‘The Macra Terror’
Written by Ian Stuart Black, directed by John Davies
Originally transmitted 11 March to 1 April 1967
The Doctor and his companions visit a holiday colony where all seems to be peaceful and harmless, but something sinister lurks beneath the surface and it will take all of the Doctor’s cunning and persistence in order to defeat a horrific menace.
Doctor Who is a lot of things to a lot of people. For decades, it was a national heritage in the United Kingdom. In the US of the 1970’s, it was an obscure program played on PBS stations featuring a curly haired guy in a scarf fighting what looked like trash barrels and sock puppets. In more recent years, Doctor Who has taken a new place in the pop culture zeitgeist alongside Star Wars, Star Trek and the like. It’s a wild and immense science fiction epic that is weird, imaginative and multi-faceted with stories reaching back throughout generations of fans. It’s really like nothing else out there.
A serial program, Doctor Who ran from 1963-1989 with stories stretched out between four to six weekly installments (sometimes much longer epics, on a few occasions just one part). Accompanied by traveling companions from the past and future, the Doctor would land in one situation after another to encounter strange monsters from the dawn of time, creatures made of fear and some that looked more at home in a psychiatrist’s handbook. In the 1960’s, Doctor Who was undergoing a shift in tone that made it more intense and provocative while retaining the status of a family program.
The Macra Terror featured a holiday camp on an alien world with wicked secrets and mind-blowing monsters. Sadly, like many stories of this era, it is lost. This story along with many others were trashed and remain unseen to anyone not fortunate to see it when it was initially screened. All that remains are some photographs from viewer’s TV screens and audio recordings made by fans on magnetic tape (yes… people really did this and without that level of dedication we would have no inkling to what many adventures of this period were like).
Arriving in the middle of a colorful parade, the Doctor, Ben, Polly and Jamie are cheerfully greeted as unexpected guests. This is in sharp contrast to the usual situation in which the Doctor is almost immediately suspected as a murderer or spy. But its apparent almost at once that the Doctor is out of place. After receiving a mechanized beauty treatment that straightens his messy mop of hair, irons out his trousers, polishes his shoes and mends his frock coat… he leaps into another machine intended to enhance fitness and is a sloppy mess in no time.
The second incarnation of the Doctor is still regarded by fans as the most important of the program’s 50 plus year-long history. Appearing to be a buffoon, this incarnation of the Doctor is shrewd and may seem over-excitable and frantic at times, strangely eccentric at others but underneath it all is a brilliant mind. A short time after being introduced in Power of the Daleks, a story about conspiracy and intrigue in which the Doctor was the only person crying wolf, we find him once again taking a stand against the status quot.
As the Doctor slowly uncovers the mystery of the colony, he finds that the general population is sedated into compliance through electronic suggestion. He witnesses the betrayal of Ben Jackson first hand when he fails to prevent his brainwashing. But when Ben rescues Polly (who he was always sweet on) in the tunnels from a massive monstrous crab he snaps out of it.
The Macra themselves are enormous. Roughly the size of a compact car, they were only glimpsed briefly on screen through the deadly mist that they thrived on. Ruling the colony from below through a puppet government, the Macra survived on the backs of the people unaware that they were aiding a race creepy giant crabs. It’s such a brilliant story idea that it has been used several times since.
Long time fans of Doctor Who will no doubt sense echoes of The Macra Terror in The Sun Makers, The Happiness Patrol and of course Gridlock. When Sydney Newman first envisioned the Doctor, he thought of him as something of a revolutionary and anti-establishment figure. Stories such as The Macra Terror play this notion very well, where the Doctor seems to be in the minority as the only sane man in a crazy world.
Patrick Troughton is in fine form and after finding his balance between the comedic performances in the Highlanders and Underwater Menace to the multi-faceted master planner in the Moonbase. Anneke Wills and Michael Craze continue to do the heavy lifting in this story as two of the most overlooked companions of the program’s legacy. Frazer Hines as Jamie McCrimmon is still staggering about as the script writers were expected to squeeze him into an already overloaded script. He wouldn’t really come into his own until after Ben and Polly left unceremoniously in the Faceless Ones.
Written by Ian Stuart Black, the same man behind the Savages and the War Machines, there is a connecting thread of subterfuge, conspiracy and a society poisoned from within embedded in this script. An inspired classic, we may never have the opportunity to see the Macra Terror in all of its glory… but having witnessed two stories from the Second Doctor’s era surface last year, stranger things have happened!
What are your thoughts on this long lost story?