The Zygon Inversion

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The Zygon Inversion

Not to be confused with The Zygon Invasion.
258b "The Zygon Inversion"
Doctor Who episode

Promotional image for the episode
Directed by Daniel Nettheim
Written by Peter Harness
Steven Moffat
Script editor David P Davis
Produced by Peter Bennett
Executive producer(s) Steven Moffat
Brian Minchin
Incidental music composer Murray Gold
Series Series 9
Length 2nd of 2-part story, 45 minutes
Originally broadcast 7 November 2015 (2015-11-07)
← Preceded by Followed by →
"The Zygon Invasion" "Sleep No More"

"The Zygon Inversion" is the eighth episode of the ninth series of the British science fiction television series Doctor Who. It was first broadcast on BBC One on 7 November 2015. It is written by Peter Harness and Steven Moffat and directed by Daniel Nettheim, and was originally titled "Inversion of the Zygons".

The episode is the second of a two-parter, the first being "The Zygon Invasion", in which a splinter cell of shapeshifting Zygons living among humans on Earth have declared their intention to go to war with the humans.


Bonnie, the leader of a small splinter group of shapeshifting Zygons that intend to start a war with the humans they live among, has taken Clara's form, keeping her body in a Zygon pod. Clara finds herself in a dream-based version of her flat, able to control Bonnie's actions to a small degree due to a telepathic connection between them. Clara is able to thwart Bonnie's first attempt to shoot down the Doctor's plane. However, a second rocket strikes and destroys the plane. Later, Bonnie finds a peaceful Zygon disguised as a human, and causes his body to revert to its Zygon nature in front of a shopping centre in the south of London. She uses Clara's mobile phone to record and upload the footage, starting a panic across news broadcasts. In the dream flat, Clara pauses the television, through which she sees what Bonnie sees, when the Doctor's plane is destroyed, and realises the Doctor and Osgood managed to parachute out of the plane to safety. They soon land on a beach.

Soon, the Doctor receives a text from Clara's phone saying 'I'm Awake'. Osgood deduces from this that Bonnie didn't know she sent the text, and the text was sent by Clara controlling Bonnie's hand. The Doctor video calls Bonnie and from winks she exhibits, recognises that Clara is able to give him small clues through Bonnie as to her pod's location. The Doctor and Osgood converge on the shopping centre, the same one where Bonnie's footage was taken, finding it empty save for the lone Zygon Bonnie revealed. Fearing that he might have started a war due to revealing himself, he opts to kill himself instead of being discovered. Bonnie meanwhile goes to UNIT's headquarters to try to find information on the Osgood Box, but learns that the Doctor has given that information to Clara. In interrogating Clara via their telepathic connection, Bonnie learns the Osgood Box is in the Black Archives under the Tower of London. As the Doctor and Osgood prepare to look for Clara, they are met by the Zygon that has disguised itself as Kate Stewart, and two guards, who capture him and take him to join Bonnie. As they near the Black Archives, Kate reveals that she is not a Zygon, having shot and killed the one that cornered her in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico and falsified the report of her death to Bonnie. She kills their Zygon guards, and the Doctor expresses his frustration at her violent methods.

Meanwhile, Bonnie has brought along Clara's pod so as to gain access to the Black Archives. Inside, Bonnie is furious to discover that there are two identical Osgood Boxes, only differing by colour. She calls the Doctor, who explains one box has a button that contains a means that will remove the disguises of all 20 million Zygons on Earth, which would start a mass panic and likely lead to war, while the other box's button will release the Zygon-targeting nerve gas that would kill all of the Zygons. Bonnie demands Clara be removed from her pod to ask her directly of which is the proper box, but she does not know which. By the time the Doctor, Osgood, and Kate arrive, Bonnie has found that either box's button reveals a second set of buttons labelled "Truth" and "Consequences" within both boxes. When Bonnie prepares to press a button on the blue box, which would either expose the Zygons or make their human forms permanent, Kate prepares to do the same on the red box despite knowing she would either release the Zygon nerve gas or activate the nuclear warheads under London. The Doctor tries to talk both of them out this action - the Osgood Boxes have been a means to assure peace because of the consequences of the actions of either revealing all the Zygons or killing them all. Eventually, after the Doctor admits the consequences he had to live with since the Time War, both Bonnie and Kate back off with the former realizing the boxes are empty and were only a ploy to avoid a disaster. Kate points out that since they know this, this could cause the peace treaty to still break apart, but the Doctor tells them they've been in this situation fifteen times before, each time ending with the Doctor wiping their memories, and he initiates a new wipe using the Black Archives memory wipers to achieve this again.

This time, the Doctor spares Bonnie from the wipe, allowing her knowledge of the truth will help resolve peace. Bonnie calls off the splinter Zygon cell and says they will live peacefully. Later, as the Doctor and Clara prepare to leave, the Doctor offers Osgood a chance to ride in the TARDIS, but she refuses and instead reveals her new duplicate - Bonnie, who has taken a new form after giving up Clara. Neither Osgood admits to which of them is human or Zygon, or if they're both Zygon, but both agree to help protect the Osgood Box as instructed.


Kate Stewart describes her gunfire while escaping an attacking Zygon as "five rounds rapid". This is a phrase closely associated with Kate's father, the Brigadier, that he first used in The Daemons.

