior to the people who were cruel to you, you’re just a whole bunch of new, cruel people, being cruel to some other people, who’ll end up being cruel to you.

So, then. There’s an elephant in the room, here – one thing that must be addressed, above all else; the most obvious starting place, I think, but a starting place I’m going to eschew. Because I want to talk about all of the episode, and recognise the strengths of it all – otherwise this would be thousands of words about a very specific segment. (I’m sure you all know the segment to which I refer!)

The episode starts quite well – I’m not typically fond of dream sequences, but this was an excellent example of how they can be used effectively. I thought it was rather clever how they managed to subvert expectations with the cliffhanger – appearing to show the initial get out clause, before making it relevant once again, and pushing our answer further away from us. It was, in fact, a rather wonderful example of Harness (and Moffat, for once) being able to have their cake and eat it.

It continues on quite well too; the dream sequence is where we see most of Clara for this episode, arguably sidelined, but still given some interesting and substantial character moments. Very effective examination of her on display here, in fact; there’s the initial smugness to Clara, where she feels entirely in control – and the backpedalling when she realises she isn’t, and has to search for the upper hand again. It’s a very nuanced scene, and remarkably well portrayed by Jenna Coleman; this is the sort of examination of Clara’s character development, transforming into a more Doctor like figure, that I’m so fond of. ‘Tis a very compelling character arc for a companion, and I’m really looking forward to seeing the culmination of it.

Speaking of Jenna Coleman’s acting, she did a really fantastic job of playing Bonnie. I think it’s the mark of a great actor when they can play a dual role within a single story (like Mat Baynton in You, Me and the Apocalypse) and still make them feel meaningfully distinct – it was very easy to forget that Jenna Coleman was playing Bonnie here, as opposed to another actress entirely (albeit admittedly a similar looking one). She did an excellent job of completely altering all her mannerisms, even her voice and elocution, to create an entirely new character; Doctor Who is really genuinely very lucky to have Jenna Coleman onboard, and it’ll be a huge loss to the program when she eventually departs.

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Much of the rest of the episode was of similar levels of quality; Ingrid Oliver as Osgood, playing the de facto companion of this episode, was as charming as ever, and it remained very entertaining to see her interactions with the Doctor. Kate Stewart too came out of this episode well, and it was nice to hear her say the old “Five rounds rapid” quote. (What can I say, I’m a nerd.)

Also! Something that’ll likely fall through the cracks when people are discussing this episode, given that many of its main strengths lie elsewhere, but it was a genuinely very funny episode. Lots of excellent jokes, that were really quite hilarious; I always love any sort of irreverent fan humour, like the question mark underwear, or “Totally and Radically Driving in Space”, and even little things like “Doctor John Disco” or “Basil”. It’s good to have that sort of thing – where’s the fun if you take it too seriously? Excellent approach to take, I think. The funniest joke, though, was “I’m old enough to be your messiah”. That takes the award for “best one liner in Doctor Who history”, I’d argue. Honestly, it was brilliant.

The writing, obviously, was excellent. Not just in that scene, which I’ll get to shortly, but just throughout, really. One crucial moment was when the Doctor and Osgood met the Zygon in the shop – one of the most important scenes in the episode, in fact, because that’s where some of the most important aspects of the episode’s message about immigration comes through. The Zygon insists that he isn’t on any side, and all he wanted to do was simply live, question just what exactly was wrong with that, and why no one would let him simply live there. It was excellently done – not subtle in any way, of course, but frankly there’s no need to be subtle at times like this.

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And now we’ve reached this bit. A ten minute monologue from Peter Capaldi which is, frankly, certainly going to be seen as the standout moment from this series, if not the defining moment of the Twelfth Doctor’s tenure. Because it is just that bloody good.

I don’t understand? Are you kidding? Me? Of course I understand. I mean, do you call this a war? This funny little thing? This is not a war!

I fought in a bigger war than you will ever know. I did worse things than you could ever imagine. And when I close my eyes I hear more screams than anyone could ever be able to count! 

And do you know what you do with all that pain? 

Shall I tell you where you put it? You hold it tight till it burns your hand, and you say this. No one else will ever have to live like this. No one else will have to feel this pain. Not on my watch! 

I’m quoting, simply because I don’t have a video to embed (as soon as it’s up on YouTube, I’ll be going into more depths in terms of analysis), but that honestly robs it of much of its impact. Sure, it’s well written, but the strengths of this scene comes from Peter Capaldi’s acting. And frankly, that’s not even all of it – the first half of the scene, where he talks about how much blood is spilled before negotiations can begin, is similarly masterful.

