Doctor Who: Terror of the Zygons DVD Review: The Doctor and the Loch Ness Monster

Like a lot of Americans of a certain age – that is to say old enough to remember Doctor Who before the modern series – Tom Baker is my Doctor.  From my understanding, the show didn’t really air in America until Baker’s run in the late ’70s.  His incarnation as the Fourth Doctor was certainly the one that got the most mileage in reruns being shown over and over again on PBS.  In fact, it wasn’t until I started watching the modern series that I realized there were other Doctors besides him.  As such, he is my favorite of the classic Doctors and will always hold a special place in my heart.

Terror of the Zygons was the first serial of the 13th season, though it was filmed and originally slated to be the last serial of the 12th season.  It also contains the last regular appearance of Harry Sullivan and Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart.

It is almost completely set in Scotland (the good Doctor even gets a bit of fun by wearing a Scottish hat and a matching tartan scarf.)  The show starts with something destroying oil rigs.  Investigations find several townspeople (including the Duke of Forgil and a nurse) are acting very strangely.

Our heroes find that the entire village has been gassed and the Doctor presumes that it must have been done so that something could move about unseen.  Harry winds up getting gassed  and he is taken aboard our villains’ ship.

The Zygons are hideous-looking creatures (in fantastic looking rubber suits) who crashed landed on Earth years ago after fleeing their own planet which was destroyed.  They are now planning to take over the Earth and use humans as their slaves to make the planet hospitable for the remaining Zygons to come and live.

Aboard the ship, Harry sees several of the villagers (including the Duke and that nurse) stuck inside some sort of pod.  The Zygons, it seems, use these pods to create “body prints” that enable them to take on human form. At their disposal is a huge, powerful destructive cyborg they call the Skarasen, but we know as the Loch Ness monster.  That’s right, folks, the Doctor and his companions are gonna be battling Nessie.

Harry escapes, the Doctor is captured.  More is learned about the Zygons, the Skarasen, and their evil plans.  Plans are hatched and completed.  The Skarasen attacks London, the Doctor defeats it, UNIT covers it all up.

I really do love Tom Baker as the Doctor.  He’s aloof and moody.  He’s sarcastic and weird.  Exactly what a Doctor should be.  Facing him against the Loch Ness monster is completely silly and awesome.  Except for a brief appearance in the modern series, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen Sarah Jane Smith in action.  At least not that I remember.  Although she gets a lot of hype, I frankly didn’t find her all that memorable.  The Brigadier is as useless as ever never having an original thought other than blowing things up and mostly willing to follow the Doctor and do exactly what he says.  Sarah Jane gets into the act too, coming up with more workable plans than he could ever dream of.  I don’t believe I’ve ever seen Harry in action either.  He’s given very little to do here other than get captured and be the first inside the alien ship so he didn’t really make an impression.

Terror of the Zygons is a straight-up classic Tom Baker-era Who.  The villains are appropriately silly and menacing.  The Scottish setting gives us a couple of good gags and lots of great accents.  The Fourth Doctor proves why he will always be my favorite with plenty of Tom Bakerisms (including being able to put Sarah Jane into a coma-like trance through a technique he learned from a Tibetan monk.)  The Companions do what Companions do though with so many of them they aren’t able to really have enough screen time to make what they do all that memorable (though the Brigadier does get to blow up a lake.)  And there is the friggin’ Loch Ness monster thrashing about.  They really scrimped on the budget for that one; he looks like a Godzilla reject, but that just makes it all the more awesome.

Extras include an audio commentary by Mark Ayres, production unit manager George Gallacio, writer Robert Banks-Stewart, and Dick Mills of the Radiophonic workshop.  Producer Phillip Hinchcliffe joins in for episode two and make-up artist Sylvia James chimes in for episodes three and four.  It is a lively commentary and fun, but as everybody’s memory has faded after a few decades it’s scant on much useful information.  As usual with these new DVDs, if you are looking for interesting background information and tons of trivia you need to go to the production subtitles.  They are incredibly useful, interesting, and informative.

Scotch Mist in Sussex in a nice behind-the-scenes documentary which features many members of the production crew discussing the many problems they had to solve while filming the series.  There’s a nice feature on director Douglas Camfield which takes an in-depth look at his career.  There are a couple of more features on UNIT and oil of all things.  The most enjoyable feature are interviews with Tom Baker and Lis Sladen from a 2003 documentary.  Both are very entertaining.

Mat Brewster

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