Timestamp #80: Terror of the Zygons

Doctor Who: Terror of the Zygons
(4 episodes, s13e01-e04, 1975)

Timestamp 080 Terror of the Zygons

 

A peaceful looking oil rig collapses into the ocean after a high-pitched chirping echoes throughout the structure. Welcome to Season 13 and the debut of the Zygons.

After receiving the emergency call from the Brigadier, the Doctor and his companions are back on Earth and walking through the countryside. The Doctor has embraced the Scottish theme of this story with a (unnamed) Tartan scarf and matching Tam O’Shanter hat, while his companions have adopted the typical hat and scarf. They hitch a ride to town with the Duke of Forgill, a local landowner who is upset about Hibernian Oil’s employees trespassing on his land, and meet up with the Brigadier and his Clan Stewart kilt.

You know, I’ve kind of missed him.

The Doctor is upset that he has been called back for a simple oil problem, hardly an emergency in his book, but agrees to help nonetheless. Harry goes to examine the injured rig crew in sickbay, Sarah Jane goes to interview the locals, and the Doctor joins the Brigadier to investigate the oil company. As Sarah Jane interviews Angus, the inn’s landlord, a Zygon eavesdrops on their conversation through an unknown bug. Angus thinks the Tulloch Moor is haunted, but Sarah Jane is not convinced.

While this is their first appearance in the franchise, I have seen the Zygons before in the new series. They really haven’t changed much over the years.

A survivor named Munro stumbles out of the ocean and Harry finds him. Caber, the Duke’s right-hand man, inexplicably shoots Munro and grazes Harry. The Doctor and Sarah Jane visit Harry in sickbay wher the Brigadier informs them of another oil rig collapse — the Zygons summoned a creature from the deep to destroy it — and the Doctor accompanies him as Sarah Jane tends to Harry. The Doctor examines part of the rig’s wreckage and discovers the imprint of a giant tooth.

Sister Lamont, the nurse who is attending to Harry is creepy. At first I thought she was a Ratched, but instead she’s a Zygon who attacks both companions. When the Doctor (who was on the phone with Sarah Jane when the Zygon struck) arrives the hospital, they companions are missing. The Doctor finds Sarah Jane in a decompression chamber and is trapped inside when he attempts to rescue her. He hypnotizes Sarah Jane to slow her breathing, then places himself into a trance as well. Meanwhile, Harry is taken to the Zygon ship, which is deep under the ocean. They crashed on Earth centuries before and waited for rescue, but their world was destroyed. The creature, a cyborg called a Skarasen, is their weapon and means of survival. If it dies, they die.

The Brigadier and his team are knocked out with poison gas, and the Doctor and Sarah Jane are rescued by Warrant Officer Benton. The trance was something he learned from a Tibetan monk. They return to the inn and discover that the same nerve gas that affected the Brigadier’s team also incapacitated the entire village. The Doctor receives a signal device, which controls the Skarasen, and the Zygons are upset by the turn of events. The take Harry to the chamber to become the pattern for one of the Zygon invaders.

The Brigadier’s team recovers and discovers one of the UNIT patrol soldiers who was killed by the creature. The Doctor goes to investigate and leaves Sarah Jane at the inn, much to the Zygon’s delight. Harry’s doppelgänger arrives, steals the device, and runs, leading Sarah Jane and some troops on a chase. She finds him in a barn, and he attacks her, but he falls on his pitchfork and reverts into Zygon form before dying. The Zygons disperse the corpse before Sarah Jane brings UNIT to see it.

Sarah Jane deduces that the Zygons are spying on UNIT, and the Zygons send the Skarasen to destroy them. The Doctor lures the beast away in a truck as the Brigadier tracks the signal’s origin. The Skarasen chases the Doctor, who has to run after the truck runs out of fuel and the tracker attaches itself to his hand. The Brigadier traces the signal to Loch Ness.

Ah, of course: Nessie is an alien cyborg.

Harry bursts into the control room and starts mashing buttons on the console, which conveniently results in the tracker falling off the Doctor’s hand. In a terrible special effects sequence, the Skarasen crushes the tracker, which stops the signal and makes the Zygons assume that the Doctor is dead. Meanwhile, Benton is searching the inn for bugs, and we figure out that the Duke’s prized deer head trophy is the transmitter.

