Doctor Who: Series 9, Episode 8 - "The Zygon Inversion"

Craig Owen Jones

In an episode big on dramatic revelations, the biggest was Jenna Coleman’s extraordinary performance as Clara Oswald.

Doctor Who

Airtime: Saturdays, 8:15pm
Cast: Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, Jemma Redgrave, Ingrid Oliver
Subtitle: Series 9, Episode 8 - "The Zygon Inversion"
Network: BBC
Air date: 2015-11-07

After last week’s decidedly uneven "The Zygon Invasion", my hopes were not high for the second in this two-part story; they were further dampened by the discovery that the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and Osgood (Ingrid Oliver) escaped from an aeroplane all set to be blown up by a missile last week by the simple expedient of leaping out of it. From then on, however, "The Zygon Inversion" never failed to impress, delivering a quite exceptional conclusion to this story of alien invasion and stolen identities.

In an episode big on dramatic revelations, however, the biggest -- how sad that it should be such a revelation -- was Jenna Coleman’s extraordinary performance as Clara Oswald.

It feels like it has taken three years for Clara to become the companion Doctor Who fans hoped she would be. When she was introduced to our screens in "Asylum of the Daleks", the opener to Matt Smith’s final season as the Doctor, some promising character notes were in evidence: strong-willed, resourceful, and thoughtful; she seemed like a breath of fresh air after the sometimes cloying melodrama of Amy Pond’s (Karen Gillan) tenure as companion. However, before long it became clear that there was little else behind that persona. Last season, during which we paid multiple visits to Clara’s workplace, the Coal Hill School, rectified matters a little, but on the whole the character has felt undercooked, lacking in depth, and poorly written.

Coleman’s performance has likewise varied. Always competent, at her best she has brought a certain spunkiness and authority to the role, effectively differentiating Clara from her predecessors. At her worst, however, she has delivered performances that, although not exactly phoned in, have been noticeably lacking in roundedness, based around reactions to the moment rather than the situation. A lot of this has to do with the wretched nature of some of the material she has been lumbered with: episodes such as "The Rings of Akhaten" (2013), in which Clara rose a "space-bike" in a sequence unlikely to have excited even the most biddable young viewer, hardly inspired confidence, and the inexcusably inconsistent character development would take the wind from any actor’s sails. When on song, however, Coleman’s chemistry with Peter Capaldi as the Doctor has quietly served to anchor his time in the role.

In "The Zygon Inversion", Coleman shines. Clara’s Zygon doppelganger Bonnie is the focus of the first half of the episode, holding Clara as a sort of psychic hostage. Bonnie gets more than she bargained for, though, as Clara fights back, calling her bluff with the sort of brazen presumption that is normally the preserve of the Doctor. Coleman’s portrayal of Clara here is compelling enough, but the really impressive work comes in the form of her performance as Bonnie. Subtle differences in body language and delivery lend the character malice, with Coleman’s performance eerily resembling that of Kristanna Loken as the Terminatrix in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003).

In the meantime, audition sessions for the role of replacement to Clara continue. The latest candidate is Osgood (Ingrid Oliver), first introduced to our screens in "The Day Of The Doctor" (2013) and seemingly killed off in last season’s "Death In Heaven". Here she exudes a newfound confidence, a consequence of her link with a Zygon. Indeed, who is it that appears on screen: a Zygon or a human? Writers Steven Moffat and Peter Harness wisely embrace the ambiguity; indeed, they amass a great big pile of it, squirrel-like, and bury it for safe-keeping against the plot of later, as-yet unwritten episodes. Such is life in Doctor Who’s boxset era.

The non sequiturs of last week’s installment were glossed over as the episode reached its conclusion, the tensest of standoffs between UNIT supremo Kate Lethbridge-Stewart (Jenna Redgrave) and Bonnie. Given Doctor Who’s frequent cleaving to sexist characterisations in its early days, it was refreshing to see women (all right, a woman and a Zygon in female human form) as the two major players. One or two plot twists were somewhat telegraphed, but the vast majority of the episode was spent in breathless wonder at the drama unfolding on the screen.

The references to the show’s past -- providing flashes of colour for the average viewer, and lending the episode textural depth for the fan -- were delightful and effortless. When the words "five rounds rapid" left Redgrave’s mouth -- the usual order of her father, the Brigadier (Nicholas Courtney), to his soldiers when faced with alien enemies during his stint on the show in the 1970s -- my heart skipped a beat. It felt like a homecoming for a character whose hawkishness has so distinguished her from the essentially defensive posture of her predecessors. Add to Redgrave, Coleman, and Oliver’s standout performances some neat direction from Daniel Nettheim, and the whole added up to indispensable viewing.

There remains the increasingly pressing question of Clara’ fate. In the end, Osgood turned down an invite to accompany the Doctor on his future travels, so the position of future companion remains unfilled. One gets the impression that, perhaps, the decision has not yet been made: showrunner Steven Moffat is nothing if not one renowned for keeping his options open. Maisie Williams' "Me", introduced earlier in the season, may yet prevail, but Ingrid Oliver’s knockout performance here puts her squarely in the mix. Even if she remains a character in the periphery of the show, this episode will surely stand for years to come as a highlight of the Capaldi era, and a reminder that, after ten years on our screens, the new era of Doctor Who is still capable of producing drama of the highest quality.


The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

Next Page
Related Articles Around the Web

Subverting the Romcom: Mercedes Grower on Creating 'Brakes'

Julian Barratt and Oliver Maltman (courtesy Bulldog Film Distribution)

Brakes plunges straight into the brutal and absurd endings of the relationships of nine couples before travelling back to discover the moments of those first sparks of love.

The improvised dark comedy Brakes (2017), a self-described "anti-romcom", is the debut feature of comedienne and writer, director and actress Mercedes Grower. Awarded production completion funding from the BFI Film Fund, Grower now finds herself looking to the future as she develops her second feature film, alongside working with Laura Michalchyshyn from Sundance TV and Wren Arthur from Olive productions on her sitcom, Sailor.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.