Entertainment Magazine

Review #3193: Classic Doctor Who: “Terror of the Zygons”

Posted on the 20 December 2011 by Entil2001 @criticalmyth

Contributor: John Keegan

Written by Robert Banks Stewert
Directed by Douglas Camfield

Despite this being the first of the serials for Season 13, the story is still a holdover from the previous era’s script solicitation pile. It certainly goes a long way towards explaining why UNIT would be involved, given how the series had firmly taken a different direction for most of Season 12. On the other hand, if the writers knew that it was going to be Harry Sullivan’s final regular appearance, it makes sense that UNIT, his actual employer, would be around to take him back.

Review #3193: Classic Doctor Who: “Terror of the Zygons”

Of course, by this point, UNIT had long since seen the passing of its glory days, and the Brigadier had gone from a sound military commander to a silly comic foil. Thankfully, this is a step back towards a more amenable version of the Brigadier, even if he still makes some questionable calls throughout the story. But it’s clear that the Brigadier knows the Doctor well enough to appeal to his compassion, when all else fails.

Still, while the story initially has promise, and there are elements that work fairly well, there are some major issues with the plot. The Zygons are apparently a vanguard scouting force preparing Earth for eventual invasion. They use a rather large aquatic creature as their minion: a creature that may very well be the Loch Ness Monster. The creature attacks oil rigs first, which is how UNIT (and thus, the Doctor) get involved. It is only later, during the climax of the story, that the creature prepares to attach London, as the Zygons initiate their plan to strike the world with terror.

Two problems emerge. First, the attacks on the oil rigs make little to no sense. The goal isn’t to sabotage oil production or otherwise disrupt world energy distribution (something that would have been highly topical during the mid-1970s, when this was written). Instead, it’s a test case for using Nessie as a destructive weapon. All the Zygons do is highlight the fact that something unusual is happening, which makes it possible for the Doctor to intervene before millions are killed.

Of course, since the goal of the Zygons is to paralyze the world with terror before their own invasion forces arrive, there are two problems. First, while Nessie is supposed to be rather impressive and terrifying (ignore the wonky stop-motion effects), there’s no reason to think that a fairly well-organized air strike wouldn’t take her down. Also, the rest of the world might be terrified to think of what London is enduring (up until the aforementioned air strike), they would likely be rallying to help defeat the problem, not cower from it.

There’s also the small matter of the impending invasion. It’s fairly clear from the context of the episode that the Zygons in the story are effectively cut off and isolated, and have been around long enough in seclusion to preclude any thought of a swift invasion. So really, they are launching an attack with effectively no reasonable expectation of a follow-up. It doesn’t make a damn bit of sense.

It’s too bad, because as shape-shifting aliens with organic technology go, the Zygons rank rather well. The rubber-suit costumes are actually reasonable, and it’s chilling how they manage to replace certain people along the way (just don’t give too much thought as to why they would do so). The Doctor, Sarah Jane, and Harry all remain top-notch. It’s just a shame that this very flawed story turned out to be the last regular appearance for Harry Sullivan; it would have been interesting to see where they might have taken the character.

Writing: 1/2
Acting: 2/2
Direction: 2/2
Style: 1/4

Final Rating: 6/10

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