Unearthly Times

Tag: zygons
Doctor Who stories featuring the Zygons

Terror of the Zygons


N.B. there might (or might not) be spoilers in this article!

Terror of the Zygons would have been the perfect end to the Fourth Doctor’s first season, if only because it rounds off Harry’s single trip in the TARDIS with his return home.

“I’ve got a nasty feeling there’s a herd of jabberwocks and slithy toves just waiting to leap out on us.”

Harry, Terror of the Zygons: Part One (Director’s Cut)

Still, unlike viewers in 1975 who had to wait three months for this to happen, these days you can pop the DVD in five minutes after finishing Revenge of the Cybermen if you like.

Those who had to wait out late spring and early summer of 1975 were rewarded with a cracking tale of shape-shifting villainy. The Zygons are brilliantly realised, rivalling in design the Draconians for the title of best one-off guest alien in the classic show.

All the performances are excellent, especially when the cast are acting as Zygons in human form. (Harry’s nurse is most chillingly played by Lillias Walker.)

It would be remiss not to praise Douglas Camfield’s superb direction. The chase scene with Sarah and UNIT pursuing the Zygon Harry through the village is particularly impressive. The bit where Zygon Harry comes at Sarah with a pitchfork is genuinely tense and one of the most realistically terrifying things we’ve seen since Susan came at Barbara with a pair of scissors all those years ago.

There’s also a super bit of framing during the phone call between the Doctor and Sarah. The Doctor is in whacking great close-up taking up half the screen with Benton and the Brigadier reacting in the background – now, that’s depth of field! (I’m almost tempted to start waxing about mise-en-scène.)

A special mention should also be given to Geoffrey Burgon’s incidental music, which is some of the best we’ve heard in Doctor Who. The piece named A Landing in Scotland on the Doctor Who – The 50th Anniversary Collection is quite lovely.

“But you can’t rule a world in hiding. You’ve got to come out onto the balcony sometimes and wave a tentacle …”

The Doctor, Terror of the Zygons: Part Four

There are some wonderful moments too: the Doctor crossing his fingers as the Zygons pass him and the other kidnappees hiding in the Zygons’ body-print unit, the crisp exchange between the Doctor and Broton as the Doctor almost glibly dismisses the Zygon invasion plans (‘Isn’t it a bit large for just about six of you?’) and, perhaps most memorably for me, the scene where Benton discovers the Doctor and Sarah in the decompression chamber.

The Doctor’s employment of an almost mystical breathing trick ‘picked up from a Tibetan monk’ feels very much like something Jon Pertwee’s Doctor might have done in one of Robert Sloman and Barry Letts’s tales. (I can’t help but feel the show’s former producer would’ve approved!) It helps that the scene is marvellously played by Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen and John Levene.

Speaking of marvellous players, this is Nicholas Courtney’s last regular appearance as the Brigadier. Whilst he doesn’t get a proper goodbye in the way many companions do (and Terror of the Zygons feels less like a traditional UNIT story than Robot did) it’s good to see him bow out in such a strong story.

Terror of the Zygons is arguably the best season finale we never had. It’s also nice to see, for once, a disused quarry standing in for a disused quarry.


My daughter’s drawings this time became a strange hybrid of Doctor Who and video games: a sort of Super Zygon Bros!


Son of Unearthly Times says …

"Zygons – red shape-shifting sucker things."

"For some reason the Zygons always sound like they're whispering."

"A monster from Loch Ness – I wonder where I've heard that before?"

Son of UT Rating: 8/10