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25 February 2014

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 421: Terror of the Zygons, Episode One 

Dear diary,

It’s somewhat fitting that for this, the last of the UNIT stories, we should have Douglas Camfield back in the director’s chair. Camfield was the man responsible for The Web of Fear and The Invasion, so it feels only right that he should be here again at the end of it all*. To tell the truth, I had no idea he was the director of this one. I knew he came back for The Seeds of Death at the end of the year, but not that he’d been part of the series again here, too. It’s so plain to see as you’re watching through, though. Emma was about while I was watching, and I think she was getting somewhat sick of me constantly stating that it simply ‘has to be Camfield’, because no other Doctor Who director of the classic era ever produced anything this polished!

It’s helped by the fact that we’re in such a stunning landscape. There’s several beautiful shots in this episode, where you can really see for miles and miles across land or sea, and it really does open up the story. Genesis of the Daleks gave us some stunning shots of the Doctor and his companions as tiny specs against a larger landscape, but they’re set in quarries and in barren landscape. We’ve never before seen the series take us to such a wide open location, and coming so soon after stories like The Ark in Space and Revenge of the Cybermen, it’s great to see so much space

Oh! And do you know, as I’m typing that I’ve suddenly realised there’s a little voice in the back of my head that’s piping up to remind me that The Sontaran Experiment took us right to the middle of Dartmoor, and I only watched it a few weeks ago! I’ve somehow decided to completely forget about the vistas on display in that story, and I think it might be because this one is proving my point - shooting locations like this on film rather than video really does make a difference. I’ve watched today’s episode at Emma’s on a Blu- Ray player, so I don’t know if it’s the work of upscaling, but the film sequences have never looked better.

I decided to treat myself during this one, so stuck on the ‘director’scut’ of the episode. It only adds in a couple of extra minutes at the start, where the Doctor, Sarah, and Harry arrive in Scotland, but they’re really rather lovely. They’ve also been restored so beautifully. We’ve got more colourisation from Stuart Humphryes to help tie everything together, and the work on the film elements is nothing short of stunning. Disc Two of this release contains the un-restored footage as an easter egg and it shows just how much love and attention has gone into it. It’s not such a big deal to me - this story, plus Revenge of the Cybermen and the upcoming The Android Invasion are all ‘new’ Doctor/Sarah/Harry adventures to me, but there’s something a little bit magical about finding a few extra minutes of this team together after so long.

They’ve never been finer than they are here. There’s a certain comedic element to the Doctor stepping back out of the police box dressed in his Socttish gear, but the real charm is that we get to see his companions tailing him dressed in his regular outfit. Harry rather suits having the scarf draped around his neck, and there’s something about the hat being that bit too big for Sarah Jane which is rather wonderful. These really are three best friends enjoying their time together, and I love that the Doctor gets angry at the Brigadier for calling him back to Earth and interrupting their fun.

That said... they must be shattered! I made a similar observation about Ian and Barbara right back at the start of the programme, but the return to a serial format for Season Twelve and into this story means that the TARDIS crew haven’t had a break since fighting the SRS and that giant robot! From there to the Ark. From the Ark to post-solar-flares Earth. From there to Skaro. From there back to the Ark, and immediately into a tussle with the Cybermen. From there back to Earth of sort out the mystery of the vanishing oil rigs... it’s no wonder Harry leaves at the end of this adventure - he must be dying for a lie down!

I know I spent an awful lot of time during Revenge of the Cybermen complaining about the way that their return to the programme was handled, but it does bear drawing attention to agains here. We don’t know what the Zygons are yet (or, at least, we wouldn’t have on initial broadcast), but since their name is in the title, it’s a given that we’ll be seeing one appear for the cliffhanger. Just as in Revenge, we cut to the creatures in their own base about half way through the episode... but this time it’s all being directed much better.

I don’t know if it’s down to Camfield’s influence, or if the script specifies it, but these moments are all shot in tight close ups. Images of the hands on the organic controls. Close up shots of the eyes staring at their screens. There’s one long scene in which two of the creatures communicate with each other, and we’re basically expected to watch the close ups of them working their machines for a few minutes, but even this is given a brilliant kind of life by being so nicely directed. We take slow fades from one shot to the next,back and forth while those whispery, raspy voices sound out. If you want to build up excitement about the reveal of your alien menace, this is a perfect masterclass in how to do it.

 *Yeah, yeah, some of the UNIT guys will be back later this season in The Android Invasion, but this is the last of the real UNIT stories, for pretty much the rest of the classic series. There’s an attempt to create a ‘modern’ version of them at the end of the 1980s (in Battlefield), but this story marks the end of the format we’ve been so used to for the last half of the programme’s life.

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