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Doctor Who, Story 80: Terror of the Zygons
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Digitally remastered Doctor Who classic, Terror of the Zygons
The Doctor, Sarah, and Harry return to Earth in response to the Brigadier's summons. UNIT are investigating a series of attacks on North Sea oil rigs and have set up a temporary HQ in the Scottish village of Tullock. The attacks are the work of a huge cyborg, the Skarasen, controlled by a group of aliens called Zygons whose spaceship lies at the bottom of Loch Ness. The Zygons plan to take over the Earth as a substitute for their own planet, which has been devastated by solar flares. They are using their shape-shifting abilities to take on the identities of locals whose inert bodies are held aboard their ship.
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It's quite an introduction! In the morning, the Doctor (in a merry plaid Tam o'Shanter and scarf), Harry Sullivan and Sarah Jane disembark the TARDIS on the coastal Tulloch Moor. They're set to meet Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, who's called them across 240 million miles of space to help him solve a puzzle. Three oil rigs have collapsed and it's a UNIT matter of national security. At the hotel where the Brigadier is staying, Sarah is talking to the landlord. Suddenly, we are watching their conversation on a giant screen. Someone is spying on them. We catch a partial glimpse of the watcher. Whatever it is, it isn't human.
In the meanwhile, Harry finds Munro near the ocean, alive but delirious. But they're being watched, too. It's a man in a kilt, and before you know it, he's shot Munro dead. Humans are working with aliens?
After a 4th oil rig is destroyed, UNIT recovers a piece of a column. It has big conical holes. The Doctor makes plaster casts of the holes, and shows the result. The rig manager doesn't think he's serious: "Let's get this straight. Are you trying to tell me those rigs were chewed by a set of giant molars?"
Now we know why one of this series' working titles was "The Secret of the Loch".
"Terror of the Zygons" is a 4-parter that first aired Aug/Sept 1975. This is a review of the 10/2013 2-disc DVD release, the first time it's been available in that format. It's the last series with Harry Sullivan as a companion, and the last we see of the Brigadier until he shows up again in the 1983 series, "Mawdryn Undead".
Disc 1 Special Features:
1. Episode 1 Director's Cut. This adds back one deleted scene, totaling 1 min 43 seconds. Right after the crashing oil rig in the intro, the TARDIS materializes, but it's invisible! The three crew seem to step out of nothing. The scene wasn't used because the two halves of the scene were filmed at different times of day and the lightings didn't match. Nowadays, it would be quick fix with the computer, but not so back in 1975.
2. Audio Options:
a. Mono audio
b. 5.1 audio
d. Isolated score
The commentary audio option is moderated by Tony Ayres, with George Gallaccio (production unit manager), Robert Banks Stewart (writer), Dick Mills (special sounds), Philip Hinchciffe (producer) and Sylvia James (makeup).
Hinchcliffe says, "I think they were one of the best monsters ever."
On the other hand, Stewart says: "When I saw them, the Zygons, they seemed like shrimps to me. Very large shrimps."
I am with Stewart.
3. Information Text. The monster, spelled Skarasen or Scaracen, is a genuine let-down, compared to what could be done at the time with stop-motion. Info Text agrees: "Everyone involved in the production remembers the disappointment of how the Skarasen effects footage turned out. `We were badly let down on the crucial question of the Loch Ness Monster itself', wrote Philip Hinchcliffe after the event." As noted in the Making-of feature on disc 2, it came down to money and time. I usually enjoy the Classic Doctor's occasional goofy alien costumes or special effects, it's part of the fun of the show, and, after all, usually they did a good job. But I just couldn't help being disappointed with this one.
Disc 2 Special Features:
4. "Scotch Mist in Sussex - Remembering Terror of the Zygons" (31 minutes) This making-of featurette is so good that after watching it, it raised my opinion of the series as a whole. Commentators include Philip Hinchciffe (producer), Robert Banks Stewart (writer this series), Simon Farquhar (writer and TV historian), Nigel Curzon (designer), Steve Bowman (visual effects assistant), John Levene (plays Sergeant Benton), James Acheson (costume designer, from a 1999 interview) and John Woodnutt (plays Duke/Broton, from earlier interview).
Hinchcliffe on the Scarasen: "Stop-motion animation technique, the Harryhausen technique, can work quite well. But you need time." And they just didn't have the time or the funds.
Levene on the changeover from Pertwee to Baker: "When Tom took over the Doctor, his approach was so utterly different [from Pertwee], it did momentarily throw us. When an ego is that big, there is no way little men like me - it's like an ant on an elephant's leg. He was a force to be reckoned with."
5. "Remembering Douglas Camfield" (30 minutes) Camfield, who passed away in 1984 at only 52, was a popular director. Narrator Glen Allen is joined by commentators Robert Banks Stewart, Joggs Camfield (Douglas' son), Graeme Harper (director, classic and new Dr Who, though not this series), Peter Purves (plays Steven Taylor), John Levene, Philip Hinchcliffe, Celia Imrie (actor) and Jonathan Newth (actor).
6. "The UNIT Family - Part Three" (26 minutes) This last of three parts covers the end of UNIT stories (for the most part) in Classic Dr Who. Commentators include Terence Dicks (script editor), Barry Letts (producer), Richard Franklin (plays Captain Mike Yates), John Levene, Tom Baker, Philip Hinchcliffe and Nicholas Courtney (plays the Brigadier).