The Fourth Doctor's companion Harry Sullivan is mentioned in this episode by name (he was only alluded to in the prior episode) as developing Z67 - "Sullivan's Gas" - as a means of stopping the Zygons. The Doctor also refers to Sullivan as "the imbecile", a reference to the Fourth Doctor serial Revenge of the Cybermen, where the Doctor shouted "Harry Sullivan is an imbecile!" after Sullivan triggered a rockslide and then tried to remove a Cyberbomb from the Doctor without deactivating the booby trap.

UNIT's Black Archive, first seen in "The Day of the Doctor" and containing items from several past episodes, currently has a Mire battle helmet first seen in "The Girl Who Died".

The Doctor claims that he himself planned to use a box with a button to commit mass murder. This is a reference to "The Day of the Doctor" when three of the Doctor's past incarnations planned to use the Moment, a Time Lord doomsday device, to end the Time War.

Osgood says that there has been more than one meaning for the acronym TARDIS. The 'D' in TARDIS has been given as both "dimension" and "dimensions" during both the classic series and the revival, giving the name TARDIS two different meanings. In "The Next Doctor", Jackson Lake says his 'TARDIS'—in reality, a hot air balloon—stands for “Tethered Aerial Release Developed In Style”. In this episode, the Doctor gives it yet another meaning: "Totally And Radically Driving In Space".

As he departs, the Doctor tells the Osgoods that "I'm a very big fan", the same thing Osgood says to the Eleventh Doctor in "The Day of the Doctor".

Outside references

The Doctor's Union Jack parachute prototype (calling it "camouflage... we're in Britain.") is a direct reference to the pre-titles sequence of the 1977 James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me, in which Bond jumps from a cliff and expands a parachute with the same design.

The Doctor calls Bonnie "Zygella", a pun on chef Nigella Lawson's name.

Bonnie is asked by the Doctor about the "brave new world" her revolution will create, citing William Shakespeare's play The Tempest: "O brave new world, that has such people in it".

The Doctor borrows the phrase "And I mean that most sincerely" from the UK television show Opportunity Knocks.

Broadcast and reception

The episode was watched by 4.22 million viewers overnight in the UK, a 20.4% audience share. It received an Appreciation Index score of 84. The final ratings were 6.03 million viewers with a 25.1% audience share.

Critical reception

Professional ratings
Review scores
Rotten Tomatoes (Tomatometer)94%
Rotten Tomatoes (Average Score)8.0
The A.V. ClubA
Paste Magazine8.8
SFX Magazine
TV Fanatic
New York Magazine
Daily Telegraph
Radio Times

"The Zygon Inversion" received critical acclaim, with many highlighting Capaldi and Coleman's performances and the episode's political themes as its best attributes. On review aggregator, Rotten Tomatoes, the episode has a 94% positive review rating and a score of 8/10, with a critical consensus stating, "While "The Zygon Inversion" isn't the most compelling conclusion to a Doctor Who two-parter, it allows for a stirring performance by Capaldi while hinting at Clara's fate in the episodes to come."

Steven Cooper of Slant Magazine called it the best episode of the season so far and claimed it was "a powerful conclusion to the story set up last week". Mark Rozeman of Paste Magazine praised the transformation from "standard aliens-invade plot line" to "a treatise about war and its ultimate uselessness." He ultimately awarded the episode an 8.8. Kaite Welsh of IndieWire heavily acclaimed the episode, awarding it an A++ grade and saying that the episode was "Less overtly political than the previous episode, this week is an embarrassment of riches". She further praised Coleman's performance by saying that the episode " could very well be Jenna Coleman's goodbye present". Mark Rozeman of Paste Magazine awarded the episode a score of 8.8 out of ten, praising Clara and Bonnie's sequences as "brilliantly contrived". He also praised Capaldi's performance, stating "it’s a firm reminder of how lucky we are that an actor of Peter Capaldi’s caliber has taken the titular role and so thoroughly made it his own".

Writing for The Guardian, Dan Martin also heavily praised the episode, specifically the Doctor's anti-war speech in the episode's conclusion. He stated "This Doctor has never been written better, Capaldi has never channelled Tom Baker more, that sequence is cemented instantly as the 'Capaldi moment' in clip shows for the rest of time", and while he said that "It was a risky game to attempt the sort of contemporary allegory" that the episode did, he soon confirmed that the episode "knocked [it] out of the park". Alasdair Wilkins of The A.V. Club also acclaimed the episode, awarding it a perfect "A" grade - the third of the season. He began his review by saying "The climax of 'The Zygon Inversion' makes explicit something that the best anti-war Doctor Who stories have always understood. Depicting the madness of war doesn’t require an epic scale. If anything, narrowing the focus to a single conflict or moral dilemma clarifies the essential futility of violent conflict". He then closed his review by claiming "The simplicity of [the] setup allows this two-parter to be one of the show's strongest ever statements against war, not because the Doctor is challenging us from on high to live up to his standard, but rather because he wants no one else to know his pain". Den of Geek praised ″The Zygon Inversion″ as the best episode of the current series, and named it, ″one of the best pieces of screen entertainment of the year, full stop.″

The episode aired a week after the crash of Metrojet Flight 9268 in Egypt, and resulted in 31 complaints to the Office of Communications (Ofcom) because of the scene depicting a plane being shot down. Viewers argued that the scene was inappropriate in the aftermath of the crash, but Ofcom decided not to launch an investigation. The regulator concluded that "the science fiction nature of Doctor Who and the storyline created a sufficient distinction from recent events".

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