The Bodysnatchers Timelash
Terror of the Zygons
|Dates||Aug. 30, 1975 -
Sept. 20, 1975
With Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen, Ian Marter,
Nicolas Courtney, John Levene.
Written by Robert Banks Stewart. Script-edited by Robert Holmes.
Directed by Douglas Camfield. Produced by Philip Hinchcliffe.
|Synopsis: The Doctor, Harry, Sarah, and UNIT investigate the destruction of a series of oil rigs, only to discover that the cause is far from natural.|
Trashing of the Zygons by Ari Lipsey 1/2/98
After watching Terror of the Zygons for the third time, I have a few questions:Does anyone else think Terror of the Zygons does not deserve 'classic' status? Isn't it just another "aliens try to take over the Earth" story, a Doctor Who trend starting with The Dalek Invasion of Earth? And as an invasion story, is it really that effective?
Why do the the Zygons look like teddy bears with viens and suction cups? Why do their voices, which should sound chilling, remind of WOTAN from The War Machines? How can the Zygons take control of the Earth with six of them? Even the Doctor points this out, so doesn't this take away from their Terror? Or is this the part I'm supposed to like? If it is, that would be like saying The Creature from the Pit is a classic because it's a parody on bad science fiction. Do you think The Creature from the Pit is a classic? (Tom Baker fans, please don't answer that.) Do the Zygons really believe one monster is going to keep the whole world in line? Doesn't this seem a bit far fetched?
Why are the Zygons destroying oil rigs to test the power of the Skarasen? Does anyone else think the explanation of "testing it's power" is a little slap dash, especially since their ultimate plan is world domination? If you wanted to take over the world, what is the first thing you would do? Put a bug in Angus McRanold's Inn? Even if it was to see some of UNIT's actions, how could UNIT stand up to the Skarasen, which will eventually be used to take over the world?
Would killing V.I.P.'s at the World Energy Convention help the Zygons take over the world? Didn't that part feel like it was written in five minutes? Did anyone else think this episode peaked when Harry got shot in the first episode?
Is the only criteria for making classic Doctor Who is if the credits say "Script Editor: Robert Holmes, Producer: Phillip Hincliffe, Directed by: Douglas Camfield"? Is Camfield's comic direction the only redeemable feature here?
Did I see the same Terror of the Zygons that is so highly regarded by fans? Is this not one of the least appealing and least exciting episodes of all time? And was the Skarasen really that bad? Questions, anyone?
A Review by Michael Hickerson 9/3/98
In the words of Dave Barry, I am not making this up. The first time I saw this story, the TV Guide, one-line synopsis for this story said, "The Doctor lets the Zygons be bygons." I laughed out loud and set the VCR for what was the beginning of my experience with the fourth Doctor.
Maybe that's why there's a soft spot in my heart for this story.
OK, I'll give you the fact that the Skarasaan is without a doubt one of the worst realized monsters in all of Doctor Who. But I pose a question to you-- just when are the Who monsters that well realized? Besides, the Zygons are such nicely done rubber suit monsters that the flaws in the Skarassan are less offensive.
But overall, the strength of Zygons is an interesting story with enough plot to keep you interested for four episodes. The story starts out on an oil rig that is quickly demolished and never lets down from there. There is a lot of dashing about across the Scottish moors, and then to London for the finale. And while there is a large supporting cast in the story, they are each given something reasonably intelligent to do that adds to the story.
About the only major flaw the story has is it's a re-tread of the superior Doctor Who and the Silurians. If you watch these two stories close enough together, the similariites are strikingly eerie.
But if you sit back and take it for what it's meant to be--four entertaining and fun episodes of Doctor Who, you are sure not to be disappointed.
I never am.
A Review by Joseph Nunweek 16/3/98
I have only one major gripe about this story, so I'll say it now: the Skarasen is awful, even by the standards of Doctor Who.
Now I can get on with the rest of the review. The Zygons were one of the best realized aliens on the show-- from their semi-organic ship to their ability to shape-shift to their concept of using a cyborg monster to do their evil bidding. The only problem was their voices, which were so scary and distorted that often and could'nt hear a word they were saying. The idea of Zygons assuming human shape was terrifying: it even took me a while to realise the Duke was no more than Broton in human form.
The production is spot on: the Zygon sets, Dudley Simpson's music, the great and scary scenes with the Zygon Harry. This story seems to bring out the Fourth Doctor's alien nature (this may be because Tom Baker plays out the serious nature of his Doctor in the story) as he hynotises Sarah to save her in the decompression chamber and seems to fade into almost catatonic lapses of deep thought. Sarah plays off the Doctor beautifully. And even Harry, who never got much of an innings on the series, does very well in his final story.
Is there any other signs of this being a great story? In a recent DWM, Terror Of The Zygons was screened to a class of primary school age children-- nearly all of the kids liked it.
High praise indeed to a Doctor Who story that was able to entertain today's children.
A Review by Leo Vance 19/3/98
Some people say this story is a classic. Some say its good. But no, it's not classic. It doesn't even reach the "excellent" level of The Deadly Assassin or Resurrection of the Daleks.
To begin with, Tom Baker isn't good in many of these 1975-6 stories. He's reasonable here (nearly his worst role) and only here and there does Tom Baker shine through. Nicholas Courtney is as usual, effective, and John Levene plays his role well, and UNIT is well portrayed. Elisabeth Sladen is quite good as Sarah Jane, but is outshone by Ian Marter, who is the best human performance in the production. The Scots are all good, and the performance of John Woodnutt as the real human in Part 4 is excellent.
The Zygons are superb monsters. Woodnutt excels as Broton, and all of their performances are impressive. Their costumes are good, their spaceship is an excellent design, and the Skarasen is hilarious (of course, if you're a fanatic fan, you'll be embarassed, but if that's so, why are the Daleks such favorites?). Special effects and sets are reasonable, and the location work is well done. Direction is quite good, and the costumes are good.
It's not a classic, nor is it even in the second rank, with Resurrection of the Daleks or Vengeance on Varos. A less than perfect plot and a mixed script is saved by the Zygons, John Woodnutt, Ian Marter, Nicholas Courtney and John Levene.
All in all, an interesting if less than great runaround. 7/10
A Review by Keith Bennett 30/5/98
The Zygons are one of the best Doctor Who aliens never to have got a second story. They look good and different, with the first full close up of one of them bearing down on Sarah at the end of Episode One genuinely frightening. Their spaceship and controls are also unusual in their organic style, rather than traditional buttons and lights. And, unlike what others might think, I don't believe the Skarasen is too bad. Okay, it's no Jurassic Park, but it's not too bad either, particularly the moments of stop motion when it's chasing the Doctor across the moors.
What I struggle with are parts of the story. There never seems to be a really convincing reason as to why the Zygons are destroying the Oil Rigs, and how Broton and his pals could, even with their pet monster handy, take over the world when the rest of their race are still supposed to be centuries away? It also eats at me that all spaceships, etc., seem have not only self-destruct mechanisms, but ones that are easy to operate. The Doctor walks in, sees this whopping panel sitting there, twiddles a few knobs and that's it -- boom! I suppose he's been in enough alien crafts to spot them as easily as if they have a sign on them saying, "To destroy this vessel, press here".
Overall, Terror of The Zygons is quite entertaining, notable for being the last "regular" UNIT story, and the Zygons could well have made a comeback, but it's no classic. 6/10
A Review by Edward Kellett 3/7/01
Terror of the Zygons is the last of the early Tom Baker stories to be commissioned by former producer Barry Letts, and displays some hallmarks of the Pertwee period but with the added grimness of the programme's new house style. As its original title reveals this is essentially a story about the discovery of the Loch Ness monster, and this colourful comic-book tone manifests itself in numerous areas of the production. The Zygons' duplication technology yields nothing particularly innovative and the clich? setting is, as has been observed, Scotland by numbers with its pipe-playing, second-sighted landlord and sharply tongued local aristocrat, but both elements are highly enjoyable and satisfying nevertheless. Robert Banks Stewart's script is a simple but engaging tale that manages to disguise the major key flaw in its structure: namely that after the destruction of the oil rigs, the Zygons don't actually have to do anything throughout the first three episodes except avoid discovery by the humans. Following their introduction and the statement of their intention to seize Earth, the motive for laying wreck to the rigs is only revealed casually by Broton as being a mere "trial of strength" for the Skarasen, the monster that proves integral to their schemes. The bulk of the story consists of entertaining set-pieces where the Doctor and his friends have to avoid the clutches of the Zygons' pet cyborg and their human doppelgangers.
