It’s a tall order to do a sequel to what’s possibly the best episode of all time, but this two-parter rises to the challenge to become the high point (so far) of an already exceptional series. There’s no fucking about – straight into the action at a breakneck pace that’s maintained throughout both episodes, with so many big concepts and standout moments squeezed in.
The topics it tackles are huge. The allegory is hardly subtle – the rogue Zygon faction have even got an ISIS-lookalike flag in the background of their hostage videos – but the message is important and entirely correct. The vast majority of Zygons want to live in peace, and condemn the terrorism that a small number carry out in their name. The Doctor tells Kate that if she bombs them, they’ll all become radicalised. It’s a politically bold move to make the real life parallels so obvious, but an admirable attempt to make a point that not everyone in this country wants to hear.
It helps that the literal elements of the story as so entertaining. I don’t think the Zygons have ever been better, thanks to their terrifying new ability to take the form of any human they choose, leading to much psychological horror as soldiers are forced to aim at their own kids or parents. Although they could have got around it by simply shooting each other’s mums. Lovely to see Rebecca Front in these scenes, by the way. Nicola Murray finally gets to stand up to Malcolm.
And it’s very much lovely to see Osgood back, whichever one of her it is. She’s now got question marks on her lapels, a McCoy jumper, and she’s about the twentieth thing this series to be referred to as a “hybrid”. It’s interesting to not know whether the surviving Osgood is human or Zygon, and I’m glad that it’s never revealed. I find myself wanting to respect her right to identify herself as whatever she likes – I’m not sure whether I’m reading an extra allegory that isn’t there, but I think there’s definitely at least some subtext involved.
Technically speaking, this is the second consecutive companion-lite story. I thought at first that it was a bit convenient that the Zygon-Terrorists’ secret base was underneath Clara’s flat, but of course that’s not a coincidence, and the reveal of Evil Clara is stunning. I loved the mental battles between the two throughout the second part, with this new and improved Clara now strong-willed enough to beat the odds in her weird dream world.
It all culminates of course with the Osgood Boxes, in scenes strangely reminiscent of the end game from Goldenballs. This is Capaldi’s finest moment to date, and I remember that it convinced me that he was more than a great Doctor, but a contender for greatest Doctor. It’s always a thrill when the Doctor and I align ideologically, and the speech covers so much ground – pointing out the fundamental flaws of extremism, the immorality of war and how important it is to practice tolerance and understanding with those different to you.
He does all this while giving a compelling, emotional and unforgettable performance, and also relating it all back to his own experiences and the principles that make him who he is. It’s stunning. If only more people had paid attention, and remembered these lessons when voting in elections that took place on both sides of the Atlantic in the year that followed.