I’ve been putting this off. Can you tell?
I won’t say just yet whether that’s a good thing or not, save that me putting off my review for this long either means a very good episode or a very bad episode.
And I want it so badly to be the former. I have loved this series so far, even at its lowest ebbs. It has finally seemed to grow into the promise that the role has always had waiting in the wings. An irascible but loveable Doctor, with some meaty writing to get his teeth into, and even the ever annoying presence of Clara hasn’t been able to keep it from greatness.
So is this the crowning glory, or the long-feared stumbling block?
It’s the f**king crown!
With the Zygon rebels, wearing Clara’s form, tightening their grip on the UK, the Doctor and his remaining allies must find a way to stop the war. And the hinted at Osgood key might be their salvation — or their damnation.
So, last episode I described as a spiritual sequel, of sorts, to the domestic plot of the 50th anniversary special, “The Day of the Doctor”. That, as it turns out, was not entirely true. This is a sequel to the whole lot. But let’s work our way up there organically.
Now, of course the Doctor didn’t die at the end of the last episode. In fact, it’s getting a bit tiresome that the show keeps trying to make out that he is. Still, at least we can get past it pretty early on, when dream Clara inside the dream world of her dream pod manages to skew Zygon Clara’s (Bonnie’s -Ed) aim long enough for the Doctor and Osgood to bail out of the presidential plane.
Which is less of the mad twist of coincidence than just what would happen in that situation.
The grand plan of the Zygons seems to be more along the lines of what we heard happened at Truth or Consequences (Really, America, we’re going to have to have a word about this… -Ed), whereby the strategic turning of a human-diguised Zygon into its Zygon form, to cause a mass panic. Which it sort of does. But much more interesting is her quest for the mysterious Osgood box.
The Doctor and Osgood actually track down the poor unfortunate Zygon who only ever wanted to be left to live his life in peace. And it’s rather a sad sight, because it underscores just how small the aggressive faction are in this war. When the Zygon turns his weapon on himself, it shows that Bonnie’s band of fanatics really are a small group of malcontents.
So with Bonnie on her way to the Black Archive, where she can change all the Zygons back at once, the Doctor and Osgood go with Kate Stewart and some soldiers to find Clara. Who isn’t there. And the soldiers aren’t human. But Kate is. Still keeping up?
So what we get is one last showdown at the Black Archive, where this all started. You see there are two boxes, the story is that one of boxes can either kill the Zygons or set off a nuclear warhead under the Black Archive, whilst the other box can unmask the Zygons or make it so they can no longer change form. And we get a classic talky conclusion.
And here is where we really shine. The Doctor talks down both Bonnie and Kate, digging into depths of pain and sincerity as he pleads for them to end the cycle of destruction. Human and Zygon play each other across the table, in a scale model of war. And nobody knows war like the Doctor does, nobody knows the pain that he has known. He wants them to talk, to come to the decision that they can lay down their weapons, and he waves forgiveness in front of Bonnie himself.
I’d go so far as to say that it’s the best acting we’ve yet seen in Doctor Who, up there with David Tennant’s flashes at the end of “The Waters of Mars” and “The End of Time”.
And when he talks them down, first Kate and then Bonnie into relinquishing the destructive game of chance that they’ve started to play, just before he wipes everyone’s minds, he says that this is the fifteenth time that this has happened.
I do think that this was a Doctor Who episode in another order. Here, for once, the tight control of its story at its best co-existed with the frenetic energy that makes Doctor Who such compulsive watching. And miracle of miracles, the concluding part not only met the promise of the first, but exceeded it. I started this two-parter as a Zygon sceptic, now wholly convinced. I started this episode thinking that we had a sequel to the weaker elements of the the 50th anniversary special, and I was wrong.
The weight that Capaldi manages to bring to bear on that final, pivotal scene really does bring it all to fruition in a way that I’m not sure his predecessors could have done. When he speaks about the pain he carries from the Time War, you believe that he feels it.
I’m pretty sure that Peter Capaldi is my favourite Doctor.
- So, does everyone else who was on the plane just die? That’s grim. I mean, it’s in keeping with the rest of the dark tone of this series, but still.
- Kate Stewart survived the Zygon last episode thanks to five rounds rapid. I don’t even care. That’s brilliant.
- Of course the Osgood box(es) are empty. This is the Doctor.
- I really do think that the Osgoods would make excellent companions. And if Clara is going anyway, then why not?
- It doesn’t look like Jac survived though.