Thursday 6 December 2018

Inspirations - Terror of the Zygons

Terror of the Zygons is one of only two stories written by Robert Banks Stewart. (A third commission was never completed, but did form the basis for Robert Holmes' The Talons of Weng-Chiang). Producer Philip Hinchcliffe was an admirer of his work and sought him out for the show. Stewart asked to do an Earth-based story, having little interest in outer space type tales. As a Scot, he was naturally inspired by his homeland's most famous mystery - that of "Nessie", the Loch Ness Monster.
Doctor Who had touched on the subject of Cryptozoology on a couple of occasions in the past, with Yeti in The Abominable Snowmen and The Web of Fear, and sea serpents in Carnival of Monsters.  Cryptozoologists study animals which are as yet unknown to normal zoology - either because they are thought not to exist at all, are believed to be extinct, or simply haven't been discovered yet. Every year new species of animals and birds are discovered. Just recently a monkey was spotted in South America which was thought to have become extinct over 50 years ago. DNA research has allowed zoologists to discover that a number of animals thought to be of the same family are actually quite distinct species. The most famous cryptids are the ones for which there has never been any proven physical evidence. Sea serpents and lake monsters, Yeti and Bigfoot are the most famous examples.

The earliest mention of a water-based monster in the Loch Ness region, in the North East of Scotland, comes from the 7th Century, when a man named Adamnan wrote a history of Saint Columba, who brought Christianity to the area. In August 565 AD Columba came across a burial party, and was told that the man had just been killed by a monster in Loch Ness. Needing to cross the body of water, Columba asked one of his acolytes to swim out and fetch the dead man's boat which was floating adrift. As he did so, the monster reappeared. Columba called upon the power of God to repel it and so saved his follower. The local people were so impressed that they converted. The problem with this account is that it was written a century after the event described, and the text refers to the River Ness, rather than the loch itself.
Loch monsters are popular in Scotland, the most well known being the Kelpie or Water Horse. These malevolent creatures appear on land as ordinary horses, but when someone climbs on their backs they leap into the water and their victim is drowned. It is thought that the Kelpie myth was created as a means to deter children from playing by the water.
In modern times, interest in the monster gained momentum in the late 1920's, when a new road was built along the length of the loch, opening up almost uninterrupted views. A couple out on a drive one day described seeing a large, humped animal crossing the road. Soon after, the infamous "Surgeon's Photograph" appeared. This has since been exposed as a fake - it was a model dinosaur head stuck on a toy submarine. Many other photographs began to appear, however, which were harder to debunk. Eye-witness statements began circulating from tourists as well as locals. During World War II, the Italians even claimed to have bombed the loch and killed the monster - such was the fame that Nessie had acquired globally.
Sightings continued sporadically throughout the 1950's and 1960's, but there was a sudden upsurge in interest in the 1970's. In 1975 Robert Rynes and naturalist Sir Peter Scott stunned the world with some colour photographs which appeared to show a large diamond-shaped fin, and a long necked creature. It was later shown that these images had been heavily "cleaned up", and the original pictures were inconclusive, to say the least.
This was the backdrop to Stewart's story.

What was also topical in Scotland in the 1970's was the North Sea Oil boom. Gas reserves had been found in and around the North Sea from the 1850's, and gas was being drilled for in the 1960's. In 1969 oil was found off the coast of Norway, and further explorations discovered other oil fields over the next few years, including some off the coast of Scotland. Following the 1973 oil crisis, the oil companies increased their explorations and soon a number of significant fields had been identified. Two fields (Ardmore and Forties) began producing oil in 1975, with more planned.
In developing his story Stewart added this topical issue to his Loch Ness Monster tale. Being Doctor Who, aliens had to be behind the monster, and so Stewart came up with the Zygons, the name inspired by zygote - the union of a sperm cell and an egg cell. The monster was alien as well, a pet of the Zygons. The name, plus a script mention of the Zygons feeding on the Skarasen's lactic fluid (milk), prompted costume designer James Acheson to come up with a design based on embryos. Unfortunately there wasn't much consultation with the set designer, and the Zygons could barely fit through the doors of their spaceship.
The director chosen for this story was Douglas Camfield, making his return to the programme after an absence of 5 years. His last story had been Inferno, during the making of which he had fallen seriously ill with heart problems. His wife had forbidden him from doing any more Doctor Who's, as they were so stressful to produce. Camfield had earlier fallen out with the series' regular composer Dudley Simpson (the result of a misunderstanding over income), and so he used a new composer for Terror of the Zygons - Geoffrey Burgon.
Camfield has the TARDIS arrive in Scotland and turn invisible - a nod to his earlier story The Invasion, in which the ship had also become invisible. The reason for its arrival here is that the Doctor has received a message from the Brigadier, summoning him back to Earth. This was seen at the conclusion of the previous story - Revenge of the Cybermen.

