Sometimes the fact that Doctor Who is supposed to be a family-oriented TV show, designed to be watched on a Saturday evening around a picnic tea, blows the mind. Take the eponymous monsters in the Fourth Doctor’s Scottish romp Terror of the Zygons. They are a tiny band of dispossessed aliens, one stray ship of a species that has come from a far-off and long-destroyed world, and they have crash-landed into Loch Ness in Scotland. Being aliens, the first thing they do is set about building a despotic cyborg, a monster that can eat oil rigs, but whose milk they need in order to survive.
Nothing too far out of the ordinary so far (apart from the milk thing), but the real twist is that they can shape-shift, to look like anyone, which means two things: 1) you can’t trust anyone not to be a Zygon, intent on killing you and all other humans and taking over the planet, and 2) they choose to look like Zygons. They could all look like the offspring of Ryan Gosling and Helen of Troy if they wanted, but they choose to strut about like man-squids with barnacles. And, just to further twist the eeriness further, they’ve got the saddest eyes in all the Whoniverse, and they whisper when they talk.
Small wonder that when Terror of the Zygons first aired, it received protests from TV campaigner Mary Whitehouse, that this was simply too potent a brew to place before young minds. I don’t feel qualified to say whether this is true or not, as I was one of the young minds watching at the time, but what I will say is that the Zygons fulfil the brief of a Doctor Who villain in full: they have a despotic purpose, they have nothing to lose (and therefore cannot be bargained with), they could be in your home without you knowing about it and they look like animated seafood. They’re the Silence, only naked and living in a wet cave.
Here’s how they made their introduction: a remote outpost, things going wrong, hard to know who to trust… it’s a bit like the plot of the film The Thing:
However, once the Zygons make their appearance, we have an extra layer of physical disgust to add to the escalating paranoia. Look at their technology! It’s all covered in moss! Don’t they even have sanitising wipes in there? Ick!
So that’s why they’ve lasted in the memories of ’70s Whovians for as long as they have. They’re a perfect marriage of concept and form. They look scary, they do scary things and they have a scary motive for doing so. And they drink the lactic fluid of a cyborg Loch Ness Monster for food, and that’s just plain gross.
Despite this, it’s perfectly fine that they only appeared in one adventure. Some monsters don’t need a second chance to make a first impression, and if I’m honest, I’d rather leave things the way they are than risk their towering legacy of fear by bringing them back. Brief mentions aside, maybe it’s best to just let Zygons be Zygons.
Next: The Master
In related news: Attention Doctor Who fans in Austin, Texas. Ain’t It Cool News and BBC Home Entertainment are holding a free screening of the classic story The Daemons tomorrow (Saturday, April 28) at 1 pm at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema. This screening is absolutely free but you may reserve your seat by purchasing a $5 food/drink voucher in advance.