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Rewatching... Doctor Who: The Macra Terror – Part 4

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

"Confusion is best left to the experts."

Saturday 1 April 1967

Jamie is trapped by giant crabs (the Macra of the title) and if that's not enough he has to contend with poison gas as well. The gas is what keeps the Macra active and at the moment the supply is being maintained, under the control of Control, by Officia the official. He's actually in charge of sending people into the mines. Nobody's keeping an eye on the Doctor and Polly though, which is lucky as it enables them to mess about with the controls and stop the gas flow, thus rendering the Macra docile and saving Jamie.

The Doctor tricking Officia into giving away what the controls do is clever, and seems to be becoming a trademark of this version of the Doctor.

Ola and his guards come after the Doctor and Polly, who lock the door and escape to a room full of pipes. The Doctor's line: "I'm not spending the rest of my life with a lot of old pipes" amused me!

Jamie is getting a lot more action now, escaping from the mines and finding himself in a hall during a rehearsal of a 'happy' brainwashing holiday camp sing-along. The man leading has a sort of weird semi-American accent. Accent and song are both extremely irritating. Jamie is spotted and presumed to be one of the dancers. The bewildered Scot plays along, and shows them his dance: the Highland Fling. He dances his way out of the room by 'flinging' himself through the door, but it doesn't go to plan as Ola and the guards were outside. Ben is ordered to identify Jamie and at this point his mind control appears to be wearing off.

The Doctor and Polly follow the pipes and discover the colony's big secret. The ranting voice of control is not the voice of a man at all, it's the Macra operating levers on a control panel and broadcasting their commands.

I wonder why writer Ian Stuart Black chose crabs as the baddies in this. I mean, it's a story about totalitarianism, capitalists and dissidents, the masses being controlled by monsters who've taken control behind the scenes. But of all animals he could have picked, or a new race of aliens (with say, hands!) it's hard to imagine crabs building a colony. I guess it's all done through slave labour and mind control, although this scene shows Macra operating controls with their claws. I presume it's a nod to the pigs in Animal Farm. Still, creepy crabs, why not?

The Doctor likens the Macra to germs or parasites invading a human body, like a disease. A bit like crabs then. They decide to fetch the Pilot and show him who's really running the colony. Ola is still brainwashed though so now he's marked the Pilot as his enemy too. The voice of control gets really hysterical, screaming and ranting. These are not cool, calm villains.

After getting locked in a room with poison gas the Doctor instructs the now recovered Ben on how to defeat the Macra by messing about with the gas supply. The control voice reaches fever pitch and Ben's "Oh shut up" could be a glib put down straight out of 21st century Doctor Who. He pulls a few levers, pushes a few more, there's a big explosion and that's the end of the Macra.

The final scene makes me aware once again of how much we may be missing with an audio only recording of this episode. The Doctor and his friends, including the now friendly Pilot are caught up in the big celebrations with majorettes and awful band music. One of the majorettes puts her big hat onto the delighted Doctor's head, and after Ben informs him that he's expected to become the new Pilot a horrified Doctor leads everyone out of the room dancing the Highland Fling! I'd have loved to have seen that.

I'm surprised after the brainwashing wore off that the population would still want to continue with their happy majorette holiday camp shenanigans. You'd think they'd be pleased to see the back of all that.

I was slightly disappointed there was no lead in to the next episode so I'll have to wait a whole week to find out where they end up next. But the Doctor and pals dancing their way into the end credits made up for it.

So that was better than I'd expected really. An unusually adult story for Doctor Who, more like the sort of cerebral sci-fi you see in Out Of The Unknown, or maybe The Outer Limits. I suspect the monster effects may have let it down if I'd been able to actually see it, but let's face it we don't enjoy this programme for it's effects. Wait though... something's happening... (THUMP! THUMP! Bzzzzt...) I think I'm getting a picture on my tv again...

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 4
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