DVD Review: Doctor Who, ‘Terror of the Zygons’

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Of all the stories that have been requested by fans to be bestowed a DVD release treatment, “Terror of the Zygons” has always been placed at the top of this list. This story from Tom Baker’s second season has become iconic for being both a great story and because of the title’s memorable baddies whose sole appearance is here. The timing of this DVD release is perfect if not intentionally done and even if it comes at the tail end of these releases it’s a great addition that doesn’t disappoint.

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Set in the misty, damp Scottish Highlands, the Doctor, Sarah Jane, and Harry Sullivan are answering a relay message from Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart. Arriving in a small Scottish town they are sent to investigate the destruction of an oil rig off the coast. It becomes clear that this was not a natural occurrence and the Doctor soon learns that the Zygons are watching their every move controlling the infamous Lochness monster or so they think.

It’s important to note when watching this story how much Tom Baker has come into his own as the Fourth Doctor after just one season. While this story was held over from the previous season Baker is firmly planted in his bohemian detective guise quipping jokes and plundering villains and officials for their stupidity. The moody and horror centric nature of this story fits perfectly with Baker’s foreboding notions and skepticism in investigating these events and it’s something that would continue through the next two seasons. “Zygons” is also definitive proof of why Harry Sullivan is an incredibly underrated male companion. While he isn’t given much to do here there is a confidence and strong demeanor that manifests in Ian Marter’s performance. Originally designed to be the bronze of the trio when the Doctor was expected to be played by an older actor Harry’s purpose became less obvious but it was his chemistry with both Baker and Elizabeth Sladen that makes up for that. He also delivers a great performance here as the evil doppelganger that the Zygons have created of him culminating in an intense standoff with Sarah Jane in a barn.

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Much like the “Tenth Planet” DVD release there is a specific theme woven between the story and the accompanying special features. Emphasis here draws on how “Terror of the Zygons” was a change over in the mood and style of storytelling that would continue for a few years. Zygons was held over from the production block for the previous season and considering how this story looks it would have been a strange fit alongside the previous stories which were already set up by the outgoing regime. It is unquestionably a product of the new one putting emphasis on the Hammer Horror style of suspense building woven in with the occasional violent act and creepy monster. The way that the story builds the atmosphere around Lochness is genius for its time; a time when many theories about the presence of Nessie were a bound in the Scottish moor. It all leads to the fantastic reveal of the Zygon creature which explains it all as to why they are so memorable.

The Zygons themselves are one of the one off monsters that fans have wanted to see return. Well, 38 years later fans are finally getting their wish with their upcoming appearance in “The Day of the Doctor.” From the pictures already seen the classic design has been mostly kept intact as it should be. Their first appearance on screen during the cliffhanger for Part 1 is jaw dropping as you only get a brief moment to see this shadowy figure come into the light and you still don’t know what you are staring at as the famous sting of theme hits. Their unique appearance combined with their soft spoken voices made them far and away different from most of the reoccurring villains the show produced.

The accompanying special features include a superb making of- documentary as well as the continuing Doctor Who Stories series this time featuring archived interviews with Tom Baker and the late Elisabeth Sladen. Baker’s in particular is full of the boisterous stories that as fans you have probably already heard but are still entertaining nonetheless. The making of feature, “Scottish Mist in Sussex,” once again showcases how the show was more than willing to give their best effort on such a small budget. It highlights the credentials of than producer Phillip Hinchcliffe who made the series his own and brought about what some deem “the Golden era” of the show although this reviewer believes that could encompass the whole of the seventies.

This release also concludes the long overdue final installment of the “UNIT Family” series, focusing on Pertwee’s last year and Baker’s first full season where UNIT began to be faded out over time in favor of less Earth bound stories. It’s interesting to see what stories almost featured the return of the Brigadier during the Baker years and it’s kind of sad that it took almost a decade for him to return. A real highlight if you are a person who familiarizes himself with writers and directors from this series is a feature on Douglas Camfield, probably the greatest director the show ever had thanks to his very militaristic style of directing and action packed sequencing. You learn a lot about the man warmly referred by colleagues as “Dougy” who helped make this story as well as stories like “Inferno,” “The Seeds of Doom,” and the recently recovered “Web of Fear” memorable foot notes in the show’s history.

“Terror of the Zygons” all in all is another great release from the classic series with a lot more to offer than the previously reviewed “Tenth Planet” DVD release which only had so much weight and substance. An iconic story combined with some splendid extras makes this a must have and more than worth the decade long wait that many fans of this story had to endure.

 

All Photos Credit: BBC America