Monday, 30 September 2013

Review: Doctor Who Classic: Terror of the Zygons
The squid-like Zygons are an excellent design.
Doctor Who - Season 13, Story One - Terror of the Zygons
Written 24/5/13

It's doing the 80s first that's done it. I'm used to extravagance and silliness, of charm overriding visual flair. This week's story, designed to be the final story of the previous season, ends the Arc that began in Robot, and features some of the series' most popular one-time monsters. So popular, in fact, that they're due to make an appearance in the 50th Anniversary story. A story ambitious in both its ideas and its geographical scale, there's very little that you can flaw about Terror of the Zygons. Well. Unless you're picky, which I most certainly am.
     Responding to the Brigadier's time-space message he received at the end of Revenge, the Doctor discovers that UNIT have popped up to Scotland, and are investigating the destruction of three North Sea oil rigs. The Doctor is initially bored, but his interest is piqued when the attacks seem to be coming from a mechanical source. Slowly, they uncover the plot of the shape-shifting Zygons, who intend to use the Skarasen (a dinosaur-shaped cyborg used to explain the Loch Ness Monster) to subjugate Humanity. Once all is settled, Harry Sullivan decides to stay behind on Earth, and The Doctor and Sarah continue their travels.
     The story begins on a very slow note, with any attempt at tension-building rather spoiled by a mixture of loud bagpipe music at inopportune moments. One would expect a monster like the Zygons to be used for a tired Changeling-substitution plot, but rather more is made of the uncertainty of who may or may not be one, leading to great horror moments like the first cliffhanger wherein one seems to appear from nowhere to strange Sarah Jane. These moments save the story from its weaker moments, of which there are a surprising number given the story's high reputation.
I think I prefer The Myrka.
     Carrying on the story's paradoxical nature, it has some of the best and worst alien design of the season. The Zygons are truly magnificent (the z key on my keyboard is seeing more use in this article than it has in ages) with their slightly octupoidal design allowing for actor flexibility while still looking completely alien and intimidating. Their organic technology adds an extra squick factor, and it's odd that such a well-designed and memorable monster was never seen again. On the other hand, we have the Skarasen, which seems to borrow a prop from Season 11's unfortunate Invasion of the Dinosaurs and is thankfully the last use of stop-motion dinosaurs in Doctor Who, which may have been acceptable in the early Seventies but drags the whole story down here.
     Terror of the Zygons for me is a story that I find very difficult to truly like. I find the early story's chattering about oil rigs and mystical Scottish landlords with second-sight a tad tedious, not helped by the fact that the Zygon plot only really becomes apparent in the last episode. The Skarasen is laughable and its appearance threatens to rob it of all credibility. But at its heart it contains a tremendously memorable and well-executed set of main villains, and a penultimate 70s outing for UNIT that leaves it in good spirits as the show's true independence from the old style begins.


NEXT WEEK: I've no idea what happens in next week's story... it's Planet of Evil.

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