13x1. Terror of the Zygons
Writer: Robert Banks Stewart
Director: Douglas Camfield
Script Editor: Robert Holmes
Producer: Philip Hinchcliffe
Synopsis: The Doctor and his
companions return to Earth in response to a message from the Brigadier,
who is investigating a series of mysterious "accidents" on oil rigs
that have claimed a number of lives. The deaths turn out to be the work
of the Zygons, a race of aliens who have been waiting for an
opportunity to conquer Earth and who control the "Skarasen," a robotic
creature who has been the source of the Loch Ness Monster legend.
Review: I'm afraid I'm in the
"'Terror of the Zygons' is not bad, but it's hardly a classic" camp. It
would have been a better season-ender than "Revenge of the Cybermen"
(as it was originally intended to be), and it's always nice to see the
UNIT crowd, but past that I can't honestly say that there seemed to
be anything special about it.
The characterization of the Doctor, admittedly, is a plus in this one.
It's not on the level of "Genesis of the Daleks," but not everything
can or should be, and it presents his strangeness in a more appealing
way than in "Revenge." His hypnosis of Sarah and then of himself when
they are locked in a decompression chamber is suitably alien, and the
subsequent "Why are we whispering?" scene with Benton effectively
captures his off-beat sense of humor. I also liked his initial
indignation over being called back to Earth because of oil industry
problems and his eventual relenting as he realizes that lives are at
stake, whatever he may think about humanity's energy consumption. I
think my favorite bit might have been when, after nearly electrocuting
himself in an attempt to send a message from inside the Zygon ship, he
awakes, flashes his trademark grin, and whispers to himself, "I'm
alive!" The writers clearly picked up on Tom Baker's peculiar abilities
early on, and they effectively use moments like these both to underline
the Doctor's strange aloofness, in that his own survival seems to be a
source of amusement, and to reinforce his capacity for self-sacrifice
in a slightly unusual way, since his reaction clearly indicates that he
had thought he might be killed. (Right before this scene, incidentally,
is a classic "only on Doctor Who"
moment when Broton, the Zygon leader, finds the unconscious and perhaps
dead Doctor and remarks, "I underestimated his intelligence, but he
underestimated the power of organic crystallography.")
The Zygons themselves, however, are fairly ho-hum villains in my book.
Yes, their appearance and sibilant voices, combined with the seemingly
organic structure of their ship, make them a little stranger and
scarier than your average villain, but there's really nothing to them
other than a standard alien plot to take over Earth. The plotting, in
fact, is rather weak in two aspects. First, it's unclear that anyone
would have ever noticed the Zygons, much less had enough warning to
foil their plan, if they hadn't been conducting "test" attacks against
oil rigs with the Skarasen. As a Stupid Villain Cliché, this is
not quite as bad as "Let me explain my evil plan before I kill you,"
but it's the same general principle of giving your enemies a lot more
advanced warning and maneuvering room than seems entirely necessary.
Second, they are pretty easily defeated at the end. After the script
spends the entire serial trying to build them up as a threat, the
various plot twists end up amounting to little more than a way to get
the Doctor inside their ship so he can press the self-destruct button.
I don't even mind that the Doctor is able to identify it so
easily, just that it again makes them seem kind of lame -- why aren't
they guarding their ship's controls more carefully, and why isn't there
some sort of backup system to shut it off?
While he's not one of my absolute favorite characters, I do think that,
for a character whose original purpose proved unnecessary, Harry
Sullivan has brought something to the TARDIS crew in his brief stint as
a companion. The idea that he would handle the action scenes for an
older Doctor was scrapped when Tom Baker was hired, but I think his
conventionality and occasional oafishness actually serve as an
effective foil to the Doctor and Sarah, who clearly violate the
stereotypes of hero and female companion. Though it doesn't have a
great deal of emotional impact, his departure from the TARDIS crew
(though we do see him again later) is nicely handled. He doesn't quite
fit in the Doctor's world, and he never intended to go on a prolonged
space/time journey in the first place, so he simply decides to go back
to his UNIT job rather than accompany the Doctor and Sarah on further
adventures. This is also the Brigadier's last appearance for many
years, and as such it is merely okay -- the only thing that really
sticks in my mind is the gag at the beginning where he shows up in a
I don't have too much more to say about "Terror of the Zygons." As I
said, I don't think it deserves the "classic" status that it seems to
occupy in some quarters, but the somewhat contrived plot is its only
serious flaw, and it's an acceptably average installment of Doctor Who.
Rating: **1/2 (out of four)
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