The Macra Terror: Episode Three
The post-cliffhanger events at least resolve one question from the previous episode. With the Doctor, Polly and Jamie dragged off to work in the Danger Gang (“They’re condemned to the pit!”) and Ben agreeing to spy on them, order is reasserted.
Control: You will forget all that happened.
Pilot: Yes, Control.
This is a particularly good episode fro Troughton, and he has a couple of encounters that lift what would be otherwise a rather run-of-the-mill instalment. He’s on witty form, reacting with disdain to a particularly poor rhyme (“The man who wrote that should be sent to the Danger Gang, not us.”)
Jamie: Well, you don’t send a lassie and an old man down to dig.
The Doctor: Old? What do you mean old? I’m not old, Jamie.
Reunited with Medok, who has a Number Six-like resistance to conditioning (“They threw me out of the Correction Hospital. Apparently, I’m a hopeless case”), the Doctor is persuaded to remain in mine control room as a supervisor (“Ah… I would have liked a mask”). Which is a convenient device to allow him to get up to no good, but not an entirely convincing one; why exactly is a supervisor needed when Officia is there (John Harvey, Professor Brett in The War Machines)? It also grants him an opportunity to chip away at Ben.
The Doctor: Hello, Ben. Oh. Don’t go. Come in, don’t be afraid.
Ben: I have nothing to be afraid of.
The Doctor: No, of course not. It’s not your fault you betrayed your friends.
Ben: The voices tell me what to do.
The Doctor: The voices may not be right, Ben.
Ben: I do what I am told.
The Doctor: Yes, I know. That’s why you’re here, isn’t it? To spy on me. What does Control want to know this time? Can’t you answer me? You know, Ben, this is very unlike you.
Ben: I don’t know what you mean. It is my duty.
The Doctor: It’s hard for you to struggle against the voices, isn’t it Ben?
Troughton’s kind but authoritative voice in this exchange is striking, and it’s a point in favour of the characterisations here that Ben’s recovery is spread over the course of two episodes. Later he will admit to the Doctor that he observed Jamie take Officia’s keys but did nothing about it, and then goes to inform the Pilot of this. He doesn’t suddenly revert to normal, but continues to obey Control even when questioning it.
Another winner is the conversation between the Doctor and the Pilot. The characterisation of the latter is a model of subtlety. He’s neither signposted as a good guy or a bad guy until the last episode, with only Ola’s sadism providing a contrast and a suggestion that he is a reasonable man. Pilot finds that the Doctor has written sums all over the wall (for which gives himself 10 out of 10, written after the calculations).
The Doctor: Ooooh! You did give me a turn!
Pilot: Where did you find it?
The Doctor: What?
Pilot: The formula.
The Doctor: In my head. You know…
Pilot: Don’t lie. That is a secret known by only three people in the Colony.
The Doctor: And you’re one of them.
Pilot: Naturally. And you’re not asking me to believe that in a few moments you have been able to work out a formula that has taken out combined computers years to perfect?
The Doctor: It does seem rather a tall order. Hmm-hmm!
Pilot: Yes. Of course. I know what you’ve done. You’ve broken into our secret files, haven’t you?
The Doctor: I wouldn’t know how to do that. Take a look.
Pilot: Well, you must have seen the document. That’s the exact computation.
The Doctor: Really? Huh, well in that case (he alters the mark to 11 out of 10).
On Pilot’s demand, the Doctor throws water over the calculations with the latter then noting that there’ll be an almighty explosion if the altered sums are followed (“X to the power of Y has dribble into two threes and six”).
Events in the mine are less engrossing, certainly in audio form. This is the second time in three stories that companions have been set to work mining, and on both occasions, they don’t hang around long to get dirtied up. Jamie nabs Officia’s keys and makes a break for it, to be followed by Medok. Polly, who doesn’t make a great show of things generally in this story, whimpering and moaning a lot, stays initially to help Medok then fails to accompany him when he makes a break for it. Not much chivalry being shown by anyone there. It seems a bit mean to have Medok survive brainwashing only to be pincered to death by a malignant Macra.
The increasing hysteria of the voice of Control is one of the most amusing aspects of the later episodes, particularly as its flustered state sees it continually dropping vital information (no one is to go in or near the old shaft, which results in the question of why that is.)
As mentioned, Ben goes to see the Pilot. He’s not there so he ends up talking to Sunae.
Ben: I’ve got these voices in my head. Sometimes I just think I’m having a bad dream.
Sunae: The voices are here to help us. They are our friends.
Ben: That’s it. What about my friends?
The final section is taken up with Jamie trapped with a monstrous Macra while the Doctor tries to work out a means to help him. He realises that gas is being pumped into the old shaft to revive a Macra trapped in there, rather than as a means of killing Jamie.
The Doctor: The Macra have come to the surface of this planet and not found sufficient gas in the atmosphere. So they’ve had to get somebody to pump it up from down below.
Getting trapped does suggest that maybe the Macra are morons, with only the ability to latch onto humans’ intelligence to use against them. They are compared to germs and bacteria in the final episode, but it isn’t clear how literal this is intended to be.
Not quite up to the level of the first two episodes, with more of an emphasis on action and scares than the mechanics of the Colony. But Troughton is magnificent, and the alienation of Ben continues to be a stand-out plot point.