Doctor Who #405: Terror of the Zygons Part 2

"The Skarasen is our life source. We Zygons depend upon it its lactic fluid for survival."
TECHNICAL SPECS: Still unavailable on DVD, I've had to use an Internet source. First aired Sep.6 1975.

IN THIS ONE... Harry is captured and impersonated by the Zygons and the Loch Ness Monster chases down the Doctor.

REVIEW: I had no idea Terror of the Zygons was so moody and atmospheric, but by keeping the comedy to a minimum, using a haunting score, and providing moments of shocking adult violence, the story is turning into much more than your usual monster-of-the-month. Bob Holmes' interest in Gothic horror is finally showing as he settles into this new season. Not for the last time, we're shown a Gothic world draped in science fiction rather than the supernatural. Mysterious fog rises up on the moors, but it's nerve gas. The Loch Ness Monster itself shows up, and it's an alien cyborg creature grown for its lactative properties (and giant teeth). Creepy nurses and a psychotic Harry are really shapeshifting aliens marooned on Earth long ago. We recognize the horror beats, but they've all been given the Doctor Who twist.

The Zygons are a remarkable creation, beings who have developed a completely biological technology. The Skarasen is both a weaponized animal and their food source (mmm, Nessie milk!). I've heard people complain the creature was rubbish, but I quite like this long-necked turtle. A bit of stop motion is far less silly than the puppetry of Invasion of the Dinosaurs, and I could see the Skarasen fighting King Kong or Godzilla. The beacon they use to attract the beast is itself a small animal that attaches itself to the Doctor's hand... how? With teeth? A suction cup? Biology is all around them on their (grown?) ship, sitting at the bottom of a murky lake. Their CCTV feed is probably coming from that prominent deer's head in the inn, just to stay on-theme. By linking themselves to a captured human's "body print", they can take their form and voice, but obviously have trouble replicating personalities. Just like you can spot a Slitheen by their flatulence, a Zygon reveals itself by its rudeness. Killing these doppelgangers will of course make them revert to their true forms, and there's something harsh about the way the Harry-Zygon dies in obvious distress, impaled on farm equipment, even if it was trying to do the same to Sarah Jane with a pitchfork. Like I said, the violence is shockingly adult.

Though the Doctor is relatively serious and in earnest throughout, the Brigadier provides short and welcome flashes of comedy. There's a nice bit with a UNIT soldier that only says "Sir", and the Brig's refusal to acknowledge he was asleep, even as the result of nerve gas. It's also nice to see Sarah working at a typewriter, still filing stories even if her magazine is unlikely to have heard from her in weeks. As for the Doctor, though less manic, he's still driving the action, luring a giant monster away while UNIT triangulates the Zygons' position. This episode also marks the first time he's used hypnosis - to put Sarah into a trance so she can survive the lack of air in a decompression chamber - something that will become a bit of a super-power later on. He's learned the trick from a Tibetan monk, he says, which may be a reference to K'ampo, his Gallifreyan mentor. (Was the Master also one of his pupils? He's got a similar ability.)

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - An atmospheric horror story with brilliant alien designs and strong scenes for each of the regulars. Certainly can't complain.



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