Reviewed: Doctor Who and the Loch Ness Monster

I’m never quite sure how I feel about Terror of the Zygons. It’s generally considered a much-loved classic, and introduces the Zygons – wonderful ideas, wonderfully executed. It’s atmospheric, has a great TARDIS team in, and gives us a new backdrop in Scotland.

But it’s hyped up to be something akin to The Ark in Space and The Robots of Death, and it’s simply not. It annoys me that Harry Sullivan – one of the Doctor’s best companions – leaves at the conclusion, only appearing once more in The Android Invasion, and episode four really does feel like a let-down.

I began its Target novelisation, Doctor Who and the Loch Ness Monster, with some trepidation.

The best Target books add a lot to the narrative, while evoking the same tone as (and staying loyal to) the serial. And this is written by Terrance Dicks. He knows his Doctor Who, and in particular, he knows how to write Target novelisations.

Due to the BBC’s rescheduling of the show, readers could pore through this book pretty soon after transmission: while a typical adaptation took a year or two, this was rushed out just four months after Terror aired, making it only the second Fourth Doctor novel from Target (the first being Doctor Who and the Giant Robot in March 1975).

Quick release might’ve meant this book is slighter than its peers, and that’s a fair assumption. It’s certainly not as dense as, say, Doctor Who and the Abominable Snowmen, Doctor Who and the Crusaders, or Doctor Who and the Cave Monsters, and sadly lacks some of the beautifully poetic prose Dicks employs in his other work. Some sections do feel a little glossed over, notably Zygon-Harry attacking Sarah Jane with the pitchfork. That pains me, as it’s such a striking bit of imagery on-screen and shows how fantastic Ian Marter was.

Terror of the Zygons Fourth Doctor 4th Radio Times Frank Bellamy

Then again, he does add some nice embellishments – partly as he was working from the scripts (hence the book’s title) and so the TARDIS’ invisibility, reminiscent of The Invasion, was dropped before filming, for example.

Most importantly, though, this is also where the Zygons get their sting. Dicks throws in some pleasing details about the aliens, the core one being that they can sting victims but only when in their orange-blobby forms. It’s become common knowledge that the Zygons can sting, but Robert Banks-Stewart’s story never actually includes such an ability. The attack even made it into a novel title – 2007’s Sting of the Zygons, starring David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor and Freema Agyeman’s Martha Jones – before we saw it on-screen. (The gruesome skill was used throughout last year’s The Zygon Invasion/ The Zygon Inversion.)

Calling this paperback “slight” might sound like a criticism – but wait! It’s really not. Dicks gives the story a great pace, and enough work is put into covering the events of the final episode to make it effective.

Terror of the Zygons somehow lacked mystery: you could tell a Zygon in disguise from a mile off, though the sense of threat was still present throughout. The adaptation has a little more mystery about it, but naturally only if you don’t know, for instance, which form Broton, the Zygon War Lord, is taking. The story is fashioned more like a thriller, and that’s an ideal angle. That’s how you get caught up in it. Think how exciting it must’ve been for anyone reading the book so shortly after the adventures was aired! Imagine being a young David Tennant or John Barrowman, caught up in the excitement of the Fourth Doctor’s battle against the disgusting Zygons and their terrifying Skarasen!

Terror of the Zygons Broton

This book has been reprinted a handful of times since its initial 1976 release, but a whole new generation are discovering Target through the reissues by BBC Books.

Doctor Who and the Loch Ness Monster was reprinted in 2012 with an introduction from respected sci-fi author, Michael Moorcock – and sadly, this isn’t the best preface. Despite Moorcock liking Doctor Who in general, his introduction basically says “I don’t like Hartnell, Pertwee, Daleks, or Cybermen, Troughton was alright, but Doctor Who only got going when Tom was the Time Lord.” It gets your back up somewhat. It’s fair enough if you don’t like a particular incarnation, but this is supposed to be a rousing piece about how great Doctor Who in general, and this book especially, is! Is a newcomer likely to pick up Doctor Who and the Auton Invasion after hearing someone dismiss the Third Doctor as “not someone I wanted to spend too much time with”?

A small niggle, but it’s a niggle nonetheless.

The cover, however, is glorious. Alister Pearson’s painted cover for the 1993 reprint is stunning, but the BBC has gone with Chris Achilleos’ classic cover instead (toned down a bit compared to the seizure-inducing 1970s colours), and there’s something wonderfully unconventional about it. Forget the great rendition of Tom Baker in the centre; look at that Zygon! Look at the Skarasen! Look at the composition! Simply fantastic.

While I’m still not quite sure how I feel about Terror of the Zygons, Doctor Who and the Loch Ness Monster is certainly a satisfying novelisation, not for poetic prose but for its captivating narrative and a TARDIS crew really in the swing of things. Don’t be a sucker: pick it up now.