Doctor Who – Terror of the Zygons Review (or ‘The Brigadier Finally Faces A Foe He Can Shoot Dead With A Pistol’)

I confess that I’m beginning to focus more and more when I write these reviews on the oft-mentioned ‘Mighty 200’ list of Dr Who stories, ranking all Dr Who adventures broadcast up until 2009 from best to worst according to a fan poll.

But there’s a reason for that…

Up until Genesis of the Daleks, my run-through of the show had seen me review only one story in the top 20 – Evil of the Daleks coming in at #18 – and yet by the end of the season I’m about to watch, I’ll have analysed a further three of them. By end of the season after that, yet another three.

And that run starts with Terror of the Zygons

The most remarkable thing about Terror of the Zygons is that it’s not available on DVD yet and so anyone who wants to see it has to either have a VHS released in 1988, a limited reprint issued in 1999 or a recording off UK Gold. Or – and let’s be brutally honest about it – has downloaded it off the internet.

It’s incredible to think such a famous and well-known story has yet to be released on an already dying format when you consider that the BBC DVD range of Doctor Who stories started in 1999, but there you go.

Doctor Who – Terror of the Zygons Review: What’s This One About?

The Dr Who Production Team decide to do a ‘Green Death’ to Scotland, in a story about Body-Snatching Aliens living in a space ship under Loch Ness.

It’s also the last story to feature The Brigadier for many years, and his last in active service, which means this is – for all intents and purposes – the real end to the UNIT era, despite a couple of UNIT-lite stories later on in this season.

Thoughts – Say Hello To Our Old Friend Racism

I’m Scottish.

So while any English, American, Canadian, Australian or A.N. Other viewer might watch the Terror of the Zygons and think that an opening line about sending across more Haggis to an oil rig is par for the course with us Scots, it just makes me sigh.

The Zygon costumes really are a triumph considering the Doctor Who budget

Yes, Terror of the Zygons plays up to the basic English stereotype of Highland Scots in the same way as the Green Death insulted the Welsh.

In fairness, it’s not half as bad and doesn’t make fun of us as much as it did them, but it’s still ridiculous.

I’ll admit that the type of characters they parody do exist in the far north of Scotland, but to have the bagpiping teuchter (look it up) with second sight running the pub, the dour miserly Laird and a bloke in a kilt called ‘The Caber’ all within the same story is a little bit much. And that’s not even mentioning the way Sarah has a sort of condescending laugh at all things Scottish throughout. Typical Londoner.

Then again, the BBC have been equally racist against certain counties in England throughout the history of Dr Who, so maybe we got off quite lightly. As I say, the level of racism in the Green Death is a lot worse.

And The Story?

But what the story itself? Is it any good?

Well yes, it’s alright, but much like Genesis of the Daleks I don’t think it’s as good as people *think* it is.

For example, you’ve got the Zygons, who are most people’s pick for a character that should come back to the show.

I like the Zygons in that their gimmick is eye-catching and their outfits are tremendously good, but did you notice how little they actually did?

They can change their shape to look like a human who they have the bodyprint for, you have to wonder what the point of that super power actually is? Why did they bother to do it? What purpose does it actually serve?

If you’ve seen the story, take a moment to think about what their plan too. They want to turn Earth into a planet habitable for a refugee fleet of their own race, and they intend to do it by – I think-  hijacking an Energy Conference in London using what people have mistaken to be the Loch Ness Monster.

And in all fairness, this spaceship model looks good too

So what part of their plan involved pretending to be the Nurse or the Caber? What point did it serve other than to give them an excuse to shoot Harry or terrorise Sarah? None. All it does is give thy Zygons something to do, because other than that all they do do is stand around.

Which is why they probably haven’t been brought back. All style (and what style it is by the way; I credited the Lynx costume as being the best up until that point, but these outfits are even better) and no substance.

And from a storyline point of view, why draw attention to themselves in the first place by having the Skaracen destroy all those rigs? If they’d only kept themselves hidden until they were actually ready to advance their plans, then they would possibly have been more successful.

It’s interesting that Revenge of the Cybermen gets panned for having a dodgy plot, but at least that plot has some direction. This story – once you scratch beyond the surface of a strong first episode – feels very lightweight and reliant upon shocks.

What’s even more interesting is how similar it is to the Invasion of the Dinosaurs – a story that gets panned by most.

Apart from the obvious similarities with dodgy puppets (The Skaracen is worse than *most* of the Dinosaurs on display in that story), there’s also a scene here where Sarah finds her way into the Zygon base which is just like the scene where she finds the underground bunker in that one.

And yet this one is Top 20 material.

Sorry, I just don’t get it.

