This is an emergency! Control must be believed and obeyed! No-one in the colony believes in Macra! There is no such thing as Macra! Macra do not exist! There are no Macra!
The Doctor, Ben, Polly and Jamie visit a colony that appears to be a happy holiday camp. However, when they scratch beneath the surface, they find that the colonists are mind controlled by the Macra, crab-like creatures, who are forcing them to mine a gas vital for their survival, but fatal to the colonists.
On the face of it, The Macra Terror seems like a kind of B-movie that you’d comfortably sit down to watch on a rainy Sunday afternoon. There are more interesting ideas lurking beneath the surface, a bit like the titular aliens about the idea of conformity and mind control, which draw obvious parallels to Orwell’s 1984 and give an interesting insight into concerns at the time. The story has certainly benefitted from being animated and I think that the quality of the animation really helps the story, even if the Macra aren’t a great or particularly memorable villain. The parts that will stick with me are around some great performances from both the guest and main cast, especially Patrick Troughton who seems to be revelling in the chaos.
Sadly, the titular monsters are the weakest part of the story. The Macra feel like a rather generic monster and this really undermines the story especially in its later stages. They are quite effective in the early parts of the story, where they are shrouded in mist and their glowing eyes are quite creepy. Later on, sadly they are less interesting, but they still do add a sense of menace, such as when the Macra sneak up on Ben and Polly or when they come looming out of the gas when Jamie is in the old shaft. As creatures that can only talk through the projections of the Controller, they are rather one dimensional beyond the feeling of threat. Ultimately, the conclusion feels a bit anti-climatic as the Macra cannot pose more of a threat. They are menacing enough, but they don’t really pose the Doctor enough of a real threat to be taken too seriously.
However, the underlying ideas of the story are interesting. The mined gas being fatal to humans but vital to the survival of the Macra is a good idea, making the mind washing seem like a reasonable thing to see here. I find the mind control a much more sinister aspect of this story – there’s something about gloriously happy people that I find inherently creepy. Ian Stuart Black obviously takes inspiration from Orwell’s 1984, with the Controller feeling very much like Big Brother. I particularly find the propaganda songs to be particularly creepy, and while the reveal that the Controller is really the Macra is not particularly shocking – it’s the sort of twist that almost always happens in stories like this – it is well done here. The story also delves into propaganda, indoctrination and unquestioning obedience to authority, especially when it comes to the character of Ola, who is power hungry and therefore keen to make a stand against the Pilot when he starts to believe the Doctor about the Macra.
Bad laws were made to be broken.
The Second Doctor
The cast is especially good here, especially Troughton who seems to take a childish joy in teasing the authority figures and generally causing mischief. A story which features a compliant group of colonists is practically perfect for the Doctor to unleash his inner rebel and his detestation of authority. This story is notable for perhaps giving Jamie the first real action he has seen since joining the TARDIS team. Ben and Polly are more sidelined here, possibly to prepare the audience for their imminent departure in The Faceless Ones, but Michael Craze does some good work with Ben, despite being subject to mind control for the majority of the story. You can feel the conflict and anguish he is going through when he sells out his friends to Ola as he battles the Macra’s mind control. Amongst the guest cast, Peter Jeffrey stands out as the Pilot, who gradually comes to believe that the Doctor is telling the truth, and Gertan Klauber is great as the unsmiling Ola, hungry for more power.
Verdict: The Macra Terror is a good piece of the Second Doctor’s era, now gloriously restored in animated form. It is an enjoyable adventure, even if the titular monsters aren’t fantastic. 8/10
Cast: Patrick Troughton (The Doctor), Michael Craze (Ben Jackson), Anneke Wills (Polly), Frazer Hines (Jamie McCrimmon), Peter Jeffrey (Pilot), Terence Lodge (Medok), Gertan Klauber (Ola), Graham Armitage (Barney), Ian Fairbairn (Questa), Jane Enshawe (Sunaa), Sandra Bryant & Karol Keyes (Chicki), Maureen Lane (Drum Majorette), Graham Leaman (Controller), Anthony Gardner (Alvis), Denis Goacher (Control Voice), Richard Beale (Broadcast and Propaganda Voice), Robert Jewell (Macra Operator), John Harvey (Officia), John Caesar, Steve Emerson & Danny Rae (Guards), Roger Jerome, Terry Wright & Ralph Carrigan (Cheerleaders)
Writer: Ian Stuart Black
Director: John Davies
Behind the Scenes
- The first story to feature the lead actor’s face in the opening titles, which would continue until Survival. It would return in The Snowmen in 2012, until Twice Upon A Time. This story also featured a new arrangement for the theme tune, but this did not debut until the broadcast of the second episode due to technical issues.
- Sandra Bryant asked producer Innes Lloyd if she could be released from her contract due to a more attractive offer of work. Her role was recast for episode four.
- The Macra returned in Gridlock, forty years after this story was broadcast. This is the third longest gap between appearances, behind the Great Intelligence and Alpha Centauri.
- All four parts of the story are missing from the BBC archive, however, the story was completely animated and released in 2019. This is the last four part story missing from the archives.
- Peter Jeffrey went on to play Count Grendel in The Androids of Tara. Sandra Bryant and John Harvey previously appeared in The War Machines, while Gertan Klauber had previously appeared in The Romans.
Oh, come now, we can’t have bad temper and differences of opinion in this happy-type colony! Say you’re sorry, Ola. Say you’re sorry, Pilot.
The Second Doctor