Blurb: On the jungle planet Garros, Earth Forces Knight Commander-in-Chief Greg Saraton and his team are hunting gigantic beasts, for sport. When the Doctor and Leela arrive, they are caught up in a web of intrigue where there is no clear friend or foe.
What is Saraton’s vital connection with Earth’s Solar System’s Defence Shield? Why are the giant reptilian birds of Garros attacking? What terrible secret lurks deep within the trees?
Before the truth can be revealed, a heavy price will be extracted and loyalties will be tested to the limit.
Format: Full-cast audio drama starring Tom Baker and Louise Jameson published by Big Finish Productions and released August 2014.
Setting: The planet Garros, sometime around 2977.
Continuity: This story takes place between The Talons of Weng-Chiang and The Horror of Fang Rock and after the audio story The Abandoned. The Doctor shows a great deal of knowledge about Zygons in general and refers to Broton and his plan to terraform Earth to be suitable for Zygons (see Terror of the Zygons).
Canonicity Quotient: This story takes place at the time of the Zygon fleet approaching Earth. The biggest problem is that it seems that the Zygons have been information gathering on the way. They know about the Solar Knights and the protection around Earth. It seems strange that they don't know that the Earth's surface has become uninhabitable chemical slime and everyone lives in Sky Cities (see The Mutants). It's not exactly in the right condition to become the new home for an alien civilization. The Solar Knights also seem to fit the exact same role as the Adjudicators and at the same period as Earth's Empire. It looks like Big Finish is declaring war on the books again. The Zygons seem to have forgotten that they need a body print every 24 hours. Once it's revealed that Mina was replaced long ago the idea that Mina was always close by, so that Mina could renew her body print every 24 hours. 0.65
Discussion: There are two schools of thought when it comes to stories by Nick Briggs. Some fans appreciate his efforts to try and emulate the atmosphere of this period in the TV show's history circa 1977. Others find him to traditional. They feel that he is to beholden to the style of the classic series and they feel that the series would benefit by having more variety in its storytelling. Featuring a returning villain with the Zygons and having Nick Briggs as a writer, Zygon Hunt started drawing criticism before it was even on the shelves. I personally find that Briggs' approach skews just on the good side of average. It's a safe way to make the series and caters to the storytelling that made people fans of Leela and Tom Baker's Doctor. Other releases in the range have been worse or better but I find that his stories always rate between a five or seven out of ten. It doesn't help that he basically admitted on the CD interviews that he takes the lion's share of the writing duties just because he can. It gives the feeling that he's trying for volume rather than quality and I think that's why some of his stories like The Evil One or Destination: Nerva seem so boring. He doesn't have a really good idea for a story. He's just cranking out a script so that he can achieve a number every season.
Thankfully, Zygon Hunt comes from the better side of Briggs' writing. The Solar Knights were handled with a bit more nuance than those kinds of characters usually are in Doctor Who. They're not just a bunch of fascist racists. They seem to genuinely care about the Earth and they are trying to protect it from genuine external threats. Saraton postures for his troops and makes it seem that Mina is just another one of his conquests, but he seems to genuinely care about her. The Zygons were flagged in the story title and the CD cover, but it was nice to have a call back to a classic story and they were portrayed very closely to their television origins. It was also nice to include the Scaracen this time, but have it be a bit of a red herring. It's role isn't important other than to interest the knights as something tough that they can hunt. The Doctor and Leela do their normal job of providing confusion but in the end they also have an important role in showing Mina that humans aren't just of one type. While it's not the most sophisticated Doctor Who story every told, it is a fun adventure and should divert the listener for an hour.