However, the plot is given a tougher, violent edge in accordance with Hinchcliffe and Holmes' new course for the series, and is immeasurably enhanced by the high-powered, uncompromising direction of Douglas Camfield. Under his guidance, the various horrific scenarios suggested by the Zygon duplicates are exploited to the full, as several hapless humans fell victim to their ordinary facade. Equally effective in conveying this sense of unease is the eerie, fluting musical score from Geoffrey Burgon, a composer whose quirky symphonic style gives the story a distinctive twist. Possibly the third contributing crewmember is James Acheson, whose foetal costume design for the Zygons, with their suckered bodies and dome-shaped heads, is rivetingly sinister and odd. The extension of this organic feel to the aliens' craft makes for some refreshingly different set designs, more atmospheric than the standard gleaming technology. Camfield cleverly disguises the true nature of the Zygons during the first episode, using close-ups of eyes and cross-fades between writhing claws to convey their lurking presence beneath the loch. Even more notably, he actually manages to make the scenes of the Zygon ship taking off from underwater and landing in a quarry seem credible, thanks to a periscope filming effect that disguises the modelwork involved.
Harking back to the Pertwee era, Terror of the Zygons marks the last seventies story to feature the Brigadier and one of the final appearances of UNIT. Though it is obvious by this point that Nicholas Courtney, John Levene and the UNIT concept in general are well past their prime, they are presented as an efficient and organised taskforce rather than the rambling mob of squaddies seen in some of the later third Doctor tales. Similarly, this story is also the final outing for Harry Sullivan, a part which this time allows Ian Marter a little more scope playing his villainous alter-ego, albeit briefly. The guest roles fulfil minor functions in the narrative, and the only notable performance is from John Woodnutt, portraying the droll, sardonic Duke of Forgill convincingly enough for the viewer to believe that he is not another alien duplicate. Woodnutt is equally brilliant playing the Duke's rasping counterpart, the Zygon commander and warlord Broton. The latter hisses his sibilant threats of destruction very effectively, and for once a mooted conquest of Earth actually acknowledges the need to alter its environment so as to suit an alien species, but Broton is still subject to open mockery by the mirthful Doctor. Indeed, this is one of the first signs of Tom Baker becoming truly engrossed in the role and bringing a sharp-tongued, overbearing quality to the character.
When the production team couldn't even obtain the budget to film at the story's location, Loch Ness, it should perhaps have been obvious to the writer, director and producer that the inclusion of a Nessie substitute itself would scarcely be a convincing element. The substitution of forested locations in West Sussex makes a convincing double for the Scottish Highlands; a model puppet, sadly, doesn't for the monster. The creature itself is mercifully given a restricted role in the narrative, confined to menacing the Doctor during the middle of the story and then rearing up from the Thames to provide the spectacular finale. The lame effect used for this is disappointing primarily because the Skarasen is meant to be the tool through which the Zygons will first demonstrate their power and then take over the planet, and the ease with which the Doctor disposes of it is scarcely inspiring. Nevertheless, the failure of the Skarasen should not overshadow the success of the rest of the story; lush locations, an imaginatively designed race of aliens and an occasionally unnerving plot all contribute towards its effectiveness. As a whole, Terror of the Zygons may lack the depth and imagination of the psychologically based-stories of this era, but it displays equal finesse in its storytelling, producing a satisfying enough start to Season 13.
Zygons and By-gones by Andrew Wixon 14/1/02
Sixteen episodes can be a long time in Doctor Who. Sixteen episodes elapse between the end of Robot and the beginning of Terror of the Zygons, yet while the two stories are superficially similar - virtual throwbacks to the Pertwee-era format, replete with the main UNIT regulars and staples - they feel very different when watched, so much has the series changed in the intervening time. Whereas in the earlier story the fourth Doctor was deliberately inserted into a traditional story from his predecessor's tenure, here it's the Brigadier and Benton who seem out of place. It's a pity Zygons didn't conclude season 12 as planned, because it definitely feels like the final step in the slow change of style and emphasis that occurred throughout it as the new team found their feet. (Harry's separation from the others feels like a definite attempt to gently ease him out as a regular.)
As a story, there are lots of things one could criticise about TotZ. There is some dodgy effects work. There is a dodgy cop-out to episode two's cliffhanger. The Zygon scheme isn't really explained (nor why they've waited centuries at the bottom of the Loch to execute it). The Scottish are patronised throughout (virtually the first line is a reference to Haggis while the last is a 'Scots are tightwads' joke). And there's the priceless 'let's split up' in episode two which the UNIT squaddies interpret as 'you three armed elite troopers go that way, while I, an unarmed and fairly weedy girl reporter go this way by myself'.
But, not for the last time, this doesn't really matter as the story gathers you up and breathlessly carries you along, bombarding you with interesting things to watch and think about. It's not quite up to the extraordinary standards of the same team's Seeds of Doom, but it's still a hugely entertaining and highly polished piece of entertainment. There isn't really a bad performance in it, and several very good ones - Lilias Walker is spooky as the Sister, although John Woodnutt's delivery of many of his lines suggests exactly what he thinks of the script's quality...
And, last but not least, TotZ would always have had a place in the history books as the last regular appearance of Nicholas Courtney as the Brigadier. Thankfully the Brigadier and UNIT are allowed to retain their dignity throughout, and while they're now clearly relics of a bygone era which the series is ready to move on from, this story is as good as almost any other that they appear in. It's a low-key adieu to a series which they arguably kept viable five years earlier, but it's still a farewell that makes watching this story something of a bittersweet pleasure.
A good invasion tale by Tim Roll-Pickering 21/8/02
Season 13 kicks off with a story that sees UNIT battling against alien invaders, an event that is actually far less common than it is often suggested. Even though this is the beginning of Tom Baker's second season as the Doctor there are still strong links with the Pertwee era, though there is also a sense of the way forward as well. Douglas Camfield returns to directing for the first time since Inferno and it shows, especially in the portrayal of UNIT who come across as a serious task force rather than as a comic foil as they have been in earlier stories.
There's nothing particularly original about a race of shape shifters, since this allows for much confusion and tension as well as keeping down the costs of costumes, but Terror of the Zygons does its best to bring a new slant to the matter. Here the aliens' ability to change their shape is a mere ability rather than their defining characteristic and so they come across as a well thought through and genuinely sinister race. The story sees yet another attempt to explain a myth - in this case the Loch Ness Monster - and in part it works but it is hard to accept that the Zygons have been there for so long and are only now going to be reunited with the rest of their race. Costume wise the Zygons are a race of men in suits but these are designed so well that the suits don't immediately show. The Skarasen is less well realised and the scenes of it attacking London come across extremely poorly due to the complete lack of any attempt to show the panicking public but this is the one major drawback in the production side of the story.
On the writing side the tale holds together extremely strongly, with few obvious plotholes other than the length of time the Zygons have spent on the planet being a little hard to swallow. The aliens' motivation is believable and gives them an almost sympathetic side though their actions quickly dispel this. There are plenty of good jokes in the story as well, such as the scene where the Doctor meets the Brigadier in a kilt.
Acting wise the cast is strong and there are few letdowns, though the only cast members to really stand out are Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen and Nicholas Courtney. Although there is no obvious sign of it in the story, this is the Brigadier's final regular appearance and Courtney gives a good performance that leaves the viewer wanting for more.
