The Macra Terror

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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!

Control Voice

Synopsis

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.

Review

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.

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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

Parts: 4

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.

Best Moment

 

Best Quote

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

The Moonbase

moonbase cybermen

Everything’s got a weak point.  It’s just a question of waiting until it turns up, that’s all.

Second Doctor

Synopsis

The TARDIS lands on the Moon in 2070, where the crew are becoming infected with a strange alien virus.  With Jamie unconscious, the Doctor, Ben and Polly become aware of a mysterious silver menace.

Review

The Moonbase is perhaps notable for being the first episode to launch the “base under siege” style of Doctor Who stories, as well as cementing the Cybermen as a true A list Doctor Who villain.  Whilst the story is not perfect, it does a lot of things well, but there is some incredibly shaky scientific basis, surprising as the writer, Kit Pedler, was a scientist.  I think this story gives us Troughton’s first definitive performance as the Doctor, encapsulated by his delivery of the famous “corners” speech.

One of this story’s real strengths is that it definitely shores up the feeling of the Troughton era.  Troughton seems to have learnt where his strengths are and what sort of person the Second Doctor is.  Aside from the obvious moment, he really nails it when he realises how the Neurotrope virus is affecting the crew via the sugar, as well as the look of abject horror on his face when he realises that the crew didn’t search the medical bay.  Troughton’s face is so expressive, and he really uses it to sell the sense of impending dread.  Whilst it’s a shame that Jamie is unconscious or feverish for much of the story, the story does demonstrate the dynamics within the TARDIS team.  Both Jamie and Ben seem to have a bit of hostility towards each other, whilst it is nice that the story allows Polly to come up with a solution to defeating the Cybermen.  It’s also nice to see Ben and Polly discussing their past encounter with the Cybermen, which helps to turn the tide here, as well as bringing Jamie up to speed on their threat.

Polly Doctor Ben

Another of the strengths of the story if how it deals with the Cybermen.  By us only seeing them fleeting in the first two episodes, it effectively allows tension to be built until they are finally seen by the majority of the crew at the end of the second part.  It also allows for Hobson’s distrust of the Doctor and his companions to feel legitimate and it is a good performance by Patrick Barr.  I initially found the new voice of the Cybermen jarring and a bit irritating, but as I got used to it, actually found it more menacing and sinister than the sing-song version we get in The Tenth Planet. The use of music here also helps give the Cybermen a feeling of real dread and I particularly love the shots of the Cybermen moving across the lunar surface.

The Moonbase is definitely an episode that I’d recommend watching when looking at the development of the Second Doctor’s era as a whole, as well as seeing how the Cybermen became a classic villain.  That is not to say that it is not without flaws.  Some of the direction seems quite flat, especially whilst on the titular Moonbase, although some of the shots on the lunar surface are spectacular.  The story in places does stretch credibility, especially when the Cyber-controlled Dr. Evans is able to gain access to the controls of the Gravitron despite the base supposedly being on red alert and the fact that he is covered in black lines and wearing a Cyber control helmet.  Additionally, the conclusion to the episode feels a bit too silly for a story that by and large is a serious story that packs a lot of a threat. The Cybermen’s plan to destroy the surface of the Earth by using the Gravitron also feels pretty ridiculous and convulted plan.  None of these issues massively affected my enjoyment of the story, though I do feel as though they need to be mentioned.

Verdict: A fun, if flawed, introduction to the base under siege style of stories.  The Cybermen really have a decent second outing. 7/10

Cast: Patrick Troughton (The Doctor), Michael Craze (Ben Jackson), Anneke Wills (Polly), Frazer Hines (Jamie McCrimmon), Patrick Barr (Hobson), Andre Maranne (Benoit), Michael Wolf (Nils), John Rolfe (Sam), Alan Rowe (Voice from Space Control), Mark Heath (Ralph), Alan Rowe (Dr. Evans), Barry Ashton, Derek Calder, Arnold Chazen, Leon Maybank, Victor Pemberton, Edward Phillips, Ron Pinnell, Robin Scott, Allan Wells (Scientists), Denis McCarthy (Voice of Controller Rinberg), John Wills, Sonnie Willis, Peter Greene, Keith Goodman, Reg Whitehead (Cybermen), Peter Hawkins (Voice of Cybermen)

Writer: Kit Pedler

Director: Morris Barry

Parts: 4

Behind the Scenes

  • The Moonbase was commissioned very quickly after the broadcast of The Tenth Planet, due to uncertainty about the availability of the Daleks for future appearances and the success of the Cybermen.  Dalek creator Terry Nation was looking at opportunities to launch the infamous villains in televisions and movies in the United States.  The Cybermen would go on to reappear several times in Troughton’s run as the Doctor.
  • The first story to feature the Earth’s Moon, and the first redesign of the Cybermen.  It also marks the final usage of the original title sequence until 2013’s Day of the Doctor.
  • Episode 1 and 3 are missing, but have been animated in the BBC’s DVD release.
  • According to a story told by Anneke Wills, Patrick Troughton was nearly crushed when the Gravitron prop fell from the rigging whilst he was exploring the set.
  • Victor Pemberton, who plays an unnamed scientist, served as the show’s largely uncredited script editor from The Evil of the Daleks until The Ice Warriors, and wrote Fury From The Deep.  This makes him both one of the five people to write and act in the show and the only person to appear in a story before a story of his was broadcast.

Best Moment

I really love the moment where the Cyberman is found in the stock room.  It’s really effective and quite scary, and the story really uses shadows effectively.

Best Quote

There are some corners of the universe which have bred the most terrible things.  Things which act against everything we believe in.  They must be fought.

Second Doctor

Moonbase crew