Saturday, May 31, 2014

Doctor Who - The Macra Terror Reviewed By @Paul_Bowler

Doctor Who:
The Macra Terror
Reviewed by Paul Bowler

Having seen the image of a giant claw on the TARDIS time scanner, the Doctor, Polly, Ben, and Jamie arrive on an unknown planet in the future where they visit a human colony. They encounter Medok a crazed colonist, who is quickly arrested by Ola, the Chief of Police. The colony seems to be a happy place and is run just like a giant holiday camp. However, the Doctor is uneasy, despite the assurances of the Colony Pilot and the message of greeting from the mysterious Colony Controller who appears on a screen to welcome them.

The colony has in fact been secretly taken over by grotesque crab-like creatures known as the Macra, who have brainwashed the citizens and forced them to mine a gas for them, one toxic to humans, but essential for the Macra’s survival. Ben also succumbs to Macra’s influence and turns against the Doctor and his friends. Fortunately he manages to recover in time and helps the Doctor destroy the gas pumping equipment to kill the Macra. The colonists want the Doctor to be their new Pilot. Appalled by such a prospect, the Doctor quickly guides his companions away, dancing past the celebrating colonists as they depart.

The seventh story of Doctor Who’s fourth season, The Macra Terror (1967) is Patrick Troughton’s fifth story as the Doctor. While initially appearing to be just another straightforward adventure, with aliens taking control of a human colony, there is a wealth of underlying themes here. Written by Ian Stuart Black, The Macra Terror draws on a wealth of influences, particularly George Orwell’s classic Nineteen Eighty Four, while splicing its themes of subjugation to authority with the iconic imagery of many a 1950’s bug movie to great effect. While the more serious aspects of the story are undoubtedly overshadowed by the inclusion of the Macra creatures themselves, the good performances and dramatic scenes make this a very intriguing adventure.

Patrick Troughton is on fine form here as the Doctor. Indeed this second incarnation of the Time Lord, with his quiet manner and anti-authoritarian stance, seems perfectly at home here, rallying against the totalitarian regime the Macra have created. The Macra Terror is the absolute antithesis of everything Troughton’s Doctor stands for. The scene where the Doctor’s appearance is spruced up by a machine, and he promptly jumps into another machine to get all messes up again, while fun, illustrates how quickly the Doctor has grasped the situation, and is already rebelling against the regime that has been established to control the colony.

This is another great story for the Doctor’s companions as well. Anneke Wills has to confront the Macra creatures on several occasions, she also has some great scenes with the Doctor, and I love the moment where he warns her about the brainwashing - advising her not to just be obedient and to always make up her own mind. Frazer Hines also get a lot more to do as Jamie in this story, he’s really becoming an integral part of the TARDIS crew now, and Jamie even finds time to do the Highland Fling at one point to evade his pursuers. However, it is Michael Craze as Ben Jackson that really impresses in this story. Of all the Doctor’s companions, Ben is perhaps the most down-to-earth, so when he succumbs to the Macra’s insidious influence, it makes it all the more shocking to see him turn against his friends like he does, and Michael Craze’s performance is utterly convincing - especially when he is struggling to regain control again.

Created by Shawcraft, the company that built many of the most memorable monsters seen in Doctor Who during the 1960’s, the Macra are certainly one of the series most striking creations. These giant, crab-like creatures are actually really effective. While they may not be the most well characterised monster ever seen in Doctor Who, the very concept of what the Macra are capable of doing is quite unsettling. They feature in some genuinely creepy scenes, especially in the early episodes, where director John Davies swathes them in shadows and mist to heighten the suspense. The scenes were Ben and Polly are cornered by the Macra are particularly chilling, as they cower together in horror, the sheer terror that Annike Wills manages to convey in her performance is almost palpable and in turn this makes the imposing threat of the Macra entirely convincing.

The supporting cast are also really good, with some great performances that really bring an added depth to the characters. Peter Jeffery is exceptionally good as the colonies Pilot, and Graham Leman is great as the Controller. Terence Lodge also gives a good performance as Medok, singled out by the authorities because he claims to have seen the crab creatures, he remains determined to fight the system that has brainwashed his fellow colonists. Unusually, the role of Chiki ended up being played by two different actresses, Sandra Bryant appeared in Episode One, and the role was subsequently recast with Karol Keys in Episode Four.

While no episodes of The Macra Terror exist in the BBC Archives, we still have the audio soundtrack to enjoy. Originally released on audio cassette (1992) and then on CD (2000), with linking narration by Colin Baker, the soundtrack was later re-released again on CD in The Lost TV Episodes Collection (2012), this time featuring new narration by Anneke Wills. Telesnaps also exist to document these missing episodes and the stories few surviving clips were released on The Lost in Time DVD set (2004).

Although not the best story on audio, it’s still a good adventure to listen too, and together with the telesnaps and clips, offers us some impression of the tone and atmosphere of the story. Ken Sharp’s sets looks extremely good, the Macra seem very menacing, especially in the first two episodes, and the clips that exist offer further insight into what these episodes would’ve been like. Then we have the Target novelisation of The Macra Terror (1987), written by Ian Stuart Black, which is also a very good adaptation of the television story.

The Macra Terror also featured the first episodes to use the new title sequence designed by Bernard Lodge and realised by Ben Palmer, one which incorporated the image of Patrick Troughton’s face in the titles. The foam machine, soon to become a staple element of many a Troughton story, was also used for the first time in this adventure.

In many respects The Macra Terror is full of good ideas, some are more effective than others, but as a whole the story holds together quite well, and it’s only really the ending where it falls a little flat. However, the Macra did indeed eventually return to Doctor Who in Gridlock (2007), and it was a nice surprise to see these classic monsters again, even if it was only fleetingly. The Macra Terror, while not exactly a classic, is still a fine addition to Season Four. Together with the strong performances from Troughton, Craze, Wills, and Hines, good design, and effective use of the Macra themselves; The Macra Terror is certainly a story that has a lot going for it.

Who knows, maybe this adventure could still gathering dust on a shelf somewhere, just waiting to be found. Of all the missing Doctor Who episodes I think this one would be a great story to be able to reappraise, especially now after I’ve listened to the audio again and enjoyed seeing the telesnaps reprinted in the brilliant Doctor Who Missing Episodes Special Edition: The Second Doctor Vol I. I wonder, would The Macra Terror stand up to the test of time, offering an intriguing glimpse into this period of Doctor Who during the 1960’s, or would it instead leave us cringing with embarrassment? Who can say? So, until such a time then audio it is, but remember… “There is no such thing as Macra! Macra do not exist! There are no Macra!”

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