Team building, space crabs and this one time at band camp
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The Second Doctor and his companions, Polly, Ben and Jamie (aka PB&J) encounter some of the most content-to-be-slaving-away-their-lives workers ever in this serial of Classic Doctor Who, as they arrive on a human colony in outer space.
The people there, albeit cheerful and musically inclined, are hiding a dark secret – to a degree even from themselves.
One of them, Medok, is not pleased at all, however. He claims to have seen giant, terrifying space crabs creeping and crawling across the compound, although depending on whom you ask, he’s just delusional and in need of “treatment”, just like anyone else who happens to have seen space crabs.
Considering that the last serial, The Moonbase, ended with Doc and PB&J seeing a giant claw on the scanner, it’s probably not that big a surprise that Medok is in fact the only person around who’s not suffering from delusions.
In any event, it is now up to our intrepid protagonists to liberate the colonists form their happiness.
The Macra (spoilers: space crabs) would later return to Doctor Who in the David Tennant episode, Gridlock, where instead of lumbering, manipulative behemoths, they were just CGI shellfish. Check out the pics here below for comparison!
And here’s the intro interview with Terence Lodge who played Medok that is referenced in this review:
The Macra Terror (0) – Intro by ZarbiOverlord
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In “The Macra Terror” the TARDIS gang arrives at the Stepford Colony to save it from gas monsters. As with most completely lost episodes, I’ve experienced it via the audiobook narrated by Anneke Wills (Polly).
The highlight of this serial for me comes from that I think this is the episode where Jamie McCrimmon starts to really show his stuff as a companion. While re-listening to the audiobook to do this review, I counted more than half a dozen instances of Jamie being the one who took action or showed the most common sense. My personal favorite such instances being Jamie being the one able to resist the colony’s brainwashing while Ben falls victim to it and Polly gets an assist from the Doctor.
Ben was the one mostly in distress as he struggled against the control of the Colony and Macra. Though it was nice to see Ben pull out of it mostly on his own. It didn’t feel like Polly had as much to do this time around, but with Jamie getting some belated spotlight I don’t mind that too much.
The Doctor was more clownish than serious this time around.What probably got the biggest chuckle out of me was his deliberately getting into a machine to make a mess of himself and upgrading his score from a ten to an eleven..
This original version of the Macra were an interesting foe, in that they maneuvered almost entirely behind the scenes. They had reached the point where they pretty much had the humans ready to destroy themselves to make the planet habitable for themselves. It’s rather sad to see them become mindless creatures we see in “Gridlock.” The Colonists provided most of the antagonism, and it was just a bit disturbing at just how mindlessly they would follow the orders of the Controller’s portrait.
The story itself wasn’t particularly standout to me. There wasn’t really anything in it that grabbed my attention in any big way. This is balanced by the focus on the characters, particularly Jamie. My ultimate rating is going to be a 3.6.
Awesome mini as always, Steven!
I don’t know when you’ll release Wirrn Dawn, so I’ll intro myself again. My name’s Chris and I’ve watched all new and classic episodes. I have tried other DW review podcasts, but I like your approach the best.
The Macra Terror starts of as the Doctor, PB&J being welcomed and manicured in the merry old land of Oz. Then there’s the big head that says nothing substantial, but everyone seems happy enough to hear from him. And Polly is sure to be the next Beauty President, which as an American, myself, doesn’t sound that far removed from how we normally elect our figure heads. They appeal to the masses. A wicked witch, Medok, is tormenting all the peaceful people. Then as the serial progresses we get to see that Oz is in fact the Orwellian world of 1984 with it’s thought police giving “treatments” to people who are not “like the rest of us.” The controller’s insistence that Macra don’t exist and the “sleep treatments” are all very thought police. Then we get some science fiction from the Macra attacks in addition to the political satire. I’m a little annoyed at how strong the Macra are later on in the series…yes Ponken they return. It grabs Polly and doesn’t immediately cut her in two. Ben is able to get it to get the Macra to release her. I like the effects associated with the Macra. The reconstruction and Colin Baker’s narration (in my version) help to show how truly frightening they would have been to 1960’s viewers. I also love how something so big and powerful as the Macra is shown to be intelligent and conniving and the people are more like mindless drones just doing what the “queen bee” says.
