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28 February 2014

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

Day 424: Terror of the Zygons, Episode Four

Dear diary,

Yesterday, I spent a bit of time complaining (well, not so much complaining... ‘musing’, maybe) about the fact that although the spaceship taking off and heading away from Scotland was a fairly good effect, any sense of scale was lost, and that I simply couldn’t get a handle on it. It’s almost as if the story is trying to prove a point, now, by using a few very well done forced perspective shots to show people looking tiny in comparison! I have to admit that I was completely taken by surprise the first time it happened, and even had to wind the episode back a few seconds just to check I hadn’t imagined it.

The extreme close-up means that we get a good look at the model of the Zygon ship - it really is quite a lovely design, isn’t it? There are some spaceship designs in Doctor Who - such as the Jagaroth ship from City of Death, the Sontaran pods, the modern-series Dalek saucers, or even the TARDIS itself - which are pretty well known, and I’m surprised that I’ve not encountered this Zygon one before. My only slight gripe is that it doesn’t match up as neatly with the inside of the ship, and it’s the only weak link in the cohesive ‘organic’design right across Zygon technology. A minor complaint, though, because it’s a beautiful ship all of its own!

While I’m on the subject of model work, I need to bring up the Skarasen. I’ve been swinging slightly between loving it and being less sure right the way through the story, but this episode contains perhaps its most infamous moment. Fans often bring up ‘the Skarasen in the Thames’ when making a list of those effects where the series hasn’t quite got it right, but when it appeared in shot, CSO’d in behind Tom Baker, I was actually quite impressed. I was ready to say that people were complaining over nothing!

And then we cut away to a shot of a hand-puppet Skarasen, sticking its head up above the side of the river, and everything falls to pieces. While something in the design of the creature hasn’t really worked for me all along (it’s still something to do with the face. I wonder if it’s too similar to the dinosaur from Doctor Who and the Silurians?), the model work up to now has been pulled off rather well. This effect just feels a bit cheap right at the end - it does let things down somewhat.

At one point today, when the Doctor has blown up the Zygon ship (in perhaps the serial’s best effect. You see little sections of the ship blow up first, before the whole thing finally goes. It’s very well done...), he turns to the Brigadier and asks if it was a big enough ‘bang’ for him. I was all prepared to make a point about them blowing something big up every time a new incarnation of the Doctor has a second adventure with the Brig, citing this as the example for Tom Baker, the Silurian base as the Jon Pertwee incident (setting up a long tradition throughout that era of simply blowing up the main location at the end), and for Troughton’s second adventure with the Brig, in The Invasion... ah. They don’t really blow anything big up. Darn, I thought I was on to an interesting and never-before- noticed point there. Still, as if on cue to make me feel better, we get a lovely establishing shot of the river, before the camera pans around to show us a shot of the World Energy Conference building... and it’s the former headquarters of International Electromatics! I like to imagine that the government have converted the building since the attempted Cyberman invasion.

Ah, but all of this is simply me dodging a point that I need to make... because it’s the last we’ll be seeing of the Brigadier for a long time in this marathon. It’ll be about another six months of so until I see him again, and for viewers at the time, it was around seven years until his next appearance. I was waiting for there to be some kind of fantastic final line for him, some send-off after so many years of loyal service to the programme (he’s been popping up for well over half of Doctor Who’s life by now, which makes him a pretty important and recognisable element), but it doesn’t really come. Of course, at the time, they didn’t know that this was the end for the character in the short-term - heck, UNIT will be back later this seasonwithout him - so I suppose they didn’t feel any need for him to be given a send off.

I’ve been wondering throughout this story if it’ll feel odd to not have Nick Courtney around for so long... but I don’t think it will, really. Both he and UNIT were far less integral to the Pertwee years than I’d ever realised (even by Season Nine they only really turn up to top- and-tail the seasons), and watching through Season Twelve, in which they only appear for a fifth of the stories didn’t feel particularly as though they were missing. Still, it marks yet another step in the programme’s evolution, as it finally outgrows the boys’ action adventure serial format, and continues its shift into more gothic areas.


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