Terror of the Zygons is not the most complex or exciting story in the world, but it is put together extremely well and it's hard to find any fault with it other than a few Skarasen shots. This is a good example of the series as a whole and one to show to anyone unfamiliar with the series. 9/10
A Review by Will Berridge 20/5/03
Watching Terror of the Zygons always brings a slight melancholy feel to me, since, strictly speaking, as our chronometer flies, it's the Brigadier's last appearance for 7 seasons, and UNIT's final major showing till their revival in Battlefield 12 seasons later. In fact, it's not really treated as if these two DW trademarks are having their last hurrah, partially due to the fact both were due to feature in the Android Invasion. As it was, the Brig was replaced because Courtney wasn't available to act him, and UNIT's role was hardly central to the story (as in Seeds of Doom where they, minus all the regulars, just turn up at the end to splat the Krynoid), which I hardly remember anyway because it was pants. This all leaves us with UNIT being phased out in a rather unsatisfying fashion. One aspect of the story does rather poetically mark it out as the Brigadier's (for the time being) swansong, however, the granting of his desperate request from his previous story, Robot, "I wish there was just one alien menace which wasn't immune to bullets." Well he found one - Broton. Instead of the Doctor triumphing over the story's token villain with some ingenious masterplan, the Brigadier turns up and pumps him full of lead. How very satisfying that must have been for him. The Doctor still sorts out the major difficulties, blowing up the Zygon spacecraft and stopping the Skarasen eating everyone, but at least the Brig's getting something of a say. He still acts in a mildly buffoonish fashion, however. For example:
Doctor: (whispering) I think it's more likely they may have some form of electronic surveillance...Military idiot.
Brigadier: A BUG?
(Zygons watch on intently)
Doctor: (still whispering) Ssssh! A bug...
Brigadier: (at top of voice) MR BENTON! I WANT THIS WHOLE PLACE CHECKED FOR BUGS!
Sarah gets a lot to do in this story, chasing zygons around and rescuing Harry from the spacecraft. I'm not going to comment on Harry because I was never overwhelmingly enamoured with the character, with him largely being a substitute for another character I couldn't stand. It's probably to do with social perspectives - I'm a "new age man", or getting there at any rate. Him and Yates weren't. Anyway, all that really matters is that the Doctor's on form, which, seeing as this is a Tom Baker story, he is. He plays the mysteriously enigmatic "look at how deep I can make MY voice" 4th doctor wonderfully well in the first couple of episodes, notably with lines like "the sea may be calm... but it's never empty."
Once the Zygons and their dastardly plans are revealed, the element of unseen menace is removed from the plot and we get the more active, comical, "I'm going to take the piss out of all the villains teeheehee" Doctor. The "isn't the world a little small for just the six of you line", particularly, is oft quoted for the self-awareness it demonstrated on the part of the writer. Even six, however, was pushing it - the design of the Zygon costumes was admittedly a triumph for the era but obviously so much effort was put into the three of them there wasn't time to make anymore. Have you noticed how after Madra's "immediate molecular dispersal" another Zygon that looks and talks just like him turns on the spacecraft? It's arguable that because of this that, when Broton delivers lines like "Destroying the oil rigs was only the beginning", the confidence with which he states them has a quaintly bathetic quality. Looking at the 4th Doctor years, the most memorably threatening villains are the ones the Doctor doesn't send up by saying things like "I'll say one thing for you, Broton, you think big...". Davros, Sutekh. However, this is more Broton's fault for being a one dimensional villain with daft lines like "Die Doctor, Die!" and "I underestimated his intelligence. But he underestimated the power of organic crystallography." The latter is my sister's favourite "Stupid line" in DW. Frankly, Broton deserves having the pee taken out of him. He's infinitely better in his Duke of Forgill, with John Woodnutt not restrained by the Zygon costume.
That's about all I want to say about the characters, though I wouldn't mind finding where Mr Huckle is and asking who permitted him to leave the plot half way through. I mean, they could have just killed him off, couldn't they? It's standard practice for characters who have completely filled their role in the narrative.
Criticism already made notwithstanding, the story manages to hold up fairly well throughout, and is exciting right from the beginning, with Harry getting shot right in the first episode. This isn't something you can say about all DW stories, especially the 80's ones. It's unfortunate most of the denouement takes place in the storeroom BEHIND the energy conference, making it just a little anticlimactic. The effects on the spacecraft exterior/interior (which looks like its coated in pizza topping) are excellent for the era and even the Skarasen isn't as bad as reported, say compared to the dinosaurs or the bubblewrap Wirrn, though this may be partially due to its limited screen appearances.
A Review by Brian May 28/10/03
Terror of the Zygons is a wonderful example of the high standard of Doctor Who that came out of the Philip Hinchcliffe/Robert Holmes years. It is a great mix of action, suspense and horror, telling an engrossing tale - for the first three episodes, at least.
The first half of the story is a terrific lesson in how to create suspense. All throughout there are gradual revelations, especially so regarding the title monsters. At first there are only glimpses - a shot of a Zygon's arms in its control room; the eerie close-ups of Broton's eyes as he spies on events at the inn. In true Who tradition, a full frontal view does not occur until the end of part one. But even after this the shots remain fleeting, when the Doctor is locked in the decompression chamber with Sarah. It's not until Harry is led onto the bridge of the Zygon ship that we see the monsters in full, permanent view. The audience has its curiosity sparked and then is made to wait patiently.
But it's a frightening wait. The conversation between Sarah and Angus is foreboding enough. When we know they are being watched - and watched intently - the landlord's tale of Tulloch Moor becomes even more terrifying. The discussion between the Doctor and the Brigadier is edited to similar effect. We have a close-up of the Doctor, cut to the Brigadier, and then back to the Doctor - but this time it is a close-up of him as seen on the aliens' monitor.
The same goes for the Skarasen. The opening scene - the collapse of the oil rig - indicates there is something large and frightening at sea. Then later on the Doctor reveals his suspicions - one of the story's best lines comes when he says the sea "may be calm, but is never empty" - in one quick sentence the viewer is both intrigued and unnerved. Then in episode two we hear the roars; we see the monster swim past and look directly at the Zygon ship's camera. Then another blink-and-you-miss-it shot as it appears out of the fog to attack the patrolling UNIT soldier. We only see it fully at the end of the episode as it chases the Doctor across the moor.
This slow build-up is what makes the story so satisfying, keeping you on the edge of your seat in what is essentially a standard UNIT/invasion of Earth story. It could have featured in Jon Pertwee's reign as the Doctor - but the production partnership of Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks would never have given it the eerie, dark and even forlorn atmosphere that permeates here. The horror element that Philip Hinchcliffe brought to Doctor Who works wonders in this story, even in the small details. One of the scenes that terrified me as a youngster is when Angus is cleaning the stag's head in the inn, and the animal's eye moves down to look at him. A few minutes later, as Benton and the UNIT troops exit the inn to hunt for the landlord's killer, an unexpected close-up of the empty eye socket is just as startling. The Zygon disguised as Harry attacking Sarah with a pitchfork is also a disturbing moment.
The action scenes are not gratuitous or overlong - in fact they complement the suspense. Sarah and the UNIT soldiers chasing the Zygon masquerading as Harry; that tremendous chase across Tulloch Moor; Benton leading the troops into the woods to hunt for the Zygon - these are all excellent set pieces. Some are very short, but they are all engaging, appropriate, bursts of activity, skilfully handled by director Douglas Camfield, who is in his element with a story like this. I have to admit always liking the monster's chasing the Doctor at the end of part two - it is perhaps my favourite action scene in the whole programme.
Production wise, the direction is not the only point in the story's favour. All the acting is exceptional - there's not one performance that is wanting. UNIT are given some strong moments - some justice after the indignities they suffered in the late Pertwee years. The Brigadier is once again a strong leader, but it's John Levene as RSM Benton who shines. His finest moment is undoubtedly the aforementioned hunt in the woods - Benton is allowed to show his decisive leadership skills. If Harry's capture and relative inactivity in the story is an attempt by the writer or script-editor to sideline him (some believe he was an awkward "fifth wheel" companion during season twelve), it's quite unnecessary. He is at his strongest here - AND he gets to save the Doctor! John Woodnutt is also exceptional, both as the Duke of Forgill and Broton.
The music is the other strong asset to the story. Not one single note is out of place. From the gorgeous theme we hear as the Doctor and company traverse across the landscape to and from the TARDIS, to the eerie opening, to the various action oriented themes - the score by Geoffrey Burgon is superb. Some touches are exquisite - when Sarah enters the barn looking for what she believes is Harry and spots the ladder, and the scene - already discussed - when the stag's eye moves to look at Angus - the simple violin strokes are wonderfully chilling, adding to the tension already prevalent.
