“Terror of the Zygons” is the first adventure of the thirteenth season of “Doctor Who” classic series, which aired in 1975. It follows “Revenge of the Cybermen” and it’s a four parts adventure written by Robert Banks Stewart and directed by Douglas Camfield.
The Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) receives a call from Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicolas Courtney) so he brings Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) and Harry Sullivan (Ian Marter) back to Earth and precisely to Scotland, near the North Sea. Shortly after their arrival they find out that the call arrived after oil rigs were destroyed and the survivors spotted a giant sea creature.
The Doctor tries to understand the situation and examining some debris from one of the oil rigs destroyed he nitices what look like signs of huge teeth. Soon he and his companions come across the tracks of the Zygon aliens and their Skarasen monster.
This DVD edition is rich in extras, included in a second DVD. There are typical contents such as production subtitles, a gallery of pictures from this adventure, the Radio Times Billings and a promo of the “Doctor Who” DVDs soon to be published.
There are various comments in the adventure episodes alternative audio track by producer Philip Hinchcliffe, writer Robert Banks Stewart, production unit manager George Gallaccio, makeup artist Sylvia James sound effects Dick Mills moderated by Mark Ayres.
Director’s Cut. The option to watch the first episode with a scene cut from the version broadcast on television.
Optional Dolby Digital 5.1 Soundtrack. The option to listen to the audio in a Dolby Digital 5.1 version.
Isolated Score. The option to watch this adventure with the isolated soundtrack.
Scotch Mist in Sussex. A documentary about 31 minutes long on the production of this adventure.
Remembering Douglas Camfield. A documentary about 30 minutes long about director Douglas Camfield. It’s not specifically about “Doctor Who” but it’s a tribute to a director who also directed some adventures of this show.
The UNIT Family – Part Three. A documentary about 26 minutes long that concludes the history of UNIT.
Doctor Who Stories: Tom Baker. An interview of about 23 minutes long recorded in 2003 for “The Story of Doctor Who” in which actor Tom Baker talks about his experience in the show.
Doctor Who Stories: Elisabeth Sladen. An interview about 20 minutes long recorded in 2003 for “The Story of Doctor Who” in which actress Elisabeth Sladen talks about her experience in the show.
Merry-Go-Round: The Fuel Fishers. A documentary about 20 minutes long from 1977 in which Elisabeth Sladen visits an oil rig in the North Sea.
South Today. Tom Baker interviewed during the production of this adventure for the “South Today”.
There are also two “Easter eggs”: one is a short excerpt from “Disney Time”, the other contains the scene cut from the version broadcast on television and also available with the Director’s Cut option.
Robert Holmes became script editor at the start of the eleventh season and was determined to attract new screenwriters. He already knew Robert Banks Stewart, who had experience in the field as a writer and in Australia also as a producer. Being Scottish, he proposed a story based on the Loch Ness monster that was later developed focusing mainly on the Zygon aliens.
Producer Philip Hinchcliffe had already started moving the show away from the formula that had worked well in the Third Doctor era with the regular presence of the UNIT returning to a prevalence of adventures in space. “Terror of the Zygons” represented the final break-up with that past with the last regular presence of UNIT but also marked a farewell for Harry Sullivan, a companion who was created at a time when there was the chance to have another Doctor played by an actor of a certain age and they needed someone for action scenes.
Originally, “Terror of the Zygons” was scheduled to be composed of 6 parts but during the development of the screenplay it was decided to reduce them to 4. It was supposed to be the last adventure of the twelfth season but the scheduling was modified by postponing its transmission as the first adventure of the thirteenth season, whose beginning was anticipated compared to the previous ones. Concerning the reasons of that choice there are discordant explanations: it was attributed to a decrease in audience of the episodes broadcast in spring with the arrival of good weather but also to the will to face the competition of the new TV show “Space: 1999”.
Douglas Camfield had already directed “Doctor Who” serials and had temporarily moved away from his activity only after serious health problems. This new challenge wasn’t easy because the special effects for the Skarasen monster were far from exceptional even by the standards of the classic series and the bad weather created problems during the filming.
Despite the difficulties and limitations deriving from the limited budget, in my opinion Douglas Camfield managed to bring “Terror of the Zygons” to the screen making the most of the available resources. The plot, which isn’t really original, is developed creating suspense by revealing the Zygons, the Skarasen and the various secrets around them to the audience bit by bit. The characters with their many interactions are another strong point, both the regulars and the most important ones created for the occasion.
The decision to reduce the length of “Terror of the Zygons” allowed to keep a good pace for the standards of the classic “Doctor Who” series. The result is that the action scenes are used to the serial’s advantage maintaining a good level of tension, also because the Doctor has his moments of humor but is more serious than usual.
The main problem of “Terror of the Zygons” is in its ending, where the technical limitations for the Skarasen prevent from giving to what are supposed the climax moments an adequate tension. Maybe at the time the special effects were enough but whatching that serial today the quality limits are obvious.
“Terror of the Zygons” is a bit sad because it marked the end of the UNIT era as later only the organization made some appearances in the classic series. On the other hand, “Doctor Who” is marked by changes, which sometimes also means returns so both UNIT and the Zygons came back in the new series, exploiting their potential even better and not only for the better special effects.
The DVD edition of “Terror of the Zygons” is very good with the many extras that can be interesting even when they are not specifically about “Doctor Who”. For this reason, I think it’s a must-have for fans.