After finding out where the signal came from, the Doctor asks Sarah Jane and the Brigadier to take him to the Duke’s castle. The Duke does not believe their tale, and he refuses to allow UNIT to use depth charges in the loch. Back at the inn, Angus discovers the deer head transmitter, and the nurse goes full Zygon on him and removes the eye. Benton and his team give chase into the woods, shooting at the Zygon as it flees, and report to the Brigadier that they have it cornered. The Doctor and the Brigadier leave Sarah Jane to investigate the Duke’s library as they rendezvous with Benton. The Zygon resumes its form as Sister Lamont, knocks out a UNIT soldier, and escapes. The Doctor discovers the missing eye and concludes that the Duke is a Zygon agent.

At the Duke’s castle, Sarah Jane discovers a hidden passageway behind the bookshelf and follows it straight to the Zygon ship. Shortly afterward, the Duke finds out about her intrusion. He and Caber help the injured Sister Lamont doppelgänger back to the ship, and the Duke orders Caber to find and destroy Sarah Jane.

Sarah Jane rescues Harry and they return to the Doctor and the Brigadier. The Doctor heads to the ship but is intercepted by Zygons and held hostage. The Zygons tell the companions that the oil rigs were only the prelude to the “big event”. UNIT begins shelling the loch and the Zygon ship surfaces and flies away. The Brigadier prepares to follow, but the companions suggest searching the castle for clues. Sarah Jane discovers that the Duke is the President of the Scottish Energy Commission, but Harry dismisses the information and they join the Brigadier for a trip back to London.

The Zygon ship lands at a disused quarry, but UNIT cannot track it due to a jamming signal. Broton, the Zygon leader and Duke doppelgänger, tells the Doctor that a refugee fleet is on its way to Earth, but in the intervening centuries, the planet must be rebuilt to suit them. After Broton leaves, the Doctor rigs some of the technology in his cell, which electrocutes him but broadcasts a tracking signal to UNIT. The Zygons leave the Doctor for dead, but he comes to, infiltrates the body print center, and frees the humans being held there. He then blows up the ship using the self-destruct mechanism, which is a bit bloodthirsty, but he did try negotiating first.

Broton, having left moments before, goes to place a tracker on the target so Skarasen can destroy it. The Brigadier and the companions figure out that the International Energy Conference is the target, and that the Broton can get in using the Duke’s credentials. They all reconvene there, and the Doctor confronts the Zygon. Sarah Jane summons the Brigadier, who shoots and kills Broton.

Hey, firearms finally worked!

The Doctor takes the tracker and rushes outside where he feeds it to the Skarasen. The creature returns to the river and swims back to Loch Ness, and thus we have the legend. The team returns to the TARDIS near the loch, and the Doctor offers them all a ride home, but only Sarah Jane joins him with one proviso: They are to return straight to London.

Yeah, right.

We finally say goodbye to Harry. I can’t say that I’ll miss him, but I can say that he’ll join the ranks of Steven Taylor as one of my least favorite companions.

As far as the story goes, it’s lackluster and all over the map. It’s an unfortunate case of style over substance: The Zygons and their ship were well done for the era, and the story plays on the prevalent oil-politics in the news, but it also heavily leans on Scottish stereotypes to drive the story, and I had a hard time getting around them. From the very first line haggis-laden line of the first episode, the story jumps from kilts to beards to bagpipes to second sight to the Loch Ness Monster, and it finishes on a joke about stingy Scotsmen.

Don’t get me wrong: It’s nice to visit Scotland again, but this doesn’t come close to the spirit of Jamie McCrimmon. It was a fun, but ultimately routine and forgettable romp.

 

Rating: 3/5 – “Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow.”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Planet of Evil

 

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

 

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11 thoughts on “Timestamp #80: Terror of the Zygons

  1. I never thought Terror of the Zygons was all that special either, and I think that a large part of that is because Hinchcliffe/Holmes felt obligated to do at least a few more UNIT stories while they transitioned out, but having no actual desire to do them.

    This kind of starts the trend of the next few seasons of mining old movies for ideas for stories with this one being Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Technically, Robot started this with its King Kong nods).

    I see that you were put off by the Scottish stereotypes, but found it amusing that you adopt Harry referring to a hospital as the “sick bay” because he’s in the navy and therefore all medical areas are a “sick bay”. It seemed a bit over the top to me as he’s smart enough to know that this adventure has nothing to do with the navy.

    Ah well, you’re getting close to Pyramids of Mars, I hope that you enjoy the ride.

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