Let Zygons Be Zygons

Review of Terror of the Zygons (#80)
DVD Release Date: 07 Oct 13
Original Air Date: 30 Aug - 20 Sep 1975
Doctor/Companion: Four, Sarah Jane Smith, Harry Sullivan
Stars: Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen, Ian Marter
Preceding Story: Revenge of the Cybermen (Four, Sarah Jane, Harry)
Succeeding Story: Planet of Evil (Four, Sarah Jane)

(Why yes, I have been waiting years to use that obvious, overdone title. Why do you ask?)

With all the recent hullabaloo surrounding the recovery of The Enemy of the World and The Web of Fear, October's otherwise noteworthy DVD release kind of got lost in the shuffle. Terror of the Zygons is widely regarded as one of the best stories of the pre-Hiatus era, yet for whatever reason (rumor has it, it's because someone was being pissy to someone else who'd mentioned it was his favorite), it got shunted to the end of the release schedule.

Since I started my fandom well into the age of the DVD, I've never purchased a VHS copy of any Who story. Therefore, Zygons has the distinction of being the absolute last Fourth Doctor story (as well as the last complete story of the entire show) I ever saw—on this release. Hell, I even saw Shada before Zygons; that should give you an idea how overdue having this DVD out feels to me.

Needless to say, I'd heard a lot of hype. That always makes me nervous: will it live up to all these high expectations? As a jaded forty-something, will the magic still be there? Luckily, this time I had some real experts to help me test those waters.

For the first time ever, my seven-year-old daughter H sat and watched an entire story with me; her twin sister V came in partway through Part Two. Seeing Doctor Who through three fresh sets of eyes—one new to this story and two new to the entire show, save a couple minutes here and there—was a fabulous experience.

One of the things that made the story enjoyable for me personally was the nods to the location. I love the Doctor's Tam o'Shanter (while Harry wears his scarf), the Brigadier's kilt (love a man in a kilt), and the pipes (which were in tune, thank everything holy!). The whole idea of Nessie being an alien-controlled cyborg is absolutely bonkers, and thus awesome. Then there's the really unique look of both the Zygons themselves (despite being quite rubbery) and of their organic ship (very nicely done). Those made me smile.

I'll also admit I loved the way they Zygons duplicate various humans as they see fit. (Didn't Ian Marter do creepy eyes well? Yikes!) There were so many lovely little moments—a cut from Harry screaming "NO!" to the Doctor dismissing someone on the phone with a "No, no..." or the Doctor displaying a hypnotic power over Sarah Jane or the Scooby-esque nigh-deserted castle with a secret passage built into the library—that I was pretty thoroughly engaged most of the way through (I say "most" because it felt rather like a Beethoven symphony at the end, going on and on...).

Watching the girls watch, though, was entertainment on an entirely different level.

I expected lots of questions about who was who, and what was going on. Aside from when she first joined me about 10 seconds in, though, H mostly just took things as they came. Much of the humor was lost, but boy did the scary parts hit home. When "Harry" was climbing into the hayloft, and Sarah Jane was looking for him, there were questions about what was happening, but mostly it was tense cries of "Momma! Momma!" from H and similar ones for our new, mellow, and sturdy dog from V. Here is the true experience of watching Doctor Who—one that I'll sadly never have.

At seven, my girls are savvy enough to understand some of the inherent dangers in the characters' actions, too. "No. No!" one hollers as Sarah Jane slips past the first sliding door within the ship. "Doctor!" she shouts in horror at the cliffhanger as the Zygons seal the ship door, with him on board. With one girl glued to me, and the other to the dog, I wasn't sure whether or not they'd come out of the experience scarred for life or nascent fans.

But we talked after, and they both agreed that though it was kind of scary, it was a good story. When I asked what their favorite part was, they were less forthcoming. Changing tacks, I asked about anything they liked; did they like any of the characters? V piped right up with a vote for Sarah Jane. This is a good sign; there may be some Sarah Jane Adventures in our future, and more Who isn't out of the question. The Zygons have done their work!

DVD Extras (highlights)
Scotch Mist in Sussex
I always love it when a making of documentary gives us something a little different. Overall this one has much of the usual fare: how the idea came about, topical issues of the time, director Camfield's style, design considerations, remembering the guest cast, and so on. But one tiny little snippet really made it for me: the reading. These days it's pretty common to see clips from a cast script reading (it is, for example, where we got some of the first photos of Matt Smith and David Tennant together leading up to the anniversary special). I don't believe I'd ever seen similar footage for the pre-Hiatus era before this. There's no sound, as it's background for voiceover commentary, but I found it to be a delightful little Easter egg nonetheless.

The UNIT Family—Part Three
Ending a series that began on Inferno and continued on Day of the Daleks, this piece begins with a "previously on" montage, and then goes into Pertwee's final season. It covers the changeover to a new Doctor and the way UNIT eventually faded away, ending with discussion of the Brigadier's many returns.

Doctor Who Stories—Tom Baker
As with the rest of this series, clips from the 2003 interviews used for the fortieth anniversary documentary The Story of Doctor Who comprise this extra. The man himself talks about the producers, his way of getting through little problems on set, K9, jelly babies, villains, Sarah Jane, Daleks, Davros, the TARDIS, the theme music, several individual stories, and why he thinks the show has endured. My absolute favorite bit was his comments about the future, as the revival of the show had just been announced at the time:

"It may be that in the future, if they ever remake Doctor Who, they might suddenly discover that there's someone who looks like an old Doctor Who who'd be a very good villain in it. And when they do discover that, they'll find that I'll be waiting." If only...

Doctor Who Stories—Elisabeth Sladen
For Lis's installment, the topics include how she first met Tom and built a rapport with him, vagaries of filming, doing stunts, the Daleks, K9, a few specific stories, thoughts on the upcoming relaunch, her decision to leave the show, and how her success in the role followed her. Here, my favorite snippet was her comment on how she just couldn't get past the Cybermen's "silver Wellingtons."

While I'm not sure I'd go so far as to rank Terror of the Zygons as the best of all time (something I seem to be shying from a lot lately...), most of it was really good. It's definitely great fun and the creatures themselves are a triumph, especially for the rubber-suited times (can't wait to see what they look like when they come back!). Most importantly, it may have given me just the "in" I needed to get my girls interested in this silly hobby of mine. For that, I'll be forever grateful.


EDIT: Since the post went up (about 12 hours ago), I realized I've been remiss. One of the most notable extras is one which I missed in my haste to complete my viewing and write-up: the Director's Cut of Part One. (In my defense, it was the first thing listed on the back of the box, and since that's where the information on the commentary track—which I always skip—usually goes, I didn't initially notice it.)

In the Director's Cut, we are treated to an extra scene when our heroes first arrive. I believe it was originally cut for time, but it's a lovely little moment among the three lead characters, and explains how Harry and Sarah Jane end up wearing the Doctor's scarf and hat, respectively.

Most importantly, though, is the fact that this snippet had only been in black and white. Therefore, we once again have the fabulous Stuart Humphryes (aka Babelcolour) to thank for seeing it as presented here. I'll bet someone who didn't know it had been colorized could never have guessed. Cheers, Babelcolor!

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