Capaldi is absolutely phenomenal in his role; there’s a huge level of nuance to his every mannerism and expression, and he absolutely conveys the emotion of the scene 100%. (You can see how much they trust him as an actor – and rightfully so! – because this scene is entirely quiet. There’s no score or backing music; every response and emotion engendered in the audience comes entirely from Capaldi’s performance.)

Truly, he’s amazing; it’s difficult to properly analyse this scene without a video accompaniment, because otherwise I’m reduced to simply describing rather than demonstrating, and repeating the same limited pool of superlatives over and over again.

I think what stood out most, actually, was that the Doctor got angry here. Capaldi has always measured the anger, keeping it very much something limited to individual occasions, and it means it’s all the more effective when he does play it up. Seeing the Doctor yelling and being so confrontational, practically shouting them into submission, really emphasising the importance of peace over war, and referring back to his past traumas – honestly, it’s BAFTA worthy. Capaldi deserves all the awards for this episode, truly and absolutely.

This episode was honestly everything I could have hoped for and more; it’s the best of the series, hands down. 10/10

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Doctor Who Review: The Zygon Invasion

doctor who the zygon invasion review peter harness daniel nettheim peter capaldi jenna coleman ingrid oliver osgood clara oswald

Any race is capable of the best and the worst. Every race is peaceful and warlike; good, and evil. My race is no exception – and neither is mine.

I was quite trepident about this episode, actually. Anxious, really, about the quality of it. On the one hand, it sounded like a brilliant concept – Doctor Who engaging with contemporary issues and current politics, in a globe-spanning story. Yes, thank you very much, I’ll take two, that’d be lovely.

And yet, on the other hand, it was being written by Peter Harness. The last time he wrote an episode, it ended up being… well, unintentional pro-life propaganda. It was not an episode I was particularly impressed by – and also one I’d had high hopes for going into.

So, you know, I think you can see why I was a bit worried about this one – a potentially excellent concept, but a writer that I didn’t really trust to see it through, based on his past record.

But, as it happens, this episode was… pretty good, actually.

I mean, it’s absolutely difficult to judge based on what we’ve got – of all the episodes thus far, this has been the one that most needs its second part to form a cohesive whole narrative. As enjoyable as this episode was, it’s very dependent on the resolution for it to work, I reckon.

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What we got, in the end, is a story about Zygon ISIS, with a few shades of immigration politics thrown in as well. And, like I said, it’s still unfinished, but from what we’ve had so far, I’ve actually been really impressed. It’s been handled quite sensitively, I think, and there’s little to object to, in terms of questionable implications (a la Kill the Moon).

I was quite pleased to see Doctor Who engaging with contemporary politics like this, actually; it’s a really compelling plotline, with a lot of potential to it. And I think for the most part they did a pretty good job of it – or at least, they did a good job of setting up further potential for tonight’s episode. The reference to radicalisation, and the clear establishment of a generational gap (making it very clear that not all Zygons are part of this splinter group) all worked very well.

Having said that! They’ve got to be very careful with how they resolve this tonight, given that they’ve set up their parallels. If all the Zygons have to leave the planet or some such, then it’d seem like the episode was coming down with an anti-immigration stance – for example. I mean, I’m not expecting them to, but that’s an example of how all this could still go wrong.

The scale of the episode really worked in its favour in this instance – the globe-spanning story gave it a rather brilliant cutting-edge feel, which, alongside the references to contemporary issues, made the episode feel really relevant. There’s a brilliant sort of energy to episodes like this, that are set so firmly in the present day, with such recognisable elements to them.

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I also thought the way they handled the Osgood situation worked quite well; it was obvious to everyone, I think, that we were going to have a Zygon based explanation, but they managed to make it a bit more complicated than what people had expected – and not just complicated, but relevant to the story too, which was nice. Ingrid Oliver is still a wonderful actress, and Osgood remains a very charming character.

In fact, all of the supporting cast did a good job – our usual UNIT staff (very sad when Jac died), as well as the new characters introduced this episode. The scene between the soldier and Zygon who was ostensibly his mother was very impressive too; it was quite tense, as a result of the way it was written, and also how it was scored (great job Murray Gold!). Also worth noting, actually, that there were quite a number of women in this episode – 11 of the 16 named parts in The Zygon Invasion were women, I believe, and it’s great when Doctor Who does commit to things like that.

