Rewatching... Doctor Who: The Macra Terror – Part 3

My continuing mission: to watch classic television exactly fifty years after original broadcast date...

Saturday 25 March 1967

Crabs are unlikely creatures to use as an enemy, even in a sci-fi fantasy series. I can only see glimpses, so it's difficult to tell how convincing they are but it's hard to imagine something so rigid and bulky being particularly threatening. And crabs are not the speediest of creatures so I presume one could just walk away from them briskly. But ok, these are space crabs so maybe they move like lightning. And they're rather large. Of course in the 21st century version of this programme we'll see animal-based aliens all the time: space rhinoceroses, space wasps, space pigs, space whales, space cats, space giraffes...and indeed a return of the Macra, but in 1967 this is a bit of a novelty. Ok, maybe not space giraffes.

So what they've done here is combine George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four with the aforementioned space crabs. A surprising move, and so soon after we've had to come to terms with space fish in that other aquatic-based story The Underwater Menace. Many of the key elements from Orwell's novel are here: an unseen controller keeping the population in check by controlling their actions and thoughts. A brainwashed society living in what appears on the surface to be a happy holiday camp, unaware of what's going on behind the scenes. And a single rebel who's determined to expose the unseen corrupt leaders and encourage the population to wake up and think for themselves. You know, the more I think about it, this concept would make a great TV series. Perhaps with a bigger budget on ITV. Has anyone got Lew Grade's number?

Anyway, episode 3: The old man on the screen is dragged away by the big claw and Polly screams about the Macra being in control, so the Pilot orders her and her friends (except Ben who's still under the mind control) to be taken to the mines. As we discovered last week, the Pilot is also being controlled. The voice of the controller instructs him to send the travelers to a new and dangerous gas reserve, for discipline. They call the team working here the "danger gang" but as far as I can see they don't have special 'Danger Gang' t-shirts. Ben is told to keep an eye on his friends.

The Doctor, Jamie and Polly go to work and it turns out that their shift leader is Medok, the rebel. He warns them that the gas is deadly and they'll need masks. Jamie and Polly go to the pit and the Doctor stays upstairs playing supervisor, giving himself a chance to look around and investigate. Interesting that it's only after Jamie prompts him that the Doctor stays at the top. Instinctively he wanted to protect Polly, let her be supervisor and go down to the pit himself, but Jamie nudged him, pointing out he might be more 'useful' staying behind. Though I feel the Highlander is displaying a lack of confidence in his lady friend, who has proven to be extremely resourceful in the past. 

Creepily, Ben is standing, zombie-like, watching the Doctor as he investigates the machinery. The Doctor spots him and calmly warns him that if he's going to spy on them he'd better watch out for Jamie. "He's not so tolerant as I am." As I mentioned last week, Ben's cockney accent is gone, which gives this brainwashing stuff a quite subtle menace.

In the pit there's almost immediate drama as an alarm goes off signaling a gas strike, and resulting in escaping gas. Medok talks about gas from the bowels of the planet. Ew.

Meanwhile the Doctor's been doing sums and writing them in chalk. He awards himself ten out of ten and marks that next to the sums! The Pilot enters the room and demands to know where the Doctor got hold of the formula he's chalked up. I like the Doctor being excited by his own cleverness, it's very funny. After the Pilot informs him his calculations are exactly the same as their process formula he beams excitedly, and alters his score to eleven out of ten! Grumpy Pilot tells him to wipe it off so he chucks water at it. "'X to the power of Y' has dribbled into 'two threes are six'", he chuckles. It's like a teacher and a naughty pupil, except the pupil is secretly astonishingly intelligent and intellectually superior to his teacher.

In the pit Jamie has discovered a mysterious metal door. He asks where it leads and Medok tells him he has no idea and that it's never been opened. So of course, as you do with mysterious locked doors, Jamie sets about finding out, and manages to steal a set of keys. Polly goes with him and watches him work on the lock but I don't know why she doesn't follow Jamie through the door. Apart from the fact that splitting up the companions makes for better drama of course. Perhaps Polly was motivated by dramatic impact.

Unwittingly Jamie has unlocked the door to the cliffhanger. Let's face it, nothing good was ever found behind a locked door that comes with the warning "no one ever goes in there". His opening the door sets off an alarm and when Medok is alerted by this he rushes off to find Jamie...and his doom!

Elsewhere Ben is struggling with his conditioning, much to the Doctor's approval. He claims he saw Jamie take the key but did nothing to stop him because he can't think straight.

Medok is crab-clawed to death and Jamie hears his cry and goes to investigate, soon encountering the Macra himself. But this one is slow moving and not very aggressive.

Ben and the Pilot deduce that Jamie is in one of the gas shafts and the Control voice orders the poisonous gas to be pumped into this shaft. The Doctor has worked out that the gas is not to kill Jamie but to feed the nasties lurking in the shaft. The Macra is revived by the gas and advances on Jamie, who's choking on the poisonous fumes. How on Earth is he going to get out of that?! Surely it's the end for Jamie...

Read next: Closure
Nick Brown
Nick Brown

I've embarked upon an open ended mission, pretending to travel back in time and watch classic television on (or close to) the fiftieth anniversary of original broadcast date; getting a sense of the context, the magic of that first viewing.

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Rewatching... Doctor Who: The Macra Terror – Part 3
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Closure