I can still remember the moment Sarah Jane Smith and I encountered a Zygon for the very first time. I was five years old, sat on the floor only a foot or so away from the television; she had just finished a call to the Doctor, unaware of the large, alien hand that was about to grab her shoulder. I’d been out of nappies for several years by then, but I was soon wishing I was back in them as I watched Sarah Jane turn and come face to face with a rust coloured monster, its cone-shaped head covered with suckers, with a face in which the dark, malevolent eyes were visibly real.
As it lunged, Sarah Jane screamed and before you could say, “Would you like a jelly baby?” I had leapt backwards and across the room, landing on the settee and pulling my feet up just in time to watch the end credits as I hugged a cushion tightly.
It’s fair to say I was terrified, and the Zygons featured heavily in my nightmares that night. But despite my Mum’s threats of “We’re not having that on again”, there I was the following week, tuning in to episode two of Terror Of The Zygons, both fascinated and appalled by this marvellous new creature.
It was my first memory of being scared by Doctor Who – in fact, my first memory of being scared by anything.
Fear however, gradually turned to affection, and for the rest of Tom Baker’s tenure, I’d sit there week after week in the hope that the Zygons would be returning to the programme one day soon. As I grew up throughout the 70s and 80s, falling in and out of love with Doctor Who as easily and often as I did with Sarah Wainwright, Lorraine Connor and Lindsey Rowlands (and if you’re reading this girls, I’ve changed), I never stopped hoping to see the Zygons reappear at some point in the series.
After all, they’d made their mark, capturing the imagination of the nation’s children, and they also seemed popular in terms of toys and merchandising sales. So surely now they could be added to the iconic roster of reoccurring villains forever destined to provide the Doctor with his sternest tests?
Well no, because they never did return. The Autons, Silurians, Sea Devils and even the Macra all got another crack of the whip, but the Zygons, it seemed, were destined to remain forever lost on the misty and lonely shores of Loch Ness in 1975.
I never understood why, as surely I wasn’t the only one clamouring for their return? But when Doctor Who came to an end in 1989, I could at least finally reconcile myself to the fact that I would never see them on TV again.
That is, until 2005, when the BBC brought Doctor Who back onto our screens and into my life. Initially, the thought of a Zygon return was very much at the back of my mind, as my main concerns were a) would the new series be any good and b) could a dispute between the BBC and Terry Nation’s estate be sorted in time to ensure the return of the Daleks.
It was soon apparent that the answer was ’yes’ on both counts. And as Eccleston regenerated into Tennant and I experienced four series of rollicking good fun, I still wasn’t really expecting to see the Zygons brought back.
The Daleks, the Cybermen, the Master and the Sontarons were all fairly regular adversaries, but apart from them, Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat seemed resolute in their determination to create and use new monsters as much as possible.
I understood that, of course I did, and the Weeping Angels, the Ood, the Sycorax and the Racnoss were all worthy additions to Doctor Who’s rogues gallery.
But then, in series five, two things happened that awakened a long-held desire within me that had, until then, lain dormant for nigh on 21 years.
Firstly, the Silurians reappeared. “Aha! A classic series monster revived”, I thought. However, more significantly, the Zygons were mentioned in part one of series finale The Pandorica Opens.
It was just the briefest of mentions, but nonetheless, as an alliance of the Doctor’s enemies surrounded him and forced him into the Pandorica, there I was, inches away from the television once again, scouring the background for signs of my beloved nightmare. “Did you see one, did you see one?!”, I shouted to Liz on the sofa behind me, who, to be fair to her, wouldn’t know a Zygon from a Sonic Screwdriver, and so just gave me one of her best Bea Arthur looks and went back to Facebook.
Sadly, the Zygons were mentioned but not seen, and ever since, I’ve been slightly obsessed with the possibility of them making a return to the series. I know that Steven Moffat reckons all the icons have now been done, and I appreciate why he’d want to stick mainly with new villains but, for the love of Peter Davison’s celery! If he can bring back the Silurians then surely he can bring back the Zygons!
“Why should he?” I hear cheerleaders of the Ice Warriors cry.
Well, for starters, look at the creature design. Even though they appeared in the mid-70s, the Zygons remain one of the most well-realised alien races the programme has ever conjured up. As well as being memorable, they have a look that is incredibly distinct. Part of this is down to the way the costume is blended with the features of the actor playing the part, giving them a convincing and slightly unsettling appearance that always seems to work when you can see human eyes within an alien face.
Combine this appearance with that whispery gurgle of a voice that was more suited to uttering the word “Doc-TOR” than perhaps any other species in the programme’s history, and you’ve got a ready-made monster requiring very little updating in order to be scary and effective in the show today.
Also, they’re shapechangers, which means that they’d provide ample opportunity for many a guest star to strut their evil villain stuff while in human form. Someone like Michael Sheen for example (oh, hang on a minute…).
And I reckon the Zygons are perfect for both the smallest and the biggest of stories. For instance, Doctor Who has always borrowed ideas from the best of horror and science fiction and I can imagine an episode inspired by The Thing, with a cast of characters trapped together in an isolated outpost, each of them trusting no one because they know a Zygon is amongst them.
Or how about an Invasion Of The Body Snatchers-inspired tale for a season finale, where millions of people the world over are replaced by Zygons? And apart from their story potential, and just looking and sounding so damn good, they also had those wonderful space craft that were alive! They created the Loch Ness Monster! They had spikes that came from their hands that could incapacitate, wound or kill you!
And last but not least, they had that wonderful old-school sci-fi sort of name. Zygons! Say it out loud. Enunciate. You’ll like it, it sounds good. Trust me.
As a sometimes obsessed, always devoted, dyed-in-the-woolly scarf fan of classic Doctor Who, one of the things I’ve always liked about the show since its return is the love and respect the producers and writers have shown for the original series. For instance, that momentary glimpse of William Hartnell’s photo on Matt Smith’s library card in the last series sent me giddy with delight. So the realist in me suspects that the mention of the Zygons in series five was nothing more than that; a brief nod to the programmes past and an affectionate reference to a monster that has fought its battles with the Doctor and won’t be resuming hostilities with him again any time soon.
If Steven Moffat ever does consider reviving another enemy from the old series, then I would urge him, no, I’d plead with him, to make it the Zygons upon whom his benevolent producer’s gaze should fall. For all the reasons I’ve highlighted above, I can think of no more deserving rough beast to have its hour come round at last.
Now, deep down, I know the programme isn’t really made for me anymore. It’s a painful admission to have to make, but it’s true, and so my pleas may seem a little selfish, perhaps even coming across as the obsessed ravings of someone who really should have moved on by now. So I’d simply ask him to consider that five year-old boy whose heart still beats within my own aged body.
That poor, innocent young child who believed in the Doctor then and by God, still believes in him now. He’s back there Steven, back there in 1975, sat waiting patiently in front of his television screen, like a young Amy Pond sat on a plant pot in her garden, waiting for her raggedy Doctor. Only that little boy, that brave little soldier, is waiting for his raggedy Zygons to reappear. Alas, they won’t come, Steven. The night sky is empty, save for the millions of stars that are gradually dimming like his own naive dreams.
But who knows? Perhaps one bright Saturday evening in the not too distant future (sniffle), I’ll be able to sit down with my own little boy to watch an episode of Doctor Who, an episode in which my favourites will once again show up. And, jumping back from the television together, we’ll each grab a cushion as they terrify us both…