Sunday, 8 November 2015

Doctor Who: The Zygon Surprise - Part Two

My initial decision to write about the first episode of the Zygon two-parter was born out of surprise at how good it was. I think I pretty much encapsulated that in the post so I won't go back to it, just read (or re-read) my blog post on The Zygon Surprise - Part One.

Now, with the conclusion of part two of that story I am even happier that I made the decision to write about it. This story rates, in my opinion, as one of the greatest Doctor Who stories of the new era. There was no letting up of the tension and suspense in the second episode. As soon as it started, it felt like we hadn't been away for a week, we were pulled right back into the story and I was immediately re-engaged.

So, before I get on to the good parts of this episode, and the story as a whole, let's eliminate the one weak point (which I don't think was even all that weak). It was no surprise that Kate Stewart was pretending to be Zygon-Kate. It was blatantly obvious, otherwise she simply wouldn't have come back to Zygon HQ. To be honest, though, I really didn't care that this particular sub-plot didn't work. In fact I really think it worked better this way because it didn't detract from the overall story. And the way that it was resolved on-screen was pretty bloody excellent, too. Kate's no nonsense answer of "Five rounds, rapid" was exactly what I would expect from her and her delivery seemed to eerily channel her father, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, once played by the delightful Nicholas Courtney (rest in peace, Sir).

So, in hindsight, the weak point was even that. It was simply a predictability in a story that was anything but predictable.

As for the accolades... where does one begin?

Kate was, in spite of what I said above, was great and Jemma Redgrave deserves a rousing applause for her role. The return of Osgood felt by no means contrived. The story lent itself beautifully to her return and having a bit more focus on her character was a great addition.

Peter Capaldi was, as usual, brilliant. I enjoyed the fact that the Doctor, for once, wasn't telegraphed as being constantly ahead of the game. It really felt like, though he had a plan and was confident in it, the end could have swung either way. Previous stories have been made out like the end was a foregone conclusion and that can detract from what would otherwise be a great story. Not this time, though. This time the Doctor had to work to get the story to end well and, wow, did he work. The Doctor's speech at the pivotal point of the story was outstanding. Peter Capaldi's delivery was right on the mark; his anger, his sadness, his frustration - all bubbling to the surface at once and creating such a palpable sense of his pain and anguish... it was the best delivered speech in Doctor Who that I can remember. The nods and references to the Time War and to the Day of the Doctor were subtly and cleverly written in. None of this ham-fisted, jarring insertion of references to look clever. They were written and delivered in such a way that they felt completely natural and heart-felt. It was outstanding drama.

And on that point... the writing! The first offering by Peter Harness, Kill the Moon, didn't leave a lasting impression with me. It wasn't a bad episode, by any means, it just wasn't, in my opinion, a good one. It sat somewhere in the middle. But with his Zygon escapade, Peter Harness has not only put his stamp on Doctor Who, he has set the bar on writing a great story. Season 9 has been remarkably good so far but Harness' Zygon story leaves all the others in it's wake. This will quickly become one of the absolute classics of the new Doctor Who era, and deservedly so.

Did everyone catch Harness' references to the classic Who story Terror of the Zygons and the more subtle reference to Harry Sullivan, a companion of the fourth Doctor? The revelation that the Osgood boxes were empty wasn't too much of a surprise but a very clever way, regardless, to reveal who was willing to play the game and who would see the world burn to protect their way. The "today everybody lives" conclusion (without needing to actually say it) was refreshing and highly reminiscent of many great classic Who stories.

The Director, Daniel Nettheim, also deserves mention here for maintaining a great steady pace and atmosphere. Character direction was superb and his attention to lighting and location helped this story a winner.

The absolute stand-out performance to me, though, was Jenna Coleman's. Her portrayal of both Clara and Bonnie was brilliant. I never imagined that she could make Clara/Bonnie so beautifully bad! I simply can't pinpoint any specifics here because, in my opinion, her entire performance was flawless. I firmly believe that Jenna Coleman deserves a supporting actor award for her role in this story. Clara's character has really come into her own as Capaldi's companion and it's both a shame and great that we're seeing the very best of her on the eve of her departure. Despite the Clara haters out there, I believe Jenna Coleman will leave some rather large shoes to fill.

I've never given anything a perfect score, as I think there are always ways that something could be made better. I'm hard pressed to think what they could be with the Zygon Invasion/Inversion, however. Still, I'll stick to my guns and simply give this story a 9.5 out of 10 and say that, if anyone needs recommendation of which episodes to watch to get into Doctor Who, my first suggestion will be these two.

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