Terror of the Zygons: The Doctor has received a summons from the Brigadier to assist him in Scotland back on Earth. What seems initially to be an investigation into the destruction of oil platforms turns into something more sinister as they encounter shape-changing aliens and their pet, the Loch Ness Monster ...
Out of my top three favourite stories of Doctor Who, two have been out on DVD for a long while - not only that, both have also received the Special Edition treatment (one coming out next week in fact, so you can probably guess what it is!). However, I've had to wait a long time for the other which - barring a miraculous recovery in the future - looks set to be the final complete Doctor Who story to receive the DVD treatment.
Many of my age will say that the Holmes/Hinchcliffe era was when Doctor Who really rocked, with hardly a weak story amongst the duo's sixteen credited story run. The stories were held up as a banner against JNT's latter series, flying in the face of his infamous "memory cheats" comment. Certainly, for me, there was plenty to keep this primary school kid entertained, and Season 13 was right in the thick of it all! Thinking back, my misty memories of this story mainly involve the Loch Ness Monster chasing after the Doctor in the country and in London - this was re-inforced by the striking cover on the first Target novelisation I read a few years later (which I still have, if a little sorry for itself in its well-thumbed state!). I recall strange eyes staring out from the TV whispering terrible things upon the Doctor. Harry goes bad. And people melting into hideous scaly creatures covered in bumps.
Of course a few decades later and I've watched the story many times since, and if that memory has "cheated" a bit, the full glorious tale is there to prove that the story is still every bit as good as I'd remembered - well, perhaps the Loch Ness Monster isn't quite up to my childhood delight (but then the dinosaurs in Pertwee's final season delighted an infant, too!). Being that I haven't plugged the VHS in for a couple of years, it's been a while since I last watched it, so it is great to be able to finally settle down and once again recapture that youthful experience of fright and delight.
With Nicholas Courtney's unavailability for the two UNIT stories of the following production block, coupled with the Holmes and Hinchcliffe masterplan to take the Doctor back into the wilds of time and space, this was to be the last time the regulars would properly interact together before UNIT faded into the background of Who lore (Harry and Benton did return in The Android Invasion but they're almost caricatures in that). Whether they realised this at the time, in Zygons they are all in fine form here, playing off each other to great effect. Courtney's Brigadier continues to be the authority figure of UNIT who still retains a sense of humour, and the camaraderie between him and the Fourth Doctor is as comfortable as it had been with the Third; it would have been nice to have seen that relationship carry on in future stories had it been given the chance (Tom and Nick became firm friends outside of Who). John Levene's Benton is as methodical as ever, and with Mike Yates loss the year before he is once again effectively the Brigadier's right-hand man. Ian Marter continues to give Harry Sullivan a sense of respect and decency, but also gets to play a more villainous version of his character as a Zygon duplicate - the scenes in the barn as "he" attacks Sarah are really quite disturbing because of the couple's friendship over the previous shared adventures, in spite of us knowing he's a "wrong'un" (this scene was cut in Australia and on the original VHS release, though I think that was more down to the physical rather than psychological activity in the scene).
Elisabeth Sladen's Sarah is well on the road to becoming the best Doctor Who sidekick by this point, and her performance in Zygons only serves to increase our love for her. Her pluck, initiative, journalistic instinct and intelligence are all on display, and she gets some of the best lines too - "why do I always get the dirty jobs?" she wonders during episode three, shortly before discovering the Zygons' base and rescuing Harry!
Tom Baker, of course, manages to practically dominate every scene he's in. You cannot help but be drawn in by his authoritative demeanour, charismatic voice, and mesmerising eyes (left over from The Golden Voyage of Sinbad no doubt!), and it is clear how he is considered by many to be the best Doctor by far from his performance here, and throughout the Holmes era.
However, he is given a run for his money by guest star John Woodnutt, playing both yhe acerbic (duplicate and real) Duke of Forgill and the scheming Zygon leader Broton. I didn't realise originally that they are played by the same person, and even with hindsight now it is hard to tell that this is the case, such is Woodnutt's wonderful portrayal of the two personalities of Broton. It's never really made clear how much of the original's personality is instilled during the duplication process, but the polite, gracious Duke chatting with Sarah is such a far cry from a "screaming baddie" it comes as a genuine shock as the realisation of his, ahem, duplicity becomes apparent. Woodnutt also gets to deliver the best line of the story: "“I underestimated his intelligence, but he underestimated the power of organic crystallography!"
Another performance of note is Angus Lennie, who though isn't seen half as much as he should have been in the Inn scenes, is a strong presence whenever he is on screen, not to mention being able to put the creeps into Sarah and us with his tales of mysterious goings-on on Tulloch Moor. He also effectively depicts the Scottish landlord as somebody with a sense of fierce loyalty to his laird, and the realisation of that 'betrayal' with the bug and subsequent horror of meeting a Zygon face-to-face still sends a shiver down the spine.
As the enemy, the Zygons are another triumphant creation by James Acheson, and the finishing touches of make-up by Sylvia James completes the look of one of the most effective alien species in the series. They have always been memorable, and it seems strange to think that they only ever had one proper appearance in Doctor Who, cameos in flashbacks notwithstanding; perhaps it is this enduring popularity that has given them the honour of returning in the 50th Anniversary Special - I sincerely hope they are treated with the respect they deserve and don't become a source of ridicule post-November!