It is clear that this story was always supposed to end the 12th Season of the show, with its direct link to that previous story and the departure of Harry Sullivan at the conclusion. The BBC had decided that the programme would do better to start the next season in the autumn, rather than the New Year, and so Terror of the Zygons was held back. After years of ITV trying and failing to come up with a series to rival Doctor Who, the BBC had also got wind of a lavishly produced new series from Gerry Anderson and Lew Grade's ITC, which might finally prove to offer real competition. An earlier start to Season 13 would steal a march on this new series - Space: 1999. They need not have worried. The Anderson vehicle turned out to be a little too sterile for British viewers, and the first season was distinctly lacking in monsters (there's only one, albeit a very good one, in the episode Dragon's Domain), so after a couple of weeks Doctor Who regained many of those who had decided to give it a try.
Harry's departure was due to the fact that it had been intended that the Fourth Doctor would have been played by a much older actor, and a younger man was needed for the action sequences. The casting of Tom Baker made Harry's function redundant. Robert Holmes argued for him to be kept, and Philip Hinchcliffe has since said he regrets having dispensed with the character when he did.
Ian Marter will be back later in the season, but it is farewell (for now) to Nicholas Courtney's Brigadier. He and John Levene had both felt during the making of Robot that their time on the show was coming to an end when Hinchcliffe arrived - intending to get the Doctor back out into Space and Time again. It was never intended that this story would see the last of the Brigadier as a regular character. A couple of later stories were to have involved Courtney, but he had taken on stage work and his availability was reduced. He simply couldn't pass up longer term work when he was being offered less to do on Doctor Who.

When the Doctor Who production team had decided to do a story set in the Welsh valleys - The Green Death - it had come under fire for its stereotypical view of Wales and the Welsh. Despite having a Scottish author, Terror of the Zygons unfortunately does the same thing with Scotland and the Scots. The story opens with a radio operator on an oil rig bemoaning the fact that their chef can't make haggis very well. Realising where they have landed, the Doctor discards his usual scarf and hat and opts for tartan alternatives. We then see the Brigadier in a kilt, explaining to Sarah that he is a member of the Clan Stewart after all. (You'll recall that he appears to have been a member of a Scottish regiment when we first saw him back in The Web of Fear, when he sported a Glengarry.
The laird has a gamekeeper nicknamed "Caber", as in the tree trunk tossed by participants in Highland Games. Hotel landlord Angus (as Scottish a name as you can get) plays the bagpipes, and has the second sight. At the conclusion, the myth of the mean Scotsman is perpetuated as the Duke of Forgill talks about saving money on the Doctor and Sarah's return train tickets. (Scots themselves often brand the Aberdonians mean. The whole meanness thing is a myth, as demonstrated by the fact that when it comes to TV telethons like Comic Relief and Children In Need, Scots donate more per capita than people from the more affluent South East of England). It should be noted that the 1970's saw a massive resurgence in Scottish Nationalism, resulting in a devolution referendum in 1979. This was mainly down to the prospect of North Sea Oil revenues and a series of weak Westminster governments, rather than a reaction to Terror of the Zygons, but you never know...
Next time: the Doctor and Sarah land on a Jekyll and Hyde planet, in a story based on a classic 1950's Sci-Fi movie, which was in turn inspired by Shakespeare...

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