Doctor Who #406: Terror of the Zygons Part 3

"I'm not a party to any kind of nonsense."
TECHNICAL SPECS: Still unavailable on DVD, I've had to use an Internet source. First aired Sep.13 1975.

IN THIS ONE... Sarah Jane rescues Harry, the innkeeper is killed, and the Doctor captured as the Zygon ship takes off.

REVIEW: Ok, ok, the Skarasen gets sillier and sillier the more it's featured, but it's not impairing my enjoyment of the story any. Geoffrey Burgon's music, a real highlight, keeps any inherent camp at bay (I'm not surprised the BBC eventually released this score, along with Burgon's Seeds of Doom, on CD). Over his haunting tones, the innkeeper's murder is horrific, the creepy nurse is spooky, and Sarah Jane's discovery of a clichéed secret passage, mysterious. Tom Baker's performance agrees with this general mood, showing off the Doctor's wit and insolence without turning him into a clown. There's a big difference between last season's sailor jokes and pockets full of nick-knacks, and the underplayed recognition of explosions as the Brigadier's signature.

The Doctor is a sharp investigator, that's his function in a story like this, a story that is part of the supernatural mystery tradition. Some of his conclusions are perhaps arrived at too quickly, playing on knowledge the audience has from other scenes (as when the Zygons explain themselves to Harry), but he should not. However, it works because we're shown many instances of his keen sense of observation, or privy to his line of reasoning. And if he sometimes fills in too large a gap, well that's part of his usual process. Just look at the bit where he is (briefly) reunited with Harry and Sarah. There's a flicker of doubt as to whether they're the real thing or body doubles, represented by a single, unanswered question, and no dialog from the Doctor indicating that he believes they're real, or why. This is mature scriptwriting. We don't need to have everything explained to us. The Doctor is smart enough to figure out what we, the audience, already know, just from a look or a few words. His next action is all the explanation we need to understand what HE'S understood. The same thing happened when he mistrusted the nurse in the previous episode. No explanation, he just disregarded her affirmations. The Doctor's always been clever, but here we're allowed to be clever too.

I continue to be surprised by how different Sarah Jane is in space opera stories and Earth-bound ones. Hopefully, her whimpering in The Ark in Space and Revenge of the Cybermen was a Season 12 aberration, and she'll remain the plucky journalist we see here. She's chomping at the bit for more action (and gets it), though the Doctor seems sincere when he says he's not trying to sideline her, but rather put her particular skill set to use. The fourth Doctor has rarely, in fact, tried to protect Sarah the way the third might have. He's always forgetting about her when she's in the worst danger! The pluckiness comes out in childish ways sometimes, which may be a shift from woman to girl to avoid the dreaded claims of "hanky-panky in the TARDIS". Sticking her tongue out at Caber when he turns his back is one such example. Harry's not in this much, but at least his "Old girl" acts as safe word that allows Sarah to believe he's the real deal. A nice moment between companions who, by now, know each other pretty well and accept each other's faults.

- I can't defend the effects overmuch, but the music and acting more than make up for any production limitations.



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