The Macra Terror: Episode Two
There are two elements that let this episode down. The first is the titular monster as, thanks to surviving footage, we can see that it’s absolute shit. The second is the scene leading up to the cliffhanger, from which one can only conclude that the Macra are incompetent bunglers (how likely is that, when they have an encompassing system of mind control?) or just not very on-the-ball when it comes to spontaneous responses. It’s been suggested that the Macra, as a parasite, aren’t actually smart at all, and that that controlled humans respond by creating a system of control. I’m not sure how much I buy that, but it’s an element that is not really elaborated on either way.
The cliffhanger is resolved when Ola takes the Doctor and Medok captive. Ola cuts short any conversation of the crabs with “We don’t want to know what strangers think”. Taken to see the Pilot, we can see that he has an attractive secretary taking his dictation. And observe that the tannoy has an increasingly annoying bad American accent. Trout’s on good form here, with the Pilot not quite sure how to respond to him.
The Doctor: Good evening, Pilot. Oh, what a very nice office you have here.
What transpires in this scene, and becomes even clearer as the episode progresses, is that the Pilot is not some urbane mastermind who gets his henchman to do his dirty work. Which I was half expecting following the first episode. He’s as much in the dark in respect of the truth of the Colony as everyone else. The emphasis on character makes the episode stand out as a particularly strong one, and refreshing after the last couple of stories. So Medok lies that the Doctor was trying to get him to give himself up, in order that the Doctor can continue to have free range.
Pilot: He’ll be given another course of treatment. And, when he returns to the Colony, Medok will be a changed man. He will co-operate. And he will obey orders. He will be just like the rest of us.
That could be an utterance from The Prisoner, even if the motivation of the rulers is decidedly less oblique.
The Doctor: Why do you want everyone to be the same?
Pilot: … Our ancestors believed in the virtues of healthy happiness and we have tried to keep their ideas alive. Sometimes, alas, it is necessary to use force.
We’re told that the Colony’s ancestors arrived many centuries before, so we’re looking at a period significantly later than the last two Earth bases we encountered (Vulcan and the Moonbase).
The meat of this episode is the brainwashing attempts on the TARDIS crew and the consequences thereof. The implementation of the “deep sleep and thinking patterns” adaptors are rather overstated, since it’s clear that these are standard devices used on the population (Pilot is instructed by the Controller). It was presumably felt that this needed explaining to the audience in advance, but since the Doctor goes through it with Polly later I’m not sure it was.
There’s a curious, but undeniably effective rant from the voice of Control. Why are they announcing their identity when they are so careful to conceal it elsewhere? Laying it out for the audience (most likely)? Or perhaps they don’t think it matters too much as the brainwashing will quickly take hold and anyone who hears them discuss their presence will forget.
Control: Control must be believed and obeyed. No one on the Colony believes in the Macra. There is no such thing as Macra. Macra do not exist. There are no Macra!
Jamie’s got his head doon for the second story running (this is where we hear Colin Baker’s infamous “Jamie was tossing restlessly” on the BBC audio). The messages given are quite soothing, sinister and relaxing, a bit like something out of Dougal and the Blue Cat, but Jamie is singled out as resistant (it is “an evil voice”). This is the first story in which he’s been properly included as companion and, while it is a good Ben story (as he gets to act up), the latter has clearly been moved to secondary status.
Voice: The sleeper must relax and believe. Everything in the Colony is good and beautiful. You must accept it without question. You must obey orders. The leaders of the Colony know what is best. In the morning when you wake up you will be given some work. You will be glad to obey. You will question nothing in the Colony… You will not resist the sleeping gas. Breathe deeply. In the morning when you wake you will obey.
The intervention of the Doctor, sabotaging the devices by Polly’s bed and bringing her to her senses (“I think you’ve been listening to some very bad advice”) sees him offer up something of a mission statement.
The Doctor: My advice to you is don’t do anything of the sort. Don’t just be obedient. Always make up your own mind.
Despite some intrusive Dudley electronica, the confrontation with Ben is tense stuff. The sailor instructs the Doctor to desist from his sabotage.
