Ahead of their return in the 50th anniversary special of Doctor Who in November, Terror of the Zygons has made its way onto special edition DVD and, being the monsters’ only previous appearance on the show, I thought it worth a look at what they have to offer.
Originally broadcast in 1975 we are, of course, dealing with what is now known as ‘Classic Doctor Who’, so special effects are generally far from special and the show is firmly in its place of being a children’s sci-fi drama that can be a guilty, or, to be honest, not so guilty, pleasure for adults.
Being 1975 The Doctor is in his Tom Baker regeneration and this story line showcases this version of the character in the finest style. I haven’t always been a fan of Tom Baker’s Doctor, often finding him too eccentric, if that’s possible, but here he tempers the eccentricities with the genuine, all-knowing, nouse that makes The Doctor such a great character.
This is best summed up fairly early on in the story when The Doctor first realises that maybe more is afoot than some oil rigs sinking and he lets the The Brigadier know in deathly serious tones while bedecked in an absurd Tam O’Shanter and tartan scarf, on top of his usual attire.
The story itself is a four-parter based around the idea of the Loch Ness Monster, but, being Doctor Who, with aliens thrown in for good measure alongside a bit of zeitgeist fitting stuff about oil rigs and even a hint at a female Prime Minister.
The aliens in question are the titular Zygons who, much like many of the creatures from this era, are lacking a little in the design department compared to current work, but in terms of character certainly have something going for them. While they are large and orange humanoids and have inexplicable amounts of ‘suckers’ on what appears to be their skin, they do have a sinister side as they are taking on the form of humans in an attempt to use the Loch Ness Monster, actually a cyborg of their own creation, to take over the world, with a bit of an Invasion of the Body Snatchers feeling.
What gives the Zygons this sinister edge is that, while the actors are almost totally covered in makeup and costume, their eyes are plainly visible and the direction, particularly of their early appearances, focuses on this.
Terror of the Zygons is also something of a landmark as it marks the final regular appearance of The Brigadier, who only appeared on a rare guest appearance basis afterwards, and it gives him, and companion Harry Sullivan, a good send off in typically understated ‘Classic’ Doctor Who style as the Doctor and Sarah Jane head off for more adventures.
Featuring the Brigadier means UNIT are also in on the action and, I have to say, I certainly prefer this, more lo-fi, version of the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce than the one seen in the more recent stories with Benton being another great and often underappreciated character, although UNIT do seem to have the least reliable fleet of Land Rovers and Jeeps ever seen.
Overall Terror of the Zygons hadn’t really stuck in my mind since I first saw many years ago, but, on re-watching, it certainly comes across as one of the stronger episodes with some great ideas packed into the standard style and feeling of mid-70s Doctor Who and is certainly worth a watch, not just because of the link to the upcoming 50th anniversary episode, though it has certainly given me some ideas about how that could play out.