The location photography is nice. We all know it's not Scotland, but it's pretty convincing anyway. The Zygons are brilliantly conceived and designed, as is their organic ship. The one point of contention always brought up in this story is the model of the Skarasen. I believe it works in some parts of the story, less in others. The design is quite good - building it over a dog's skull is quite freakish - and the monster works quite well in the first half of the story. True to the "less is more" suspense element of the tale, this is where it is most successful. During the chase across the moor, the director mainly sticks to low angled shots - in one of them, the Skarasen's eyes flicker as if it's trying to work out where the Doctor is; perhaps not intentionally done, but very effective. The few times we see the monster in full are less convincing than the tighter shots, but really they are not that bad.
It is only at the end, when the monster is rampaging in the Thames, that the effects look ridiculous. Which leads me to my only complaint about the story. In the first paragraph I wrote that Terror of the Zygons is three quarters of a wonderful tale. Unfortunately, part of the way into episode four, the horror and suspense that was so enjoyable disappears. As soon as the action moves away from Scotland, it just becomes another race-against-time-to-defeat-the-aliens adventure. The Zygon ship landing in a disused quarry (oh, how convenient!) in west London; the scenes in UNIT headquarters; the Doctor's attempts to escape; the climax in the building on the Thames - it's all a bit of a fizzer really. Broton just becomes another megalomaniac, and it's all over rather quickly. Ironically, the other story that shared the same writer, director, producer, script-editor and composer, The Seeds of Doom, suffers the same fate: wonderful until the final portions!
This less than satisfying ending is a downer after the first three episodes. Repeat viewings are disappointing when you know the story will turn out this way. However, Terror of the Zygons is still extremely good. The final episode costs it some marks, but overall it is a well made, enjoyable tale. 7.5/10
The adventures of the scary big eyed man and the sucky aliens! by Joe Ford 4/11/03
Picture the scene. It's a cold wet Christmas evening; the family are all asleep on the sofa, gorged on too much turkey and wine. Joe (aged eleven) sits cross-legged in front of the telly and watches in rapt silence as a terrifying tale of horrible sucky aliens and a big sea monster passes by.
I was absolutely petrified. I was aware that horror could scare, the Tripods were a particular nightmare at the time but I had never forced myself through such a nerve-racking experience before.
The worst bit was the nurse. I had a phobia of hospitals for months after watching this. Her mad, staring eyes and soft voice was bad enough but the scene with all the blood running down her arm, where she clobbers the UNIT trooper with that giant rock... brrr.
Next up was the scene where Sarah chases Harry through the streets. I loved Harry in this story (I had already seen him in Revenge of the Cybermen so knew how stupid but lovable he was). But through my eleven-year-old eyes he had turned totally evil and tried to stab Sarah Jane through the heart with a pitchfork. I could not quite get it into my head that he was a copy and was waiting for the day that my mum turned bad and went at me with the bread knife... ahh such is the imagination of children! That sequence though, where lovely Sarah was trapped and alone, walking up the ladder, Harry peering at her through the hay... I remember shouting "Don't go up there!" which probably woke my mum up.
The death of Angus was another highlight, the big sucky alien coming out of the nurse and advancing on him menacingly. Again fears that my mum would turn out to be a Zygon resurfaced. He had such a funny voice and he was nice to Sarah, it was one of the first times I realised that nice people died too.
I always wanted to travel with Sarah Jane when I was younger. She was cooler than all the other companions; she seemed to enjoy herself more. I used to mimic the bit where she sticks her tongue out at Caber all the time (along with saying the phrases "Why do I always get the dirty jobs" and "Perhaps he sneezed" - but that's another story!).
My favourite Sarah bits were in episodes two and four. I was very scared when that strange man with the big eyes started whispering to her and making her not move. The hypnosis scene was scary because I did not understand why he was doing it. I remember laughing when she snapped out of it.
But I also loved it when she started exploring the ship because that was exactly what I would have done. I used to wish I had sliding doors so I could play with them like Sarah does. Sarah was alone in the big, dark, pulsing ship and it was very exciting. I knew the monsters were all trying to get her and lurking about and I wanted to protect her.
Funny the Skarasen made little impression on me. I just couldn't understand why my Dad was laughing so much... he clearly had huge sharp teeth and was going to eat the scary big eyed man!!!
Twelve years later and Terror of the Zygons still impresses me no end. This is how I expect Doctor Who to be, it's traditional in every respect but is told with such sophistication it leaves little room for criticism.
It is one of five times that the Doctor (big eyed man? Tut tut) visited contemporary Earth during the Hinchcliffe era but because Robot never felt like Hinchcliffe, Android Invasion was all false until its brief fourth episode, Seeds of Doom never had the Brig and Hand of Fear was a bit naff this was the only one that really counted. Everyone is here, the Brig, Benton (the most redundant character is finally given something to do!), Harry, Sarah and the Doc. A great team. But brilliantly to switch the locale to Scotland gives the show a very unique flavour (although it was still filmed down south!) as the rugged countryside provides some real atmosphere.
I still believe firmly that this is Douglas Camfield's best-directed story. The Invasion and Inferno are dangerously close but he assembles this story with such a confident touch I find it his most professional. The story has the look of a big budget movie of the time with some lavish and expensive looking location work (the scenes on the beach are gorgeous especially that long shot of Munro struggling to walk from the attack, the sun lit sea is incredibly evocative) and some truly exciting action scenes (the aforementioned chase between bad Harry and Sarah is one of the most tense sequences in the shows history). He certainly gets the best from his actors and there are some highly charismatic performances. Like most of the Hinchcliffe stories you get the impression that everyone is working hard but having great fun too.
It's a step in the right direction for Tom Baker who disappointed in the previous story, Revenge of the Cybermen. His disturbing performance is decidedly creepy (no wonder I thought he was scary) from his nasty rant at the Brig ("OIL!! An emergency?"), his almost seductive hypnotism of Sarah and his horrifyingly real pain as he sabotages the Zygon ship. There are the usual touches of humour ("Sometimes Doctor you do talk absolute rubbish!") and empathy (his very real concern for Harry after he is shot, rushing after Sarah in trouble at the castle) but on the whole this is one of his most sombre performances and is all the more compelling for it.
Sladen and Marter are such a delightful team I wish they could have had more time together. They're so useful, so charming, so funny they make their contempories fade into the distance. "Is it you?" "What do you mean is it me? What on earth's wrong with you old girl?"
The biggest thumbs up is the shock discipline Camfield enforces on the UNIT stuff. Gone are the ridiculously long haircuts, the charming interplay with embarrassingly daft lines for the Brig and the same old cheap laboratory sets. The UNIT of Zygons is a professional organisation, quick, able soldiers, appropriately armed and ready to leap into action. The Brigadier is intelligent and quick thinking, his men respecting him one hundred percent. Lots of impressive hardware is on display, jeeps, decent rifles, depth charges... you get the impression this is a seriously scary team that are more than ready to combat alien incursions.
Robert Banks Stewart was quite a name in the seventies and his two scripts for Doctor Who were both winners. He understands the show's unique formula and offers up an archetypal story, aliens planning to take over the earth but fills the story with lots of little extras (the foreign location, the stable UNIT team, the Zygons being a sympathetic alien race, the ingenious plan to conquer the world). The first episode is as close to a perfect opening episode of this show as you are going to get, loaded with atmosphere and mysteries and finishing on an irresistible cliff-hanger. The story progresses at a furious pace packed full of action whilst the explanations whiz by. And the conclusion (undone by poor effects) is perfectly satisfying. The script is sharp, full of genuinely funny lines ("What if that gets jammed too?" "You have to come out onto the balcony and wave a tentacle if you'll pardon the expression") and some very good scares (as eleven year old Joe discovered, refusing to go to bed with the light off for a week).
The Zygons are still the best-designed aliens ever. Such an organic, disgusting appearance and guaranteed to get an "Eww!" no matter who is watching. Broton becomes much more than a regular villainous leader with John Woodnutt in control. He brings some character to the veiny, sucky creature; this talented actor brings the back-story of the Zygons and their dying world home palpably. His dual turn as the Duke is also a masterstroke, the pompous prick quite a contrast to the friendly uncle type he actually turns out to be.
When I watch stories like Terror of the Zygons I am reminded why I became a fan in the first place. This is gripping television. The Skarasen effects are poor undoubtedly but there have been far worse offenders and I am practically certain the DVD will rectify that with some new CGI effects.
If they do I would be happy to score this story ten out of ten. As it is it reaches a confident nine, it is one hour and a half of Doctor Who that has thrilled me for over a decade.
A huge achievement.
