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Well, it takes all sorts to make a galaxy, your Grace.


Doctor Who
Terror of the Zygons


A story that’s generally praised, with one notable exception, but what giant monster in any Doctor Who story looks any good? Or in any movie of the era, come to that? Time’s a leveller in that regard; the Skarasen may be far from perfectly executed, but at least it has an interesting/distinctive look to it, thanks to that refurbished dog’s skull. I see it less as a problem than a minor, giant-rat-sized defect. The larger issue here, one that knocks Terror of the Zygons down from being an unqualified all-time classic, is that the last episode is no more than solid. There are few places left to go once the Zygons have captured the Doctor, and their masterplan just isn’t much cop.

Forgill: Now your saying these aliens have been hiding under the loch for centuries?

Certainly not one to have been formulating for centuries. One might legitimately argue they’ve only knocked it up in the last year or two, on the fly (“We landed here to await rescue. Recently we learned our world was destroyed in a stellar explosion”). I’d counter that there’s no excuse for indolence, however. They ought to have been coming up with viable contingencies while lazing about on the lochbed, what with being led by a warlord/commander.

Robert Banks Stewart, who tended to be very solid with the building blocks, shows less dexterity with denouements, hence the “Blow it all up” conclusion to – the also almost mostly near-classic – The Seeds of Doom. Not everyone holds Terror of the Zygons in (relative) esteem, of course. About Time accused it of aiming low, “A troubling sign of Doctor Who trying to come up with a generic Doctor Who story”. Tat Wood and Larry Miles cited similarities to Silurians and Sea Devils and Axons while pegging it as “all atmosphere and no engagement, and the lead actors’ performances are vastly more entertaining than the plot”. None of which is completely unfair, barring the simple fact that the atmosphere is formidable and the lead actors’ performances ARE vastly entertaining. 

Philip McDonald recognised this in DWM’s The Complete Fourth Doctor (2004), that despite a “laughable premise” and “fantasy Scotland” (a typically hand-wringing response to the stereotyping here and in The Green Death, when it’s just as affectionate as Castle De’ath… or Haggis McHaggis), “it works wonderfully”: “the dialogue is sharp, the direction is stylish, the music is hauntingly beautiful, the performances are just the right side of serious, and the monsters are instantly memorable”.

Sarah Jane: Evil spirits don’t destroy oil rigs.

About Time’s “Things that Don’t Make Sense” are also all fair comment, such as Nurse Ratchett (Lillias Walker) turning all nudey every time she kills someone. Also on the debit side is that, if they seem very nifty in design and ability, and are played by several strong actors – John Woodnutt’s Broton and Walker – they singularly lack personality when it comes down to it. Everything else about them, though, including the sibilance, is perfect, so it should be little surprise nu-Who couldn’t even get the design right when they did finally return (giving them pointy teeth and faces closer to the talking buttholes from Society). 

The Zygons should, in theory, have been able to infiltrate and take over Britain – at least – in a couple of centuries, so getting all the kudos when the rescue ship that didn’t arrived( by the sounds of it, they might have been here since on or around the 1700 Event). Admittedly, they have limitations in their tech, if they need to keep hold of the individual being copied, but it’s do-able. We should at least be talking a Quatermass II-esque project, infiltrating the highest offices in the land (instead just about six of them, I’m sure they could beef up the numbers with a few hatchlings, sucking on the Skarasen’s teat, perhaps even issuing forth green milk). One might suggest a group capable of replicating humans with stone-cold psychopaths, living below the ground (in DUMB-equivalents) and set upon getting rid of the Ice caps, increasing temperatures and using humans as forced labour would be right up the Draco’s street (minus the black goo), as well as choice Greta fodder (thank goodness for the energising of hydrogen). They’re also, evidently, unsympathetic refugees, which absolutely wouldn’t wash now (obviously, there’s no such thing). 

With all that potential, attending an energy conference and actually going down its cellar for the grand climax is taking the piss. As is having a whacking great self-destructor on hand and dying for an opportune twiddle. Nothing else for it but the Brigadier to shoot Broton down like a Zygon. There are other Baker T stories where the final episode rather fizzles (The Hand of Fear, The Creature from the Pit) but the last five minutes of Zygons are merciless “Let’s get down the pub” territory. 

Forgill: Aliens, with wireless sets?

A roll call for some of the choicest bits: “… can you no send over a few haggis?” (or a flock); Hickle/Huckle/Heckle; “I thought you were doing a Doctor” (Sarah Jane is very sparky throughout); the first episode’s cliffhanger is wonderfully nightmarish; “You do not need to breathe. Do not breathe” (Doctor Who does magic!); bastard barn doppelHarry; “My family has served this country for seven centuries, but that seems not to matter these days” (Tom’s imitation); “Trustee of the Golden Haggis Lucky Dip, whatever that might be”; “… but you know what politicians are like”. And the Zygons obligingly land in a disused quarry. They’re also none too keen on the human visage, as if it causes them gyp (“unpleasant form”; “abomination of a body”). This, from a species who appear in need of constant chiropractic care.

Broton: Die, Doctor, die!

It’s true what Philip Hinchcliffe says, that Tom’s less evident here, and much of the exposition is for the benefit of Harry. It’s a good Harry story, and Ian Marter makes the most of it. Hinchcliffe was wrong (and Bob Holmes was right) to get rid of the character, as the chemistry between the trio is probably the peak of any line up (which isn’t to suggest Season 12’s the best season, or anything quite so rash). Put this in Season 12, where it was originally supposed to be, and it ranks second of the six (in Season 13, it has to settle for bronze).

Zygon: Reducing dynacon thrust.

Yes, it’s arguable Terror of the Zygons is style over content, but that’s okay, isn’t it? Even Sandifer liked it so… Wait, it’s the other way round, isn’t it? Something must be terribly wrong with the story. A thing of “utter beauty” (doesn’t that make her a racist?) She does, admittedly, base her argument on its status as “utterly and ruthlessly complete in its takedown of the Pertwee era” (say what?) and that the monsters’ understanding of master plans is based on Bond villains (she was clearly smoking some super-strength weed that week). “It is in effect, a snide comment about the lousy politics of the Pertwee era…” Right on, Lisbeth. We concur on how hare-brained having rid of Harry was, at least.

Back to the Zygons’ plan. It would only take a limited repositioning for it to make sense. Bring those refugee fleets along in a few decades’ time – perhaps 2012, à la The X-Files – since Dynacon thrust evidently isn’t much cop when it comes to spanning galaxies super quickly. In the meantime, Zygons will be in Downing Street, their every edict observing an express intent to increase the temperature; some form of geo-engineering, perhaps via aircraft and/or scalar weaponry, would be just the ticket. Artificial lakes? Ideal for disrupting ecosystems. “…the whole of this Earth must be restructured” Perhaps the Zygons should go in with the WEF. Perhaps they started the WEF. Forget about Skarasen attacking an energy conference though. That bit’s silly.

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