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Doctor Who: Terror Of The Zygons by Robert Banks Stewart (TV series DVD review).

Called back to Earth, the Doctor (actor Tom Baker), Sarah Jane Smith (actress Elisabeth Sladen) and Harry Sullivan (actor Ian Martyr) stalk through the Highlands of Scotland until they get a lift from the Laird Of Forgill (actor John Woodnutt) to the village where the Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (actor Nicholas Courtney) has his UNIT team housed. Oil rigs off the coast are being destroy with loss of life and the Brigadier needs the Doctor to sort out the mystery. Before leaving, the Laird leaves a threat with Huckle (actor Tony Sibbald) who runs the rigs that any of his people coming on his land poaching will be shot.


While Harry looks for clues amongst the recovered dead, Sarah Jane asks around in the village to get information. Driving back to the village later, Harry spots a surviving rigman, who is shot by the Laird’s Gillie, the Caber (actor Robert Russell), and gets a glancing bullet wound himself. Later, while he is recovering in the local hospital with Sarah Jane waiting, Harry gets abducted and she attacked by a creature.

When the Doctor arrives, he sends RSM Benton (actor John Levene) and his team to hunt for Harry while he searches for Sarah Jane. He finds her locked in a decompression chamber and then the creature locks him in as well, leaving the machinery to draw the air out. To save Sarah Jane, the Doctor resorts to a yoga trick and then goes into a trance himself. Benton arrives and rescues them both. Getting back to the village, they discover everyone unconscious from a nerve gas but also the gadget that called the creature that attacks the oilrigs.

Harry, meanwhile, meets his captors, the Zygons. An alien species who have been residing in Scotland for some centuries after their spaceship crashed in a loch and are finally planning on world domination using their cyborg creature, the Skarasen, to create havoc. They also have a device that allows them to copy people’s appearances, allowing one of them to masquerade as Harry to get the device back. This doesn’t go quite to plan and this version of Harry flees with the device with Sarah Jane and members of UNIT in pursuit but ultimately dies when he falls from a hay loft. The Zygons, realising he’s dead, evaporates his body.

Back at the inn, The Doctor and Sarah Jane discover the device that is calling the Skarasen to come towards the villains so the Time Lord takes it by jeep out into the Highlands and then finds it stuck to his hand and cannot flee. What he doesn’t know is Harry has recovered and attempts to damage the controls. With the contact broken, the Zygons believe the Doctor dead and send the Skarasen back to the loch.

The Brigadier and Sarah Jane arrive by jeep and together with the Doctor visit the Laird, who denies there ever was a creature in the loch. The UNIT team back at the inn discover that the publican (actor Angus Lennie) had been strangled after discovering the Zygon spy camera and go in pursuit of the Zygon. Benson thinks they’ve shot it and alerts the Brigadier and they leave Sarah Jane at the castle to investigate the library archives. They quickly return when the Doctor realised the Laird could be a Zygon. From here, you need UNIT clearance to see what happens next.

In many respects, this story is more a question of who the Zygons are disguised as, although this is revealed in the second episode. Having seen it originally back in the 70s, I did know who to watch out for and it’s still nice to know that my memory is intact. The now late Robert Banks Stewart created an unusual alien species with the Zygons and, if anything, it’s more of a surprise that they hadn’t been used again until recently.

There are some flaws. I mean why did the Zygon revert back to normal when Harry freed himself and Bruton didn’t after the machine was destroyed although I could rationalise that a permanent copy hadn’t been set and it was just unstable. Likewise, why didn’t they disguise one of themselves as the Doctor and lead UNIT on a wild goose chase?

It’s also one of those rare occasions that if the recovered Harry hadn’t messed with the controls that the Skarasen would probably have killed the Doctor. Likewise, the Doctor also killed the remaining four Zygons.

The Director’s Cut’s main difference is a scene where the TARDIS arrives invisible on Tulloch Moor. After the Doctor restores it to normal, he has picked up a tartan stripe and hat to wear leaving Harry to wear his scarf and Sarah Jane his hat. The timing of this version is about 45 seconds longer and it was a shame it was omitted but it would be hard to see what else could have been squeezed out to fit everything in although it might have been possible to shave the odd seconds off to do it.