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 15/11/03
Terror Of The Zygons is an enjoyable season opener, featuring as it does much that makes Doctor Who memorable for what it is. The plot is simple and straightforward, the location work benefits the story, the Zygons themselves are effective, the acting great and the effects even (even the Skarason) are of a good standard. Tom Baker`s Doctor is again at his alien best brought to the fore in his hypnotising of Sarah, UNIT gets a good send off in their last regular story, as does Ian Marter`s Harry Sullivan, who is doubly effective when he is being evil. In short then this is perhaps the best story featuring monsters deserving a return and who never got it; and perhaps for personal reasons I enjoy it so much because it's exactly the same age as me! Nonetheless, recommended viewing.
A Review by Terrence Keenan 18/1/04
"A fifty foot monster can't swim up the Thames and attack a large building without somebody noticing. But you know what politicians are like."Okay, for the record, the Skarasen leaves a lot to be desired. However the model shots with the ship are really good for Who. But you rarely see this mentioned in reviews of this serial. Which is a shame. Who effects are for the most part dire, so instead of stating the obvious, we should give the big thumbs up for when they look good.
Right, on with the review proper.
Douglas Camfield was the best Who director ever. Better than Grame Harper and Alan Wareing. He had a signature style which mixed intersting close ups with atmospheric wider shots. The man had a knack for getting into the scene at the latest possible moment and exiting at th earliest moment. And all his stories have drive. Things move in Camfield serials. it allows you to jump on and go along for the ride.
I'm going to take a different look at Zygons, because I haven't seen this mentioned much: Terror of the Zygons is really a horror story, in sci-fi drag. The Zygons are the nasty things in the caves. They're shapeshifters, bogeymen who operate in the mists and dark places. There are lots of moments that sell the horror angle brilliantly. The episode one cliffhanger, with that blobby hand reaching out to grab Sarah while she's on the phone. The pitchfork scene: Ian Marter looks satanic, with his super-white face and dead eyes. Even the hunting of the Zygon being seen at a distance in the woods works far more on a horror level. Broton's first image on screen is an extreme closeup of his eyes. The destruction of the rigs has far more in common with movies like The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and Gozilla than sci-fi.
So, it may have a lot in common with The Silurians, but the horror take gives everything a fresh perspective.
It's time to talk about UNIT. They look so much better in this tale. It's in the little details: the cool camo jackets, the Brig and Mr Benton doing things like triangulation of signals, The depth charge scene, that most of the story has them commandeering a hotel in Tulloch for a headquarters. Alastair may have a couple of goofy moments -- the kilt scene, the post-gassing scene -- but for the most part, he's Season 7 Alastair. Welcome back, old boy! Even Benton looks and acts more professional in this one.
On the acting side of things, Big Tommy B rocks. Lis Sladen rocks. Ian Marter excells both as Harry and Evil Harry. Nic Courtney and John Levene are solid. However, it's John Woodnutt (Broton/The Duke) and Lillias Walker (Sister LaMont) who steal the show. Woodnutt chews the scenery with relish, in a good way, and Walker just looks so damn menacing. The rest of the cast all hold their own.
Terror of the Zygons kicks off the "running, jumping, hauling ass" season 13 in style. Great horror story, superior direction.
The Doctor makes Zygons be bygones... by Michael Hickerson 8/3/06
I wish I could say I came up with the headline above, but I didn't. Nope, that comes to your courtesy of TV Guide back in the day when I first saw this magnificient Tom Baker story. That was the write-up for the episode and I have to admit, it still amuses me to this day.
One thing that interests me about the Hinchcliffe era is that whenever Philip Hinchcliffe talks about his time on the show, he admits that a poorly realized visual effect can mar an otherwise great story. It doesn't take much of a stretch to realize he's talking about Terror of the Zygons.
Zygons is firmly at the crossroads of two eras of Doctor Who. It's the start of the Gothic influences of Hinchcliffe and Holmes but it still has the elements of the Letts and Dicks regime stamped all over it. Surprisingly enough, the story actually does quite well being a distillation of both things that make each respective era successful. And it's a damn good story too.
The plot is fairly typical: alien invaders want to overthrow the governement and conquer Earth. But instead of being an out and out overt threat, the Zygons instead use disguise and subterfuge to conquer the planet. Watching the story, I do have to wonder why the attack is put into high gear with the arrvial of the oil rigs. I can surmise it's that the Zygons realize it's only a matter of time until humanity discover them, but I'm not sure the script makes this abundantly clear. But really, that's about my only major problem with the story so it's not enough for me to dismiss it from the ranks of the classics.
Also evident is the Letts and Dicks worldview. It's another story in which the Doctor laments humanity's dependence on some natural resource. It's not quite as "hit you over the head" politically as, say The Green Death and we don't have the return the Earth to a golden age like we did in Invasion of the Dinosaurs, but the environemental preservation sensibility is still on the show. And I'll give you that it works, if only becuase it's not brought up and then driven home over and over again like other stories I've mentioned.
No, instead of a political soliquoy on why we should save the Earth, we get a damn good story instead. Yes, it borrows a lot from other stories, but who cares? This one is so much fun and the Zygons are so well realized on the screen and as characters that by the time you realize we're borrowing bits from other eras, the story is just about over and you've got a big grin on your face. This is the kind of story that Doctor Who can and should produce and it's lucky that we're in an era that will consistently produce quality stories like this one. If anything, Zygons is the beginning of one of those classic runs in Doctor Who that most of us hope will happen again on the new series.
Part of that is that the Zygons themselves are so well realized. As a monster, they're effective and their lair is effective. Zygons features some fine model works, some good make-up and some great set designs. The ship FEELS alien rather than just looking alien. And that all works.
Where the story is let down is the Skarasan. Thankfully, the production staff seems to have learned from Invasion of the Dinosaurs that long shots of poorly done prehistoric monsters on the Beeb budget just won't work. The Skarasan is shown closer up so we can't see how slowly it would actually move. But the creature does take you out of the story a bit because it is so obviously an effect and a not so great one. When this one comes out on DVD, I hope they'll give us the option of a CG Skarasan like we got with the updated CG on Dalek Invasion of Earth, Ark in Space and Earthshock. This is one case where re-doing the effects would actually help the story.
But don't let that ruin your enjoyment of Zygons. It's fun, it's crisp and it's an entertaining four episodes.
Yes Rose, Sarah was serious about the Loch Ness Monster by Thomas Cookson 12/2/08
Terror of the Zygons is regarded as a classic story, if not a top-ten story. It's highly regarded enough to earn major and virtually unanimous respect, and it's not hard to see why. I have owned Terror of the Zygons on video for seven years now and its appeal has not worn off with me.
It's all about setting and atmosphere and through a blend of breathless editing, strong characterisation and brilliant set designs and monster make up, the episode is a success. It feels like an episode of Twin Peaks 15 years ahead of its time in its presentation of simple rural life with a subversive undercurrent of horror and superstition. Robert Banks Stewart gives us a very captivating collection of characters that speak for the culture and traditions of this Scottish rural community. When the uptight Duke of Forgill warns Mr. Huckle, the head of the oil company that if his workers are caught poaching on his land again they'll be shot, he conveys a gritty realism about the laws of the land and how cavalier the rich land-keepers can be. When the landlord of the local inn, Angus is interviewed by Sarah Jane Smith about the strange goings on, he tells her a long history of local ghost stories and unexplained phenomenon, and it really conveys how rural, small-town life has secret wonders and surprises of its own.
The performances really do make the characters feel as though their warmth - or alternatively their frostiness - has come into the comfort of the living room. What we see on screen really does evoke the simple sense of rural life, and it actually makes me nostalgic for school Geography field trips to Colomendy. That sense of leaving behind the TV phoneline life for a more quaint one, but with a bit of fog in the air to add to the atmosphere.
The incidental music is one of the finest scores the series has ever been blessed with; beautiful and unpredictable flute melodies and various other musical moments linger long after viewing. As the Doctor and his companions arrive on the green windy hills of Scotland, the music really has that sense of the happiness of travelling with the Doctor and the comfort of homecoming. When we witness the shoreline being washed up with oil-rig wreckage and the occasional corpse, the music is appropriately bleak. When Sarah is being told the ghost story by Angus, the music complements the mystique.
