In Review: Dr. Who: Terror of the Zygons
BBC DVD, 96 minutes. 2 Disc collection. Extras: Director’s Cut option to watch a scene deleted before transmission; Audio Commentary with producer Philip Hinchcliffe, writer Robert Banks Stewart, production unit manager George Gallaccio, make-up designer Sylvia James and special sounds designer Dick Mills, moderated by Mark Ayres; Scottish Mist in Sussex Making of (31 minutes); Remembering Douglas Camfield (30 minutes); The UNIT family–Part 3 (26 minutes); Doctor Who Stories–Tom Baker (23 minutes); Doctor Who Stories–Elisabeth Sladen (20 minutes); Merry-Go-Round–The Fuel Fishers (19 minutes); Photo Gallery (5 minutes); PDF materials: Radio Times Listings; Isolated music; Production Notes. Originally broadcast August 30–September 20, 1975.
Release Date: October 3, 2013 in the United States
Written by Robert Banks Stewart
Directed by Douglas Camfield
The cover: A terrific shot of evil Broton the Zygon, with the Doctor countering him, resplendent in Scottish garb. Next to the Doctor the full figure of a Zygon, and dead center at the bottom is the Loch Ness monster. The images are imposed upon an orange and green background. Awesome! Overall grade: A
The premise: From the back: “Returning to Earth, the Doctor, Sarah Jane and Harry arrive in the Scottish Highlands to investigate the mysterious destruction of several oil rigs in the North Sea. Local superstition speaks of a deadly threat that lurks in the mists of Tulloch Moor, but the truth is even more disturbing: the legendary Loch Ness monster is a terrifying cyborg beast which is controlled by the Zygons, an advanced race who are desperate to ensure their own survival, at any cost.” I saw pieces of this story when it was broadcast in the 1970s in the States, was horrified and intrigued by the look of the Zygons, and have been eagerly waiting for this to be released. I’m on fire to watch this! Overall grade: A+
The Characters/Actors: Watching this story made me love Tom Baker all the more if that were possible. He’s obviously confident in his role and plays the Doctor wonderfully. I love that the Doctor felt inspired to dress appropriately in Scotland! I also enjoyed his banter with the Brigadier, which is much different that when Jon Pertwee was the lead, but still loads of fun. Elisabeth Sladen is in top form as Sarah Jane Smith, who can handle herself around the boys and get the job done. Her final scene at the end of act one was a great homage to the original War of the Worlds. Ian Marter as Harry Sullivan really gets quite a bit to do, which is somewhat sad this is last adventure, with the exception of a cameo in a later Who story. In the very first episode his character saves a man, with tragic consequences for this individual and himself. Listening to Harry try to reason with the Zygons was classic Who dialogue! Also making a final bow, for several years in the series, is Nicholas Courtney as Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, who is the perfect English military man, who tolerates the bizarre Doctor’s questions and theories, and, ultimately, makes a decision as to the fate of the alien invaders–Pretty strong stuff for a “kid” show! Five other actors and their characters stand out: John Levene as Benton gets to do much as well, though this is, also, his final Who appearance; John Woodnutt is stellar in the dual role as the Duke of Forgill and Zygon leader Broton; Lillias Walker as Sister Lamont is an absolute fright and must have terrified thousands when she first appeared; Robert Russell as the Caber looks great, and is equally as frightening as Sister Lamont, as Harry could attest; and Angus Lennie is great as Angus, the owner of the inn that is overrun by UNIT–He was authentic and leaves the story too soon. This is like a Who’s Who of Doctor Who dream casts. Every actor is in their prime and each one is fantastic. Overall grade: A+
The story: This is an outstanding story in every way: It’s extremely topical for the time, with oil rigs in the North Sea hurting the local communities; there is some great cat-and-mouse between the protagonists and the antagonists, with it flipping back and forth between each episode; it’s got UNIT in it–How could you not love that?; it’s got a terrific way to fit a “gigantic” monster into the plot; it’s got some fantastic villains–I am in absolute love with the Zygons; and the ending is worthy of a James Bond movie for level of action and scale. This is one of the finest stories not done by Robert Holmes, and that’s the best compliment I can give a Doctor Who story. Overall grade: A+
The direction: I loved that Director Camfield doesn’t give the audience a clear look at the Zygons until episode two–fantastic way to increase the suspense of what these alien invaders look like. The wide variety of locations, indoors and out, provide Camfield to show he can go anywhere with a story and make it work. The most disturbing image is not that of a Zygon but of Sister Lamont in the woods–I was completely anxious at what she would do to the UNIT soldiers. Just great! Overall grade: A+
The Extras: The Director’s Cut was nice, but too short to get too excited about. The Audio Commentary was great, and something I recommend for any Who fan to give a listen to. The Making of was really neat showing how Sussex doubled for Scotland (and provides another location for me to drag my family to when next we get the chance to go to England!). The UNIT Family was the best Extra. A neat bit of summary on the last adventures of the group and how the actors felt as things wound down. Both Doctor Who Stories are also superb, with the one on Elisabeth Sladen making me weepy. The Merry-Go-Round, hosted by Sladen, is a trip to one of the oil rigs in the North Sea, with her explaining what’s done on such a piece of machinery. It felt like a public service announcement, but it was enlightening. The Photo Gallery is a bit short and the PDF files are just okay. Still, there are so many Extras on this collection you could enjoyably waste a day watching and listening to all of it. Overall grade: A+
The good: It’s overwhelming! I loved the story, the actors, the direction, the look of the Zygons and their technology (regardless of what Levene brings up in one of the Extras). And the Extras are wonderful details from actors and creators to this episode that provide tons of insight. This is so entertaining!
The bad: Not as infamous as the Myrka from “Warriors of the Deep,” the Loch Ness monster is acknowledged by all in the Extras that it just didn’t work. It’s very silly looking and could have been better had there been more time, but that is a luxury that BBC television productions are notoriously always in need of. The only thing to grouse about would be the final location involving the Zygon ship. The effect is better than average, but it’s the location, which was a notorious site in Doctor Who adventures. It’s because of these two elements that my review will not receive a “plus” in the letter grade.
The final line: This brought back some fantastic memories for and held up as a fantastic Who adventure. This is something that can be watched over and over with something new to be gleaned everytime. Fantastic! Overall grade: A
Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer’s Guide for a few years with “It’s Bound to Happen!” He had to give that up to teach 8th graders English for 19 years. He’s since moved to a high school where he’s taught 9th grade and currently teaches 10th graders English. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars or Indiana Jones items online.