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Doctor Who: Terror of the Zygons

"You can't rule the world in hiding. You've got to come out on to the balcony sometimes and wave a tentacle."

'Terror of the Zygons' is where Robert Holmes and Philip Hinchcliffe's Gothic horror take on Doctor Who really starts to take off.

From a storytelling standpoint, 'Zygons' doesn't offer its audience anything radical. It faithfully follows the UNIT story formula established during the Third Doctor era. Something mysterious is going on at an industrial site somewhere in Britain. UNIT are called in to investigate, dragging the Doctor along like a stroppy child who doesn't want to go on holiday but starts having fun the minute they get there. It doesn't take long for our heroes to discover aliens are responsible. Like 99.9% of extraterrestrials on this show, they want to take over the world and enslave humanity. The Doctor is having none of that. Cue the inevitable explosion of the aliens' base.

'Zygons' may be a very familiar story, but it succeeds because it is a familiar story that is told very well. A lot of this can be attributed to director Douglas Camfield, here returning to the series for the first time in five years after collapsing due to an aggravated a heart murmur during the production of 'Inferno'. Many of Camfield's previous Doctor Who credits had a noticeable horror movie feel to them, 'The Web of Fear' being the best example, which made him the perfect director for Holmes and Hinchcliffe's era. Despite his prolonged sabbatical, Camfield shows that he hasn't lost his touch. One of the standout scenes remains Zygon Harry attacking Sarah with a pitchfork in Episode 2. Shot mostly in close up with minimal music, it's a wonderfully tense sequence that shows Ian Marter can do creepy surprisingly well.

'Zygons' takes us out of the usual comfort zones for UNIT stories (major cities and industrial complexes) and relocates to typical horror film settings: quiet little villages, foggy moors, dense forests and creepy old castles. It is such an ideal setting for this story that when the action switches to London for the final showdown, it is quite jarring. It also doesn't help that, due to the weak creature FX, the resolution to the monster attack is rather limp. The idea of using the Loch Ness Monster came about because writer Robert Banks Stewart wanted to set a story in his native Scotland. In his original drafts, more emphasis was placed on the monster (called a Skarasen here) than its alien masters. It was Holmes who decided that the Zygons were more interesting and should become the main focus of the story. This was a wise decision on Bob's part, as the Skarasen is the story's only major failing.

Looking like the product of a one night stand between a octopus and a Conehead, the Zygons are one of the classic series' best creations. Giving them the ability to shape-shift was a masterstroke as it brings a nice Invasion of the Body Snatchers vibe to the story. They are so good, I think they are long overdue for a reappearance. Sure, they were mentioned in 'The Big Bang' and sort of, maybe, possibly, appeared in 'The Power of Three', but I want a proper big comeback episode. If the Macra and a sort of Nimon can return, why not the Zygons, Moffat? Oh, and bring back the Ice Warriors while you're at it.

'Terror of the Zygons' is the last true UNIT story until 'Battlefield' in 1989. Sure, the organisation would appear in a couple of stories between then, but none of them would feature the Brigadier. It is an established universal fact that you can't have a proper UNIT story without at least one Lethbridge-Stewart in it. This would also be the last story to feature Harry Sullivan as a regular character, sadly. Hinchcliffe considered Harry to be redundant since he had only been created to handle the action sequences in case an elderly actor was the fourth Doctor. Holmes didn't agree with his boss, believing that Harry was a valuable ingredient of the series. And he was right. The Baker, Sladen, Mater team was one of the series' absolute best. But Hinchcliffe had his way, even if he did admit later that Holmes was right.

Notes and Quotes

--Hurrah, we have a quarry that is meant to be a quarry.

--This would be the Brigadier's last appearance for a long while. Nicholas Courtney would not return to the show until 'Mawdryn Undead' in 1983.

--Zygons are David Tennant's favourite Doctor Who aliens. He has often said how disappointed he was that he never got to face them.

--Although set in Scotland, the majority of location shooting was done in West Sussex as the budget did not stretch to allow cast and crew to actually travel north of the boarder.

--When we first see them, the Doctor is wearing his Scotsman get up, Sarah is wearing his hat and Harry his scarf. They have never looked more adorable. Speaking of which, Sarah sticking her tongue out at Caber is beyond cute.

The Doctor: "When I left that psionic beam with you, Brigadier, I said that it was only to be used in an emergency!"
The Brigadier: "This is an emergency!"
The Doctor: "Oil? An emergency? Ha! It's about time the people who run this planet of yours realised that to be dependent on a mineral slime just doesn't make sense."

The Doctor: "Was that bang big enough for you, Brigadier?"
--And the slash fans go crazy.

The Brigadier: "A fifty foot monster can't swim up the Thames and attack a large building without somebody noticing. But you know what politicians are like."

The Doctor: “I want to know one thing, Brigadier... what is that?”
The Brigadier: “That, Doctor, is a kilt.”
The Doctor: “Suits you very well.”

The Brigadier: "Well, Doctor, there you are. What was I doing on the floor?"
The Doctor: "You've been asleep, Brigadier."
The Brigadier: "Asleep? Impossible, I was on duty. There are times, Doctor, when you do talk absolute nonsense."

Broton: “You admire our technology, human?”
The Doctor: “Well, I'm not human; and I've seen better.”

Four out of four alien menaces that weren’t immune to bullets.
Mark Greig has been writing for Doux Reviews since 2011. More Mark Greig.


  1. Great review, Mark, for one of the great stories.

    Baker,Sladen and Marter were fantastic team. And when you add the Brig they are unbeatable. A bit like The Avengers.
    Except with no budget.
    And in a quarry.

    Such a shame this was the last proper UNIT story for so long.
    And you're dead right about the Lethbridge-Stewart requirement.

    Thanks for all your DW reviews.

  2. Reading this review now is so much fun: The Ice Warriors did come back! The 50th will feature the Zygons! David Tennant is in the episode, so maybe he'll face them!

    Also, I noticed the music in this episode was similar to the old BBC Narnia movies (which had Tom Baker as Puddleglum) - turns out it's the same composer! Pity he only did music for this adventure and one other.

  3. Mixed feelings here, for the reasons you point out, Mark. It's so good and has that classic horror feel, especially Hammer films. The Zygons are a great adversary and love that they use biotech. When Ian plays Harry's Zygon double, he nails that cold sinister look so well. I love UNIT with the Brigadier and Benton, so it was sad to see them go, and sad too that Harry left so early; this is my favorite TARDIS team to this day! Holmes was indeed right and wish we had more Harry; and then we have to realize we lost Ian Marter so young.

    The Skarasen wasn't great, but the idea of it was fun, and the Zygons ability to shapeshift really threw some chaos into the works. Top notch story here to be sure.


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