There is a sequence where the Doctor and Sarah are trapped in an airtight room by a Zygon and the oxygen is being pumped out, and the Doctor has to hypnotise Sarah into not breathing (a moment that always makes me take an intake of breath myself) and the music gives the hypnosis sequence an otherworldliness like a brief but overpowering subversion of reality. The scenes in Forgill castle are complemented well by the echoing music of centuries of age in a quite poignant way; I must say that had Ultravox been around at the time and had they been in the habit of doing music scores for Doctor Who, with their fine ear for compositions like architecture and the ghostly and neo-classical, I doubt even they could have bettered the score here.
But of course there are scenes where silence is truly golden. In the moment where Sarah finds her way through a secret entrance onto the Zygon ship and wanders cautiously along the narrow corridors, the hum of the Zygon machinery and the anticipation from automatic doors opening suddenly, preparing us for an encounter with a Zygon, is disquieting enough by itself. In much of the episode, an absence of music works well alongside some very snappy editing, cutting us quickly without a dramatic pause from one scene to the next.
At the end of an intriguing scene, the Doctor may make a striking remark on the mystery but the action cuts away to the next scene without letting the Doctor's words hang in the air, and with no music to emphasise the line. It basically resists the temptation to sensationalise the Doctor's words, making the dialogue somehow more real and the momentum more fluid, drawing you further into the earthy and unplugged simplicity of the rural setting. It is appropriate really in cutting back on the spectacle and emphasising the more intelligent aspects of the heroes and villains as they work to second guess one another. The Doctor has to go on clues for a longer period than usual as the Zygons work under stealth and the Doctor has to piece together a profile of what he is dealing with. Meanwhile the Zygons are more strictly methodical in their actions than most other alien monsters. Their plan of conquest is in its early stages as yet and so they only do what is necessary, and nothing more, for fear of giving themselves away.
This particular use of Zygons to explain the Loch Ness Monster feels like a nice retread of the Patrick Troughton stories The Abominable Snowmen and The Web of Fear, which saw the Second Doctor battling against savage robot Yeti that were being controlled by an alien intelligence. This story relies again on the use of devices to control the mythical beast, and making the point that, historically, the mythical beasts have always been timid and gentle, until recently turning violent under the alien influence. It also borrows from those Yeti stories an outback setting in the highlands with a tightly knit community (in the Doctor's hypnotism scene he actually references his friendship with a Tibetan monk from the Yeti episodes) and even reuses the scenario whereby the Doctor suspects that the UNIT soldiers might have a traitor in their midst, given the Zygons talent for replicating humans (a shame that more wasn't done with this paranoia angle). The episode also has something of a wink to the The Sea Devils in its use of an underwater threat attacking oil rigs unprovoked.
The regulars are on top form. Tom Baker gives the usual fine performance as the Doctor, in what is only his sixth story in the role. He brings the usual humour here as the conflicting relationship between him and the Brigadier has become a more humoured mocking of the military man. When the soldiers of UNIT are ordered to begin pre-emptively raining bombs at the enemy, the Doctor is no longer preparing a moral lecture to spout from his soap-box, but merely quips sardonically about the explosions of shells, "Sounds like the Brigadier" and then comes the kind of explosive spectacle that is complemented well by a James Bond-style, smile-raising double entendre line from the Doctor.
The scene where the Doctor enters the Duke of Forgill's empty castle and helps himself to the Duke's seat and entertains his companions with a mocking imitation of the Duke is one of my favourite moments of the Fourth Doctor's child-like flippancy. But of course Tom Baker's performance has always had a wonderful sense of contrast between the funny and the serious, and his ability to quickly establish the gravitas of the situation.
There's the loudest moment of the Doctor enduring the agony of a long and powerful electric shock as he sabotages the Zygon ship, with his arms outstretched in a crucifix fashion to hint at how he endures the agony to save us all, and his performance makes the agony feel so real. Another scene where the Doctor is being chased over the Scottish moors by the Loch Ness Monster really shows the Doctor's sheer energy and determined survival instinct. But elsewhere the Doctor's performance is wholly sombre: there's a great, low-key outdoor scene where the Doctor has some of the oil-rig wreckage brought to him to look at. He recognises what appear to be bite marks and there's a close-up of his face which shows him clearly deep in thought and mulling the mystery over; strangely enough, it's become for me one of the most memorable visual moments of the story.
Of course, the Doctor is nothing without his trusty sidekicks: Sarah, Harry and the Brigadier, and even amiable Sergeant Benton makes his good nature felt. Sarah Jane Smith shows her usual wondrous ability to jump immediately into the spirit of the role and setting with bubbly but mature personality, and various moments show off her brave intrepidness and curiosity as well as her personable journalism savvy. Harry Sullivan as a companion had always felt like something of a third wheel between the Doctor and Sarah, and was a rather bumbling and easy to mock character; in fact, he was very much a caricature, but here - in his last outing as a short-lived companion - he is rather better scripted and he gets to be more heroic than usual.
Harry saves the Doctor's life at one point and elsewhere he is put to the best use of his talents as a medical doctor as he overlooks autopsy reports on crash victims and shows strong compassion and empathy when he comes across a shivering, washed-up survivor of the Loch Ness Monster's attack, which really makes him endearing. As ever, the late Ian Marter's performance is faultless as Harry. Then there's the Brigadier in what was his last appearance in the show for a period of eight years as the series moved away from the UNIT setup, only to revisit the Brigadier now and again in the 1980's for nostalgic reasons. It is therefore appropriate that, by accident rather than design, a bit of family ancestral history of the Brigadier is revealed here, as well as how he has the Highlander spirit in his blood.
The Zygons make quite a worthy opponent for the Doctor and UNIT. They are a particularly well-designed breed of alien monsters for the show back in 1975, very crustaceous with barnacled skin. The Zygon ship itself, apart from being treated to some excellent model footage, has a wonderful and solid interior design shown in fluorescent lighting with lovely dissolves from one ship operation to the next. The walls, levers and consoles have a very fleshy appearance, with skin, veins, strings of cartillage and bony structures on the levers, making the ship feel like a cyborg form of life. It is so convincingly done that in a scene where the Doctor commits ship sabotage and actually snaps one of the levers off, I winced as though I was watching someone's arm being broken.
The Zygons themselves are characterised well as being arrogant and boastful and eager to impress, despite the cold speech of their raspy voices. Their history is given as being a refugee race from a planet destroyed in supernova, with their particular ship damaged and stranded on earth for several centuries, during which time the seven of them have survived by impersonating humans with their body-print technology whilst planning to conquer the Earth with their giant pet cyborg: the Loch Ness Monster, otherwise known as the Skarasen, which they have completely at their control. The cyborg itself is completely invulnerable even to atomic weapons. This gives them a very strong methodical motivation behind their acts.
The Doctor and his companions have always made an infallible team, and yet something about this story makes them feel more in danger than usual. Something about the moisture in the air from Loch Ness seems to make the characters seem moist, their bodies permeable and as a result they feel more vulnerable. There is one particular scene where Sarah unknowingly comes across a Zygon who has managed to impersonate Harry. When she senses that Harry is acting strangely she goes after him and he seeks refuge in a barn. She goes into the barn where he is hiding and he picks up a pitchfork and prepares to kill.
To me that scene always has me on the edge of my seat, and it is so delicately directed that it always captures me in a sense of vertigo and remains for me the scariest moment in Doctor Who, even though this isn't quite a full-on horror episode. It's a bit like an earlier scene where a Zygon in the form of an armed gatekeeper is on the hills and spots Harry in the distance and trains his scoped gun on him and you know he's going to shoot, but you're not entirely sure when to expect it.
Unfortunately, the Zygon plot does have limitations, due to the time constraints of only being four episodes long. The above-mentioned history of the Zygons is unfortunately forced to take the form of sledge-hammered exposition that is spurted out unprompted by the Zygon warlord to his human prisoner, barely seconds after they first start talking; still, it works somehow. But another problem of the short length of the story is that it unfortunately means the Doctor's final solution to the Zygons is to arbitrarily eliminate them in a rather cavalier way which doesn't quite sit easy with me.
I can accept the Doctor resorting to violence but under particular conditions that make sure his actions are mitigated. This is all tied in with how strong the plotting is. In stories like Power of the Daleks, Evil of the Daleks and The Brain of Morbius, the plotting is strong enough to create the sense of jeopardy and immediacy to justify the Doctor's violence. In weak stories like The Invasion of Time, Attack of the Cybermen and Vengeance on Varos, the plotting is weak or nonexistent, and therefore to see the Doctor behaving in a trigger-happy way seems unmitigated and gratuitous as a result because of the lack of plot momentum, and the effect leaves a bad aftertaste.
