DVD Extras (on 2 discs) include:
The Myth of Season ThirteenIn 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 ZygonsIt 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.
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 and the Caber 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, with a double-threat masterfully revealing the Zygon form in the very last few seconds of the show.
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 final appearance in the Thames; I think it's cute, and it has every right to be, once freed from the Zygons' influences. 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 at many points, and deal with their leader in the end.
The Doctor also gets more and more to do as the story progresses. Even getting captured for the final episode doesn't do the narrative much harm, for it is anything but routine. Rather, it raises the stakes for a final confrontation, which Tom Baker fills with wit and cunning, and it proves to be the Zygons' final undoing. Interestingly enough, this story may also be unique in that the Doctor screams more than his female companion.
John Woodnutt playing Broton/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.
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:
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