Thursday, December 08, 2005

'Terror of the Zygons'

4 episodes

Marvellous - a strong return to form after the disappointing end to the last series. Once the initial novelty of Tom Baker in a tam o'shanter has worn off, the atmosphere of the Scottish setting is maintained through some great scenery, interesting locals, neat touches (the stag's head bugging device is cool) and wonderful incidental music. Ian Marter shines in his last regular appearance as Harry, turning in a surprisingly intense performance as Sullivan's Zygon double, with the shot of him half-hidden in the barn, one eye staring menacingly up into the camera as he stalks Sarah being particularly memorable. Lis Sladen is as good as usual, showing again here how well she does 'frightened', and the character is as curious and resourceful as ever when exploring the Duke of Forgill's castle. John Woodnutt turns in an excellent triple performance as (briefly) the Duke, the Duke's impersonation by the Zygon Broton, and Broton in his true form. The latter seems to have put some thought into the idea of conquering the Earth, and remains unflappable even in the face of the Doctor's matchless jibe (brilliantly poking fun at the series' own limitations) "Isn't it a bit large for just about the six of you?" - surely one of Doctor Who's greatest ever lines... Even evoking momentary sympathy when he points out that his race can never go home, Broton's death seems almost tawdry as he is shot down by the Brigadier - who at long last has his wish fulfilled to meet an alien menace that isn't impervious to bullets! In UNIT's last proper appearance, Lethbridge-Stewart gets to reclaim a good deal of his old authority, and is as ever backed up capably by Benton; the latter's "Why are you whispering?" exchange with the Doctor after he rescues him and Sarah from the decompression chamber is lovely, as is the Doctor's inducement of a trance in his companion and himself to protect them from its effects.

The design wotk is excellent: the rubbery, suckered Zygon skin makes for great costumes, and their spaceship's correspondingly fleshy controls match up very effectively. The model work of it taking off and in flight is amongst the best I've witnessed to date in the series. Alas the infamous Skarasen lets the side down, being waaaay less than convincing - although the scene where it almost tramples the Doctor on the moor is surprisingly effective. I maintain that the crucial mistake the designers always make with creatures like that is that they make the eyes, though small on the model, too big relative to the scaled-up size of the beast - therefore you get a giant monster that instead of beady reptilian eyes has large and hence cute ones - it's like a huge scaly cyborg puppy, which naturally isn't all that nasty looking! Fortunately the Skarasen's shortcomings were evidently clear to the director, who wisely kept it off camera as much as possible although he was unable to do much about the laughable shot of it rising from the Thames to terrorise London. Fortunately too the best Who is almost benefited by such cheesily bad effects, and the fact the largely blameless beastie is allowed to return happily to Loch Ness at the end is really rather nice of the Doctor and the writers!


Episodes watched: 297
Episodes still to watch: 425

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