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Terror of the Zygons ★★★★★

Season 13 begins with an atmospheric classic that even a feeble Loch Ness Monster model cannot spoil

Published: Sunday, 27th June 2010 at 11:00 pm

Season 13 – Story 80


"Broton escaped and he still has control of the monster… And this time it'll be something really spectacular" - the Doctor

A summons from the Brigadier brings the Doctor, Sarah and Harry to the Scottish village of Tulloch to investigate the destruction of North Sea oil rigs. The Doctor learns that the attacks have been carried out by the Skarasen, a huge cyborg controlled by Zygons from a spaceship hidden in Loch Ness. Under heavy shelling, the shape-shifting aliens relocate their ship, only for the Doctor to activate its self-destruct. A last-ditch show of force in London by the surviving Zygon, Broton, is foiled, the Skarasen returns to Loch Ness and Harry chooses to stay on Earth.

First transmissions
Part 1 - Saturday 30 August 1975
Part 2 - Saturday 6 September 1975
Part 3 - Saturday 13 September 1975
Part 4 - Saturday 20 September 1975

Location filming: March 1975 in West Sussex at Climping Beach; Ambersham Common; Hall Aggregates quarry, Storrington; Charlton; and Furnace Pond, Crabtree. Plus Millbank Tower, London SW1
Studio recording: April 1975 in TC3 and TC4

Doctor Who - Tom Baker
Sarah Jane Smith - Elisabeth Sladen
Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart - Nicholas Courtney
Harry Sullivan - Ian Marter
RSM Benton - John Levene
The Duke of Forgill - John Woodnutt
Broton - John Woodnutt
Angus McRannald - Angus Lennie
Huckle - Tony Sibbald
Munro - Hugh Martin
Sister Lamont - Lillias Walker
The Caber - Robert Russell
Radio operator - Bruce Wightman
Corporal - Bernard G High
Soldier - Peter Symonds
Zygons - Keith Ashley, Ronald Gough

Writer - Robert Banks Stewart
Incidental music - Geoffrey Burgon
Designer - Nigel Curzon
Script editor - Robert Holmes
Producer - Philip Hinchcliffe
Director - Douglas Camfield

RT Review by Mark Braxton
The revived series has brought back many old enemies, from Cybermen to Silurians, so it's no surprise that fans wanted to see Zygons again. They are a majestic creation, and the icing on the cake of an outstanding four-parter. The high-reaching scripts from Robert Banks Stewart fizz with energy and pace. I wish he'd contributed more to the show - as it is, his two stories help make season 13 one of the finest in the show's history.

It's a shaky old start, mind you: the establishing shot of an oil rig is straight out of the manual on How Not to Film a Model (from above, in water), while the lone radio operator on the Bonnie Prince Charlie is saddled with some dubious geographical colour, uttering the word "haggis" in the toss of a caber.

The stereotyping continues with the Doctor in a tam o'shanter, the Brig in a kilt and bagpipes blown in the background. There may as well be a caption reading: "Scotland, Earth" (even though the story was filmed in West Sussex).

Fortunately, two things turn it around: the heart-warming togetherness of the three travellers, first seen tramping through the heather (Harry sporting the Doctor's scarf and Sarah, his hat), and Tom Baker's captivating performance as the Doc, talking once again through his hat ("VERY WELL!") and later, staring morosely into the middle distance as if utterly bored by terrestrial concerns.

Baker has wonderfully expressive eyes. They remind me of a story told by character-actor Vladek Sheybal (who played Kronsteen in From Russia with Love). Bette Davis once advised Sheybal that, though he didn't have film-star looks, he should capitalise on his prominent assets: his eyes and his voice.

I wonder if Baker eavesdropped on the conversation. He employs both beautifully in the scene where oil boss Huckle tells him the sea was calm and empty when the oil rigs were destroyed. "It may be calm…" counters the Doctor in huge, angled close-up, widening his eyes and coating his vowels in molasses, "but it's never empty." Check out an affectionate spoof of the show on YouTube by satirical comedy End of Part One - it's called Doctor Eyes!

There's no procrastination in Terror of the Zygons. Army-obsessed Douglas Camfield sees to that. Just ten minutes in, we see the story's pièce de résistance: the Zygon itself. All nodules and burst capillaries, it looks like Humpty Dumpty's had a skin graft from an octopus. As dreamt up by James Acheson and John Friedlander, the Zygon is exquisitely horrible. The monster's staccato whisper - a lovely contrast to the traditional roars and rants of the bad-guy alien - completes the package.

I can think of no more effective jolt in the series than the lunge of one Zygon towards Sarah to cap episode one. The suddenness of movement, the creature's disgusting open mouth and Sarah's scream all make it a textbook cliffhanger.

It's a phenomenal dual performance by John Woodnutt as the arch, cultured Duke of Forgill and arrogant Commander Broton. Woodnutt's face is queasily familiar to viewers of a certain age who were traumatised by his Thin Man in 1971's Look and Read serial The Boy from Space. His gaunt, silver-faced quarry-botherer remains, for me, one of the scariest things ever. In life.

So many things make this muscular four-parter a class act, including the incidental music. Geoffrey Burgon's wintry, discordant flutes remind me of the sort of thing Laurie Johnson was composing for ITV's adult anthology series Thriller - chilling and anxiety-inducing.

The Zygon spaceship is a memorable design, both inside (like an unsanitary pizzeria) and out (a black piano with chubby legs). And the effects boffins excel themselves in the ship's takeoff from the loch and its ultimate annihilation. "Was that bang big enough for you, Brigadier?" asks the Doctor. Definitely!

The perfect story, then? Well no, not quite. Imagine the huge disappointment if they'd kept the working title of The Loch Ness Monster. Making Nessie the star of the show would have turned the whole shooting match into a fiasco (remember Invasion of the Dinosaurs?). Lumbered with a feeble puppet - and a wire model for some brave but unwise stop-motion animation - Camfield limits the Skarasen's time on screen. But for me, the quality of everything else on show renders the Skarasen almost an irrelevance.

Someone who could have done with a few more scenes is poor, maltreated Harry in his last proper story. His sterling support and old-school stiff-upper-lippery were so charming, and worthy of a much better sign-off than "I think I'll stick to Intercity this time, Doctor". His teaming with Baker and Sladen was a brief one, but it worked like a dream. The Brigadier is dismissed cheaply, too, considering the fact that he wouldn't be seen again for more than seven years.

It’s a shut-them-down and blow-it-up tale that, some may say, relegates it to a Zygon era. But such was its poise, power and punch that it gave us a magnificent monster on its debut, and a time team at its finale, and both at their absolute zenith.

Radio Times archive

The arrival of the Loch Ness Monster engendered a fabulous piece of artwork from Frank Bellamy and a two-page feature. He also provided a striking cartoon for the Saturday TV page.


Update April 2015
In April 1975, RT photographer Don Smith took his son on set during the recording of Terror of the Zygons at BBC Television Centre. He took these two candid shots, which we're publishing for the first time 40 years later.
(Copyright Don Smith and Radio Times Archive)

[Available on BBC DVD]

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