Admittedly, not all of the episode was brilliant; I’ve already spoken about the sense of incompletion to the episode, obviously, but I think that’ll be sorted by this evening (fifteen minutes to go!). I wasn’t hugely impressed by the subplot with Clara as a Zygon, either – it felt somewhat poorly handled. Jenna Coleman gave a brilliant performance, as ever, portraying Clara just ever so slightly off, in a way that doesn’t feel quite right but wouldn’t necessarily raise suspicion on its own… and, yet, it had been signposted quite so obviously in the beginning that there was little tension to the subplot.

So, all in all, a much better episode than I’d expected, but still not quite as good as I’d hoped. Certainly, I’m heavily anticipating tonight’s episode (9 minutes!), and that’s because this episode did a good job of setting it up.

We will give this episode a provisional 8/10.

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Doctor Who Review: Death in Heaven

doctor who death in heaven review steven moffat rachel talalay cybermen missy michelle gomez peter capaldi samuel anderson

Love is not an emotion. Love is a promise.

So actually, when I first watched this, I didn’t like it all that much.

I had problems with the second half in particular. It felt discordant, really, and rather sloppy. “Tonally inconsistent” is what I went for, I think. To an extent, I’d stand by that still.

But when I came round to rewatching it, with a little bit of distance and having had some time to ruminate on the episode a bit more, I did enjoy it a lot more.

I mean, it’s not perfect, and that’s a little bit of a shame, because I’d really been hoping for that. Probably unwise, admittedly, but still, that’s what I wanted. There are a lot of good ideas here, that’s certainly true, but the worry I had was that they weren’t really executed very well. Some things were better than others. Certain things were not executed as well as they could have been; others should have been left out entirely.

Admittedly, that paints a pretty negative picture of my opinion, and that’s not quite true, because there’s a lot of things I really did enjoy. Like, for example, Michelle Gomez. Wasn’t she just fantastic? Quite possibly the best Master of the new series (sorry John Simm) and I’d wager she beats out quite a few of the classics too. I get the feeling I’d end up just listing each and every one of her scenes if I were to start to pick favourites – but weren’t each of her scenes, especially with Peter Capaldi, just really, really compelling?

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But, hey, there’s nothing wrong with listing. The death of Osgood was a pretty wonderful moment (though I will miss her) and I totally agree with Moffat’s decision there – killing Osgood sets Missy up as a villain in a way that all her actions couldn’t really. We’re invested in Osgood, and the audience likes her, in a way that we wouldn’t be with Colonel Ahmed. It reminds me of this thing called a “pet the dog” moment actually – the idea being that if a character pets a dog, the audience will like them, because generally the audience will like dogs. Here, then, Moffat had Missy kill the “dog”.

Quite a lot of wonderful humour in there too; a favourite line of mine was, probably surprising no one, “Kill some Belgians, they aren’t even French”. Lots of very funny lines; but all ones which could have fallen flat, I think, if it wasn’t for the strength of Michelle Gomez’s performance. She really did hit every beat it was fantastic.

The characterisation there was absolutely on point. I realise a lot of people are accusing Moffat of getting it wrong, but no, they’re mistaken – elaborate schemes simply for the Doctor’s attention, and constant attempts to get their friend back (wasn’t that so sad?) have always been part of the Master’s MO, right from day one.

It also lead quite fantastically into the culmination of one of this series’ quasi-arcs – the question of whether or not the Doctor really is a good man. It’s been one of my favourite parts of this series, in fact, and I’m quite pleased with the resolution of it. Indeed, I’m hoping to do a full post on it soon (though with my time management skills, that could end up being closer to series 9 than to now) so I won’t comment on it much, but still, it was fantastic.

The use of the Master as the Doctor’s mirror concluded that thread quite well, and indeed rather poignantly; Missy’s attempts to get her friend back only confirmed to him that, despite his doubts, they really were pretty different. Dramatically, I think it has a lot of weight, and it was possibly the smartest way to draw that aspect of the series to a close without getting oppressively bleak.

And, of course, you’ve got to love this moment of realisation. Peter Capaldi is so wonderful:

I’m not a good man! I’m not a bad man! I’m not a hero! I’m not a President! And no, I’m not an officer! You know who I am? I am an idiot –  with a box and a screwdriver, passing through, helping out. And I don’t need an army, I never have.

And I mean, that’s to be expected, isn’t it? Peter Capaldi, the Twelfth Doctor, the highlight of every scene he’s in. Absolutely wonderful.

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Same goes of course for Jenna Coleman. And in this case I’d also say Samuel Anderson. The scenes they had together were… they weren’t poignant, that’s not quite the right way to describe it, because that implies a level of serenity I think. Their scenes were a bit distressing sometimes. In a good way, I mean; they were all very emotional moments, and certainly quite impactful ones.