I don’t want to come off too critical though; there’s still a fair amount to enjoy.

For example, apart from the Zygons looking good, they are also acted well, especially by John Woodnut. Indeed, the acting in general is of a high standard with the Director bringing in another strong guest cast.

It sounds good too, not just with atmospheric incidental music that must be considered unique, but with the sounds the Zygons make when attacking people; it really does come off as the sort of thing that would scare kids. And you can’t argue with the sets either.

Those are general points though. Trying to be specifically praiseworthy is harder to do, because this story just isn’t up to that much.

Random Observations

  • So it’s the end of the Brigadier, and while he gets a rather bland exit – written as it was not knowing this would be his final performance as the UNIT chief – he at least manages to finally come up against an alien that is vulnerable to bullets.

    But this? Come on. I’d expect better in The Goodies

  • Which incidentally is another reason why the Zygons are a bit crap.
  • We’re also bidding farewell to Harry as a regular companion, which is a pity because he worked really well as part of that trio. Having thee companions worked well, except ironically in Genesis of the Daleks, which is the one that gets praised the most. I would have liked to see Ian Marter kept on, and from what I understand, Peter Hinchcliffe has since said he feels it was a mistake to get rid of him when he did.
  • While by this point Liz Sladen has become a very solid companion, she has changed a fair bit since her debut, and she seems to be far more of a generic ‘Dr Who Girl’ now, which happens to them all I suppose. But she’s very good, and works well alongside Tom Baker.
  • One thing I don’t like about her acting though is her “Doctor…I…can’t…(insert verb here)” party-piece. Bugs the hell out of me.
  • And on that note, and from that very scene, how is that she’s suddenly able to stay alive in a room without oxygen, just because of some spell the Doctor put on her?
  • And why did the Zygon not just kill them both rather than putting them in an unnceccessarily complicated situation from which they can easily be rescued?
  • And on another note entirely, why was Broton just driving around in his car when the Doctor flagged him down at the start? And why did he stop to give them a lift?
  • And one last nonsensical thing…Surely the first place Benton would look for a bug would be in the stag’s head? Has he never seen a spy movie?
  • You’ll be expecting me to come up with a line about ‘Organic Crystallography’, but the line I much prefer is “The Plan Has Not Changed”. I don’t know what it is about it, but it’s ingrained into my psyche now to the point where nobody can talk to me or talk on TV about plans changing without me saying – in my best Broton voice – “The Plan Has Not Changed” to myself out of instinct. Is that normal?
  • For someone usually so adverse to ending life, the Doctor was uncharacteristically quick to murder those Zygons in cold blood. What a bastard!
  • And ok, I’ll ask the obvious question…why did Sarah, Harry and the Brigadier come all the way back up to Scotland to collect the TARDIS when none of them had any plans to go back to London in it? Waste of time and no doubt of taxpayers money. For shame.

Doctor Who – Terror of the Zygons: Final Thoughts

The popularity of the Zygons as a ‘baddie’ and of this story as a whole is one based on look rather than action.

Dare I say it, but if this story took place in Jon Pertwee’s final season with slightly worse costumes for the villains then I bet it would be considered ‘lazy’ in the same way as most of the rest of the season was.

But this takes place in the Hinchliffe era, with Tom Baker in the lead role, so it gets brownie points for it.

It’s ok, but there are so many stories that make more sense and are generally better.

Top 20? I really don’t think so.

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5 Responses to Doctor Who – Terror of the Zygons Review (or ‘The Brigadier Finally Faces A Foe He Can Shoot Dead With A Pistol’)

  1. Zaphod says:

    I’m a Londoner, and I don’t laught at all things Scottish…
    I never have.
    Anyway, how is everything? Still busy?
    It’s good to read your reviews even when I don’t agree with everything you write about Doctor Who.

  2. Eugene says:

    What Zaphod says. I love Zygons to bits, and the delayed DVD release irks me. However, two things piss me off about Sarah – how she bosses the UNIT troops about (as opposed to being escorted from the area at gunpoint) and when she puts on a comedy Scottish accent. I bet that’d go down a storm in most Glasgow pubs.
    Great review as usual.

  3. Buncheman says:

    Just watched this one again for the first time since it ran on NYC television in 1979. Once again your assessment is dead-on, especially when noting that it’s a case of style over substance. That said, it’s a decent story and fun to sit through, with the Zygon suits being the true saving grace. I’d even go so far as to rank “Terror of the Zygons” as one of the very best-looking stories from the show’s golden era. And from what I’ve gathered when discussing it with fellow Stateside fans of old school Who, the Zygons are very popular as a threat — like I said, they look great — but I’ll take the Silurians over them any day.

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