However, for every pinnacle there is always a crevice to slip into. The top slot in fan polls tends to see The Talons of Weng-Chiang, Genesis of the Daleks and The Caves of Androzani vie for that accolade - but Talons has its rat, Genesis has its crustaceans, and Androzani its Magma Beast, there to remind us that even these heavyweight masterpieces have something to mar an otherwise immaculate story. Similarly, Terror of the Zygons has its own burden to bear in the form of the Skarasen! Fortunately the Zygons' pet fares quite well, even getting its own cliffhanger in episode two - though this is immediately preceded by a rather ropey chase across the moor which, like the tank in Robot, gets seen again in the reprise! The final appearance in London was also a little patchy, which sadly is often what those who aren't so keen on the story like to point out. It's one of those things that it would have been nice to have the option for a new CGI version, but c'est la vie!
Finally, for those who love UNIT dating there's another forward-looking moment in the series as the Brigadier takes a call from "Madam" Prime Minister, making the story almost contemporary on its original VHS release in 1988 with Margaret Thatcher still in power - mind you, the order to take "discreet and resolute action" perhaps doesn't sit so well with the UK's only female PM to date!
The DVD: As this is a special release of the story at part of the Fourth Doctor Time Capsule, the introductory captions are presented in a different font, as is the Main Menu which has a Zygon-theme about it. As this is marketed as a "vanilla" release, there isn't much to see on the menu as you'd might expect ... but this is not entirely true as lurking on the Audio Options is an option to listen to the story in 5.1 Surround as well as the original mono broadcast version - I certainly wasn't expecting to find that!
Should you decide to set off on a surround adventure you are immediately presented with a theme tune that swirls around you, bringing new life to the Baker theme tune (though it isn't as noticeable on the closing theme). As one might expect, having depth to the soundtrack produces more balanced conversations on screen and directional effects with the likes of moving cars, gunshots etc. Little things stand out, like the echoes of the Doctor's voice as he hypnotises Sarah in episode two, or the Skarasen's roar across the moor. Also, though I have heard Geoffrey Burgon's score in stereo before, the presentation here helps accentuate those haunting themes that weave their way throughout the story.
In terms of picture quality, this feels like the first time I've seen the episode in such clarity. I was a little too young at the time of transmission to properly remember such detail, and the resultant VHS releases are, well, VHS quality. Even UK Gold's digital broadcasts weren't too great as I recall. So watching Zygons this time around was really enjoyable, with colours vibrant and no real fuzziness present at all (with the exception of the Skarasen scene on Tulloch Moor as mentioned earlier, but this was never too great to begin with). The Zygon transformations looked especially good on the new release, though that does go hand-in-hand with the sharper picture leading to CSO effects standing out more obviously. Mind you, this has always been the case with the more recent DVD releases so isn't really a deficiency!
However, those who were expecting to be watching a new, extended version of episode one with the previously unseen arrival of the TARDIS team in Scotland will be disappointed, as here the 'vanilla' presentation is exactly that - no bells, whistles or extensions. That'll certainly be something to look forward to with the 'full-fat' two disc release due later in the year.
Interview With the Time Lord - In Conversation With Tom Baker: The other DVD in the Time Capsule is Interview With the Time Lord - In Conversation With Tom Baker, which after a few minutes looks as if it was always meant to be a special feature to accompany Terror of the Zygons, as that is the only story utlised for clips to illustrate the various sections of the interview. Whether this was originally intended to be for the regular DVD but was instead ported to this set instead is something that hasn't been admitted, but whatever its origin, the interview is now an exclusive to this set.
The interview is split into sections, featuring subjects like "Getting Doctor Who", "Living As The Doctor", "Fandom", and "Something Special". The actual interview bites are regularly split by a montage of stills from other Fourth Doctor adventures, but this regularity does get a little tedious after a while, unfortunately.
The sections themselves are quite interesting, with Baker chatting quite candidly about various aspects of playing the Doctor, kicking off with how he initially didn't know how to play the character and so winged his way through the interpretation and was surprised by people liking it, through to how, decades later, he would be surrounded by middle-aged MPs who grew up with him as the Doctor all wanting their photo with him and 'reverting' to childhood! Along the way, the actor discussed his many experiences as the Doctor - including how he was once asked to chat to a comatose child in character - and how he felt that over time he perhaps became too opinionated on how the Doctor should be, feeling that his connection with the public through his appearances meant he knew what was best for the character (which led to an altercation about a scripted knife scene at one point). His affection for his female co-stars also came across, especially towards the late Elisabeth Sladen, and how he and Louise Jameson are now firm friends enabling her to influence his decision to accept Big Finish's invitation to further his adventures as the Doctor!
There is plenty more to hear in the interview, and being recorded earlier this year covers more recent activities in his life, but as one might expect it is very much focussed on his time as the Doctor. A more personal interview on his life was conducted by Laurie Taylor in 2010 as part of In Confidence for Sky Arts, which is worth catching on a repeat, and there is also, of course, Baker's autobiography with further anecdotes of his experiences.