Holy shit that was good. An astonishingly well-tuned, clever piece of television full of surprises big and small. Every bit as good as you would hope from the writing credit, from the actors, from the directors, and really from Doctor Who. I am as thrilled to have watched this happen as I am jealous of those who got to see Terror of the Zygons on first transmission, and I have zero doubt that in 2055 fandom will talk about this like we talk about Terror today.
There is nowhere to start besides the big scene. It is essentially a ten minute long Peter Capaldi monologue. I mean, he has four other characters and three other actresses to work off of, but they are all obligingly standing in corners and letting him do his bit. And it’s basically perfection. This is true on essentially three levels. First of all, of course, is simply the fact that Peter Capaldi is very good at his job. There’s almost nothing more to say than that. I mean, just go watch it five times in a row. Go ahead. It will stand up to that. You will keep noticing new things and getting excited about new bits. It will be like falling in love with a song only with television.
Second of all, Moffat and Harness are very good at theirs (and this scene, at least, feels very much a... hybrid). This isn’t just well paced and well-acted, it’s well set up. Harness built the overall story very well. The basic decision to have the story’s sole actual Zygon Duplicate be Clara was very clever, as was the decision to have the actual villainous faction just be a raging ISIS-style splinter group. The result is on the one hand unambiguously a full on villain, and no effort is made to morally justify Bonnie’s lunacy as such, and on the other hand impossible not to empathize with because she’s played by Jenna Coleman. The resolution - the heartbroken “there’s nothing in the box, is there” - is astonishing, as is “you’re one of us now,” a line meticulously situated within the overall Invasion of the Body Snatchers rhetoric of the story, but given a strange and wonderful meaning contrary to what the line would normally do. And then there’s all the little verbal mirrorings - the use of the word “troublemakers,” with which the Doctor clearly implicates himself just as much as Bonnie, for instance.
But third of all, and perhaps most importantly, are the basic and particular ethics of it. The original Zygon ceasefire was an unusually philosophically deft move on Moffat’s part; a tacit quotation of the great liberal philosopher John Rawls. This moves beyond the pretty philosophical theory into terrain that is at once realist and full of empathy. The Doctor’s final turn into “of course I know how you feel you moron” is astonishing, as is the act of forgiveness. The arguments made are wise and sensible. Space is made for the legitimacy of violence, but none is made for the legitimacy of suffering, and the contradiction involved is accepted. Empathy and secrets are both necessary, and part of a larger process. Just like the first episode flickered deftly between the Letts and Hinchcliffe 70s, the second flickers just as deftly between the historical and personal scales of politics and society. The cleverest bit: the tension between breaking the cycle and this being its fifteenth iteration of one sort or another for Kate.
But this was the grand finale to a much bigger thing with many other truly great beats. The Clara/Bonnie scenes are incredible; my jaw hit the ground at the underplayed darkness of Clara trying to turn the gun on herself, and the mutual interrogation is a wonderfully structured scene in which Clara’s usual set of tricks are taken away from her and she finds a new way to do what she does. This is the best story Coleman has gotten all season (less so Clara, technically, but her dream sequences are phenomenal), and ranks among the best material she’s gotten across her three seasons. Breathtaking stuff.
Also brilliant is the scene with the unnamed Zygon that Bonnie shifts back, which is heartbreaking and an absolutely vital thing to include, not least because it provides the moral justification for the Doctor at the end. And it solves one of the two-parters biggest problems, which is that the plot hinges on the fact that Truth or Consequences doesn’t represent the Zygons at large, but being a Doctor Who story is nevertheless the chunk of Zygons we’re going to spend most of the time dealing with. So this scene does a lot of work, and it manages it in wonderfully unsettling fashion, providing one of those classic Doctor Who moments of tragic humanity from a man who is constantly erupting into blobs and suckers. I’d say that I trust the idiots claiming the first episode was Islamophobic will shut up now, but they’re idiots, so that’s unlikely.
On the whole, this is, I think even better than Kill the Moon. That is not quite the same as saying that I liked it more, but my first experience of Kill the Moon is a treasured memory to me in the same way that my first experience of The Ark in Space was, and the tier of memories above it is pretty much reserved for getting married and shit. But this is the better script and the better story. An absolute jaw-dropping triumph.