Ben: Lay off, mate. You’ll find yourself on a charge.
The Doctor: Better some damage than loss of willpower.
Ben: Get out of it! It’s against the law!
The Doctor: What law?
Ben: The law of the colony.
In some respects, Ben is the ideal candidate for mind control. He’s used to regimentation and following orders (the reference to “a charge”) and spent his earlier adventures fretting about getting back to his ship. He also displayed undisguised contempt for the second Doctor initially. As a result, his tone doesn’t seem that unlikely even if his change of allegiance is dramatic.
Polly: Since when did you start to worry?
Ben: He thinks he knows best all the time but this time he’s wrong…
In a touch far more disturbing than any monsters lurking in the dark, Ben’s cockney accent becomes noticeably RP as the he continues.
Ben: Control knows what’s best for us. They want us to co-operate. We should be helping.
Polly: What’s the matter with you, Ben? This doesn’t sound like you at all.
Ben: You should obey. The Doctor’s causing trouble. I’m going to turn him in.
The Doctor admonishes Jamie to let him go (“Violence will get you nowhere” – until final episodes, that is) but the inter-crew friction here is like nothing we will see again the JN-T era (although the same season’s The Evil of the Daleks comes close, and there’s the odd possession along the way). Ben even heckles the Doctor as Ola leads him off.
Ben: The hospital! He needs correction more than Medok does!
Speaking of whom, the correction he is undergoing seems to be in the background as the Pilot decides what to do with him (send him to the pits for life). The voice Medok hears is decidedly less soothing than the sleepy-byes one.
Ben’s pursuit of Polly just sees him become more and more sinister, grabbing her as she protests “Leave me alone!” We will later see villainous performances from companions in Inferno and Terror of the Zygons, but at least they aren’t supposed to be the same character. Unfortunately, this good work comes crashing down when Polly spies, and is then set upon by, a Macra (“Like an insect or a giant crab” – because the two are interchangeable…) It would certainly be better left to the imagination than the sight of Polly sat between Macra claws with some dry ice wafting about. It’s sadly risible.
The episode does recover, almost immediately, though. When they join the Doctor, being interviewed by the Pilot, Ben has reverted to his controlled state. And the preceding exchange between the Doctor and the Pilot, where the latter accuses him of destroying the nerve circuits, sees the former realise just how indoctrinated the Colony is.
Pilot: What do you have to say?
The Doctor: Rather neat, don’t you think? And so simple. I did it with this (proffers whatever he did it with).
Pilot: You admit it?
The Doctor: I’m proud of it.
Pilot: Well, (noticing the Doctor is distracted) … What is it? What’s the matter?
The Doctor: My dear Pilot, your wall. Even you are subject to this form of subconscious control.
So it’s a shame that the blundering logic of the Macra is then highlighted. Ben tells the Pilot that there were no creatures attacking him and Polly, but adds “There are no such things as Macra”. A bit of a give-away, that. And then, when the Controller appears on the screen suggesting that Polly has hallucinated it all, the figure meets with disbelief (Jamie’s in particular).
Jamie: That’s not the Controller. That’s just the picture of a man.
Any self-respecting Macra would not fall for the bait of showing the actual Controller.
Control: This is your Controller. This is your Controller.
Jamie: But he’s an old man.
Doh! I guess the Macra are partially-sighted and couldn’t tell. The companions might also ask whom the voice of Control belongs to. It gets worse, as Jamie goads that the Controller can’t talk.
Control: You will speak. Speak, Controller, speak.
Controller: Am I to speak? I will tell them. I’ll do what you say.
Oh dear, oh dear, these Macra are screwing up big time now. Just so long as they don’t stick a dirty great claw onto the screen and drag off the Controller. In front of everyone, including the Pilot and Ola. Well, I guess that’s it. The Macra have been exposed, hoisted by their crabby petards.
But the Doctor and his companions are off to the pits.
The climax is wretched, and the Macra are pretty pathetic. But everything else in this episode is first rate, shockingly adult in fact after the patronisation of The Moonbase. Can it continue?