Franklin muses: "Everyone always says, `Why were you a traitor?' and I wasn't a traitor.... I have to explain it endlessly."
7. "Doctor Who Stories - Tom Baker" (23 minutes) A nice long interview with the 4th Doctor. Barry Letts moved on after producing two shows with Tom. "Barry was quick to spot my kind of lunacy. My benevolent lunacy. I remember he left in a joke, very early on, when some creature was pointing at me, [and I adlibbed] `Is that finger loaded?' "
8. "Doctor Who Stories - Elisabeth Sladen" (20 minutes) A nice interview with a charming lady. "The Daleks, I think, were my favorite.... I didn't like the Cybermen. I couldn't believe in those silver Wellingtons."
9. Subtitles. Subtitles are available in English.
10. "Merry-Go-Round - The Fuel Fishers" (19 minutes) This is an episode of the children's show with guest narrator/star Elisabeth Sladen. She boards a helicopter to visit an oil drilling rig 160 km out into the ocean.
11. "South Today". A local reporter interviews Tom Baker on location in Sussex, standing in for Scotland.
12. Photo Gallery (5 minutes)
13. PDF Materials
14. Coming Soon Trailer
(then) Producer Philip Hinchcliff weaves author Stewart's excellent script into a nail bitting, suspenseful master-class of television viewing. With Hitchcock like prersiccion and timing Director Douglas Camfield and Hinchcliff use dialog, pace and attmosphere to drive the story which takes some of the pressure off the actors and villains to do so. The main protagonist are the alien Zygons (beautifully realized by costume designer James Acheson and visual effect guru John Friedlander) with their octopi/tentacle like appearance and serpentine, hissing voices there is no doubt that they are "not from around here". Marooned beneath Loch Ness in their crippled starship having escaped from their dying world, the Zygons have been hiding beneath the surface waiting for the right time to strike humanity a fatal blow and claim the Earth as their new home. This was not a new theme to Docotr Who but it works wonderfully here. Despite their lack of numbers the Zygons have two advantages to secure their dominance. 1-The ability to shape ship (or mourph) into any living human form that they wish ( a plot device that really works well here) and 2-their mechanical sea creatue they call the "Skaresen" which has come to be know as the loch ness monster over the years by humanity (This is one of several explanations for Nessy that doctor who produced over the years..but clearly the best). This Kracken like beast remains mostly hidden for the first two episodes (only being heard). And much in the way we did not see the shark in Jaws well into the movie, the Skaraseens delayed appearance creates tention well into episode two without a single view of the creature ( a skill lost by todays tv/films makers who have the advantage??? of CGI). When the creature does finally appear it is every bit the cheesy Doctor Who Monster we loved to see "Back in the day" with classic Doctor Who. The Skaresen's glides across the screen with that Ray Haryyhausen like/stop motion animation that was so prevalent in the 60s and 70s (and early 80s Medusa in Class of the Titans). Despite the stilted motion of these effects/monsters, there is quite a old school charm to them and you just have to admire the diligence and patience of the filmmakers who produced them.
The rest of the story unfolds from here with the Zygons and their creature starting their conquest of the Earth in London ( of course). And It is up to the doctor and UNIT to stop them. I don't want to give away too many plot points but trust me when I say that this is way more than just another UNIT story. It is classic Doctor Who at its ultimate best. Story, directing, acting and set/costume design are the best the classic series could/would ever see. The Zygons are as believable an alien as you would see in any age of science fiction; I was always surprised they never made a second appearance in the classic series. Also ( and most important) this is a bench mark performance by lead actor Tom Baker and you will see that if ever there was a man born to play Doctor Who it was He. Baker is in full stride here (although only his sixth story) and just exudes alienness with his awkward gaze, curling hair hidden under that brown, frock hat and wrapped in his trade mark scarf. He strides across the fog filled marsh lands of Loch Ness with the same determined confidence of Gandalf riding across middle earth...with little doubt that he will ultimately succeed. I/We could spend days taking about Baker's brilliance in the role. But just trust me that he is at his absolute best here. In addition Lis Sladen is no less brilliant as she ever is/was as companion Sarah Jane Smith and second companion Ian Marter (Harry Sullivan) gives his best performance in the role (which is saying something because he was excellent and consistent in ever scene he was ever in). And not to be over shadowed was the wonderful Nicolas Courtney who makes his final appearance as the Brigadier in the "UNIT era" ( He did appear 3 additional times many years later after the unit era passed). Courtney was every bit the consummate professional in this story (He never mailed in a performance).
In summary this is classic doctor who at its absolute best with no obvious faults. The story itself, Tom Baker and the truly alien Zygons are the stars of the show. If this story is not on your shelf then you Doctor Who collection is not complete. In short: buy it....and then buy a second copy to donate to your local library so others can see what a truly great show Doctor Who was and is!!!
On a personal note this is my last review on Classic Doctor Who and I just wanted to thank Who fans every where (even those I have disagreed with) for supporting this fantastic show that is (in my opinion) the greatest television show of all time. If you like Doctor who than that means you "get" Doctor Who. And if you "get it" that means you are an intelligent, multi dimensional thinker who can see beyond the everyday. And if you are this type of person than the world is a much, much better place with you in it........