The fact that Jaime is less susceptible to the sleep treatments than Ben highlights how strong minded he is, which makes him a truly great companion, despite being from Earth’s past. Jamie is one of my top 5 companions of the all of Doctor Who and this serial is where he started to really come into his own.
This serial is entertaining and thought provoking throughout. It is one of my favorites. The only thing that doesn’t sit so well with me is Ben’s internal struggle with his conditioning. He’s basically useless until the very end, when he saves the day. I give The Macra Terror 4.3 out of 5.
Nice one, dude! Welcome aboard – thanks for tuning in!
My first copy of this was so worn that I couldn’t see a thing that was happening most of the time. The latest recons available raise the bar tremendously.
The Macra are a fun enemy and the story is well planned. It’s nice to have a monster that while intelligent, is more instinctual than wise. Though I think it’s hard to write an effective story for such a character that isn’t repetitive of the same theme, I would have liked to have seen a few more stories with them in it (David Tennant’s “Gridlock” was a great revival and reimagining of them).
The story’s a little slow though, and the side stories seem more like tangents than supporting plot. The public performances harken through the ages to Peter Davison’s “Four to Doomsday”, which I feel handles such things much better, integrating them into the story rather than taking you out of it.
There are some great explorations of everything from mind control to social pressure and manipulation to slavery. I feel the sets were a little drab this time around though, leaving no background eye candy to look at most of the time. My vote for most missed footage would have to be either the mine scene with the escape, or the scene where they call the controller on the viewscreen and we see he is being manipulated. The latter though is only because I was confused there. Ultimately I would have loved to have seen more of the Macra in all their low-budget terror.
Recommended script improvements would be to change the overall pace of the story. A little slower and normal at first before finding out something is amiss. Then at the same time as they (Ben), starts turning against one another and “believing” in the colony, there should be a greater emphasis on the horror/suspense aspect, with people traversing the darkness full of monsters. This story screams for some noir lighting. 2.3
PONKEN, I’ve decided to take notes as a stream of consciousness as I listen to your podcast and edit them later into a short commentary.
In addition to Loose Cannon, there are audios narrated by Colin Baker, which I’ve heard, and a more recent one narrated by Anneke Wills. Not audio books, which would be someone reading Target novelizations, but more like radio plays using the actors’ voices from the television performances.
First, at the end of the previous serial “The Moonbase” the Doctor uses the infrequently used “time scanner” which is used so infrequently we never see it again. Our story was also the first to use the title sequence with Patrick Troughton’s face and the familiar theme music.
When the story begins, Ben and Jamie’s capturing the first person they meet is unusual, like being on the side of “law and order”. The Doctor is made uncomfortable by the kindness of the colonists and breaks the whacko his companions caught out of prison to hear more about the crab monsters he has been raving about. The Doctor’s curiosity nearly gets him and the escaped alleged lunatic killed when they meet one of the crab monsters.
The next conflict has to do with whether the crab monsters exist. The Doctor thwarts the colony’s brainwashing attempts on all but Ben, who denies having seen a mosnter despite being attacked at the end of ep 2 iwth Polly. The confict comes to a head when the Controller, man in charge who appears young and hansom on screen is reveled to be old before he is hauled offscreen by a monstrous claw, spoiling the illusion.
Now, the travelers are put to work mining a gas essential to the monsters. The Doctor though is busily thinking about what is happening and doing calculations which soon cover the walls and floor of his work area, to the colonists dismay. Ben is fighting the mind control while the others work toward escape at the Doctor’s direction. We can now see, given the colonists’ glee at working for the monsters they deny exist, how Orwellian the colony is, despite how happy it all seem to everyone the Doctor has not influenced. Ben comes free from the mind control and blows away the technology that keeps the monsters alive so the colonists can carry on as before voluntarily, though without needing to mine the gas essential to their monstrous macra masters.
