By the time Tom Baker started his second season playing the age-old Time Lord, both he and the production staff had a firm handle on his character. That's evident in Terror of the Zygons, the first story from the 13th season of the long-running show. It's a great story and one of those episodes where everything comes together nicely. The main creatures actually look frightening, the plot zooms along at a good pace and it gives the cast a chance to strut their stuff.
The Doctor gets a call from the Brigadier that he's needed back on Earth, so Harry Sullivan, Sarah Jane Smith, and the Time Lord head back to the UK. This time they land in Scotland, near Loch Ness, where a series of oil rigs in the North Sea have been destroyed under very mysterious circumstances. When the Doctor discovers an incredibly large tooth mark in a piece of wreckage he starts to suspect that there's more to the disappearances than first meets the eye.
He's right, of course. Centuries ago a space ship piloted by Zygons crashed on Earth and the aliens have been waiting for rescue even since. They have discovered, however, that their home planet was destroyed when their star went nova. Some of their race did manage to escape on a giant fleet of ships, so the Zygons trapped on Earth have decided to conquer the planet and transform it, using the slave labor of humans, into a duplicate of their home world. Though there are only six of them, they seem to have the power to take over the Earth. Not only are they technologically advanced, but they have the ability to perfectly mimic any person as long as they can obtain a body scan. They also have a secret weapon: an indestructible monster called the Skarasen, though it's better known as the Loch Ness monster.
This was a great show to kick off season 13. It features Tom Baker in his prime, being grumpy and bored at times (like when the Brig is explaining to The Doctor why he was summoned back) yet still brilliant and funny. When people think fondly of Baker's tenure on the show, its stories like this that they're remembering.
The rest of the cast did a great job too. Nicholas Courtney (Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart) doesn't have many scenes but he did finally get his wish that he revealed in an earlier episode: that just for once they'd run across aliens that were not immune to bullets. This would be Courtney's last appearance on the show for many years and the script gave him a nice farewell. Elizabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith) had been with the show longer than Tom Baker at this point and she's in top form too. Plucky but with a sense of humor (I love the way she answers the phone at the inn) she's one of the best companions The Doctor has ever had.
This story would have Ian Marter (Harry Sullivan) step down as a companion (he would appear in on more story, The Android Invasion, but he wasn't traveling with The Doctor at the time). It also gave him a chance to show that he could really act. Harry had always come across as a bit of a buffoon, and it's hard to think of Ian as anything other than mild and harmless. In this story however he gets to play a Zygon who is impersonating Harry, and this version of Harry is evil. The transformation is astounding. Ian looks incredibly menacing as he's fighting Sarah and at one point even attacks her with a pitchfork. He's so different that it's hard to remember it's the same actor. He does a really superb job.
Another area where this serial really stood out was in the design of the Zygons. Due to budget restraints, Doctor Who usually has actors in suits for their villains. These often look hokey, but the Zygons don't. In this case they crafted the creatures so that the head and upper body would meld together without a neck. It's a simple solution to making the creatures look less human, but it works nicely. The addition of the octopus-inspired suction cups along the arms and torso was a nice touch too.
Overall, this is a top-notch story. It has action, humor, and suspense, along with some great acting and a very nice looking villain. It would be a good place to start if someone was looking to get into the classic series.
The DVD:This release is a two-disc affair. The four-episode story is on disc one while the second one is reserved for the bulk of the special features.
This show comes with the original mono soundtrack that fits the show just fine. The dynamic range is nothing to write home about, but the dialog is generally crisp and clear and there is no background noise, tape hiss, distortion or dropouts. There are optional subtitles in English.
I was very pleased with the full frame color image. The Restoration Team did their usual top-notch job. The episodes look nice with solid colors, tight lines, and nice detail.
This two-disc SE has some great bonus features. First there is the commentary track moderated by Mark Ayres with producer Philip Hinchcliffe, writer Robert Banks Stewart, production-unit manager George Gallaccio, makeup-designer Sylvia James and special sounds designer Dick Mills. As with the other Who commentary tracks there's a wealth of information about the show and the people involved with it.
One of the most interesting items included with this set, and one that will start hard-core fans drooling like one of Pavlov's dogs, is the director's cut to the first episode. This can be accessed from the extras menu on the first disc. The difference is one scene at the very beginning of the story that show's The Doctor, Sarah, and Harry leaving an invisible TARDIS. It's too bad the scene had to be cut due to time constraints (and the fact that the split screen didn't work quite as well as it could have... though I find it hard to believe the BBC would cut a scene from Doctor Who just because the special effects were dodgy) because it's a lot of fun.
Other video extras include the Scotch Mist in Sussex, a half-hour look at the creation of this show with various members of the cast and crew. Remembering Douglas Camfield is a nice tribute to the British director covering his career nicely, and the third part of The Unit Family, fits in nicely with this story since it's the last of the adventures featuring the 'classic' UNIT lineup.
That's not all... there's also two installments of Doctor Who Stories, interviews from 2003 with important members of the show. This time we're treated to Tom Baker and the late Elizabeth Sladen. They each run about 20-minutes and are quite interesting. Liz Sladen's comments on K-9 and Company, a pilot to a spin off show that she made in 1981, were quite interesting (and I was happy to hear that she didn't like the script). There's an episode of the children's educational show Merry-Go-Round from 1977 that features Elizabeth also. She takes the viewers on a tour of an off-shore oil rig in the North Sea. I was planning on just watching the first couple of minutes and then moving on, but I stayed for the whole show. It's just so much fun watching her, she has so much chemistry. To round off the video extras there's a short interview with Tom Baker that he did for a local TV station while filming this story on location. He seems bored with the whole idea of talking to someone with a microphone and it really brings home some of the comments others made in the extras about his ego at this time.
In addition there is a pop-up informational text option which is very informative as always. It does give some dry statistics, like how many people viewed each episode, but there are also some interesting notes such as script changes that were made and background information on the supporting characters. The extras are rounded off with storyboard comparison, a trailer for the story, a photo gallery, and the listing from the Radio Times in .pdf format.
This story features Tom Baker, arguably the most popular Doctor from the classic era at the absolute peak of his game. It's a great story with UNIT, an alien invasion, a gaint monster, and evil doppelgangers. What more could you want? Highly Recommended.