Doctor Who - Terror of the Zygons VHS
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Loch Ness is the setting of this very traditional 1975 Doctor Who monster story, even though it was actually filmed in southern England with local atmosphere provided by Scottish character actor Angus Lennie (The Great Escape). The Doctor (Tom Baker) is called in to investigate a mystery involving the destruction of several oil rigs and it's not too long before the Loch Ness monster is revealed as the culprit. But it's actually just a biomechanical weapon being manipulated by the evil Zygons, who have been living at the bottom of the loch, plotting world domination. The organically designed sets and monsters are very striking, as are the visual effects, with one notable exception: Really Big Creatures have always been a bane for the series, with its limited budget, to pull off, and this story's reliance on an obvious puppet monster, especially during the climax, diminishes its impact. But there is still much to relish, particularly the dialogue of writer Robert Banks Stewart (who would go on to create the long-running BBC series Bergerac) that provides a number of gems, including the Doctor admonishing the Zygons that if they succeed in their plans, they'll "have to come out on the balcony sometimes and wave a tentacle." With much derring-do, the Doctor saves the day as usual but not before four exciting episodes of fun and action. --Ryan K. Johnson
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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
The Zygons are iconic monsters, which have of course re-appeared in the 50th Anniversary. This is their only previous appearance, and they are realized pretty well for their time. Less well realized is the larger monster they control. Their ship is pretty interesting, the design did all it could with a very limited budget. The exterior model-shots of the ship are very good though, being shot from miniatures.
There's lots if nice extras on this one, including a unrelated short film "The Fuel Fishers" featuring Elizabeth Sladen visiting off-shore oil platforms and showing how they work. There's plenty of making of discussions and interviews, so it's quite a nice overall two DVD set.
What I will say is that it was an absolute blast watching this story again. There's nothing about this that doesn't work - the story, albeit a very familiar one is great, well-written and delivered perfectly by the cast.
The Zygons themselves are terrific and the "organic" sets are a delight, lit to perfection.
The extras are also well worth a look and it's good to see Tom Baker not so distant from the show. His reminiscences are such fun!
There is one thing that keeps annoying me, though. Towards the end of episode one, the Doctor is standing outside the Hiberian Oil Co. Lt. Sickbay. If they meant "HIBERNIAN" then the oil company would have been Irish. If they had meant "IBERIAN" then the company would have been Spanish or Portuguese, Andorran or Gibraltarian for that matter. As it goes, with this mish-mash, the company probably originated in the Atlantic...somewhere. I haven't read a review yet that's noticed this.
It annoyed me then and it annoys me now but it still doesn't detract from a first-rate story that shows the heights that Doctor Who could reach when it was on form.
Fun stuff, recommended.