Doctor Who #407: Terror of the Zygons Part 4

"But you can't rule a world in hiding. You've got to come out onto the balcony sometimes and wave a tentacle, if you'll pardon the expression."
TECHNICAL SPECS: Still unavailable on DVD, I've had to use an Internet source. First aired Sep.20 1975.

IN THIS ONE... The Zygons attack an international conference with the Loch Ness Monster, but their plans fail thanks to you know Who.

REVIEW: The big action finale acknowledges the fact there are so few Zygons on screen by drawing attention to it humorously ("Isn't [Earth] a bit large for just about six of you?"), then explaining how it still makes sense (a fleet is waiting for a signal, probably from a number of advance scouts). The episode is in fact quite good at filling up plot holes with entertaining lines, for example how politicians are keen on denying even something so big as a sea monster attacking a building on the Thames. Or how the Doctor's death trance was set up a few episodes earlier to make his survival in this one immediately acceptable. In that regard, it only really fails in explaining how the Doctor can understand Zygon technology so well. We never ask the question of more traditional-looking controls, but Zygon tech is so odd-looking, the Doctor's line about having seen better hardly seems to cover it. It'll have to do though. Maybe the TARDIS' telepathic circuits are in play, or the Doctor telepathically learned something when he completed a painful circuit inside the machine. In the headlong rush to escape with the body prints and blow the Zygons to kingdom come, there's hardly time for a speech about it, I realize.

The more procedural elements in the Sarah/UNIT thread provide some nice contrast to the alien sights and sounds. Sarah's got some good instincts and digs up crucial information, even if she doesn't quite know how it'll connect at the time. The audience is left to figure it out just before the characters do. Radar jamming is evoked to explain how UNIT can't follow a ship flying over Britain. The Skarasen's target - a female Prime Minister predicting Margaret Thatcher 4 years before her election - is introduced into the story naturally. And the puzzle all comes together very nicely in the end, with one last moment of realistic violence as Broton is shot by the Brigadier. The Skarasen attack can look silly, but the sound design filled with screams, smooths out the rough edges.

The final scene is a little odd, I must admit, and not only because I'm ill-equipped to understand the final joke. The principals ALL return to Scotland to get the TARDIS, then refuse to get aboard so the Doctor can pilot it back to London. That's a long day of driving for the Brigadier and Harry! Even Sarah Jane climbs aboard tentatively, apparently hoping to get back to her life (she DOES have a story to file). It makes sense in the context of the program's UNIT hangover though. Season 12 was just ONE trip, remember, so for Harry, there is no expectation of a second. And though Sarah's gone to other times and places before, that was with Pertwee's Doctor who called Earth-Present his home. These were vacations from reality (and the last one rather long), not a way of life. We're at a crossroads in the program's history and about to return to the wandering days of the black and white era. In fact, say goodbye to the Brigadier, we won't see him for another 7½ years!

VERSIONS: The Target novelization was entitled Doctor Who and the Loch Ness Monster.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - Bit of a mad rush, so we lose some of the atmosphere, but with nice moments of wit and bravery from the Doctor.

STORY REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - I can't believe Zygons hasn't been released on DVD yet. It's such a strong story, with memorable monsters (who really should return in-canon), one of Classic Who's better scores, and dripping with atmosphere.


CiB said...

The reference to a female prime minister wasn't intended to reference Thatcher at all. It was intended to reference Shirley Williams, who at the time was Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection in a Labour government. She lost her seat in 1979 (when Thatcher became PM) and in 1981 left the Labour party entirely to form the SDP (which later merged with the Liberal party to form the Liberal Democrat party)

Doctor Who at this point is very careful with political references. The BBC is not allowed to be political, due to being publicly funded, so when making implications about who is Prime Minister the program tends to reference prominent politicians who are unlikely to ever be PM. For example The Green Death implies the PM is Jeremy Thorpe. At that time his party held 11 seats. To be PM he'd need about 330 seats, making him an unlikely future prime minister.

Siskoid said...

Oh I didn't mean to imply Who predicted Thatcher, only that they'd predicted a near future female PM.

But great info!

Calamity Jon said...

One note about the Target novelization - the only one I kept when I sold the rest of my almost-complete collection - it contains a foreword about Who from none other than Harlan Ellison! I couldn't part with such an artifact of pure gravitas...

Siskoid said...

I guess not!

I don't think I have that one. I do have a rerelease of Doctor Who and the Daleks with a foreword by Neil Gaiman. Not the same.


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