The Archaeology of Doctor Who: The Terror of the Zygons

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Terror of the Zygons
Terror of the Zygons

Being a major Doctor Who fan I today spent one of many many days of my life rewatching episodes from the classic series. In this case they included the Terror of the Zygons from the Tom Baker days season 13. It always strikes me how much kids probably learn about history from first watching this show. I know it certainly made me think when I was growing up. And so here is the first of a random new series on the archaeology and history connected to our favourite Sci Fi shows.

The Terror of the Zygons is in the majority set in the area of Loch Ness. A place many people have undoubtedly heard of due to its so-called monster but few realise the richness of its archaeology and history.

Loch Ness has been an area of significance for military, political and commercial reasons for the majority of its association with humanity, with archaeology showing that it has had settlers along its banks for at least 4000 years.

During the first millennium after Christ the area was populated by Pictish tribes who were later converted to Christianity following the pilgrimages of Christian saints and figures such as St Columba in the sixth century. In excavations in the 1980s a silver chain dating to around the sixth century was found belonging to this early Christian era. There is also evidence for a church established by early Celtic monks on St Michael’s Mount in the area close to the river leading to the Loch.

Following the first millennium  its colourful history is still evident in the castles and archaeological sites that dot its banks. Urquhart Castle was the site of turmoil as revolts against the monarchy lost the castle to the English and then later reverted back to the Scottish with the coronation of Robert the Bruce in 1306. During the following centuries the castle fell through several hands including to the Clan MacDonald and then was eventually abandoned in the 1600s but remains standing in part as a reminder of the centuries of colourful history it saw and was a part of.

Monument at Culloden Battlefield, Scotland
Monument at Culloden Battlefield, Scotland (Photo credit: DanieVDM)

Even during more recent centuries, and even decades, Loch Ness has been a site of significant historical importance which has nothing to do with any monsters. During WW2, a Wellington Bomber (part of which currently sits mounted on my bedroom wall…) was forced to ditch into the Loch. Forty years after the event it was recovered in surprisingly good condition and restored. The spectacle of its recovery provided much public interest and after restoration it was moved to a museum where it can still be visited.

Inverness at the mouth of the river into Loch Ness is also a site of interest to historians. There are several other sites of old Early Christian churches and the Inverness castle is thought to have been established by Malcolm III of Scotland after he destroyed a previous castle at that point which had been built by MacBeth. This is based on literary evidence but the castle itself remains an impressive high point in the city and monument to the city’s medieval past. Culloden moor, the site of the Battle of Culloden in 1746, is also nearby. The Battle of Culloden ended the Jacobite Rising of 1745-6.

So forget about the monster when you are outside the realms of Doctor Who, when you think about Loch Ness’ history and archaeology. Real life stories of the Loch are just as interesting, just in a different way. This area dates back as far as the Bronze Age if not further. The Clava cairns for example, to the East of Inverness is the site of some amazing archaeology that really gets your imagination going. The site contains several of the around 50 cairns of this type in the area. Corbelled passage graves still containing burial remains. Okay the monster might be more interesting to conspiracy nuts but this is an area which can certainly be appreciated for its established history and archaeology.


6 thoughts on “The Archaeology of Doctor Who: The Terror of the Zygons

    twistie1 said:
    August 4, 2013 at 12:07 am

    What an absolutely fabulous article. I look forward to your further pieces related to Doctor Who.

    I’m currently undertaking my first marathon in which I watch every episode broadcast, in chronological order, and then blog about it – 50 Years in 50 Weeks. You can check out my blog at

      GraecoMuse said:
      August 4, 2013 at 12:18 am

      Awesome! Have you seen them before? I’ve been watching them since age 0 and i kind of envy people who get to experience them all for the first time. I love Doctor Who! 🙂

        twistie1 said:
        August 4, 2013 at 12:32 am

        I’ve seen a lot of them before although in many cases a long, long time ago. Tom Baker was “my Doctor” although when I watch his episodes 30 odd years later it seems like I’m viewing them with new eyes. I’m having a wonderful time and think watching the episodes chronologically is the best way of viewing Who. It takes a lot of endurance, though 🙂

        GraecoMuse said:
        August 4, 2013 at 12:41 am

        I bet! Will you finish by the 50th or just starting? Jon Pertwee was my doctor because i remember watching him first.

    Greg72 said:
    August 4, 2013 at 1:59 am

    Er……. I rather think that St Michael’s Mount is in Cornwall, not Inverness-shire! They could be hardly further apart – one in the far South West of Britain, the other in the far North East!

      GraecoMuse said:
      August 4, 2013 at 10:48 am

      There are many st michael’s mounts in the UK. I see though that wordpress has decided to hyperlink it to the cornwall one haha. I guarantee you though yes there is a st michael’s mount near inverness. I am from Inverness.

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