Published on September 29th, 2013 | by Elton Townend Jones7
Terror of the Zygons DVD Review
If, like me, you have all of Doctor Who at your fingertips, you’re probably aware that it’s easy to take segments of this amazing body of work for granted. In the case of Terror of the Zygons, I probably never will.
I started watching Doctor Who in February 1974. I was three years old. Pulled in by the electric thrill of Daleks in sandpits and giant metal snake things setting them on fire, I was hooked for life. From here I flinched at giant spiders, recoiled from green creepy stuff, and felt a visceral, brutal horror when faced with gas-masks in the trenches of Skaro. By the time Broton, warlord of the Zygons peered out of the telly at me, hissing sibilantly and alarming the Doctor and my other TV friends with his sucker-tipped fingers, I was approaching five – and the stories I was watching were making more and more sense to me. Watching Terror of the Zygons, I was, frankly, terrified. If the sofa hadn’t been backed against a wall, I’d have been behind it. This really was my first encounter with tea-time terror for tots…
For those who don’t know – and if you don’t, then it makes no sense for me to spoil all of it here – Terror of the Zygons sees the Doctor (Tom Baker), Sarah (Elisabeth Sladen) and Harry (Ian Marter) return to Earth (Scotland this time – although really it’s filmed in Sussex) to get to the bottom of who or what has been attacking off-shore oil installations somewhere in the vicinity of Loch Ness… What follows is a creepy and intimate tale of strange goings-on in a Scots village, behind which lurk one of Doctor Who’s most imaginatively realised ‘monsters’, the Zygons (and their less-well realised giant monster, the Skarasen; but hey, it does the job).
This Robert Banks Stewart tale opened Tom Baker’s second season (although it was planned to close his first), and is, essentially, the last true UNIT tale. Ian Marter and John Levene (Benton) will return mid-season in The Android Invasion, but here it’s time to say a sudden and unexpected farewell UNIT’s heart and soul, Nicholas Courtney (the Brigadier). It’ll be almost a decade before we see him again, turning up several times in that hyper-real fan-fest we’ve come to know as ‘the 1980s’ (but only because William Russell wasn’t available. That’s the weird thing with Courtney; his career only seems to happen because first choices are never available…).
It could be argued that under Barry Letts, say, and with a different costume designer, Zygons might be average fare – but this is perfect Philip Hinchcliffe (on Jon Pertwee’s manor, if you will). Some stories stay in the memory because the writing’s good, but others – and Zygons is a case in point –stay because they look and sound astonishing. From Douglas Camfield’s atmospheric direction to Geoffrey Burgon’s haunting music, this is a delicious slice of Robert Holmes Gothic. But what really makes this a special story is the thrilling alliance of John Friedlander and James Acheson in designing the eponymous villains. Ably supported by production design and lighting (Nigel Curzon and John Dixon), and sibilant vocal mannerisms best displayed by Who legend, the late John Woodnutt (Broton), the Zygons are astounding to look at. There’s been nothing quite like these half-embryo/half-octopoid creatures before or since and to cap it all, they’re orange! They’re bloody ORANGE! What a triumph they are. If only the new ones looked anywhere near as good…
If you’ve been waiting what feels like ages to own this one on DVD, you won’t be disappointed with this 2-disc set. Of most interest to hard-core fans will be the option to view The Director’s Cut of Part One, which was trimmed prior to transmission for timing reasons. It’s only a tiny scene that’s been restored, but it’s a lovely one and features ‘new’ Ian Marter, which can’t be bad. The missing footage (some of which only existed in monochrome) has been brilliantly and effectively restored by Peter Crocker and colourised by fan favourite Stuart Humphryes – alias Babel Colour) – who recently revived the chromatically impaired The Mind of Evil.
Humphryes tells me that the restored footage originated from a cutting copy, the quality of which was very poor and grainy. On an incredibly tight timescale, Humphryes was unable to focus too much on colourising all 300 frames and so employed some short cuts, such as using flat colour washes on the companions’ clothing and the TARDIS – not a course of action he would normally opt for.
Scotch Mist in Sussex is a 30-minute ‘making-of’ documentary that wonderfully draws on archive footage of real-life attempts to catch a glimpse of Nessie. Banks Stewart talks of the story in terms of The Avengers and Hinchcliffe offers a marvellous elegy for late Production Assistant Edwina Craze. Woodnutt appears in what looks like old Myth Makers footage offering a ‘hero theory’ of villainy, while that uber-eccentric oddball John Levene (highly ubiquitous on this release) offers thoughts on breast-fondling scenes and the size of Tom Baker’s ego.
Remembering Douglas Camfield is a 30-minute retrospective of the late director (and Christopher Walken lookalike) which includes his PA work on An Unearthly Child, Celia Imrie, an interview with Wogan on the set of Beau Geste, and a lovely clip of Katy Manning in his ‘Big Elephant’ episode of Hinchcliffe’s post-Who series, Target.
Other extras include The UNIT Family Part Three (with Terrance Dicks, Richard Franklin and Nicholas Courtney) and two Doctor Who Stories featuring Tom Baker and Lis Sladen. Recorded in 2003 – just after the return of Doctor Who was announced – the latter beautifully has Sladen discuss her enthusiasm and hopes for its return, as footage from 2006’s School Reunion plays alongside. It was while watching this that I only just realised she’s carrying her The Sontaran Experiment sou’wester with her when she leaves in The Hand of Fear. This wet weather item also appears in the wonderful 1977 Merry-Go-Round programme made for schools in which Sladen visits a working oil rig (this appropriate curio has an amazing radiophonic theme tune, too). Also included are: an ‘on location’ interview with Tom Baker from South Today (the inexperienced reticence of the more well-known Wookee Hole clip gradually warms up to discuss ‘bachelor benders’), a couple of pertinent Easter Eggs (one for fans of restoration, one for fans of Disney), and a trailer for the forthcoming release of The Moonbase – not a cell of animation in sight, though…
Released on Monday, September 30th, Terror of the Zygons is a genuine Doctor Who classic and is available for just £13.75 from Amazon.