Stupid Things About “Terror of the Zygons”
(And 17 Cool Ones)
(But we're not telling you which is which)
(We're expecting you to work that out for yourselves)
By Alan Stevens and Fiona Moore
Originally published in Celestial Toyroom Issue 389
1. Tom Baker in this story is at his most alien and distant. Ever.
2. Broton’s really taken to the role of the Duke of Forgill, having learned how to drive a Range Rover and pick up hitchhikers.
3. He’s also made a study of human humour and idiom, calling Huckle “Hickle” and “Heckle”, and knowing the expression “roughnecks,” as well as many other things you wouldn’t expect an alien to know (what Highland Games are, for a start).
4. Despite being set in Scotland, the story was filmed nowhere near it, with exteriors mainly done in Ambersham and Storrington. There’s a potential drinking game in spotting all the English architectural and geographical traits in the supposedly Highland village.
5. Blatant Scottish stereotypes in this serial include: bagpiping landlords with the Second Sight, haggis-obsessed roughnecks, silent tweed-wearing ghillies with unnatural strength and the Duke’s assertion that the Brigadier should cash in the Doctor and Sarah’s return tickets and pocket the difference.
6. The Doctor celebrates his arrival in Scotland by donning a Tam O’Shanter and tartan scarf, making one wonder why he doesn’t spend London-based stories dressed as a Pearly King, or for that matter why he doesn’t don a matador’s outfit for “The Two Doctors,” a cork hat for “The Enemy of the World,” or a leek and miner’s helmet for “Boom Town.”
7. The story is beautifully directed, in fact it’s very filmic, with the extensive location footage in particular being impressive. The scene where the radio operator staggers up the beach could be out of any contemporary thriller or horror movie.
8. Pretty much any sequence involving the Zygon spaceship model is also guaranteed to be awesome.
9. As are the lighting and, yes, it has to be said, the monster costumes.
10. Despite this, the Zygon figurine from Character Options seems to be the second worst seller, judging from our admittedly unscientific survey of the local Tesco’s.
11. The Zygons refer to distances in “Earth miles.” This is a fairly common Stupid Thing in SF, but just to highlight how ridiculous it is, picture a driver giving the distance between London and Birmingham as “195 French kilometers.”
12. “How very curious,” the Doctor says about the toothmarks on the piece of wreckage from the Prince Charlie oil rig. He is no doubt referring to the fact that the Skarasen was apparently able to bite into solid concrete without cracking it.
13. The Zygon nurse is rather intelligent in episode 1-2; by attacking Sarah while she’s on the phone to the Doctor, she ensures that he’ll come to the hospital, then by telling him about the decompression chamber, stating that it is kept locked and then leaving him on his own, she ensures he’ll investigate, meaning that she can shut him in it and dispose of him conveniently.
14. However, this is balanced by Broton’s decision to remove the eyes out of the mounted stag head in the pub, despite the fact that Benton has already ruled it out as a surveillance device.
15. He also has the stag’s eyes move when the landlord’s looking right into them, which is a great way of avoiding suspicion.
16. Particularly as this discovery necessitated the killing of the landlord, whose dying screams alerted UNIT to a Zygon’s presence in the area.
17. And, of course, we find out from the landlord that the Duke of Forgill gave the head to the pub; Broton couldn’t have made the connection between the Duke and the Zygons any clearer if he’d hung out a sign saying “Attention all UNIT operatives: the Duke is involved with the Zygons.”
18. Why is it so important to go to all that trouble to remove or conceal a bug, anyway?
19. Everyone in the village is nerve-gassed, but this appears to only affect people in their homes. Those walking the streets are perfectly free to see the monster (as indeed does one UNIT soldier who is later trampled).
20. The Zygons obviously have a bit of an inferiority complex, since they feel compelled to show off to Harry Sullivan how the body print process works.
21. The Zygons don’t just turn themselves into replicas of human beings, but replicas of human beings complete with clothes, and even such accoutrements as a functioning watch and leather gloves.
