The Countdown is almost at zero.
After this story – The Macra Terror – there will only be one more completely missing story from the archives. That’ll make my job a little easier, I have to say.
Doctor Who – The Macra Terror Review: So What’s This One About?
The TARDIS lands in a Butlins-style Holiday Camp on an Earth Colony planet. But the camp has a dark secret. While on the face of it, it’s a happy place
full of smiling singing and fulfilled people, it’s really being run by giant parasitic – and yet incredibly well spoken – crabs known as the Macra. The Macra are controlling the humans via mind influencing gas that is pumped into their rooms while they sleep.
But one man – Medoc – has not been conditioned properly and he knows the truth. This sparks the Doctor’s interest and attention and eventually lands the travellers in trouble.
While the colonists try to condition the travellers, the only one it works on is Ben, who turns heel into one of the villains of the piece.
Can the Doctor save the colony from the Macra? It’s difficult, because as the Macra are quick
“No-one on the Colony believes in Macra. There is no such thing as Macra. Macra do not exist. There are no Macraaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!”
Thoughts – The Story and The Macra
On its own, this story hasn’t got a particularly good plot. Most of the things that happen are in episodes 1 & 2 to set the scene. But once you get beyond that it seems to focus mostly on Jamie wandering around the abandoned mine where some Macra are trapped before it quickly moves to a finish.
Take for example episode 4. They have a scene where the Doctor and Polly make their way through some corridors to go deep into the heart of the Operations Centre, and discover that a Macra is operating Control (which we knew anyway because of the cliffhanger of episode 2). In the same episode they repeat the entire sequence of events, but this time with the Doctor taking the Pilot to have a look.
Then there’s the character of Medoc who just fizzles out and the boo-hiss villain, Police Chief Ola. Both characters lack any sort of depth.
No, as a story this isn’t up to much, but it’s saved by the hilarious Macra.
Throughout the history of Doctor Who there has been all manner of funny voices used for ‘monsters’, whether it’s the voice modulated kind (Daleks,
Cybermen, Nimon etc), the whispering kind (Sea Devils, Zygons, Ice Warriors), the relatively normal sounding ones (Sontarans, Jagaroth, Draconians) or the ones that sound exactly like Nicholas fucking Briggs (anything post 2005).
But no monster before or after have strived to sound like manic, cowardly luvvies like the Macra.
I’d love to be able to upload audio so you could hear what they sound like, but sadly I can’t. Needless to say, the voices of the Macra are probably my very favourite throughout the whole of the series. You could imagine them hosting elaborate dinner parties with voices like that.
The quote above is a terrific example of them. If you want to hear it search on youtube for a Macra Terror Reconstruction and it’s at the very end of the first part of the second episode.
Of course, I say they are comedy luvvies, but you could also argue that they are unique in that while most Dr Who monsters are intimidating, the Macra are utter wimps. The one operating Control in charge of the PA system has a breakdown during episode 4 when he realises the Doctor is onto him, and her gets more and more desperate as the episode goes on, culminating in him being rumbled by the Doctor & The Pilot. “They’re here!!!!”, he says in a panicked voice, “the Pilot and the Stranger in Forbidden Territory. They must be DESTROYED”.
Without the Macra, the story is nothing, and without the voices, the Macra are just rather silly looking crab props. So it shows how important voice artists really are.
Take the 10th Doctor Story, Gridlock, for example. It was great that the Macra showed up for a few seconds in that, but without their voice they were just crabs sitting at the bottom of the traffic. Nothing much at all.
No, all the credit in this story has to go to Denis Goacher as the voice of the Macra.
Any review of this story couldn’t go by without a mention of the unique incidental music, combining some rather strange sounding ‘organ’ style music with of-the-time jingles, ‘Chromophone’ Bands and heart-beat style chase music.
Much like the Macra voices, this ends up being a major part of what defines the story. I wouldn’t say that in as positive a way though, as the organ-style ‘Sting’ gets pretty incongruous and irritating as the story develops.
Still, it was good use of music for the era though, especially with the Jingles. It’ll probably seem less dated in 40 years than the use of ‘Toxic’ by Britney Spears in The End of the World will.
- I’m going to discuss this again in the Faceless Ones review, but Polly’s hair in this story has always troubled me. It starts off long, it’s then short (because she gets a haircut) and by the Faceless Ones its long again. A look at wikipedia tells me she had her hair cut in real life and that was written into the story, so she used hair extensions for the first few scenes. So why has her hair grown back again fully in the next story? Or should I say, why did they bother to have her wear hair extensions again in the next story? Utterly bizarre, and something that has troubled me for a while (which I’ll admit is quite sad, but there you go)
- From the section marked ‘It Meant Something Else Back Then’, the Doctor – upon seeing the Colony – assertively states “Well, isn’t this Gay”.
- Ben turns full-blown heel in this story, only managing to turn back into a nice guy (without much explanation really) at the end. It’s a shame that his character lost focus and likeability the moment Jamie turned up.
- From another section, this time marked “I Would Never Have Known It Was Him“, Officia is played by John Harvey, who was Professor Brett in the War Machines. It must be the hair…
- The always-good Peter Jeffrey plays the Pilot here. Jeffrey is better known – and rightly so – for his wonderful portrayal of Count Grendal in the Androids of Tara.
- Looking at the cast list, it highlights part of my problem with the story. So few of the human characters have any focus or depth to them that they are just a list of names. Who are Sunnaa and Chicki? I don’t know and I have no real desire to find out.
- It’s never explicitly said whether or not the Macra are supposed to be Crabs, Parasites or Insects. There seems to be some debate about it during the story. Well, they look like Crabs, so that’s what I’m sticking with.
- Once again, none of the travellers bother to have a bath or a change of clothes between stories.
From the File Marked: Things You Don’t Do If You Want to Keep an Elaborate Deception Going…
As far as the colonists are concerned, Control is operated by a handsome man in his 30s or 40s. Whenever the Macra have anything to say, they put his
picture up on the screen (we can assume that he WAS in control before the Macra took over).
As a system, it works.
Until, that is, Polly demands that they have Control speak to them on a live video link.
At this point, the Macra are faced with two choices.
- Tell her to bugger off because it’ll ruin everything.
- Put the man who they think is the Controller on screen, despite him now looking a good 30 years older, and seemingly unable to speak. Then, with the man on the screen, speak over him and actually talk to him, demanding he tells the strangers to believe and obey (thus immediately proving that it isn’t him who has been giving out the orders). Then, when the old man is confused and starts to talk to the Macra off camera saying “I will tell them. I’ll do what you say” and then starts to break down, reach their giant crab claw into full view of the camera and grab him by the neck, proving without any shadow of a doubt that there ARE Macra.
As you can probably guess, the chose option 2.
Doctor Who – The Macra Terror Review: Final Thoughts
As a story it isn’t up to much, but the Macra are a combination of stupid and brilliant. At the very least you have to listen to their fantastic voices.