I’ve read this serial described as a communist parable, but considering the Doctor works agaisnt the will of the collective the entire time, I’m not sure I can say I agree. The colonists are free at the end, they’re just so accustomed to their way of life, freedom has not sunk in. One hopes they realize its benefits before constant dance contests kill them all.
Now for a summary and some analysis:
At a colony reminiscent of a holiday camp, Medok disrupted a performance the leader, the Pilot, was enjoying before fleeing, pursued by guards. He saw the TARDIS arrive and attacked Ben and Jamie, who captured him for Ola and a guard patrol. The Pilot and the Controller, who appeared on a monitor, welcomed the Doctor and his companions before turning them over to the supervisor and telling the colonists to get back to work. The Supervisor had young women drag Ben and Jamie off and Polly asked for a shampoo. Jamie was dubious and the Doctor’s appearance became immaculate at Polly’s urging, despite his protests. He used the rough and tumble machine for toning muscles to restore his usual appearance, to everyone’s concatenation. Ola tried to silence Medok as the prisoner warned colonists creatures emerged at night to “crawl all over” the colony. Control urged preparation for a reception to which one of Medok’s old friends invited him. The Doctor took an interest in what Medok was saying and, ignoring Ola, broke into the cells to ask what he had seen. After narrowly averting arrest, the Doctor was invited to look over the labor center. The Controller announced Medok had escaped and encouraged everyone to work. Ben, Jamie, and Polly learned the colony mined gas they believed was essential. An accident in the mine required oxygen to treat. The Doctor slipped off to find Medok, whom he had seen earlier and ask about the clawed insects which move through the colony each night. Medok explained Control sent anyone who saw them to the hospital for treatment. The Doctor said he wanted to look around the colony, despite being discouraged, at curfew when most colonists who were not working were ordered to bed. At that time, the Doctor left his room and searched for Medok. Finding him, they avoided the patrols with orders to shoot to kill, but encountered a hideous, crablike creature.
Medok gave himself and the Doctor away, believing he was in a position to prove what he had seen. Ola took them to see the Pilot, where Medok explained the Doctor was trying to talk him into giving himself up. The Doctor wanted to know why everyone in the colony thought alike. Control ordered the Doctor and his companions to receive deep sleep processing. Afterward, they would obey orders, love work, and not believe in Macra, the crablike insects. Ben became indoctrinated, but Jamie had trouble sleeping and did not. The Doctor disabled the equipment that would have indoctrinated Polly, upsetting Ben, who reported the Doctor and Jamie. They were taken to the hospital, where Medok was not being successfully indoctrinated. Polly became upset and ran off, pursued by Ben. She saw an, “insect like crab with claws,” but Ben could not see them and refused to believe it was harmful. A Macra grabbed and released Polly. They were surrounded. The Doctor admitted to the Pilot he damaged the equipment when Polly told her story. Ben refused to confirm what had happened and insisted Macra didn’t exist. `The Doctor challenged the Pilot to show them the Controller, refusing to simply accept the handsome face on the monitor. The Doctor’s demand prompted the handsome young man’s face to be replaced by an emaciated old man’s face, which was suddenly pulled from view by a claw.
The Doctor, Jamie, and Polly were sent to “the pit” a mine where they joined “the danger gang.” The Pilot was told to forget everything, and Ben was sent to watch his friends. The three met Medok at the mine and considered having Polly be the supervisor, but Jamie convinced the Doctor it would be better if he took the post. The Doctor spoke to Ben, encouraging him to struggle against the voices. An alarm indicated a gas strike and a cable needed to be hauled there, one of the officials inhaled a whiff of the lethal gas being mined despite his mask, giving Jamie the chance to steal a key to an old shaft, observed by Ben. The Doctor worked out a formula he wrote out all over the walls of his work space after consulting gauges for relevant readings. Upon its discovery, he learned the formula was a great secret and he was ordered to erase it. A second alarm indicated the impossible, an escape form the danger gang. It was Jamie, who had used the stolen key to enter the old shaft. Medok followed, worrying Polly, whom he left alone. The overseer ordered guards to recapture Jamie, and warned it may be necessary to tread on forbidden ground, but permission to do so was denied. Pursuing Jamie, Medok was flung against a wall by a Macra and was killed. Jamie found Medok’s body and fled the Macra. Polly returned to the Doctor, to whom Ben revealed Jamie’s escape. The Doctor realized the indoctrination was wearing off because Ben had not reported the theft of the key he’d witnessed. Ben tried to report to the Pilot, who was unavailable. The Doctor determined how the gas flow worked as it was pumped into the old shaft and the pressure was increased. Jamie became aware of the gas in the shaft and fled reviving Macra, only to encounter more.
