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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 kilt.

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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