The writing of those scenes was generally pretty good; nice bit of dramatic irony (I know technical terms!) where the audience knew who Danny was, yet Clara didn’t. I quite liked that; on the whole, that’s not the sort of thing I find that impressive, but here it’s clear enough that Danny would be a Cyberman, so those scenes where Clara finds out where made more effective because the audience already knew.

Really gotta love their acting though, don’t you? I mean, again, I find myself at a loss for words because I’ve used most of them already. Regardless, they both absolutely sold each moment; Danny’s final speech and sacrifice, Clara’s anger at Missy, and their goodbye as Danny lost his emotions. It all lead into a pretty wonderful ending…

As endings go, it was very melancholy, wasn’t it? I actually really liked it, for the most part. The Doctor and Clara, lying to each other, trying to make the other happy, not realising that they were both as miserable as sin. I’d go so far as to say actually that the Doctor lying about Gallifrey, and intercutting the Doctor’s scenes with Clara against the silent anger of his “finding” Gallifrey is quite possibly one of the smartest things Steven Moffat has written. The final moment with Clara simply walking away was wonderful, and I think it would have been a pretty appropriate place to leave Clara, if not a happy one.

(At the minute, I haven’t watched the Children in Need clip, although I am aware that it makes it clear this isn’t quite the ending. It’s a shame, admittedly, because I really did quite like this idea… but I do trust them to still make it work. Possibly.)

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Now, while there were plenty of other brilliant things in the episode (the Cloud base! Skydiving into the TARDIS! UNIT!) the ending was also where the episode began to dip in quality, so it makes sense, I suppose, to segue into my own criticisms of those moments.

Going in chronological order then…

I wasn’t impressed by the Brigadier. I know, I know, but hear me out here. Ultimately, his appearance was superfluous – we all know that the Master is coming back, so the Brigadier didn’t save the Doctor from any hard decisions or realities there. When the Master does come back, it’s simply going to make this moment look a bit rubbish, and the Brigadier ineffectual. And, also… where does that moment actually work, in terms of the plot? How does it work, in terms of the logic and the rules? Why didn’t the Brigadier fly away and explode with the other Cybermen? Perhaps more importantly, where is he now? The thing is, other than being kinda sad and touching for a few short moments, the whole thing really does just fall apart if you think about it, and doesn’t quite work as what it was meant to – a salute to the Brigadier. The inclusion of Kate really is enough.

Clara’s “Two weeks later” moment, Danny’s potential resurrection, wasn’t handled all that well I thought. Part of it was time restraints, I think, and it seemed like there might have been another draft which worked better. A lot of exposition was delivered by Clara, and very quickly, and then the glowy portal talking and the boy emerging happened faster still. Certain aspects of that were a bit contrived as well – it was pointed out on another site that it would have been better if the explanation was not that the bracelet was running out of power, rather that it could only take one person at a time in one direction at a time. Maybe then if that scene was longer, perhaps there’d be a little more time to process things, and for them to be better developed, meaning one would get the full impact from it, if that makes sense. (Mind you, I did like the Doomsday parallels, that was a nice touch.)

As well as that, not entirely convinced the boy had enough set up for his moment to work. He was, after all, entirely mute, and didn’t have a screen time totalling more than a few minutes across both episodes. There’s also the fact that, you know, he’s a very young child, probably doesn’t speak English, his parents are almost certainly dead, he comes from a war torn country, and he himself has been dead for a least a good couple of years – what exactly does Danny expect Clara to do here? Now, admittedly, I can’t quite think of a way to make it work better, which undercuts what I’m saying a little. The scene struck me as off, regardless.

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Final complaint, and perhaps an obvious one.

I didn’t like Santa Claus.

I know, I know. It was just… I think it was a mistake, to place that post credits scene there like that. It was tonally inconsistent to say the least, and completely at odds with the ending we’d just had for Clara. The problem isn’t Santa Claus himself – the Christmas special looks fantastic! – but rather the placement of his appearance was very, very jarring. In The Writer’s Tale, there’s a discussion between RTD and Ben Cook wherein they talk about the merits of having Cybermen turn up at the end of Journey’s End, after Donna’s goodbye moment. The decision in the end was to leave them out, because they’d distract from the emotion of the moment; a trailer at the end would do the same job of looking forward to the future.

It seems odd to me that a similar choice wasn’t made here, because the same arguments apply pretty much exactly. Even to the point that they played a trailer as well! Very odd. Not the end of the world, admittedly, but it did detract from the quality of the rest of the episode.

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Okay then so.

Death in Heaven.

In a nutshell?

Some excellent ideas. Some excellent execution of those ideas. But also, similarly, some flawed execution of those ideas, which ultimately brought it down a bit.