With Terror of the Zygons, the villains are, to my mind, established as a small group of seven aliens who wield power through their control of their pet cyborg, and that they could have easily been imprisoned to neutralise their threat, rather than to have them killed pre-emptively. I suppose because, as mentioned above, the story shares plot details with The Sea Devils, but the Doctor's response then was to try and negotiate a peaceful resolve to the violence between the Sea Devils and UNIT. Here, he is more cavalier towards the threat.
However, I reason it out this way. The Sea Devils, like most of the Jon Pertwee era of the show, was more cozy entertainment where deaths were to be treated lightly: UNIT soldiers were voiceless cannon fodder and killed in fantastical ways with ray guns, disintegrator beams and the Master's tissue compression eliminator, and the Doctor's message to the alien threat was often therefore one of peace and forgiveness. He could overlook the deaths so far and still try to negotiate for peace with the enemy, or maintain a chummy repartee with his arch enemy, the Master, despite him being a mass murderer.
Terror of the Zygons, despite being a UNIT story and therefore a throwback to the Pertwee era, is far less cozy and the characters we encounter are well drawn and sympathetic, so their deaths are therefore emotive and hard-hitting. In this story, Zygons actually strangle, shoot (with ordinary guns) and even bring down heavy rocks on their victims, which again makes it hard-hitting and less divorced from realism, even though the camera cuts away.
This had inherited the more morbid direction of Philip Hinchcliffe, and strangulation was a common form of death in many stories, used to hard-hitting effect even when the number of killings was few. In this regard, the story sets up the Zygons who killed such innoffensive people for a vengeful, rather than forgiving, comeuppance from the Doctor. Added to this is one of the rare occasions in the story where the Doctor engages in physical combat with a Zygon, and where the Zygons show ferocious brute violence towards the Doctor, showing deadly superior physical strength to humans, which in a way hints that perhaps the Zygons were too physically powerful to be safely incarcerated and that in a way justifies how the Doctor might have made the right choice in destroying them.
If the story has a weak spot, it is the Loch Ness Monster itself, which unfortunately fails to convince, through shoddy modelwork and badly-matched-up blue-screen effects. Initially, the shots of the Loch Ness Monster are very brief. In the first scene of the monster attacking an oil rig, the beast is unseen, obscured by the waters at nightfall and the model shots of the collapsing oil rig are explosive enough to convey the human cost. The beast gets gradually more coverage as the story goes on, but manages in its brief appearances to be somewhat terrifying, due to choice framings and strong acting and directing. The final appearance of the Loch Ness Monster, however, is a dud blue-screen effect and completely fails to match up to the studio action. It also seems to sum up how the last episode of the story does lose a certain something of its immediacy and atmosphere when it moves the action out of familiar rural Scotland and into concrete London. The Loch Ness Monster, however, remains something of a blight on the story, not much worse than a lot of other Doctor Who monsters, but still steals the story's credibility elsewhere as being able to convert non-fans with otherwise decent monsters and sets.
Overall, the story is a most refreshing and enjoyable one, which really captures the spirit of rural village life, and carries an atmosphere that really seeps in infectiously. It is not surprising actually that fans have often asked for the New Series to revisit the Zygons for a new story, given that they had character and a design that is scarcely dated.
A Review by Nathan Mullins 6/9/08
This episode was one of the very first episodes I saw on VHS of Doctor Who and the moment I sat through the first half, I was hooked. I mean... what an episode! It actually reminds me of The Sea Devils and The Silurians mainly due to the fact that the creatures' base is below sea level and that they have some sort of half cyborg, half organic creature destroying the oil rigs throughout. This just echoes the Sea Devils destroying the naval ships in their first ever story and the Myrka crashing through the underwater base in Warriors of the Deep.
The TARDIS team, made up of Sarah, Harry, and the Doctor have been called to Earth by the Brigadier to find out more about these oil rigs and to see if they can help. That's the plot. It's relativly simple and easily enjoyable as it's not overcomplicated. Apart from where the creatures morph into humans to keep thier identity hidden. I surpose the Slitheen mimic the Zygons because they can hide themselves in the humans they've killed. Only the Zygons don't kill the humans becuase they need their body print so they can change.
Tom Baker was always at the top of my list as one of the best Doctors considering the lot there has been, but here he really shows his skills as an actor in this particular part. I love his Doctor. His baffling face and the stare he does when looking in his enemies' eyes but he posseses something more... though I may come to that in another review. As for Sarah and Harry, they seem to be one of the best pairings of companions there's been since Vicky and Steven in The Time Meddler onwards. Harry's got a brilliant, hands-on/hands-off appoach with the Doctor after he was put in charge of him and made to stick with him by the Brigadier. Sarah has always been one of the best female companions because she would stick with the Doctor whatever happened to her and was a real foil to the Doctor, being rather calm in certain situations, in contrast to the Doctor, who rushes about and is as manic as ever.
Though I must say that I love this story. The Zygons are some of the best monsters the series ever produced and thier costumes are terrific. Even their base is 'Wicked' and is completely alien, which is one of this episode's triumphs. UNIT, however, are on hand to stop the creatures invading the Earth and the Brigadier is just brilliant!
I think if any fan out there hasn't seen this episode, then they ought to as this will seriously hook you on Doctor Who. It hooked me and although I may have been younger than I am now, it did a good job. This and The Green Death are ones to look out for.
A terrific start to a terrific season by Nathan Mullins 2/11/10
Why have I never reviewed Terror of the Zygons? I have owned the VHS tape for a very long time, and yet I haven't reviewed this story. So... here we go. I've finally made the time to actually write a review for this dark, scary story. Although I, as do many fans, say that this story is one that sticks out in their minds, because of how well the designs of the Zygons came into being, and how their spaceship actually looks alien, and how well the concept of their morphing skills are shown, and are carefully revealed to the audience as the plot thickens. I think this episode sits very well within the season.
I like how the episode seems to follow on from where Revenge of the Cybermen left off. I am not going to say how much I like the Doctor's character, as I find that doing so is pointless. Tom Baker won me over from his very first episode. I like watching his Doctor, as he is both funny and serious. There's a sense of warmth, when I sit down to watch him, and the plot surrounding him and his companions unfold. I also like his two companions, Harry Sullivan and Sarah Jane Smith. Harry is very charming, and has always come across as a very polite and charming english gentleman. I like how he gives Sarah the nickname 'Old Girl', and I also like how he has always remained very much within his character throughout every episode we have seen him in, up until this one, his "last". In fact, I love the character of Harry Sullivan so much that I sometimes wish Terror of the Zygons hadn't been his last episode, but I find that the sendoff he is given is very much a terrific sendoff for him, as he seems very reserved, and quite happy to let go of the adventures he, Sarah and the Doctor have shared.
I like Sarah also. I am going to be honest and say that I have never actually seen her very first episode, The Time Warrior, but I will do one day, I am sure. However, I am going to stick my neck on the block, and say that her very first story with Tom Baker, Robot, sees her character progress as much as it does in Terror of the Zygons. Now, what I mean is this: Tom Baker's Doctor had to be introduced, whereas the companion, was already known to the audiance, and therefore... her character did not need to be re-worked. Sarah Jane Smith is a journalist and, in Robot, her journalistic skills were put into practise, and she had to find out about Professor Kettlewell and Think Tank; in Terror of the Zygons, she finds out some information, regarding strange goings-on in and around Loch Ness, by asking local villiagers. Precisly the right kind of thing a journalist would do.
What I like most about this episode is UNIT's involvement within the storyline. I like the way they've set up camp, in what looks like a small inn, or possibly even a pub. I can't be sure. There are small, highly ingenious, and unforgettable scenes throughout every episode. The scene where the eyes in the animal shift to one side, when the owner of the small inn or pub is cleaning the furniture; where the UNIT soldiers are gassed; and when the Doctor is being chased by the giant Loch Ness monster, which is really a haf of a cyborg, being controlled by the Zygons.