The audio commentary is a musical chairs with producer Philip Hinchliffe, writer Robert Banks Stewart, production unit manager George Gallaccio, make-up designer Sylvia James and special sound effects designer Dick Mills under moderator Mark Ayres. The latter places this DVD as one of the last of the original run to be released on DVD and the commentary itself just after Elisabeth Sladen’s death. A lot of things are pointed out like East Sussex posing as Scotland and the oil rig model in Huckle’s office was the back-up for the special effects version although none present knew why. Logistically, if the first model didn’t break up properly in water, I can see why having a spare might have been handy or there might have been thoughts to show two in the water together. Whatever, it does give a rare opportunity to see one on screen outside of its environment even if it was only painted white.

There are some interesting reveals in that the Zygons had some similarities to shrimps. If you pay attention to Groton’s throat you might spot a microphone, a location he shared with Davros. Sylvia James points out that photographs of the actors as aliens were often taken before the make-up was completed and not always seen in good light. I have to confess I must have been lucky to have missed those.

Something of note is if you decide to use your TV remote’s Info command to change to audio commentary, you’ll have to flick the audio to the third option instead of the usual second. If you select the audio version with the added scene, it won’t come up and just does the standard episode 1.

The second DVD is totally loaded with extras. The half hour ‘Scotch Mist’ looks at all levels of production and how East Sussex was made to look like the Highlands of Scotland. Comments on how good the Zygon costumes were is tempered with the problems of the Skarasen and much of its body filmed was removed. I can’t speak for London but in Somerset, the first season of ‘Space: 1999’ was shown on Friday nights down here. Ultimately, it was the end of an era as from now on the Doctor would no longer be residing on Earth.

Another half hour is devoted to director Douglas Camfield, covering a lot of the other series he also directed and from Robert Banks Stewart citing him as his favourite choice for pilot episodes for productions he did. When you looking at what’s available to buy of Camford’s work then that certainly speaks for itself. ‘Doctor Who’ was used as a training ground for new directors and I suspect its only budget manipulation that prevents this happening today.

‘The UNIT Family – Part Three’ is, as the number should tell you, is the final part looking at the reduction of the use of organisation as it was from the Jon Pertwee Doctor’s time period with a brief look to later stories. There is also a look at Captain Mike Yates and was he really a traitor in ‘Invasion Of The Dinosaurs’? As actor Richard Franklin points out, Yates rescued the Doctor from a Tyrannosaurus Rex at the end and should have had a medal.

The interviews with Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen, both before the new version of ‘Doctor Who’ started up are memorable. I suspect many of their tales have been told at conventions but if, like me, you’ve never been to them, are absolute gold.

‘Merry-Go-Round’ was a series for children in 1977 and ‘The Fuel Fishers’ was one which Elisabeth Sladen fronted, looking at oil rigs in the North Sea and how they search for oil. Although the dialogue is somewhat stilted, this was standard for this time period. Oddly, it is still educational today.

A final 3 minute short interview with Tom Baker in East Sussex reveals how physically fit he had to be to play the Doctor.

The usual photo gallery is a little lighter than usual. A couple images stood out showing the Zygon and Inn sets above the ceilings. The couple photos of the Zygons spacecraft has a lot more patterns showing than appeared in the episodes themselves.

For those of you who’ve only seen the Zygons in the recent stories on TV, seeing their only first original appearance is well over-due. Despite its budgetary limitations, it still holds up and is more of a surprise that they didn’t make more appearances. Of course, this particular branch of the Zygons were all killed but there were indications that there were more in space looking for a new home.

In a menacing way, it was fun to see this story again. The Zygons were formidable even if destroying the oil rigs didn’t make much sense to the final aspect of the plot. The Doctor has rarely faced species that can pose as the people they kidnap and all actors involved rose to the occasion. The fact that it can hold its scare factor today is a testament to making use of all that was available at the time. Just don’t upset the Zygons.

GF Willmetts

January 2016

(region 2 DVD pub: BBC. 2 DVDs 96 minutes 4 * 24 minute episodes with extras. ASIN: BBCDVD3482)

cast: Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen, Ian Martyr, Nicholas Courtney, John Levene, John Woodnutt, Lillas Walker, Robert Russell, Hugh Martin, Tony Sibbald and Angus Lennie

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Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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