A mark out of ten is… difficult, I think. Really, it’s an 8.5 out of 10, but I dislike giving half marks. So I will, I think, round down to 8/10, because I don’t think it’s quite good enough for a 9.

(On another note, apologies for the lateness of this review. Real life got in the way, I’m sure you know how it is. Across this week, I am hoping to write pieces about the series as a whole, and the character arcs of the Doctor and Clara – I’d expect those to be up at some point around the weekend.)

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Doctor Who Review: The Day of the Doctor

doctor who the day of the doctor review poster hd matt smith david tennant john hurt jenna coleman billie piper steven moffat nick hurran

Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

I went to see The Day of the Doctor in cinema. It was one hell of an atmosphere, which was both brilliant, and, at times, completely surreal. (One of the strangest sights I’ve seen in a long while was a Matt Smith lookalike, in full purple frock coat costume, standing in line to buy a Big Mac)

There were so many people there – some in full costume, others with David Tennant T-Shirts (I personally preferred my Colin Baker shirt, but hey) and many more with sonic screwdrivers and scarves. It was a really, really fantastic sight to see – hundreds of people, who perhaps wouldn’t normally talk or know each other, all together because of one little TV show. That was one of the best parts of the evening, really – seeing, for example, someone who could have watched An Unearthly Child, way back at the start, here today to watch this 50th Anniversary special.

The opening titles were lovely; to see that old howlaround effect from fifty years ago on the big screen was fantastic, and a little bit heartwarming. There were plenty of other little moments like that as well, some more overt than others. My own personal favourite reference to the past was the Doctor’s promise – “Never cruel or cowardly. Never gives in and never gives up” being the maxim that Terrance Dicks used to describe the Doctor’s character. Other, more subtle ones filled the episode as well – Clara works at Coal Hill School, with Ian Chesterton, the code for the Vortex Manipulator is the date and time of An Unearthly Child’s first broadcast, etc etc.

From there, then, we’re introduced to our current Doctor (how strange it is to think of him otherwise), Matt Smith. Right from the off, he’s brilliant. As expected really; I don’t think Matt Smith has ever given a poor performance. The same goes for Jenna Coleman, who does a great job as the Doctor’s best friend, and later conscience.

The other actors all give stellar performances as well – Jemma Redgrave and Ingrid Oliver do great work as the new UNIT family. It was also really wonderful to see David Tennant back – he was my first Doctor, and it was really really exciting to see him back, as the Doctor, once again.

John Hurt, is, of course, the actor around whom all the questions were asked. Obviously, the questions weren’t going to be about his acting prowess – it’s John Hurt for goodness’ sake!

It’s his role in Doctor Who that people were, understandably, curious about. He was fantastic; he acted as the embodiment of the classic series, asking pertinent questions about just who he becomes (“Why are you so afraid of being grown ups?”) Mocking and sarcastic, his dynamic with Matt and David was what really made this special special.

In fairness, however, it may well have worked better with Paul McGann in that part – given that he was part of the Classic series, he could perhaps have better served as it’s voice. Given that has all been and gone though – and John Hurt really was amazing – there’s little point in wishing for what could have been…

Nick Hurran did a fantastic job with the direction – viewing it in 3D, there was a real depth to the visuals, which I think added another dimension (a third dimension!) to the episode. A few sequences which stand out would be the Eleventh Doctor under the TARDIS at the beginning, and the three Doctors together in the painting towards the end.

Steven Moffat deserves a fair amount of praise for this I think. He said a while back that this was the most difficult episode to write because there was so much riding on it, and so many people to please – for me, at least, the episode was a success. Every aspect of the plot linked in together perfectly – the story with UNIT and the Zygons mirroring the problem faced by John Hurt’s Doctor. (Some of the bits with Elizabeth I, however, were cringeworthy at best, and at other times completely inappropriate.)

My only gripe, I suppose, is losing RTD’s version of the Time War, a concept which I really loved. Still, I’m relatively sure there’s a way to reconcile the two interpretations – that’s what fanfiction is for, no?

Despite that though, the return of Gallifrey – through the work of all thirteen Doctors, no less! – was a moment of triumph which worked really, really well here. The montage of clips with previous Doctors was very nice, and rather fitting as well.

There’s a really lovely moment, which I think is worth mentioning. It’s at the point where Matt Smith tells his fellow Doctors that there is, in fact, another way to end the Time War.

David Tennant turns around and, in a moment of jubilation, high fives the TARDIS.

That’s absolutely fantastic, and it mirrors, I think, the way I reacted to this special –  I really, really loved it.

50/50, as it were.

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