There are also a lot of comedic moments, where the Doctor confronts Broton in the cell he is locked in, in their spaceship, and the bit at the very end of the episode, where he tackles him, and when the Brigadier and another UNIT soldier open fire on the lone Zygon. Now, despite the Loch Ness Monster/half cyborg looking the way it does, it doesn't matter. It serves its purpose. Its role throughout is not huge, nor does it steal the show from the main actors, such as Benton, or the nurse who tackles the UNIT soldier in the woods. That was a joke by the way. The main actors are Tom Baker, Elizabeth Sladen and Ian Marter, who deserve as much praise for the way they 'strut their stuff'. I like their portrayals of their characters.
The Zygons' costumes are so 'out of the ordinary', for the time the show was broadcast. I mean... they are so different that their costumes really add more to what the episode has already proved from the get go, as being a superb story, and one that will certainly be remembered as Tom Baker's finest. The Zygon spaceship is so radically different also, as is the way they morph into human beings.
When I next watch this episode, I am going to sit down and enjoy a solid story, that has a strong plot; fantastic characters that shine throughout; and the comedy element, that mixes with the serious element. This works well whenever I watch the fourth Doctor's episodes. This season had so many brillaint story lines, tied into a few episodes that came after Terror of the Zygons. There was Pyramids of Mars, The Brain of Morbius, The Android Invasion - which I think isn't that bad - and then The Seeds of Doom, which I find utterly amazing.
I'd like to rate this episode for being very much a trinket of brilliance. I love this episode, and I think fans of the show should re-watch it and disregard the 'fake-looking Loch Ness monster'. It was only in a couple of scenes after all!
A Stylish, Inventive Runaround by Kaan Vural 23/10/11
Terror of the Zygons is more or less half OK, half fantastic.
Let's get the big draw out of the way. The reason you should watch this story is the atmosphere. It's simply stunning. A good choice of location and a good eye for detail creates a powerful impression of a foggy moor, with all the eerie associations we know and love. Doctor Who is often at its best when taking our irrational fears and giving that little push to turn them rational. When the locals talk about the various legends surrounding the area, common sense dictates that you humor them and take what they say with a grain of salt. But when the Doctor arrives in town and notices a few things off-kilter, you know in your heart that that fog holds death.
The primary focus of the atmosphere, beyond putting together a believable location, is to create a strong sense of isolation. Very rarely are the protagonists in a single location together; this isn't unusual for a Doctor Who story, but it's strongly felt here. Little events occur to separate the group: a hunting "accident", a curious look down a corridor, a bit of indulgent research in an empty library. The effect created is that something is watching our heroes all the time, tracking their every move, preparing to pick them off one by one. And indeed, the Zygons are remarkably observant of Tulloch Moor, having bugged the place and infiltrated it with disguised agents.
The Zygons themselves are another triumph. I can understand how to some eyes the Zygons come off as cuddly rather than scary, much like clowns are so grotesque it's either funny or terrifying. Personally, the Zygons give me a strong chill. They resemble distorted fetuses, with their oversized heads, vestigial limbs, and pulsing veins. It's no accident that the story makes a point of saying the Zygons are dependent on the milk of the Skarasen; perhaps the setting's visual parallels with Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, a story about the perversion of motherhood and the grotesquery of non-divine life, was more than a coincidence. And in a possible case of art preceding life, I get the feeling that had this story been made in the 2000s, the explanation given for their transformations would have been artificially enhanced stem cells. The ship itself is one of the more creative efforts of the series, giving the impression of being a living, pulsing being in its own right, not unlike the sinewy, organic nature of the Axon ship in The Claws of Axos. Keith Bennet writes that the Zygons are one of the best races never to get a second story, and I'm tempted to agree. There's certainly a sequel waiting to happen here: when is that other Zygon ship bound for Earth due to arrive? And whatever happened to the Skarasen after it returned to the Loch?
The Skarasen, it should be said, is more of a mixed bag. In fairness, they shot the thing pretty much as effectively as they could have given the technology of the time. If you compare it with 1954's Gojira: King of the Monsters (the first Godzilla film), you can see some similarities of thought in the approach to the creature. Had this story benefited from being shot in black and white (and yes, that can be a benefit), the Skarasen I think would have been more or less effective. In any case, it's kept from being a straightforward monster by the addition of quirky little details. Instead of a reptile, it's a cybernetic mammal. Instead of being a pure destroyer, it also sustains life. Instead of being purely instinctive, it's controlled by a technological device which relies on natural means (emitting a mating call; an idea that for some reason bowled me over as both straightforward and original). The story also refrains from creating an unbelievable last-minute way to destroy the creature; instead, it merely loses interest. Watching it slink back to the only home it ever knew, one wonders what would have happened had the beast gone rogue and trashed London. How could anything have stopped it?
Ari Lipsey asks the question of how six Zygons could hope to rule the world with just one monster. This is a valid question, but for an answer (admittedly not one that will hold water for everyone) you have to look at the inspiration behind the Skarasen. The stop-motion is of course reminiscent of 1931's King Kong, but the design of the monster is closer to the titular monster of Gojira, if I may revisit this film for a minute. In this story, Gojira is an angry, vengeful god, a metaphor for nuclear warfare. As the film progresses, the protagonists try ever more intelligent and overwhelming methods to destroy the creature, but all of them fail. In the end, Gojira is felled only by a weapon so unthinkably powerful that its creator commits suicide so that his work can never be replicated. Terror of the Zygons, of course, doesn't really have any subtext of mass destruction or horrifying superweapons, but to me the Skarasen is intended to draw from that familiar imagery. Had it not been for that one serendipitous discovery, Gojira would have destroyed Tokyo - and perhaps continued. A creature immune to our best weapons technologies, even nuclear missiles, is a creature no government would be comfortable with; the deterrent effect of the Skarasen should be enough to get cooperation from at least some local powers. The script doesn't spend much time on this, naturally, but that was how I always rationalized it. Try it on for size.
Apart from these aspects, the story works by simply being more than the sum of its parts. The plot is nothing particularly complex, essentially consisting of a blend of stock scenes: "Go investigate this place/person", "Get put out of action briefly", "Run away from this threat", and so on; what we in the business call a runaround. But it's the little details which keep it punchy. Death by decompression is avoided via hypnosis: a creative idea which adds a touch of power and mystery to the Doctor. A Harry facsimile lies in the shadows, waiting to ambush Sarah Jane; a scene which is both excellently acted by Ian Marter and excellently shot. A Zygon bluffs a suspicious UNIT soldier, disguised as a nurse but hiding a bullet wound. It's simple, but inventive.
And that's the key word: inventive. Anyone who knows much about my taste in Doctor Who knows that I tend to like stories that are about more than the plot. You'll hear phrases like "humanity vs. survival" or "calling the Doctor into question" a lot. But Doctor Who doesn't always have to be "about" something in this sense. I don't mind it when Doctor Who is lacking in thematic substance as long as it keeps things fresh, exciting, and just about believable. Terror of the Zygons is one of those stories, one I consider a guilty pleasure: in a similar sense to the Star Wars films, it's perfectly easy to put aside your intellectual perceptions and enjoy a meaty adventure with a few twists along the way. In fact, Terror of the Zygons does pay lip service to the staple theme of survival (the Zygons are after all desperate refugees from another world, and in better times might have been fairly personable), but I think my point stands regardless. This story is certainly more comfortable entertainment than The Silurians, which for all its quality is a bit of an undertaking to watch in all its length: longer, more slowly paced, and less atmospheric.
If there's any substantial complaint I have about this story, and generally it's the complaint most detractors have, it's the final act. The action shifts to a world summit in London, and while it's a logical extension of the plot (justified as Broton trying to carry out his original plan in spite of setbacks), the atmosphere just doesn't hold a candle to what came before. Atmospherically speaking, the story should have culminated in the highest tower of Forgyll Castle, or perhaps on a surviving oil rig in the middle of the Loch, but there would be little logical reason for the climax to occur in these locations. It's a problem that's insoluble without pretty much rewriting large chunks of the script, and to their credit the Powers That Be remained loyal to the logic of the conflict, and not the logic of the style.
That gripe aside, the story is a genuine triumph of style over substance - and I mean the word "triumph" in the best possible sense. I'd be very curious to see what layers and depth future writers could add to any subsequent conflict now that the basics of the Zygons have been established. This story remains watchable even to my increasingly contemporary TV sensibilities, and I'd recommend it to any casual fan.