Doctor Who – Terror of the Zygons

Doctor Who Story 080 – Terror of the Zygons

A Zygon looking menacing. But that's what you would expect from a Zygon.
Plotting terror. (Source: Copyright 1975 by BBC.)

Who Wrote It: Robert Banks Stewart

What’s It About: Answering a summons by the Brigadier, The Doctor, Sarah, and Harry return to Earth to find UNIT investigating the destruction of oil rigs in Scotland—destruction caused by something with gigantic teeth.

The first time I saw Terror of the Zygons it was with a roommate who thought the Zygons looked ridiculous. And while I see where he is coming from, the concept behind the Zygons is truly alien. Why shouldn’t they look the way they do? Granted, most American sci-fi on television portrays humanoid aliens. They have ridges on their foreheads or have strange markings on the skin. This is often done for budgetary reasons or because portraying something that looks less human would be difficult from a technical aspect. When aliens don’t look like humans, they tend to be balls of light or some simple visual effect. But Doctor Who has never been concerned with such things. The show will attempt to imagine the alien, even if it is an utter failure. The Zygons aren’t a failure, but I think they look like one due to the human-centric conditioning of other science fiction shows. The Zygons are truly other; their ship is virtually incomprehensible. Even The Doctor has difficulty evaluating the ship’s interior. Truly, we haven’t seen anything this alien since The Claws of Axos.

This story is a masterwork in tone. While the stories in season 12 were thematically darker, Terror of the Zygons adds darkness to the tone. This is probably the first, full-on gothic story of the Hinchcliffe era. It takes place on the moors of Scotland. It has quite a bit of fog. We even get to visit an old manor with secret passages hidden behind bookcases. Add to this shape-shifting aliens, the Loch Ness monster, and the excellent direction of Douglas Camfield, and you have one of the strongest stories of the Tom Baker era.

My Rating: 4.5/5

5 thoughts on “Doctor Who – Terror of the Zygons

  1. I have always felt the Zygons were one of the most successfully realized monsters ever seen on Doctor Who. It’s amazed me that they haven’t ever been brought back in any subsequent stories, although they did get name-checked in “The Power of Three,” plus appearances in the novels, comic books, and audio plays. But I would certainly enjoy having them make a full-fledged return.

    In any case, this is a great story, one of my all-time favorites. This is, as you say, when Hinchcliffe & Holmes’ tenure spearheading the show really begins in earnest (although I do imagine that under their helm the previous year’s Genesis of the Daleks did turn out quite differently, and much more gritty, than if Letts & Dicks had been the ones to bring it to the screen). Having Camfield return to direct really gave the story palpable atmosphere. Also, I think his presence helped insure that the Brigadier, after many appearances in the last few years as a bumbling shadow of his former self, had a dignified departure from the series.

    So, anyway, I am very much waiting for this to finally come out on DVD.

    1. Yeah, this one has been a long time coming on DVD.

      Another thing that is impressive is how the Zygons and their ship look to be from the same culture. The production team obviously put a lot of thought in the realization of the Zygons.

      I’m glad Camfield directed the last full appearance of UNIT (well, with the Brig and Benton). It is fitting since he directed UNIT’s debut.

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