There were a few plot problems. The Zygon reveal was held back until the cliffhanger of the first episode. While I can understand why this was often done in the classic series, the monster reveals usually came 1/4 or 1/6 of the way through the story. In these two-episode stories leaving the monster reveal that late means that half of the story has already elapsed before you can do anything with them. Honestly, it was obvious to anyone who had seen Terror of the Zygons who the Zygon was in this story as soon as they started acting a little bit strangely. A big deal is made out of the fact that Mina has been acting strangely just since they landed on the planet. It seemed to imply that the Zygons were lying in wait here and made the switch of Minas as soon as the Solar Knights arrived. The Doctor even says that the Zygon version of her probably didn't feel to comfortable being intimate with Saraton, which is why she wouldn't go to bed. Yet then at the very end, once the story requires that she have personally witnessed events of the Knights being kind she'd replaced Mina sometime ago. It almost feels like Briggs realized that he didn't have his final moment and decided to change things when he wanted Zygon-Mina to have personally seen things. But, it really doesn't make sense. Why would Zygon-Mina have been completely find sleeping with Saraton for months only to act strangely once they're close to meeting their objective? Indeed, it also raises the question of how Zygon-Mina is updating her body print every 24 hours if she was replaced some time ago. Is the Zygon fleet really following Saraton and co from planet to planet and no one detects them? The Zygon plan also seems a little thin. Why have Mina search for where Saraton keeps the all-important codes? What if he kept them memorized? Why not just use Mina-Zygon to trick Saraton into a situation where they could kidnap him? The Zygons seemed to be able to read the memories of their human hosts in Terror. Otherwise how would Broton have known the mannerisms for the Duke and how would the one masquerading as the nurse been able to do her job? Harry slumps when his Zygon dies implying some sort of mental link between the two. There's also the fact that the Doctor doesn't even worry about rescuing the real Mina once it's all over. Surely the Zygons will just use her again to try and infiltrate the human race in some manner and it seems wrong to leave her in such a predicament.
I've mentioned it above but I continue to get sick by BF's war on the books. The return of the Zygons was already handled in Original Sin and while it doesn't necessarily contradict this story as that could have happened later it does seem odd that this Solar System shield wasn't mentioned. It also means that the Zygons didn't learn the lesson in this story that the Doctor was trying to teach them. That story also gave us the Adjudicators who fill the same role as the Solar Knights in this story. It just seems like they could have used the already existing trappings to tell this story rather than create something different but annoyingly similar. There's no artistic reason for the difference only a petty need to declare one source better than the other. Of course on those grounds BF still fails since they'd forgotten that by this series the Earth's surface is polluted and uninhabitable and not suitable for Zygon colonization anyway, but that doesn't come up in t his story.
The performances in this one are good overall. Baker seems to be getting over a cold or something and his voice has gone back to the same quality that it had in some of the early FDA's where he was very hoarse. Still, I like his portrayal of the Doctor in this and showing some of that mercurial side of the character where he doesn't want to get involved until he decides that it's time for him to get involved. Louise Jameson is still great as Leela and her banter with Tom continues to be superb. Their chemistry is perfect and culminates in a nice scene to close out the season where the Doctor validates their partnership and decides that there's no one that he'd rather be traveling the universe with. Michael Maloney really brings Gregor Saraton to life. He's got that tough, militaristic quality but he can get soft when he's alone with Mina. I think that he elevated the part rather well. Gillian Kearney I thought also did a great job as Mina Challis. She showed the conflict well and the scene where she was conflicted with herself and transforming back and forth was very well done. Also, to give credit where credit is due, Nick Briggs and Kearney both do an excellent job as Zygons. Zygons seem so well suited to audio with their whispering, echoey voices and they sound very close to what was seen onscreen years ago but being different enough to denote different Zygon characters. Allistair Lock also deserves praise for the Zygon sound effects and lifting so many of the authentic sounds from Terror of the Zygons from the Scaracen's roar to the sound of the Zygon homing device. I will say that this is one time where I felt that nostalgia was a bit misplaced. He lifts whole sections of the score from Terror of the Zygons and when he isn't doing that he is doing something very reminiscent of Geoffrey Burgon's score. I thought that the score worked well on the Lochs of Scotland. The flutey music seemed to do a great job of creating the right atmosphere for the location. Yet it didn't work so well for me in a steamy jungle. I would have preferred a more Simpsonesque score in this one or done something with more of a jungle theme with it as I think that would have suited the Zygons' appearance and that of the Scaracen and would have worked better with the story.
Final Rating: 7/10
Recommendation: Another decent Nick Briggs story firmly in the tradition of the Fourth Doctor's era. It isn't the most fantastic play that you'll ever hear but it isn't bad either. There are some great performance and the return of an old villain. The ending with the Doctor and Leela is particularly good. I'd definitely give this one a listen.