Monday, 13 May 2013

The Macra Terror

Ian Stuart Black’s third and final story for Doctor Who is this rather strange beast, known as ‘The Macra Terror’. A completely missing story, bar a couple of very short censored clips recovered in Australia, it tells the story of a colony secretly controlled by giant crabs, known as ‘Macra’.

As ‘The Moonbase’ was basically a reworking of ‘The Tenth Planet’, in some ways ‘The Macra Terror’ is similar to Black’s first story – ‘The Savages’. The Doctor and his three companions (it is clear by now that’s one too many) arrive in the future in a place where everything seems to be paradise, but in truth something very sinister is going on. The Macra as using the colony to mine for gas, which they need to survive.
That’s where the plot differs greatly from ‘The Savages’. It’s an interesting story, a little weird and kooky in places, and one I liked a lot. It’s the last in another string of four parters – since ‘The Daleks’ Masterplan’ all stories bar ‘The Power of the Daleks’ have been four-parters. We have some very strange musical choices in a story where everyone is supposed to be happy.

Ben's beauty treatment.
There are the ‘Majorettes’, a group of girls that appear to be straight out of an American ‘pep-rally’ waving batons and marching, and curious songs telling everyone to be happy. The Macra are controlling everyone in the colony through gas and little electronic devices in the walls. The Doctor, Polly, Jamie and Ben are welcomed to the colony where an escaped prisoner runs into them and is therefore captured. They are given strange ‘beauty’ treatments. The Doctor gets all neatened up but is upset and puts himself, fully clothed, into a massage machine to mess up his hair and clothes.

Polly has her hair cut, or so it sees at least. This story is a good one, if not the best, for Ben. Ben’s character is taken over and obeys control without question, but slowly through the story Ben regains control of himself. Michael Craze hasn’t got the chance to do much interesting with Ben, but in this story there is some sort of progression.
The story, like ‘The Savages’, reminds the audience – if something seems too good to be true, it probably is! It’s a nice little theme that Black explores in two of his three stories. I’m sure we can relate it easily to everyday life. These dark ideas are tempered with some comedy, and Patrick Troughton’s Doctor is again progressing. It’s not nearly as wild now as it was in the first two stories, he is the one who can see the truth behind the colony well before anyone else can. Except perhaps Jamie – the hypnotising system has no affect on Jamie. He is proving to be a companion not fooled easily despite coming from more than 200 years further back in the past than Ben and Polly. Jamie has a lot more to do in this story too than the previous two.
There’s a wonderful scene in episode four when he tries to escape whilst doing the ‘highland fling’, as he says ‘it’s called the ‘highland fling’, because at the end you fling yourself out the door.’
Peter Jeffrey and Gertan Clauber.
Again the supporting cast do not get very well-rounded characters. The chief protagonist, aside from the Macra, is the Security Chief Ola (Gertan Clauber), who is bombastic and obeys control without question as he wants to become Pilot. The Pilot is played by Peter Jeffrey. He at least is changed by events, and a great piece of casting.

There are really only two other characters of significance  Escaped prisoner Medok (Terrance Lodge) is the only colonist who seems to know the truth, a decent part well played. Then we have     overseeing the mining.
The design is hard to comment on – I only had reconstructed episodes to go on. The Macra themselves appear to be well shot. They are only seen in the dark, or a gloomy space, with their eyes lit up, but you don’t get a good look at them. This is a classic technique to let the viewer’s imagination take over, and so that the obvious design flaws are not seen by the audience. It would have been too costly to build giant crabs that looked realistic and scary in the full light of day.
The set is one that doesn't clearly show you what life is like. I was confused if they go from building to building, or if it’s all one big complex. No model/exterior shots were shown, and I don’t think any were shot. There are quite a few sets – two control rooms, shafts, an entertainment hall, sleeping cubicles and the like. They all seemed to be pretty convincing.
To summarise, being chased by a giant crab is hard work! But I think this was a rather good story. It’s odd and different , and less formulaic than ‘The Moonbase’ and less camp and over the top than ‘The Underwater Menace’.


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