The Doctor had Polly check pipe readings to determine which were at maximum and which were not being used at all. Upon learning which pipes were pumping gas into the old shaft, he reversed the process, claiming to, “revolutionize the colony”. Jamie hid and was buried by a rockslide as Macra tried to dig him out. When fresh air blew through the old shaft, the Macra became lethargic. As the Doctor and Polly followed the gas pipes, Jamie fled. He found himself in a rousing act intended to inspire the workers and was persuaded to dance. The guards caught him as he made his exit stage left, dancing. After identifying Jamie, Ben regretted his actions. The Doctor and Polly found the Controller and saw a Macra inhaling the gas they realized was essential for their survival. This is why the Macra ran the colony. The Pilot was questioning Jamie when the Doctor arrived to reveal what he had discovered about the Macra. Control ordered the colonists to work as well as the Doctor and his companions, except Ben, arrested. The Pilot ignored Control and accompanied the Doctor. Ben followed them as they went to forbidden territory. Control stripped the Pilot of power before the Doctor showed him the Macra and that they controlled the colony. Control ordered the Pilot; the Doctor; Jamie; and Polly to the pipe room, where the Macra intended to gas them. Ben found them and the Doctor advised him to increase the pressure to blow up the gas pipes. The colonists celebrated their new freedom and planned to make the Doctor their new Pilot. The TARDIS crew made their hasty exit, dancing.
The story’s tease referred to the conclusion of “The Moonbase” in which the Doctor and his companions saw a claw on the TARDIS’ seldom used time scanner, which was used so infrequently we haven’t seen it since. The titles incorporated the Doctor’s face for the first time. The first episode’s conflict pitted Medoc, who knew about the colony, and the curious Doctor against everyone, who accepted the colony‘s appearance, symbolized by the onscreen controller. Ben and Jamie immediately captured Medoc and Polly requested a shampoo as the colonists rewarded “the strangers” efforts on behalf of law and order. Conversely, the Doctor was rendered immaculate by the colonists, but immediately used another machine to restore his normal appearance. The second episode’s conflict contrasted mind controlled Ben, who refused to acknowledge the Macra existed after they attacked him, against the Doctor and his other companions because the Doctor’s curiosity and Polly’s terrifying experience with the Macra led them to try uncovering the truth about the Macra and the colony. Their success was demonstrated when the colonists saw their controller’s true face before a Macra claw pulled him from view on the screen. The third episode detailed the colonists punishing the Doctor and his companions as our heroes learned the nature of the work the Macra compelled colonists to do. The conclusion contrasted the poisoned gas upon which the Macra thrived with the life giving, fresh air that made the monsters docile. At the same time, the gas the colonists mined was as critical to the way the colony functioned and the destruction of the pumps that delivered it freed the colony from the need to work for the Macra tyrants. The script established most colonists didn’t believe Macra existed, which made their varying description as insects or crablike creatures with claws plausible. The real reason was the original insect idea was felt to be too similar to Zarbi and changed. Finally, this story was good for new companion, Jamie, who was better utilized here than he had been since his debut story, in which he was not originally intended to be a companion.
The colony staged frequent musical performances to keep morale up among the exhausted workers. The prevalent, unusual organ music composer Dudley Simpson synthesized for this episode was released for the DOCTOR WHO 50th Anniversary Collection on a CD called “Chromophone Band”. The BBC Archives hold only clips from this story, but the entire soundtrack exists and was released with Anneke Wills narrating around the dialogue as Colin Baker had previously. Writer Ian Stuart Black novelized his script for Target Books.