22. Though they neglect to duplicate the bandage around Harry Sullivan’s head.
23. The transmutation scene from human to Zygon and back is also well done, making good use of the technology of the period.
24. “I underestimated his intelligence, but he underestimated the power of organic crystallography.”
25. The Zygons aren’t only visually based on human embryos, they live off milk, like human infants.
26. Quite how they milk the Skarasen, however, we don’t know. Nor do we want to know.
27. The underwater and stop-motion Skarasen are surprisingly good.
28. The puppetry is considerably less effective, particularly the bits where it emerges from the Thames.
29. The Skarasen apparently follows an underground river from Loch Ness to a small loch near the village, and then has to travel overland, meaning that the villagers may well have been gassed on 5 previous occasions without any of them noticing.
30. The whole story, Loch Ness Monster included, is really very The Avengers. Just substitute “secret agents” for Zygons, and you’re there.
31. It’s also not a million miles from “The Android Invasion.” Just substitute human-impersonating androids for human-impersonating aliens, and you’re there.
32. While the depth-charging of the lake bottom as the spaceship rises appears to have been inspired by the episode of UFO entitled “Reflections in the Water.”
33. Apparently the Duke’s manservant is an expert at tossing the caber. We’ll just let that one sink in for a bit.
34. One of the antique volumes Sarah chooses from the Duke of Forgill’s library has mildew on the pages. Perhaps if the Duke’s manservant spent less time tossing his caber and a bit more time housekeeping, things like this could be avoided.
35. Why do aliens always complain about having to take human form? Q.v. the Rutan in “The Horror of Fang Rock.”
36. So the oil rig destruction which brought UNIT to the area in the first place was only intended as a trial of strength for the Skarasen? You’d think they could have found something less likely to bring down the local authorities.
37. The lead Zygon has a differently shaped head to the others.
38. Yet again, refugees are presented as evil, grasping invaders, as Doctor Who shamelessly courts the Daily Mail political demographic.
39. Lethbridge-Stewart’s phone call clearly indicates that there’s a female Prime Minister at this point in the Doctor Who universe. While some have tried to argue that this can’t be Thatcher, her order that his actions should be “discreet and resolute” sounds decidedly familiar.
40. Nicholas Courtney’s bald spot is unfortunately visible in a number of shots.
41. The Zygon ship interior is also well done, and a nice respite from the usual generic alien spaceship interior, all white walls, computers and blinking lights.
42. When Sarah announces that the Duke is President of the Scottish Energy Commission, the Duke remarks “that’s right, I am!” as if it’s only just occurred to him.
43. The Duke is also Chieftain of the Antlers Association and Trustee of the Golden Haggis Lucky Dip.
44. In the BBC bar, Nicholas Courtney suggested to Philip Hinchcliffe that they kill off the Brigadier. Had Hinchcliffe taken him up on his offer, audiences would have been spared “Mawdryn Undead” and “Battlefield.”
45. The Zygon plan is to attack an energy conference in London with the Loch Ness Monster, and this will somehow make the whole world their bitch. Talk about style over content.
46. Not really relevant to the story, but anybody who thinks carbon reduction measures are a waste of time should check out the contemporary mid-Seventies shot of a soot-blackened Houses of Parliament.
47. The incidental music was composed by Geoffrey Burgan, although the regular composer for Doctor Who in this period was Dudley Simpson.
48. The last time Douglas Camfield had used Dudley Simpson as composer was in 1964, on “Planet of Giants.” According to Simpson, at a subsequent dinner party, Camfield asked Simpson what he earned as a composer of incidental music, and, on hearing the answer, never employed him again.
49. The Doctor uses Pertwee’s key to open the TARDIS.
50. At the end of the story, the Doctor announces that the Skarasen has returned to Loch Ness, “the only home it knows.” No doubt causing huge consternation in the process as it stomps through a Highland village whose inhabitants have not, on this occasion, been rendered senseless by nerve gas.