Terror of the Zygons

Region 1

Region 2
VHS Video
(Doctor Who Story No. 80, starring Tom Baker)
  • written by Robert Banks Stewart
  • directed by Douglas Camfield
  • produced by Philip Hinchcliffe
  • music by Geoffrey Burgon
  • 4 episodes @ 25 minutes each
Story: The Brigadier calls the Doctor, Sarah, and Harry back to Earth to help U.N.I.T. investigate the continuing destruction of sea-based oil rigs near Scotland. As a web of extra-terrestrial intrigue unfolds, many of the clues begin to point towards Loch Ness and its legendary monster....

DVD Extras (on 2 discs) include:

  • "Director's Cut" option to watch episode 1 with or without deleted scene
  • Audio commentary by writer Robert Banks Stewart, producer Philip Hinchcliffe, production unit manager George Gallaccio,
    make-up artist Sylvia James, and sound effects producer Dick Mills. Moderated by Mark Ayres.
  • "Scotch Mist in Sussex" making-of featurette (32 min.) with Stewart, Hinchcliffe, John Levene (Sgt. Benton),
    John Woodnutt (Duke of Forgill), designer Nigel Curzon, costume designer James Acheson,
    visual effects assistant Steve Bowman, historian Simon Farquar, and the director's son.
  • "The Unit Family - Part Three" featurette (26 min.) with Tom Baker (The Doctor), Nicholas Courtney (Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart),
    John Levene (Sgt. Benton), Richard Franklin (Capt. Mike Yates), producer Barry Letts, and script editor Terrance Dicks.
  • "South Today" Tom Baker interview on location during filming (3 min.)
  • Doctor Who stories 2003 interview of Tom Baker. (22 min.)
  • Doctor Who stories 2003 interview of Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith). (20 min.)
  • "Remembering Douglas Camfield" (30 min.) including John Levene, Peter Purves, and Graeme Harper.
  • "The Fuel Fishers" educational program (19 min.) - Elisabeth Sladen visits North Sea oil rigs in 1977.
  • Isolated Music score by Geoffrey Burgon
  • Pop-up Production Note Subtitles
  • Photo Gallery music & sound effects (5 min.)

Buyers' Guide Review

by Martin Izsak

(A more in-depth analysis, containing "SPOILERS" and intended for those who have already seen the program, can be accessed here.)

The Myth of Season Thirteen

In my humble opinion, this season of Doctor Who stories has long been over-rated by a majority of vocal Doctor Who fans. Quite simply, it seems to want to rely on gothic horror elements a little too heavily for my tastes, and my judgments of these stories will look at how successfully each one manages to offer something of a wider variety of appealing elements.

Terror of the Zygons

It is perhaps telling that this, my favourite season thirteen story, was actually shot during the previous year's recording block. It bridges the two seasons well, completing the Harry Sullivan Nerva Beacon journey story arc, and initiating a new "Return to UNIT" story arc for the rest of Sarah's tenure on the program. It has a significant adversarial alien race as most season twelve stories do, yet it spends much time on scenes and sequences of creepy suspense to keep the season thirteen horror fans happy. Most significantly, Douglas Camfield is at the helm to direct this story, and being one of the best in his field, he does not fail to make the story something special.

The narrative is a bit rough at the beginning, where characters need to be introduced. Sadly the scene of the TARDIS landing got cut for technical reasons, lessening the impact of the Doctor's arrival on the scene with his two friends. The Doctor hasn't actually got very much to do in the first episode, so having his introductory scene cut certainly didn't help matters much.

However, the DVD really comes up trumps here, with the Restoration Team using new technology to conquer all the old technical difficulties with the scene and stick it back into episode one where it belongs, which nicely brings the first episode's dramatic arc back into better balance. Though it is presented as an optional addition so that those who might insist on the broadcast version are still happy, it really is the "right" way to watch the show now, with the audio commentary and isolated music tracks accommodating this scene as well.

Many other problems spring from another characteristic Camfield trait - the volume on the soundtrack gets a bit out of hand at times. The destruction of the rig in the opening scene suffers from a cacophony that drowns the dialogue in addition to being unpleasant in itself, and this trend continues into the Brigadier's first scene, in which the audience is quite challenged to make out what he and Mr. Huckle are saying over all the bagpipe doodling. Very dangerous, as they're laying out important exposition for the plot - you can lose an audience there. Yes, irritatingly loud bagpipes are actually written right into the script, but if it was me, I wouldn't let them actually get loud until the part of the conversation where Huckle and the Brig stop talking about the plot and start complaining about the pipes. DVD audio remastering has minimized this problem as well, but Mr. Huckle is played by an actor so soft-spoken that it remains difficult to hear him properly with the bagpipes playing.

Thankfully, once investigation of the main mystery gets underway, Camfield's excellence takes over and begins to give the story its special charm. The sequence with Harry on the shore is one of my favourites, very atmospheric and remaining fresh on repeat viewings. Episode one also features one of the all-time greatest cliffhangers, which I won't spoil here.

The Zygons themselves are wonderfully unique in their design, and quite a successfully interesting race. Camfield uses them quite successfully, particularly in allowing the viewer nothing but the barest glimpses of them in the early part of the story. The Skarasen, also known as the Loch Ness Monster, is also well done. Quick glimpses from underwater or in fog serve to ignite viewers' imaginations early on, while the chase across the moor delivers some thoroughly enjoyable stop-motion work. Much criticism has been leveled at the creature's appearance in the river; I think it's cute, and it has every right to be at this point in the story, once freed from the arbitrary expectations of the horror fans. The sequence gets full marks for visual literacy, delivering the shots we need whether they're scary enough for the horror fans or not. And one only has to compare it with scenes from, say, "The Web Planet" (story no. 13) or "The Happiness Patrol" (story no. 153), or even "The Sea Devils" (story no. 62) to find creatures or strange characters that lack the ideal mood even more so.

The story also delivers the UNIT atmosphere, and does a better job of it than any other season thirteen story. It's more than just having Sgt. Benton and the Brigadier in the cast, although that is important, but it's also in letting their characters come to grips with the story. In fact, at one point early in episode two, everyone besides Benton is incapacitated in one form or another, and Benton has to keep the ball rolling before the villains get away with everything. The Brigadier generally has a much better time of it here than in "Robot" (story no. 75), and gets to dent the Zygons' plans significantly at many points.

The Doctor also gets more and more to do as the story progresses. The stakes are raised well for the final confrontation, which Tom Baker fills with much wit and cunning. Interestingly enough, this story may also be unique in that the Doctor screams more than his female companion.

John Woodnutt playing The Duke of Forgill and Angus Lennie playing Angus the Innkeeper return to bless the program with rich performances, while Sister Lamont also contributes to making the drama riveting.

Geoffrey Burgon delivers a fantastic score for the program, his very memorable "A Landing in Scotland" cue being one of my all time favourites. I'm also quite fond of "The Secret of Forgill Castle" and "The Monster Goes Home", in addition to the bit backing episode one's cliffhanger.
Music by Geoffrey Burgon
The original score features on:
Audio CD - Terror of the Zygons

More info & buying options

In the end, Zygons is simply a big winner, a very enjoyable start to the season.

This story is available on DVD and VHS video:
DVD NTSC Region 1
for the North American market:
in the U.S.
in Canada
DVD PAL Region 2
for the U.K.
VHS Video
NTSC A in the U.S.
NTSC B in the U.S.
NTSC in Canada
PAL for the U.K.

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Read the Buyers' Guide Review for the next story: "Planet of Evil"

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